The arrival of Roberto Mancini at Manchester City appears to be the continuation of an increasing Italian invasion of English football. The City boss joins fellow managers Capello, Zola and Ancelotti as well as players such as Alberto Aquilani, and Alessandro Diamanti . With this is mind I’ve decided to compile a list of the five finest Italian imports to grace the English game.
5. Fabrizio Ravanelli
Spells at Middlesbrough and Derby have made the silver haired striker one of the Premier Leagues iconic figures. Ravenelli’s signature represented something of a coup for Middlesbrough as the Italian international was signed just a few months after scoring in the 1996 Champions League final with Juventus. He certainly made an immediate impact scoring 17 goals over the season including a hat trick on his debut against Liverpool. However even this couldn’t prevent the Teesside club suffering a rotten season as they found themselves relegated as well as losing in both the FA and League Cup finals. Consequently Ravenelli left for Marseille but he would return in 2001 with Derby County where he managed 14 goals over two seasons. However for most the defining memory of Ravenelli will undoubtedly be the striker’s notorious method of celebration in which he would pull his shirt over his head and charge around the pitch like a man possessed.
4. Ginaluca Vialli
Like Ravenelli Vialli moved to England after winning the Champions League with Juventus and formed part of a considerable Italian contingent at Chelsea. The bald headed striker’s goals helped the club to win the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners Cup between 1997 and 1998. However it as a manger that Vialli is best remembered. After the sacking of Ruud Gullit in February 1998 Vialli took charge as a player manger and thus became responsible for Chelsea’s successes both on and off the pitch. After retiring as player in 1999 he lead Chelsea to their first ever Champions League appearance and won a second FA Cup in 2000. However things quickly turned sour as he was sacked just five games in the 2000/01 season after a disappointing start. Following this he spent the 01/02 season in charge of Watford but was again sacked as the club could only finish a disappointing 14th in the Championship. Since then Vialli has yet to re-enter the game but his successes at Chelsea unquestionably make him one of English footballs finest Italians.
3. Robert Di Matteo
Actually born in Switzerland the midfielder enjoyed a highly successful six years at Chelsea and is currently one of the Football leagues most promising young managers. Moving to Stamford Bridge at the same time as compatriots Vialli and Zola he formed a crucial element of the Chelsea midfield. Di Matteo made history in the 1997 FA Cup final scoring after just 43 seconds to set the record for the fastest goal in FA Cup Final history (Which has since been broken by Louis Saha ). He developed something of a knack for cup final goals also scoring in finals of the 1997 League Cup and the 2000 FA Cup. After playing over a hundred games for the club he was sadly forced to retire through injury at the age of just 31 in. However Di Matteo re-entered the English game in 2008 as the manager of MK Dons and lead the League One club to the play-off semi finals. This was enough to convince West Bromwich Albion to hire him this summer and with the Baggies chasing promotion we may well see him managing in the Premier League next season.
2. Paulo Di Canio
One of the most fascinating characters to ever grace the Premier League the hot headed Roman will not be forgotten in a hurry. Having spent a year north of the border with Celtic the striker arrived in England with a transfer to Sheffield Wednesday in 1997. Teaming up with another talented Italian Benito Carbone Di Canio established himself as a firm favourite at Hillsborough. However for most of us his spell in Yorkshire is best remembered for the infamous incident in which he responded to a red car by pushing referee Paul Atlock to the ground. The feisty forward was sold to West Ham at the beginning of 1999 and again enjoyed personal success and the adoration of the clubs fans. He managed better then a goal every three games at Upton Park and was even praised for good sportsmanship in 2001 after halting play and resultantly missing a chance to score because Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was down injured. However the Hammers relegation in 2003 saw Di Canio move across London on a free transfer to Charlton. He only managed four goals at the Valley but did help the Addicks achieve a highly impressive seventh place finish. Di Canio left England for good in the summer of 2004 with a transfer to boyhood club Lazio taking with him 67 league goals and a notorious reputation.
Gianfranco Zola was always going to top this list, the little magician simply stands head and shoulders above the competition. Joining Chelsea in 1996 Zola would go on to make 312 appearances and score 80 goals at Stamford Bridge. The diminutive attacker’s technical ability and flair distinguishes Zola as one of the Premier Leagues finest players of all time. Memorable moments include dancing around the Manchester United defence in 1997, scoring the winning goal just 21 seconds after stepping onto the pitch in the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final and a sublime back heeled flick against Norwich in 2002. His time at Chelsea brought great individual as well as team success being voted the clubs greatest ever player as well as receiving an OBE. Zola left England in 2003 and returned to his nativel Sardinia with Cagliari despite reports that Roman Abramavoich had attempted to purchase the Italian club in a bid to prevent Zola leaving Stamford Bridge. However Gianfranco returned to England in 2008 replacing Alan Curbishley as manager of West Ham. His debut season proved a success guiding the Hammers to an impressive 9th place finish just two points from European qualification and demonstrating some attractive football in the process. Things aren’t going quite so well at present with the Hammers struggling near the foot of the table seemingly set to be embroiled in a relegation battle, yet whatever the outcome Zola’s position as English footballs finest Italian import will remain unquestionable.