From that moment on, the boys really wanted to work hard for him and learn from him. I think that was a real reason we did so well that first season he was in charge.
I loved playing for Gianfranco. To get the chance to learn from someone like him was incredible. As a youngster, he gave me real belief that I could get in his team and have an impact in first-team games.
Now that I’m a coach, it’s really useful for me to be able to look back at my own playing career. I’m fortunate to have that experience of playing at the highest level.
But when it comes to coaching, I’m still finding my way; still trying to build my own philosophies and ideas, and to put my own twist on how I intend to go about it.
Part of that means taking little bits from every coach and manager I worked with. With Gianfranco, it’s the amount of time he took to try and understand you as a person – not just as a player.
“Gianfranco Zola was always looking to give us that edge”
Obviously results were very important, but for him it wasn’t just about results. He also wanted to try and help you develop as a player.
We’d have a training session with the team, then he’d want to work with me for 15 or 20 minutes afterwards, to try and improve bits of my game. He obviously felt he could improve me and knew that, by doing that, it was going to have an impact on the team.
Even at times when I wasn’t close to the starting line-up – when I was just a young lad – he took the time to do that. It wasn’t just me, either. He’d be doing free-kicks with Diego Tristan and Mark Noble after training – trying to teach them how to hit them the way he used to.
I also remember how he took the extra time to ask how your day was or how your family were. That’s the stand-out stuff I take from him, and that I try to input into my coaching now.
It wasn’t just Gianfranco who left a mark on me, though.