The next destination of our alphabetical world tour is Italy. Arguably the footballing culture furthest from that of England, Italian football has historically been based on style and defensive organisation rather than the pace and power that has come to typify the Premier League.
That offers a potential answer as to why so few Italians have enjoyed success in England, despite the Azzurri being among the finest teams on the international stage over the last 30 years.
According to the Premier League website, 76 players have represented Italy in the Premier League, the first of whom was a 1990s flop.
First Player – Andrea Silenzi (Nottingham Forest; 1995-1997).
The first of a number of Italian Premier League flops, Andrea Silenzi moved to Nottingham Forest in 1995 off the back of successful spells at Napoli and Torino. A highly-rated striker, Forest hoped Silenzi would fill the void of goals left by the departed Stan Collymore, who had joined Liverpool.
That he did not. He scored no league goals in 12 appearances over two seasons in England before returning to Italy. He was named in a 2006 article in the Guardian as one of the 10 worst foreign Premier League signings of all time.
Most Appearances: Gianfranco Zola – 229 (Chelsea; 1996-2003)
One player who certainly did not fail in England was Gianfranco Zola. The diminutive striker joined Chelsea in 1996 at the age of 30 and remained with the Blues until 2003, leaving an incredible legacy. Age proved no barrier for Zola, who achieved his best league return for the blues in his final season, bagging 14 goals.
He was voted the club’s greatest ever player in a 2003 poll and later returned to the Premier League as a manager, with West Ham and Watford.
Top scorer: Paolo Di Canio – 66 (Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham, Charlton; 1997-2004)
Pure entertainment. In seven seasons in England, striker Paolo Di Canio dazzled and horrified in equal measure over spells with Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton. He finished as the Owls top scorer in his debut Premier League season in 1997/98 but left Hillsborough in January 1999 after receiving a record 11-game ban for pushing over referee Paul Alcock. It remained the longest ban (issued as a number of games) in Premier League history until 2012 when Joey Barton received a 12-match ban after a violent outburst on the final day of the season.
His goal against Wimbledon in March 2000 was voted goal of the season and even the Goal of all seasons by us at 90MAAT. His flying volley epitomised the sheer quality of an unbelievable player who is still the top-scoring Italian in Premier League history.
Seven Italian players appeared in the Premier League before the suspension in 2019/20: Ezequiel Schelotto (Brighton and Hove Albion), Jorginho, Emerson (both Chelsea), Moise Kean (Everton), Adam Masina (Watford), Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham United) and Patrick Cutrone (Wolves).
- Mario Balotelli is the only Italian to have won the Premier League.
- Six of the 12 Italians to have managed a Premier League club also appeared in the Premier League as a player – Gianluca Vialli, Attilio Lombardi, Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo, Roberto Mancini and Paolo Di Canio.
- Fabrizio Ravanelli scored the first Premier League goal by an Italian, in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool on the opening day of the 1996/97 season at Middlesbrough.
- Marco Materazzi was the only member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning squad that played in the Premier League; doing so for Everton in 1998/99.