Italy. One of the most passionate football-loving countries on the planet, a country scattered with historic clubs up and down its boot-shaped landscape, such as Juventus, Roma, Lazio, the two Milan clubs, just to name a few.
With great clubs, come great players, and Italy has produced some of the best. However, it’s interesting to note that there haven’t been that many of their top stars that have moved to the Premier League.
However, some of the ones that have, have been absolutely wonderful. Here are five of the best:
Moving to Stamford Bridge on a free transfer in 1996 from Juventus, Gianluca Vialli was a bit of a coup for Chelsea.
At 32 years old, the striker had enjoyed a prolific career in Serie B and Serie A for Cremonese and Sampdoria, before becoming the Worlds most expensive player in 1992, joining Juventus for £12.5 million.
He scored 53 goals in four seasons for the Old Lady, winning the Serie A title, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana in 1995, as well as lifting the Champions League title the following year.
He was also named the World Player of the year in 1995
Following his move to Chelsea in ‘96, Vialli would go on to score 40 goals in 78 appearances for the Blues during his three year spell at the club. He added the FA Cup, League Cup and both the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup to his impressive trophy haul before retiring in 1999.
Roberto Di Matteo
Joining Chelsea in the same year as Vialli, Roberto di Matteo became one of the most important players, and later managers, in Chelsea’s history.
His excellent passing and long-range shooting abilities made him into a key player for the club as they began to improve in the late 90’s.
In his first season at the club, he scored the fastest goal in FA Cup final history at the time, with a cracking 30-yard strike against Middlesbrough. He would go on to score 26 goals in 175 appearance for the Blues.
He later cemented his place in the clubs history becoming their interim manager in 2012, where he would lead them to their first and only Champions League triumph.
Gianluca Vialli wasn’t the only Italian striker to leave Juventus in 1996, with his former teammate Fabrizio Ravanelli joining Middlesbrough.
Despite not being one of the more glamorous clubs in the Premier League, Middlesbrough, managed by former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson at the time, attracted some truly brilliant players to their side, including Ravanelli and his Brazilian teammate, Juninho.
He had a phenomenal debut season in England, scoring 30 goals in 48 appearances, helping his side to the previously mentioned FA Cup final in which Di Matteo scored.
However, the season would result in double disappointment, being defeated in that final, and facing relegation to the First Division. (now Championship).
Despite the disappointment, we cannot forget the Italians quality in front of goal, including this strike on his debut against Liverpool in the 1996/97 season, as well as his trademark celebration.
Paolo di Canio
Finally, someone who didn’t move to the Premier League in 1996 (although ironically he did move to Celtic that year) – West Ham legend Paolo Di Canio.
The Italian moved to Sheffield Wednesday in 1997, where he would score 17 goals in 48 appearances, before being banned for 11 matches for pushing over (rather hilariously may I say) referee Paul Alcock.
He moved to West Ham the following January, where he would score a further 52 goals in 141 games for the Hammers during his four-and-a-half year spell at Upton Park.
His performances for the East London club attracted the attentions of the all conquering Manchester United in 2001/02, but he ultimately moved to Charlton Athletic (yes they were a Premier League side once) in 2003. His classy performances cemented his place as one of the greatest Italians to ever play the in the Premier League.
Ahhh it did feel strange not talking about a player who didn’t move to the Premier League in 1996. Well fear not everyone, it seems as though it was a vintage year, as probably the best Italian every to grace these shores also arrived that year.
That man is of course Chelsea legend – Gianfranco Zola. He of course was part of the FA Cup win in 1997, which now seems like it should have been the Italian Cup final with the amount of Italians involved.
He went on to win the same treble of the League Cup, Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup the following year.
His number 25 shirt, while not officially retired by Chelsea, has not been worn by another player since he left the club and in a poll by the Sun to establish the most artistic player ever to have played in England, he came second only to George Best.
While Gianfranco Zola only arrived at Chelsea relatively late in his career, he made such a mark on the club that they might not be the club they are today without him.