MOTD Top 10 podcast: Gianfranco Zola on Diego Maradona, Ronaldo and life at Chelsea

Gianfranco Zola spent seven seasons as a player at Chelsea after joining in 1996

Former Chelsea and Italy star Gianfranco Zola is the latest Premier League legend to reveal all to Match of the Day’s Top 10 podcast.

The diminutive forward, dubbed ‘Magic Box’ for his quick feet and close control, played for Napoli and Parma before joining the Blues in 1996.

He joined Gary Lineker and Jermaine Jenas to reflect on the moments and people that shaped his career.

Best player you have played with?

Zola played with Diego Maradona at Napoli

“It’s very easy to answer that question. Obviously, it’s Diego Maradona. It was a big blessing for me, because half of the player I am is down to him.

“When you are young, and playing and training with a player like that, you get so many insights and things that can improve the game.

“I cannot tell you how many times in training we had to stop and clap him. Some of the things that used to come out from him were incredible. You were always one step behind.

“One day we were playing 11 v 11 on the pitch. The goalkeeper threw the ball to him halfway in the middle of the pitch, he controlled it with his chest, lobbed the marker and without letting the ball bounce hit this volley and lobbed the keeper on the other side. We couldn’t believe the goal he scored.”

Best player played against?

“Although I played him only once in a friendly, the impression he gave me from watching him in that game was unbelievable. It was Ronaldo, the Brazilian.

“He was the player that got close to what Diego used to do. The difference that there was between Diego and the others, was similar to Ronaldo and the others.

“It is difficult to compare to nowadays, in those years it was much harder to score goals.”

Favourite goal scored?

“The first goal in Serie A. It was very important, gave me such a boost, also with the supporters. It was a home game against Atalanta.

“The other one, without doubt, was against Stuttgart when we won the Cup Winners’ Cup with Chelsea. I wasn’t supposed to play that game because I pulled my groin very badly, I managed to recover and then scored a goal that was very important.”

Favourite game you played in?

Having beaten Liverpool in the fourth round, Zola won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 1997

“Against Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round – I didn’t know how important the FA Cup was.

“When we played against Liverpool we were getting better as a team. After 45 minutes we were 2-0 down. The atmosphere was unbelievable.

“Mark Hughes came on and was unbelievable for us, after a few minutes we scored and there was electricity on the pitch, you could feel it was a special game. In the end, we came from 2-0 down to beat Liverpool 4-2.”

Football hero growing up?

“My first one when I was very young, growing up in my hometown. It was Gigi Riva. When I grew up he was my first hero. Later on, Maradona was the one I was using to look up to.

“I used to watch every single movement, everything Diego used to do in training. Even when he was doing his own laces!”

Funniest moment?

Gianfranco did not reveal whether he wore that jumper to the Chelsea Christmas do…

“I arrived in England in November 1996 and didn’t know there was a tradition to go out for Christmas lunch. We went to this disco, I was a little bit late as usual, the first thing I stepped in and saw Frode Grodas on top of a table half undressed, completely drunk and singing a Norwegian song!

“It was so hilarious to see him in that condition. That was one of the reasons we were successful, because we had a very good atmosphere between each other.”

Best game you’ve watched?

“Brazil 2-3 Italy in the 1982 World Cup. For me, that Brazil team I still reckon is one of the best I’ve seen play.

“They used to play football in a way that nobody could. It was unbelievable. The midfield was a dream.”

Favourite international moment?

Zola was part of the Italy squad that reached the 1994 World Cup final but was sent off in the second round

“Playing for your own country, I’ve always thought that was the best thing that could happen to you. I always took big pride at being part of the Italian squad.

“Scoring the winner against England was such a big satisfaction for me (in a 1-0 win at Wembley in World Cup qualifying) – especially the day after when I went to the training ground and saw Dennis Wise’s face!”

Craziest team-mate?

“One of the craziest but also the funniest was Faustino Asprilla at Parma.

“One day, we all started training in the morning and we looked at each other and said ‘Where is Tino?’. We said he must’ve fallen asleep, he wasn’t in his houseā€¦ this guy, he went to a party the night before and on the way back he just dropped on the side of the road.

“They found him still asleep on the road. A fantastic team-mate, always creating a good atmosphere.”

Best manager played under?

“Arrigo Sacchi. I was very blessed, had very good coaches, but Sacchi was in those years a step ahead of everyone. The preparation – we used to train in a certain way but when we went to him he had had this different approach, looking after every single detail on the pitch.

“A lot of specific training for the defence, the midfield, the strikers, I thought he was on a different level.”