Despite Italian football having a stereotype of producing slow and lethargic football, often defensive in nature, the abundance of world class quality players that hail from the Azzuri is something to marvel at. The national side are typically one of the best in world football, boasting a variety of talented players across every position of the pitch.
At club level, more and more Italian players are plying their trade overseas and the English Premier League has been a hot-spot for potential stars to enhance their careers. Let’s take a look back at the five best Italians to play in England’s elite.
In 1997, Crystal Palace pulled off something of a coup when they landed Attilio Lombardo from Serie A giants Juventus. The £1.6m fee is almost laughable in today’s market, but it was quite a hefty sum to outlay 22 years ago.
The Bald Eagle, as Lombardo was known, got his career off to a flyer at Selhurst Park. The attacking midfielder scored on his debut in a 2-1 win at Everton, and was the focal point for everything good that Palace achieved in the first half of the season. In fact, Lombardo was that impressive for the south Londoners he was named in Palace’s Centenary XI after just 49 appearances. Despite their relegation from the top flight in 1998, it’s still hard to ignore the influence Lombardo had that year.
Roberto Di Matteo
During the back end of the 1990’s, Chelsea underwent a resurgence that saw them pick up a number of major trophies and much of this owes to the presence of Roberto Di Matteo. The central midfielder was renowned for his passing ability and long-range finishing; just ask Middlesbrough fans.
The Teesider’s fell victim to two Di Matteo blockbusters, in the FA Cup Final of 1997 and the League Cup Final the following year. Di Matteo is also remembered as scoring the last ever goal at the old Wembley, netting in the 1-0 FA Cup Final win over Aston Villa in 2000.
You’ll be hard pushed to witness a better Premier League debut than Fabrizio Ravanelli’s Middlesbrough bow in 1996. Ravanelli, aka the White Feather, quite simply tore Liverpool’s defence to shreds as he scored a hat-trick on his debut in a 3-3 draw.
He went on to score 17 goals for Bryan Robson’s side that season and helped ‘Boro to two domestic cup finals, although they lost in both. After his stint up north, Ravanelli returned to the Premier League with Derby County in 2001, scoring 14 goals in 49 appearances.
Similarly to Di Matteo’s signing, Gianluca Vialli was brought to Stamford Bridge to help rejuvenate the west Londoners and he was more than instrumental in his three years at the club. The former Champions League winner with Juventus, who are 15/2 to taste success in 2019 with Betfair, scored an impressive 21 goals in 58 appearances under manager Ruud Guillet.
Overall, Vialli helped Chelsea to the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
There was only ever one candidate to take pole position for the best ever Italian to play in the Premier League. Gianfranco Zola, a Chelsea legend in his own right, quite simply transformed the Blues from mid-table obscurity to genuine title challengers.
Zola was nothing short of magical for the west Londoners, scoring 59 goals in 229 appearances and was voted their best ever player in 2003. Zola lifted five major trophies in his time at Stamford Bridge and scored some unbelievable goals; his strike against Norwich City reinforcing that fact.