For all the foreign influence on the Premier League, there actually haven’t been that many successful Italians in the English top flight since 1992.
There is an exception to that rule, though, and it has taken place in the salubrious suburbs of west London. Maybe it’s the blue shirt, perhaps it’s the swanky surroundings of Stamford Bridge. Whatever the reason, Chelsea have had a special love affair with players from Italy.
And so it continues with Inter wonderkid Cesare Casadei. The highly-rated Italian midfielder looks set to arrive to bolster Thomas Tuchel’s Blues squad in the coming days.
We’ve ranked all 13 Italians to appear for Chelsea in the Premier League. Not all of them have been successful of course, but some have been truly brilliant.
13. Fabio Borini
Borini has gone on to have an OK career, but he made almost no impact at Chelsea, where he came through the youth ranks.
The forward played just four league games before a loan to Swansea and a permanent move to Parma, which didn’t even earn the Blues a transfer fee.
12. Pierluigi Casiraghi
When a player’s career finishes with a club getting a payout from an insurance company, you can be pretty certain things haven’t gone to plan.
Carisaghi was actually an exceptionally accomplished player. He’d won plenty of shiny pots with Juventus and Lazio, finished as a World Cup runner-up in 1994 and arrived in west London for a substantial £5.4million in 1998.
But just one goal in 10 appearances was followed by a cruciate ligament injury and Chelsea eventually cancelled his contract after 20 months and 10 knee operations. Chelsea received £4million and Casiraghi never played again.
“I have had no help from England, either from club officials or medical staff,” Casiraghi said towards the end of the process. “Anything I have done since my injury, I have had to do alone.”
11. Christian Panucci
The former AC Milan and Real Madrid full-back Panucci arrived at Chelsea on loan from Inter Milan as a replacement for Dan Petrescu. Gianluca Vialli was sacked five games later and Panucci barely got a look in under Claudio Ranieri.
He played 10 times in six months and was shifted to Monaco on loan, before settling at Roma, where he became a club legend and racked up over 300 appearances.
10. Marco Ambrosio
Ambrosio came in as a third-choice goalkeeper in 2003 and, owing to injuries to Carlo Cudicini and Jurgen Macho, ended up playing 12 games, including an error-strewn debut against Notts County in the League Cup and a rather more glamorous win over Arsenal at Highbury in the Champions League quarter-final.
Not terrible, but thoroughly forgettable.
9. Gabriele Ambrosetti
When Gianluca Vialli uses your unveiling as a Chelsea player to dub you “the Italian answer to Ryan Giggs”, you’re pretty much fucked from the start, aren’t you?
Ambrosetti arrived from Vincenza for £3.5million in August 1999, having also played for such illustrious clubs as Varesi, Brescia and Venezia. He clearly was not the Italian Ryan Giggs.
After a single season in which he was used sparingly, showing some flashes of skill but too little to be handed a first-team starting place, he was loaned out to Piacenza before joining them on a permanent deal.
8. Davide Zappacosta
A £28million transfer, two seasons at the Bridge, an FA Cup and a Europa League, then two seasons out on loan.
Was he worth the fee? Almost certainly not. He did score a wild goal against Qarabag in the Champions League though…
Welcome Zappacosta 💛❤️ pic.twitter.com/0L43uml2Yk
— Jetski NFT (@JetskiNFT) August 20, 2019
7. Emerson Palmieri
Sort of like a left-sided Zappacosta, really. Emerson arrived a Chelsea in January 2018 and has hung around ever since without really making that much of an impact on the first team, playing just 33 Premier League games in over four years.
Still, the Brazil-born full-back has bagged himself Europa League and Champions League winners medals and helped Italy to a European Championship trophy at Wembley. He must be doing something right.
6. Samuele Dalla Bona
Dalla Bona was a bona fide child prodigy when Chelsea took advantage of lax Italian transfer regulations to bring him in age 17 in 1998, leaving Atalanta to join up with a cadre of his compatriots on the King’s Road.
He went into the youth team, where he was voted Chelsea’s young player of the season, before making his senior debut in 1999. It was in the 2000-01 season that the midfielder really broke through, playing 32 times and scoring twice in the league.
He followed that up with four goals in over 30 games in 2001-02, but then Dalla Bona’s head was turned by AC Milan, who wanted to make him part of one of the greatest teams of the era. That led to a falling out with Claudio Ranieri and Dalla Bona training with the reserves, but he got his way and moved in the summer of 2002.
From then on, however, little went right in Dalla Bona’s career. He was not good enough to make a mark on that Milan team and was loaned out before a series of poorly chosen transfers meant he made fewer than 200 appearances in total in his career.
“If only I could turn back time,” he later told ESPN, “I would have stayed [at Chelsea] forever. In Italy, football’s repulsive, particularly everything which goes on around it. The pressure, the mentality – I’m not made out for the Italian culture, and I also paid for this.”
5. Carlo Cudicini
The most solid of servants and an absolute model professional, Cudicini kept goal admirably from his arrival in 1999 until the signing of Petr Cech in 2004. He was then relegated to the bench.
He decided to stay on, however, spending five more seasons as No.2 ‘keeper before moving to Tottenham, in 2009.
Though Jorginho has not always been popular at Stamford Bridge – and was reported to be hovering around the exit door during the Frank Lampard era – he has been brilliant at times for Chelsea.
His passing provides guile and control to the midfield and both Maurizio Sarri and Thomas Tuchel have trusted the Brazil-born Italy international fully and completely.
Over the past four seasons, Chelsea have won two major trophies – the Europa League in 2019 and the Champions League in 2021. It is not a fluke that Jorginho has been instrumental in both finals.
In an interview with the Telegraph in 2021, he said: “Have I had bad days? Of course. We all have. I have never doubted myself, though, because I knew how hard I worked.
“Obviously, I’m being praised for my performances and the Champions League title. But I run around 12 kilometres per game and haven’t started doing that now. I give 100 per cent effort every day.”
This pass from Jorginho still needs an explanation 🤯 pic.twitter.com/HiXHXr1fj8
— TLV (@TheLampardView) July 19, 2022
3. Gianluca Vialli
Vialli spent three seasons playing for Chelsea and only scored 21 Premier League goals, but his impact on the club went far deeper than those numbers suggest.
He moved to Chelsea on a Bosman free transfer from Juventus in 1996 and, despite not having the best relationship with manager Ruud Gullit, won the FA Cup in his first season.
Gullit was then sacked in early 1998 and Vialli immediately took over as player-manager, leading the Blues to a Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup double at the end of that season as well as a Super Cup victory over Real Madrid in August.
Vialli hung up his boots after the 1999-2000 season but stayed on as manager, leading Chelsea to the FA Cup in 2000.
2. Roberto Di Matteo
Six years at Chelsea, 175 appearances, charisma, quality, two FA Cups, a League Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a UEFA Super Cup – Di Matteo was one of the central characters in that great late-90s Chelsea side.
He came back and won the Champions League as manager as well, which did his reputation no harm at all.
Most importantly though, Di Matteo had that right foot. That powerful, beautiful right foot. Remember his FA Cup final goal 10 months after joining the club? ‘Course you do. Want to see it again? Yeah, we thought so…
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 17, 2020
1. Gianfranco Zola
Well, who did you think was going to be number one?
Zola cost £4.5million when Chelsea signed him from Parma in 1996 and repaid that fee 10 times over, not just with the trophies he helped the Blues win but with the joy he provided to the Stamford Bridge faithful.
He had magic in his toes and for that, he is adored…