Many Chelsea fans have been trying to hazard a guess as to what will happen with assistant coach Gianfranco Zola once the impending departure of Maurizio Sarri is made official, and now it seems that we’ve gotten our answer. According to Sky Sports and their infamous ‘sources’, the charismatic Chelsea legend will leave the club this summer as his contract is set to expire after signing a one year deal before the start of the past season. This development is not necessarily surprising, but nevertheless somewhat saddening.

Zola’s time at Chelsea as a player undoubtedly made him a fan favourite and legend at this club he himself holds so dearly, but his credentials as a manager were always a source of heated debate among the fan base. Ultimately unsuccessful stints at West Ham, Cagliari and, prior to his involvement in London, a disastrous few months at Birmingham City had left fans unsure whether or not the lovable Italian would be a valuable addition to the backroom staff.

While it’s difficult to evaluate how much of an impact Zola really had on the Chelsea squad this past season, he was always a constant source of optimism and cheerfulness for both the team and supporters. Acting not only as an assistant coach to Sarri, but also an intermediary to the hierarchy and squad, Zola certainly contributed in his own way to the Blues’ successful path to two finals and securing Champions League football for next season.

Players such as Callum Hudson-Odoi were frequently seen in conversation with the little Italian on and off the pitch as he offered his experience and insights in order to help develop the pool of talent the club has at its disposal. One never heard a bad word spoken about Zola and this only contributes to the image we have of a gifted, kind and respectful figure Chelsea fans have thankfully been able to adore ever since he was first introduced to the club back in the 1996/97 season.

Will Gianfranco Zola ultimately go down as one of the most successful and talented assistant coaches to have ever graced the touchline at Stamford Bridge? Maybe not, thought it’s very difficult to assess him on a single season, possibly even unfair. I’m sure there will be some that continue to question his contributions to the club’s generally successful campaign; however, I for one will always be thankful for his contributions at Chelsea, whether as a player or a coach, and will remember him for endearing acts like telling staff and players to sit down to clear the view for supporters during Chelsea’s penalty shoot out against Tottenham that made him to the fan favourite he is and always has been.

While nothing is yet official, I’ll nonetheless already say this: thank you, Gianfranco, and wherever your journey leads you I wish you nothing but the best!