Football: Forza Zola forever

Louis Jebb discovers that Italian ecstasy has overflowed
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The Independent Online
"The Lord of London", "The genie of Aladdin's lamp", the "fantasista azzurro". Eight months after the missed penalty against Germany that cost Italy a place in the final stages of Euro 96, Gianfranco Zola is a god again for the Italian press.

And for their readers too. On Friday the sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport published telephone numbers for a St Valentine's Day phone-in with the scorer of Italy's winning goal at Wembley. One caller, Piero Bonu, asked Zola to act Cupid, to write to Piero's girlfriend to pass on a proposal of marriage. Zola, ever the saggio in spite of the euphoria, wondered whether Signor Bonu wasn't asking him to patch up a lovers' row. Reassured, he agreed to write the letter.

Zola's royal touch was clinically assessed in the Italian press on Thursday and Friday. The radical chic La Repubblica gave him 7.5 out of 10, the Corriere della Sera of Milan and the Gazzetta marked him likewise, but Il Giornale gave a full 10 to "Mister Zola pronounced 'SSSola' [by the English] ... the smallest of all - like Napoleon, an emperor".

Tales of the "magica notte" of the Italian Emperor gave way on Friday to more searching analysis. To Candido Cannav, writing in the Gazzetta, Zola's flashing half-volley had helped the cause of fantasy football. It was a step on the way to eradicating one of the "great heresies" of Italian football, the smothering planning that puts "schemi" before players - just the suffocating mood at Parma that caused Zola to accept Chelsea's invitation. "The English Zola, with the romance and freedom he brings to the game, is a missionary on the road to reason," he added.

But by week's end the tone had turned from how much Zola is adored by that high-profile Chelsea fan John Major, to just when Zola would be returning to Serie A. It was the most insistent question on the Gazzetta phone-in. To La Stampa, Zola said he was very happy in London, but, in football, things change all the time.

On Tuesday Mr Major had said he hoped Zola would be saving his goals until today's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Leicester. In Il Giornale on Friday the dialogue ran:

"Questioner: 'Wouldn't you prefer to be turning out at the San Siro on Sunday, rather than against Leicester?'

"Zola: '...' Silenzio."