'This is a blessing for me' - Zola thankful for Sarri lifeline at Chelsea

Gianfranco Zola
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The Blues legend is working alongside the head coach and is thankful to have been brought back, after painful experiences in football management

Gianfranco Zola is a much beloved figure at Stamford Bridge, but admits he was still surprised when Maurizio Sarri offered him the assistant head coach position at Chelsea prior to the season.

Zola will always be regarded as a legendary player for the Blues, but his post-playing career saw him go through three sackings and two resignations as he failed to turn his football knowledge into dugout success.

When the Italian speaks it is clear that he has an incredible knowledge of the game. Despite this, he admitted that he didn't know enough upon taking over West Ham United in 2008, and described his last management experience at Birmingham as "painful".

Zola is currently aiming to further his coaching education by working under the notoriously detailed Sarri, focusing on learning his craft rather than getting another managerial position.

"I was surprised when this opportunity came to me, I was very surprised," Zola told reporters at Cobham Training Centre. "Considering my previous job with Birmingham, it was very painful for me. I could not believe it. This is a blessing for me.

"This is the best reason and why I am throwing everything I have got to make the best of this experience for Maurizio and the club. I haven’t honestly thought too much about it [getting back into management]. Right now, I am very happy to be the number two of Maurizio and in this club."

The 52-year-old said that he is learning plenty from his fellow Italian, who was appointed from Napoli prior to the season.

"I think It is an amazing experience for learning. If you go back to the start of my story, I started like crazy to go in my first experience in the Premier League with West Ham. It went well but I think I missed a lot of things in my experience in management, but I am catching up with this experience. 

"I think I have seen very few coaches that when they work, they are so detailed and work so much like Maurizio does on the games and with everything he does. What you see on the pitch is the result of the huge work he does behind the scenes.

"It is a lot of work honestly, everyone, not only him, but everyone in his coaching staff works a lot. We don’t want to leave anything to coincidence so for me it has been quite an experience. The more you work, the more you find the energy to work and this is the most important thing.

Gianfranco Zola and Maurizio Sarri

"I came across him [in the past]. I didn’t see him coaching, I just spoke to him a few times in Italy. I had seen some of his work, I knew he was good but I didn’t expect him to be that good."

Sarri is notorious for having 33 corner routines, while he also pioneered the use of drones in training at Napoli. He is an analytical coach who likes to talk about statistics and is a big proponent of video technology, recently revealing that he was working 12-hour days to prepare for a run of fixtures that saw his side face PAOK, West Ham and Liverpool twice in a row.

Zola is part of Sarri's puzzle to make a success of his biggest job yet and first role outside of Italy. Sarri is a former banker and began his career in football on a part-time basis while holding down his day job. He gradually worked his way up from amateur levels to Serie A, where he would eventually manage Napoli and earn plaudits for his fast-paced, attacking style of play.

Sarri's role at Chelsea is another step up the football ladder and Zola believes he can offer his countryman expertise in his knowledge of the English game.

"I hope I am giving him good support," Zola added. "That’s the meaning of me being here. He could do his job without me. I think I know the league, I know the players in the Premier League, I know the club. I can give him support. I can give my knowledge to him and that's what I am trying to do.

Gianfranco Zola Chelsea

"I think it is working very well. I think he likes working with me as much as I like working with him. We are in a good way, although the road is still long but we are going in the right direction. Maurizio, until he got to Naples, he was only coaching small teams. Now he has an opportunity to coach a big team.

"This is going to be a big difference, in my opinion. If you analyse the games that Napoli has played in the last two years, in terms of wins and losses, you can see that those are very good numbers. In Italy, there’s a team such as Juventus which has been a very dominant team in the last few years so it is not easy for anyone to be ahead of them.

"Napoli has been a very very good competitor in the last few years and they have been unlucky not to win it. You have to pay credit to that. Of course, people only remember the winner but the work he has done there is remarkable."

Zola may be regarded as one of Chelsea's greatest ever footballers, but forwards with less ability would go on to win honours that he didn't, as Roman Abramovich took over the club in the year he left.

Zola scored 80 goals in 312 games with the Blues, wining five trophies. While Zola's Blues career was still filled with success, Abramovich would go on to transform the club and helped bankroll their first league title in 50 years in 2004-05.

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Several other trophies would come to Stamford Bridge, with most won many times over. Zola admits the expectations at Chelsea have changed a lot, and insists that he is looking to push the Blues even higher in his second spell with the club. 

"Yes, it is different without a doubt. Nothing remains the same and that's luckily so. Things they always evaluate. I think the club from 2003 (when Zola left) has evolved a lot and won a lot. I am pleased for that.

"Hopefully, I am here with Maurizio to help the club develop even more. I think there are big margins and we are looking forward to make it develop even more."