Luis Suarez Could Be to Liverpool FC What Gianfranco Zola Was to Chelsea

Nabeel KhokharCorrespondent IJune 5, 2011

In November 1996, then Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit paid Parma £4.5 million for a little Italian named Gianfranco Zola. Having spent time at Napoli as the understudy to arguably the best player the world has ever seen, the young Zola learnt many a thing from Diego Maradona.

The little Italian was handed the number 25 shirt by Gullit, and his impact was instant. In his debut season, Zola was a revelation, putting in performances and scoring goals that mesmerized defenders and opposing goalkeepers.

After scoring a magical goal against Manchester United in the league in early 1997, the little Italian inspired the Blues to the FA Cup scoring four goes en route to the final.

To say, Zola's first season at Chelsea was phenomenal would be an understatement. At the end of the season, he was named the Football Writer's Association's Player of the Year and the first player in Chelsea's history to win the accolade.

What made it all the more amazing was that Zola won the award without playing the full season for the Blues, having joined them only the previous November.

He remains the only player to have ever been named Player of the Year without playing a full season.

Zola only played 30 times for Chelsea in his debut season and scored 12 goals.

In the next season, he led Chelsea to three trophies, the League Cup, the Cup Winner's Cup and the Super Cup. In the Cup Winner's Cup final, injury robbed him of a starting place, but upon coming on as a second half substitute, he scored the winning goal within 21 seconds.

The Italian wizard became a fans' favorite overnight, and his willingness to try the impossible endeared him to all that saw him play the game. Chelsea fans, and those of football in general, loved him and way in which he played the game.

Zola again inspired Chelsea to the FA Cup in 2000, in a match where again he was the key player for the Blues. The arrival of other strikers to Stamford Bridge did not deter the little magician, and he struck up good partnership with them all.

It was not only Chelsea that seemed in love with Zola but the English Premier League too. He always played with his customary grin that shone through challenges and tackles; he simply seemed to love to play football and played it a cut above the rest and most notably, beautifully.

Zola scored some memorable goals for Chelsea, and all football fans cheered the little Italian when he did.

In the 2002-03 season, which was to be his last in English football as a player, Zola had a resurgence and scored 16 goals, his highest return in the blue of Chelsea.

His final outing for Chelsea was on the season's final day against Liverpool, where he came on as a substitute. In a 20 minute masterclass, the highlight of which was a mazy dribble past four Liverpool defenders, he was applauded by both sets of fans; such was the admiration of the little genius from all.

In total, he played 312 times for Chelsea and scored 80 goals, winning six trophies. Such was the respect and impact that Zola had on the club, his number 25 shirt has been retired and to date has never been worn by another player.

In January 2011, Kenny Dalglish bought from Ajax a magical player that had been scoring goals for fun wherever he played. Uruguayan Luis Suarez arrived at Anfield with a big reputation and an even bigger price tag.

And like Zola, his impact on Liverpool was instant. Being given Liverpool's legendary number seven shirt by the man who wore it with such distinction only seemed to spur the little Uruguayan on.

The similarities with Zola are uncanny. Both are not the tallest, have amazing dribbling skills, wonderful free kick abilities, the ability and audacity to try the almost impossible and most of all, that wonderfully infectious smile.

Liverpool fans have only seen a few months of Suarez, but already love him as their own and as the words to his own Liverpool anthem go, they "just can't get enough."

Other teams have been quick to respect and applaud the little genius's ability and opposing fans know that they are seeing a potential English Premier League star in Suarez.

Suarez has even emulated Zola in scoring (or assisting) in a magical goal against Manchester United.

Next season, if the talented and mercurial Suarez continues where he left off this season, we may well see him as a front-runner for the Player of the Year award.

The resemblance between the two is uncanny, and if Suarez has the same impact on Liverpool and English football as Zola did, then both will be seeing the emergence of one of the best foreign talents to grace the English Premier League since the little Italian himself.

Luis Suarez could well be to Liverpool what Gianfranco Zola was to Chelsea.


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