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Zola bids farewell to Chelsea fans

By Mark Meadows
August 09, 2004 11:27 IST
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Gianfranco Zola returned to Chelsea for one last appearance on Sunday and said a tearful goodbye to the fans who adored him for seven memorable seasons.

Chelsea beat Real Zaragoza 3-0 in a friendly as new coach Jose Mourinho fine-tuned his plans for the new season but still found time to give Zola, now with Cagliari, a run-out that was greeted by a huge standing ovation.

"It was absolutely fantastic," Zola said. "It was emotional and an incredible response from the crowd."

The Italian forward was even given the captain's armband and convinced everyone he would still be able to terrorise premier league defences at the age of 38 just as he did in 1996 when he joined from Parma for 4.5 million pounds ($8.20 million).

Zola left Chelsea last year to return to his native Sardinia at around the same time as billionaire owner Roman Abramovich took control of the London club.

The Russian reportedly made a last-gasp bid to keep the Italian but the deal with Cagliari had been done.

Zola's departure came about with such haste that he never had a proper chance to say goodbye and the club were criticised for their treatment of a huge crowd favourite.

"I wish I could still play here," he said. "But I have had my time, there are no regrets. I just wish the club and the supporters all the best."

Cagliari, who won promotion back to Serie A last season with Zola in their ranks, allowed the diminutive striker to don his old number 25 shirt one last time.

After such an emotional day, he now plans to concentrate on keeping Cagliari in Italy's top flight.

"I think we are going to do well. We are a team that can cause trouble for the others," he said.

Before the match Zola, capped 35 times by Italy, was belatedly awarded the Chelsea player of the year award for the season before last as well as a gong for being voted the best player in Chelsea's history.

He scored 80 goals for the London club and helped them lift six trophies, although the league tile was not one of them.

This season, however, Zola believes the multi-million pound squad assembled by Mourinho and his predecessor Claudio Ranieri have their best chance of becoming champions.

"I do regret we didn't win the Premiership," he said, "Winning it is not an easy task but if I was to bet I would bet Chelsea."

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Mark Meadows
Source: REUTERS
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