Chelsea fans might want to look away. A week that started in the blazing sunshine of victory at Anfield went dark with Wednesday’s eviction from the Champions League. And now Gianfranco Zola, the player who many of them regard as the best ever to wear their famous blue, has pinned his Premier League hopes on, wait for it, Liverpool.
“I know it goes against my team,” the Italian exclusively told FourFourTwo, “but I think it would be great to see Liverpool win the title this year.”
Zola’s admission isn’t born of any newfound disloyalty toward a club he served for seven glorious years, playing 312 games and scoring 80 (mostly fabulous) goals. The diminutive Italian is simply very impressed with the Merseysiders' efforts this season and the work that their coach Brendan Rodgers – himself a former Chelsea employee – is doing at both Anfield and perhaps more importantly Melwood, the training ground.
“Rodgers is a coach’s coach,” said Zola. “I don’t know him well but his football is my football. The football I like. His team plays very well.”
Zola’s time in management has shown him to be far more comfortable in a tracksuit and working with the players than with the everyday rigmarole that goes with being a modern manager, and Rodgers’ ability to improve players has impressed the former Italy international.
“Look what Rodgers has done with Raheem Sterling,” he said. “He has obviously brought him on and given him confidence but he has also taught him different ways of playing, made him more tactically aware. Football is about knowledge. The more ways you know how to play the game, the more possibilities you have to achieve your goals. Rodgers has played Sterling in a number of attacking positions and that will make him even better.”
As a player, Zola was always able to woo crowds with something novel, something unexpected and it is Liverpool’s blindside run into this Premier League title race that has excited him. “Liverpool’s form and style has been great but it would also be great to see a new name on the trophy other than Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City. That can only be good for English football.”
Before Chelsea fans despair, Zola wouldn’t count Jose Mourinho’s men out, adding: “Despite the Champions League setback I wouldn’t write off Chelsea, you never can but I think having been let back in, Manchester City might take the title. I wouldn’t want to call it though, it is that close.
“Liverpool lost a great opportunity when Chelsea beat them but that was always going to be a very tough game. Liverpool have to forget Anfield last week, they have to totally focus on the next game at [Crystal] Palace and put disappointments behind them and play the type of football they have played all season.”
As we move into the penultimate weekend then, things couldn’t be closer, in fact they never have been. In the 21 years since the Premier League juggernaut rolled into town, three clubs have never been closer on May 1 and whether the trophy ends up at Stamford Bridge, the Etihad Stadium or Anfield, Zola is – like us all – enthused by what he sees as the best season in a long, long time.
“It’s been an amazing campaign,” he says. “There’s been so many twists, it’s so interesting. It’s going right to the finish and even with only two weekends left, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see more twists. Also, and this is what has pleased me, all the drama has come with so much quality football.”
Gianfranco Zola was promoting the 2014 BMW PGA Championship. Tickets (May 20-25 at Wentworth club) are still available at www.europeantour.com/tickets