The much loved Chelsea FC legend talks to FATV about how special the FA Cup is to him, during a visit to China to promote the world’s oldest football competition.
In November 1996, Zola joined Chelsea for £4.5 million as one of several continental players signed by Ruud Gullit and wore the number 25 jersey, he made his debut in a 1–1 draw with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
In his debut season he put in several notable performances and scored a series of memorable goals. In February 1997, after spiriting the ball around Manchester United’s defence in the penalty area before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, he was described by United manager Alex Ferguson as a “clever little so-and-so.”
He was a key player in Chelsea’s resurgence that season, helping them win the FA Cup with a 2–0 win over Middlesbrough at Wembley Stadium having scored four goals en route to the final, including a 25 yard curling shot against Liverpool as Chelsea came from 0–2 behind to win 4–2, and a “twisted blood” effort in the semi-final against Wimbledon, backheeling the ball and turning 180 degrees before slotting the ball into the net.
At the end of the season he was voted FWA Player of the Year, the only player ever to win the accolade without playing a full season in the English league and the first Chelsea player to win it.
In 1997–98, he helped Chelsea win three more trophies, the League Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Super Cup. An injury denied him a place in the starting line-up for the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Stuttgart at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm, but he came on as a second-half substitute and scored the winning goal after barely 30 seconds. With only his second touch of the game, he struck a through ball from Dennis Wise past Wohlfahrt into the roof of the net to secure Chelsea’s third major trophy in a year and the second European trophy in the club’s history. In the same season, Zola hit his first professional hat-trick, in a 4–0 victory over Derby County at Stamford Bridge in November 1997.