“Managing Chelsea would be a dream for me, I am not hiding it.”
Gianfranco Zola has set the bar high, given that unlike his glittering playing career, his managerial one has been one to forget.
It has undoubtedly been an underwhelming journey that ended with a miserable spell at Birmingham City last campaign with Zola already resigning in April.
Previous to that, he anything but succeeded at Watford, West Ham, Cagliari and Al Arabi.
I met the now 51-year-old at a golf tournament in London. I felt humbled in the presence of someone who made history in both Italian and English football.
Wearing a blue cap and golfing attire, Zola hasn’t changed much since hanging up his boots in 2005.
“Of course, Chelsea is my favourite team,” he claimed with a proud smile on his face.
“If one day I have the chance to train the Blues, I would be the happiest man in the world.
With 229 appearances, 59 goals, 42 assists and a central role in the winning of six trophies have seen him go down as one of the Chelsea’s greatest ever players.
His free-kicks were art, his work ethic was spot on and his humility one of his greatest assets.
Thus, despite failing as a manager wherever he set foot, Zola himself doesn’t hide being interested in returning to the club in this capacity.
“Managing a club of Chelsea’s magnitude would also mean that I have grown and come a long way as a manager.
“However it’s a job that only great managers will land,” he admits by being well aware that his curriculum vitae could represent a huge hurdle.
Zola a was an unused substitute on that famous 17th July 1994 at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium between Italy and Brazil.
A World Cup trophy was at stake. Two giants of the game faced each other. Both had three World Cup wins to their name at the time. Thus, victory would see Italy lift the first trophy in twelve years, while for Brazil a drought of 24 years without World Cup glory had to end.
Yet, as fate had it, Italy paid the price for three missed penalties by Daniele Massaro, Baresi and Massaro. Zola doesn’t deny that he still dwells on it. 23 years later, the pain is still fresh.
“We were much better than Brazil,” he recalls.
“The day it went it will always remain a little regret, I am not hiding it.
“But at the same time it will always remain one of the most exciting footballing adventures of my entire career. Despite losing.
“Tiredness was one of the reasons for our defeat as we had many players dealing with cramps throughout the match.
“In addition, it was very difficult to play the final in those circumstances. The hot temperatures made it tough for us.
“And we should have won,” he insists.
But what is happening to Italian football now? The national team failed to book a ticket for Russia 2018 for the first time in 59 years, while regularly the league’s most talented players leave for the Premier League or La Liga these days.
He himself did it in 1996 but back then, leaving Serie A was a step back – regardless of where you ended up.
“To be honest with you, I still think that the standards of Serie A are high.
“This year for instance, the league has become much more competitive.
“But I don’t deny that at this moment in time there are leagues which are stronger.
“The Premier League for instance – and La Liga.”