Gianfranco Zola backs Antonio Conte to deliver success: ‘Winning is in his blood’

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Six straight league wins, six consecutive clean sheets and a point above rivals Liverpool at the top of the table.

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Zola, 50, knows the ex-Juventus and Italy boss better than most, having played together for the Italian national team.

And he said: “I had no doubt Antonio was going to do a good job for Chelsea.

“If you have that kind of passion, it is like adding salt to the meal — and that makes it a little bit tastier. It is the same for Antonio and Chelsea.”

Last season, the defending champions finished a dismal tenth, with even Jose Mourinho consigned to the dustbin.

Chelsea kept the majority of players who had gone so badly off the boil — and now the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa seem to have their hunger back.

“But everyone at Chelsea has bought into it. If the players can feel that passion, then they are more fired up.

“There is no doubt Antonio is a winner. Winning three back-to-back Italian titles with Juventus is an incredible feat.

“Wherever he goes, he does a good job. The competition in the Premier League now is tougher than what he had in Italy.

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“But he’s up to the challenge. Winning is in his blood. He’s in great shape and I really hope they can continue.”

Such is their close relationship that the Italian pair have dined out together a few times in London.

And Zola provides a fascinating insight into perceived ‘madman’ Conte, who barks instructions on the sidelines and even swung from his dugout in celebration at the Euros as Italy manager.

The ex-Chelsea superstar said: “He was very similar as a player. Yes, very intense, very hardworking, focused, dedicated to football. You see the same characteristics as a boss. We are Latins, so we participate a lot with the voice and gestures.

“And remember, we were in a dressing room with a lot of big characters — Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, so there was a lot of people to pick things up from.

“But he is actually completely opposite off the pitch. He’s very settled and reasonable.

“Sometimes you see people in the game who have a certain personality and you expect to see the same thing in normal life — that’s not the case with Antonio.

“We have a wonderful relationship. We played together in the national team, so we kept contact.

“I’ve showed him a couple of restaurants for dinner but it looks like he already knows where to go!

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“He likes Italian food and is a ‘good fork’ as we say in Italy when somebody appreciates their food.

“I don’t know what his favourite food is but last time we went out for a meal, we ate fish in Chelsea. And we had some Italian wine, for sure.”

Zola is still revered in West London, with police officers stopping him for selfies in the street before the ex- playmaker received a round of applause from more than 200 Chelsea fans as he entered the store.

The vino has been flowing for Blues supporters in recent weeks due to their red-hot run of form.

And Zola, dressed in typically fine Italian style with a sharp suit and jumper combo, added: “There’s a good connection between Chelsea and Italy.

“Roberto Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and myself started it — then Carlo Cudicini, Claudio Ranieri and Carlo Ancelotti.

“Now Antonio is continuing that. There always seems to have been an Italian connection. I think we like each other.

“It was a quick settling in process for me and Antonio is doing the same. It’s all very positive for Chelsea.”

The Blues face another test of their title credentials against London rivals Tottenham on Saturday.

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Zola said: “It’s an important game but it’s not going to be decisive. The margins are very narrow.

“Three weeks ago, everyone was sure Manchester City were going to win the league. Then it was Tottenham, then Arsenal and now it’s Chelsea.

“People wrote Chelsea off as possible title winners after defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal. They deserve to be top now and they’re playing well.

“But my old club, along with City and Liverpool, have more chance than the others because they look solid enough to be there until the end.

“Those three teams not only have the ability to win games but also the consistency, balance and strength to maintain the rhythm.”

If Conte can wrestle the title back for the 2015 champs, he will only be two Premier League crowns behind Mourinho.

Zola added: “I really hope for him and Chelsea that he can reach Mourinho’s level. It’s a good comparison and we will see if he can do that.”

A hat-trick of league titles would definitely be the time for Conte and Co to get the champagne and caviar out.

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