Sunday 24 September 2017

Where does Premier League winner Antonio Conte rank as one of Chelsea's greatest Italians?

The club has a decent history of Italian players and managers.

By Max McLean

Antonio Conte’s Premier League success has earned him a place in Chelsea history, but where does he rank among Chelsea’s best Italians?

The west London club have a history of influential Italian players and managers, so we’ve ranked them according to success, style and more.

There’s not a huge group of Italians to choose from, so apologies to Fabio Borini and a couple of others who missed out.

6. Carlo Cudicini

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It’s testament to the quality of this list that Carlo Cudicini comes sixth – the Italian goalie claimed the number one shirt at Stamford Bridge pretty swiftly, and until the 2004/05 season his quality ensured he kept it.

But in 2004 Chelsea began spending big, and one of those purchases was now-legendary goalkeeper Petr Cech, whose arrival at the club relegated Cudicini to substitute appearances and cup competitions.

Cudicini stayed at the club until 2009 when he moved to Tottenham, but is now back at the club as assistant to Conte – the club’s website described him thusly:

“One of the most talented and popular goalkeepers in Blues history, Carlo Cudicini made 216 appearances during his 10 years at Stamford Bridge between 1999 and 2009, keeping 101 clean sheets.”

Kind words for a great goalie, who simply had the misfortune to play for the same team as Cech.

5. Gianluca Vialli

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Gianluca Vialli did reasonably well as a player for Chelsea, winning the FA Cup in 1997 and scoring regularly in the league, but it’s as a manager and player-manager that he came into his own.

After Ruud Gullit left the club early in 1998 Vialli took charge as a player-manager and steered the club to the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup – the team had already progressed in each tournament when he took charge, but it was Vialli who ensured they achieved silverware as a result.

Vialli went on to achieve the Charity Shield and FA Cup with the Blues before leaving the club just weeks into the 2000/01 season.

4. Antonio Conte

Ah, the current manager – Antonio Conte’s on course for an historic double – which would be their first since 2010 – but Arsenal still stand in his way on that front.

Still, he comes in at number four and that’s no bad thing. Conte has revived the Chelsea team which utterly failed to defend the title in 2015/16, and since losing 3-0 to the Gunners in October, his team have looked largely unchallenged, save for a late surge from Tottenham.

A big fan favourite already, Conte is on the right path to legendary status – if he can deliver in the Champions League next season he’ll inevitably rise higher than fourth on lists such as these.

3. Carlo Ancelotti

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Football’s all about entertainment, and Carlo Ancelotti provided Blues fans with arguably the most entertaining double-winning campaign the country has ever seen.

No team has scored more goals in a Premier League campaign than Ancelotti’s, who netted 103 times on their way to clinching the title by a single point from Manchester United – results such as 8-0 v Wigan, 7-0 v Stoke City, 7-1 v Aston Villa and 7-2 v Sunderland helped them on their way.

Further to that, despite a lack of convincing opposition, Chelsea won the FA Cup in style too, scoring 17 goals and conceding just once on their way to the cup.

Impressive stuff from Ancelotti, who was sacked at the end of the next season.

2. Roberto Di Matteo

Roberto Di Matteo won Chelsea’s first and only Champions League trophy as manager, and on those terms he can count himself a little unfortunate to have missed out on top spot.

The Italian won trophies as a player at the club, scoring in the 1997 FA Cup final against Middlesbrough within a minute with a fine goal from distance – it’s his brief managerial time at Stamford Bridge that elevates him to legendary status though.

Appointed in between the two legs of Chelsea’s last 16 Champions League tie against Napoli, Di Matteo’s Chelsea recovered from 3-1 down to triumph 5-4. They then managed the impossible, knocking Barcelona out in the semi-final with 10 men, before beating Bayern Munich on penalties in the final.

Di Matteo was sacked later that year, but we suspect he’ll have a place in the hearts of fans for a long time.

1. Gianfranco Zola

He arrived at Chelsea from Parma in 1997, left in 2003, and in the six years he was in London, Gianfranco Zola made himself a Chelsea and Premier League legend.

Zola’s popularity grew around his style; a keen manipulator of a football, the Italian’s skill and vision was simply a sight to behold – this clip of him sending Jamie Carragher to the shops is a fine example.

But he had substance to back up the style too – with 59 league goals in 229 games as well as FA Cup and League Cup winner’s medals, Zola should not be remembered purely as a tricky midfielder.

Zola, along with others such as Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp, paved the way for a more creative type of Premier League player. None will ever do it quite like he did, though.

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