The 5 best Italian players in Premier League history

No place for Gianluca Festa, sadly.

Gianfranco Zola


With Gianfranco Zola celebrating his 53rd birthday this week, his crown as the Premier League’s greatest Italian import remains intact.

The Sardinian played more than 300 times for Chelsea, scoring 80 goals, including a fantastic near-post backheel to beat future Blues keeper Rob Green.

It’s hard to look past the little magician when it comes to naming the best Italian to grace the Premier League, but several others have come for his crown as best they could.

Gianfranco Zola

Carlo Cudicini

Another Chelsea import, Cudicini was plucked from Castel di Sangro in the Italian lower leagues and turned into one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League.

Of course, when Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea he had to find an even better goalkeeper from another league, and even when Petr Čech was rushed to hospital after a clash with Stephen Hunt, Cudicini tried to upstage him by sustaining a worrying injury of his own. You can’t accuse him of not giving his all.

Carlo Cudicini

Paolo di Canio

If we want to address the subject of footballers whose ability allowed us to overlook some questionable politics, Paolo di Canio walked so Lucas Moura could run.

Yes, he scored some of the best goals ever scored in the Premier League, including that scissor-volley against Wimbledon and the 30-yarder with his wrong foot away at Chelsea, but there’s an elephant in the room.

Was he fascist? Well, there’s the ‘Dux’ tattoo, and the one-armed salute, and that time he said he was “a fascist, not a racist”. But he also scored all those great goals. Yeah, not enough, is it?

Paolo di Canio

Roberto di Matteo

When putting this list together, I had to make the decision to pick one of Di Matteo and Gianluca Vialli. The former scored that fantastic first-minute cup final goal, taking us back to a time when we got a full day worth of FA Cup build-up on terrestrial TV, while the latter scored those two goals in the snow in Norway, taking us back to a time when football with an orange ball was commonplace.

Both made huge impacts on the pitch, winning trophies and scoring important goals for Chelsea, so the tie-breaker would have to come in the form of their managerial careers. Di Matteo won the Champions League and Vialli spent £10m on Chris Sutton, so there’s your answer. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

Fabrizio Ravanelli

One of the strangest, most head-scratchy football stats you’ll hear is that Ravanelli played more games for Derby County than for Middlesbrough.

I know what you’re thinking, you didn’t realise he’d ever played for Derby. It’s true, though – 53 games for the Rams and just 50 (including two in the second tier! Against Charlton and Stoke!) – for Boro.

The White Feather was 27 years old and close to his peak when he arrived in the North East, and that hat-trick on his debut against Liverpool ensured nothing else would be able to remove him from this list. Not even relegation.

Fabrizio Ravanelli

Alessandro Diamanti

Diamanti ranked 11th in the Premier League for shots in his one full season at West Ham, with a total of 99. This seems high.

It seems even higher when you realise he started only 18 games, often from a withdrawn position, it seems higher.

99 shots, at an average of one every 18 minutes, for a team that finished the season in 17th place with 35 points. Now that’s just admirable.

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