If you look at the Championship table today you will see that Watford have climbed to 3rd place within 3 points of Hull City for the 2nd automatic promotion place. Who is managing the London club? None other than Chelsea icon Gianfranco Zola who spent 7 superb seasons as a player at Stamford Bridge.
Zola had a 2 seasons in charge at West Ham United where he had another former Chelsea player and coach, Steve Clarke, as his assistant. In the first season Zola had West Ham playing a style of football not seen at Upton Park in some time and was winning plaudits from everywhere, steering the team to an impressive 9th place finish. However, things did not go well for the two at Upton Park in their second season and Zola was relieved of his duties at the end of the season after the Hammers finished in 17th spot only 5 points clear of the relegation places. As a side note, Zola was replaced by you guessed it another former Chelsea manager Avram Grant.
According to common consensus, Zola did not really get a fair crack things in East London and should have been given more time but he took his dismissal with total class, never bad-mouthing anyone at West Ham and he then spent a period of time away from the game before being courted by Watford this past off season with Malky Mackay having left for Cardiff City and following the club’s takeover by Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo. Zola agreed to take charge of Watford and has masterminded an excellent season for the hornets which has seen them playing really attractive football, scoring loads of goals (a league-leading 64 already in the Championship) and proving tough enough to score against evidenced by their goal difference of +22.
Zola is working with a number of Italian players at Watford with 10 players having joined the Hornets on loan from Udinese last summer shortly after the Hornets’ were purchased by the Pozzo family, who own both clubs as well as the Spanish club Granada. Working with his countrymen might help him a little in the style of football he likes to play but Zola is beginning to look like a really quality manager.
Former Real Madrid manager, Manuel Pellegrini, with his impressive credentials is the latest international name to be linked to Stamford Bridge so the current Chelsea manager vacancy might be a season too early for Gianfranco Zola to be a serious contender. But if he continues to impress at Watford it is hard to imagine him not coming into the frame at Chelsea some time in the near future given how often we seem to be looking for a new manager.