Gianfranco Zola: "I did not know how important the F.A. Cup was."

Chelsea play Manchester United this weekend in the F.A. Cup. Former blue, Gianfranco Zola, has spoken about on his memories at Wembley and how special the competition is. 

Zola was just two months into his Chelsea tenure when he first appeared in the F.A. Cup. It was not long before his talent was spotted and applauded by the Stamford Bridge faithful. 

The Italian striker netted in the third round against West Bromwich Albion back in 1997. The game against Liverpool in the next round brings fonder memories after Chelsea completed the 4-2 turnaround after initially going 2-0 down to the Merseyside club. 

'The FA Cup was special'

Zola was speaking on the latest episode of Match of The Day’s Top 10 podcast when he gave his thoughts on the previous F.A. Cup bouts for Chelsea.  

The striker said: “I did not know how important the F.A. Cup was. When we played Liverpool, at the time they were strong, and we were just getting better as a team. After 45 minutes we were 2-0 down but then we came back in the second half and the atmosphere was unbelievable.  

"Mark Hughes came on and he was brilliant for us. After a few minutes, we scored to make it 2-1 and there was electricity on the pitch – it is difficult to say exactly what it was, but you could feel on the pitch that it was a special game. 

"In the end, we came from 2-0 down to beat Liverpool 4-2 and for me it was an unbelievable game. I was pleased to be involved.” 

Scoring against England 

Despite never scoring a goal for Chelsea at Wembley, the lead up to him winning the competition was helpful after he scored against Portsmouth and Wimbledon in the semi-final. The iconic number 25 scored for Italy at Wembley when they played England in a World Cup qualifier.  

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

"Scoring the winner against England was such a big satisfaction for me, especially the day after when I went to the training ground and saw Dennis Wise’s face!” 

Set Piece Specialist

Scoring free kicks was a speciality in the career of Zola. The forward mastered a technique that took hours of practise. The work on the old training ground, Harlington training base, was where the hours paid off for the little magician.  

“It was something that I worked on a lot because I felt like if my left foot were slightly behind the ball and a little bit open to the left then it would allow me to whip the ball the way I wanted.  

"I wanted the ball to be spinning up and left so the only way I could get the ball flight that way was to open my foot a little bit more. It all came from practising.” 

A first to remember

Many Chelsea fans would say that their best memory of Zola, in fact came in the F.A. Cup. It was ironically against Manchester United, his first appearance against the Red Devils. An elegant goal that left Gary Pallister and Dennis Irwin baffled after a trademark run from the striker.  

Zola spoken about the goal and his memories of that day:

“Irwin thought I was going to cross it because Mark Hughes was at the back post but instead of doing that I cut inside and went through Pallister and then obviously in front of the goalkeeper. I did not think about it too much and smashed the ball.” 

"We will know by Sunday night if Chelsea will reach the F.A. Cup final against either Arsenal or Manchester City. Lampard has failed to beat Ole Gunner Solskjaer this season in three attempts, but he will fancy his side’s chances at Wembley.