Ricorrenze Azzurre

Happy Birthday to Alberto Gilardino and Gianfranco Zola!

Gilardino, our centre-forward from Biella who won the 2006 World Cup turns 39, while Zola, hero at Wembley in 1997, turns 55

Monday, July 5, 2021

Happy Birthday to Alberto Gilardino and Gianfranco Zola!

On July 5 1982, the same day that Paolo Rossi scored a hat-trick against Brazil in the second round of the group stages at the World Cup in Spain, Alberto Gilardino was born in Biella. He made his Serie A debut for Piacenza at just 17 years of age, before enjoying an impressive spell with Parma that kickstarted his career. A move to AC Milan soon followed, and with the Rossoneri he went on to win the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Supercup and the Club World Cup. He then spent four years at Fiorentina between 2008 and 2012, where his output grew massively, even reaching 0.5 goals a game, contributing to the success of Prnadelli’s Fiorentina, who established themselves at the top of Italian football, and becoming regulars in the UEFA Champions League.

As for his time in the National Team set-up, Gilardino made history with the Under-21s. His 19 goals means that he is the Azzurrini’s highest-ever goalscorer, while he also guided them to European Championship success in 2004. After winning Bronze at the Athens Olympics, Marcello Lippi handed him his senior debut during a match against Norway. He was then part of the Azzurri squad that became World Champions in 2006, adding to his international goalscoring tally during the tournament. He then took part in another World Cup and two editions of the Confederations Cup before making his 57th and final Italy appearance in October 2013 against Denmark.

A year later he managed to add yet another trophy to his already very impressive cabinet, winning the Chinese Super League with his next club Guangzhou Evergrande, trained once more by his ex-Azzurri boss Lippi. After a season at Palermo, he moved to Empoli, before heading to Pescara in the January transfer window. In October 2017, he moved to Spezia, before announcing his retirement in September 2018 after helping the club secure safety in Serie A.


As for Gianfranco Zola, he was born in Oliena on 5 July 1966, one of the greatest natural talents ever seen in Italian football. As a youngster, he played for a number of different clubs in Sardinia before finally arriving in Serie A aged 23. Napoli were the club to acquire his services, pairing Zola up with Diego Armando Maradona – whose No.10 shirt he would soon inherit. During his first year with the Partenopei, he won the Scudetto before then succeeding in the Supercoppa Italiana a few months later. After four seasons at Napoli, with the club on the brink of relegation, he was then sold to Parma where he added to his personal honours’ list. After helping the Crociati lift the UEFA Supercup and the UEFA Cup, he was then snapped up by Chelsea. During his time in west London, Gianfranco became a Premier League icon, capturing hearts and even receiving an OBE. With the Blues, he won two FA Cups, one League Cup, one Community Shield, one European Cup Winners’ Cup and one UEFA Supercup.

Despite his progress on the domestic stage, Zola never enjoyed major international success with the Azzurri. He got his big chance at the 1994 World Cup, representing Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy, but his adventure in the United States lasted only twelve minutes before an unfair red card during the Round of 16 game against Nigeria. He was also involved during the European Championship in England two years later, though he failed to lead the Azzurri to the semi-finals, missing a penalty against Germany. In 1997, Zola made his 35th and final appearance for the National Team, retiring with a tally of 10 goals, and scoring the winner in a classic encounter between England and Italy at Wembley on his way out.

He concluded his playing career at Cagliari, while coincidentally becoming an assistant to Pierluigi Casiraghi for Italy’s Under-21s. This was a vital coaching experience for Zola, who would then enjoy spells at West Ham United, Watford, Cagliari, Al-Arabi and Birmingham City. Most recently, during the 2018/19 season, he was Maurizio Sarri’s assistant at Chelsea, helping the team triumph in the Europa League.