As SSC Napoli look to protect a 3-1 UEFA Champions League round of 16 lead at Stamford Bridge, one former Chelsea FC favourite is facing a dilemma.
Now 45, Gianfranco Zola made his name playing alongside Diego Maradona at Napoli in the early 1990s before lifting the 1997/98 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup during a seven-year stint with Chelsea. "This game puts me in a difficult position," he told UEFA.com. "
One team gave me my debut in Serie A, the other is where I was able to realise every footballer's dream. I really hope it's a great game to watch and that the better side goes through."
Capped 35 times by Italy, Zola remembers well his spell in Naples where he won the Italian title in 1989/90. "We were one of the best teams in Europe," he recalled. "We had the best player in the world playing for the club and there was great enthusiasm surrounding Napoli. I experienced all that as a young player and it was a fantastic time. I loved it there. You can feel the fans' passion for the club, which is huge."
Maradona, of course, was the biggest name in that Napoli squad and Zola needs no reminding of his talent. "Maradona was an unbelievable player," the former Parma FC forward continued. "He made things happen, he was a player who would win football matches for you. The Neapolitan people really identified with Maradona. People showed a great energy and love for him. I'm happy to say that not only was Maradona a brilliant footballer but he was also a lovely bloke. We, his team-mates, all loved him."
The current Napoli side may not quite feature stars of the same magnitude, yet Zola recognises plenty of players in Walter Mazzarri's team that can inspire. "Edinson Cavani, yes, but particularly Ezequiel Lavezzi," he noted. "Lavezzi is the undisputed idol of the entire city. This is a positive thing because it's great for fans to have a player with whom they can identify. Someone who can be the talisman of all the passion you have for football."
Delighted to see Napoli make it to the round of 16, Zola has had less to celebrate when watching Chelsea. André Villas-Boas has left the club since the first leg and Zola's ex-Blues team-mate Roberto Di Matteo will oversee the remainder of a stop-start season. However, the former West Ham United FC manager is keen to think positive. "The Champions League is such a huge, prestigious tournament that it can actually change the way a season is going," he said. "
Chelsea still have the opportunity and indeed the quality to turn this season into a positive one."
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