With the Premier League reaching its denouement at the end of the month, it is time to reflect on some of the greatest players that have graced its pitches. Since the inception of the Premier League back in 1992, there have been a number of different Italian players that have shone.
The first Italian to grace English footballing shores was Andrea Silenzi. A blast from the past he certainly is, Silenzi was the first Italian to appear in the Premier League and plied his trade at Nottingham Forest. All in all, Silenzi scored 89 goals in his entire career including for Notts Forest when he signed some 20 years ago.
Yet there have been a wealth of talented Italians that have glided across the field of play like swans on a lake. The beauty of their finishes as well as their skillful play have ignited crowds up and down the country. Take for example the talented Italian Fabrizio Ravanelli. The former Middlesbrough striker was a fan favourite with Boro for a few years and appeared in the same side as Juninho among others. He was most famous for his over the top goal celebration which normally involved pulling his shirt over his head.
In addition to this, there have also been other Italian soccer giants who have made an impact for the Premier League such as Carlo Cudicini. The former Chelsea shot stopper was actually named Chelsea’s Player of the Year for 2002. Meanwhile, just 12 months later the ex Spurs deputy keeper went on to win the best Premier League number one. But who are in fact the 10 best Italian Premier League players of all time?
He will go down in history not for his playing career but for his incredible UEFA Champions League victory. Roberto di Matteo had an excellent career at Stamford Bridge turning out in the blue jersey for Chelsea. In a career which spanned nearly seven years until 2002, Di Matteo was much loved by the Chelsea faithful. In addition to that, he will be remembered for one of the fastest FA Cup Final goals in history. This was scored at Wembley Stadium in just 42 seconds. Furthermore, Di Matteo was responsible for scoring the winning goal when Chelsea faced Aston Villa in a subsequent Wembley final. He won a wide variety of trophies during his time at Chelsea which included the likes of the Cup Winners Cup not to mention the League Cup. On the international front, he achieved more than 30 caps for Italy scoring two goals in total.
Benito Carbone was another wonderful talent who is fondly remembered in the Premier League. The midfield maestro ended up at Sheffield Wednesday in a deal in the region of $5 million back in 1996. During his time up north, Carbone knocked in 25 goals in less than 100 games for the Owls, whilst he turned out for Bradford City as well. His lethal right foot was usually the bain of many a goalkeeper as Carbone was adored by many across Sheffield and the surrounding areas.
Another one of the first Italians to enter into the Premier League was Gianluca Festa. His short career in England took him to the Riverside where he played for Middlesbrough. He joined Boro in 1997 after a spell at Inter Milan. Having left the San Siro, it would have taken players longer to settle into the different culture as well as language. But Festa took to things like a duck to water and provided plenty of steel to their back four line up. He was playing in the same side as fellow countryman Fabrizio Ravanelli and even scored in his debut. He was extremely tough when it came to the tackle, whilst he chipped with a couple of significant goals. This featured none more so than the semi-final against Chesterfield. Taking place at Old Trafford, it was considered to be one of the greatest ties in recent history and ended up in a thrilling three all draw.
Festa made Wembley a second home as his Middlesbrough side appeared there on three separate occasions. In spite of the club being relegated, Festa ably assisted in order to help them back into the Premier League.
Francesco Baiano turned out to be a genuine cult hero in Derby. In his 64 appearances for the Rames, he was able to get on the scoresheet 16 times. Bayonne first made a name for himself when he signed for Serie A side Foggia. At the time, he was under the tutelage of Zdenek Zeman and achieved promotion in 1991. He was also the highest scorer netting 22 times where he played alongside Italian icon Peppe Signori. In Italy, Baiano captured a host of trophies from the Coppa Italia to the Supercoppa Italia. In 1997, Derby County came calling and he was on his way to the English Premier League. To this day, Derby supporters still count Baiano as one of their greatest foreign imports. Eventually, he retired from the game back in his native Italy but this was not until 2009.
An enigma at times, Mario Balotelli features on this list thanks to his contribution whilst at Manchester City. The former AC Milan forward has for the most part disappointed on Merseyside but his efforts for the Blues will never be forgotten. After signing for City, Balotelli made a significant impact in the blue shirt. This includes several goals and magical moments featuring the goal in the 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Despite his run ins with former boss Roberto Mancini, Balotelli was responsible for arguably the club's finest hour. After trailing to Queens Park Rangers on the last day of the season, City had to win in order to steal the title off rivals United. It was the right foot of Balotelli which was able to assist Sergio Aguero who won the title for City by just one goal. This moment will never be repeated and ensured City lifted their first Premier League title in more than four decades.
Known as the Bald Eagle', Attilio Lombardo was a popular Italian player who featured for Crystal Palace in the Premier League. The former Sampdoria midfielder was one of the earliest Italian recruits but nevertheless ensured he was a popular figure in the Palace dressing room. In fact, Lombardo went on to become the Eagles boss and was a player-manager. To this day, he is still one of the youngest ever managers in the Premier League, having taken the reigns at just the tender age of 32.
With an extensive career in Italy, Gianluca Vialli is without doubt one of Chelsea's greatest Italian players. The striker joined from Italy during the latter stages of his footballing adventure. Whilst in South West London, he enjoyed three years playing for the Blues and scored 27 times. After the sacking of Dutchman Ruud Gullit, Vialli went on to be a player-manager for Chelsea back in 1998. Under Vialli's direction, the club went on to win the League Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup.
One of the most underrated Italian players has got to go to Middlesbrough striker Massimo Maccarone. In 2002, the Boro forward joined the Teessiders from Empoli in a deal that was worth in the region of $11 million. Although he was shipped out on loan to a couple of other clubs, Maccarone almost helped Middlesbrough to European glory. This was largely in part down to their UEFA Cup run in 2006 where they reached the final.
A sheer maverick in every sense of the word, Paolo Di Canio was an incredible talent in the Premier League. He joined Sheffield Wednesday where he was involved in an infamous incident. This featured referee Paul Alcock in a game where Di Canio appeared to shove him over. As a result he was duly sent off but his fiery temperament was a real part of what made him tick. Having joined West Ham United, Di Canio dazzled opponents with his silky skills and scored one of the greatest Premier League goals of all time. This took place at Upton Park where Di Canio rose like a swan and volleyed into the net with both of his feet off the ground.
There can only be one winner and that goes to former Chelsea man Gianfranco Zola. Having moved from Emilia-Romagna bustling South West London, Zola was to cement himself in a successful Chelsea side. His quality cannot be denied, whilst he was able to secure a series of trophies during his time at Stamford Bridge. This included the FA Cup and he soon went on to win the Football Writers Association’s Player of the Year. Other trophies followed and Zola also added the League Cup, Cup Winner’s Cup and Supercup to his trophy cabinet. In 2004, he was paid the ultimate accolade and was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.