Gianfranco spent the first decade of his career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli, alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, and at Parma, before moving to English side Chelsea, where he was voted Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1997 and Chelsea’s greatest ever player.
Zola signed his first professional contract with Sardinian team Nuorese in 1984. In 1986, he moved to Torres from Sassari, the oldest club in Sardinia, where he spent three seasons. In 1989, he signed for Napoli in Serie A. He helped Napoli to win the Supercoppa Italiana in 1991 and he made his debut for the Italian national side under coach Arrigo Sacchi in the same year.
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 1997–98, he helped Chelsea win three more trophies, the League Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Super Cup.
Zola made his debut for Italy on 13 November 1991, in a Euro 1992 qualifier against Norway. His first two goals came on 25 March 1995, in a 4–1 in a Euro 1996 qualifier against Estonia. He also played in all three group games at Euro 1996. He went onto win 35 caps for Italy.
In his playing career, Zola played 628 games and scored 193 goals. Despite speculation he would play on in the 2005–06 season, Zola decided to leave the game just a week before he turned 39, and took a job as an Italian football pundit.
Zola was a fan favourite during his time at Chelsea and was voted into the Chelsea Centenary XI in 2005.
In 2006, Gianfranco was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, also in that year, Zola started his coaching career, being appointed as assistant manager to Italy U-21 manager and Pierluigi Casiraghi by the Italian Football Federation.
On 9 September 2008, Zola agreed a three-year contract to manage West Ham United, replacing Alan Curbishley.
Gianfranco has developed an excellent reputation on the after dinner circuit with his fascinating insight into the Premier League and World football scene.