We’ve all got one. The one we weren’t allowed to look at; the one we had to admire in secret, from a distance. One more appropriate to deny than to acknowledge, to dismiss than to appreciate.
Guilty pleasures in football usually cross supporting lines. It’s very seldom that one can support one of the top sides and not suddenly themselves in awe, in nearly shameful veneration of a particular talent that not only plays for a rival team, but in fact produces footballing displays worthy of respect and justified envy.
This series of articles is about those players. Some of them played for your club’s worst of enemies, some of them even contributed to nights of disappointment for you and your supporter brethren. Whatever the narrative, they all share the characteristic of being so good at what they do in football, that you found yourself marvelling at them while despising their allegiance, jealous that their talent didn’t manifest in the colours of your beloved club.
Back before Chelsea became a play thing for a corrupt Russian Billionaire, they were somewhat half decently run and it’s fans weren’t called and abused as being plastic fans and they were somewhat respected by fans from other clubs. Somewhat respected. Like every team in the league, they had their struggles to win things, they didn’t have the money to and weren’t sabotaging moves by other clubs to bring in players by offering clubs silly money for their stars and managers like Claudio Ranieri and Ruud Guillet managed the club for the love of football and not just for the money and the public exposure. They also employed players who wanted to play for the club, who could be counted on to bust a gut to win a game for the club and who wouldn’t give up the ghost of things weren’t happening on the pitch. If you want proof of this look at the situation they currently find themselves in. At the time of writing this they’ve just been beaten by Leicester City, are a point above the relegation zone and are twenty points off the top.
Like every modern football fan there are players from other clubs (even if we don’t like to admit it) we would love to have seen or see play for the club you support. As a Liverpool fan I would have loved to have seen Roy Keane or Patrick Viera partner Steven Gerrard in midfield. But the one player I would have loved to see grace the hallowed turf at Anfield as a Liverpool is the Premier Leagues original magician, the Italian player maker Gianfranco Zola. I used to love watching him terrorising defences up and down the Premier League. His silky skills, his movement off the ball, his constant want to charge opposition defenders, his ability to change a game in an instant was all a joy to watch. I reckon that teams playing Chelsea when he was in the team, their defenders used to have nightmares in the week leading up to the game and if he made a fool of you in the game you knew you could look forward to relieving that moment on Match Of The Day later on that evening.
For me Zola was class in every way. How he conducted himself off and on the pitch was a credit to him and those younger players playing along side him must have gotten a fantastic lesson in humility from him. Playing in a team along Denis Wise and Roberto Di Matteo, Zola never had to worry about doing the dirty week. While Zola played for Chelsea when, as I said they had a bit of class and weren’t the toy thing for a Russian Billionaire, Zola struggled to win things. While he didn’t win the likes of the Premier League or Champions League, he has two FA Cup winners medals, UEFA Cup Winners medal, a League Cup winners medal and a UEFA Supercup winners medal from his time in England. During his time in Emgland I’m sure he was swamped with offers from the bigger Premier League club’s and European club’s he stuck with Chelsea. He gave them the best years of his life as a footballer, because in my opinion Chelsea made him the player he was and made him a household name. And he played football for the love of the game and not the money. And as a result of this he was voted as Chelsea’s greatest ever player.
I think a lot of players can still learn from Zolas approach to things in the pitch. He very rarely went down looking for a free kick, mainly because opposition players couldn’t get near him. He conducted himself like a professional footballer and not a prima donna and above all he had the respect of not only opposition players but their fans aswell which is something rare these days. For the proof of this look at how well their rivals West Ham United took to him as their manager. How often would that happen these days with an Ex Chelsea player?