Maradona's mark on Zola

Diego Maradona is not expected to be at the Boleyn Ground for the match against Newcastle United on Saturday, but he could still have an influence on what happens on the pitch.

The Argentina legend was a team-mate of a youthful Gianfranco Zola at Napoli when the pair won trophies including the 1989/90 Serie A title. This could perhaps explain where Zola's love of attacking football has come from. "Maradona has been a great influence. When I first met him I was only 23 and I was a young player trying to get better and I had in front of me the best player in the world," said Zola.

"I was a striker. I liked to play the ball, to enjoy myself, so attacking is obviously my mentality. Plus when I came to Naples we had a team that had not only Maradona but also Careca and Alemão. We had a lot of quality players and used to play some good looking football."

One might think that with all of these great players around, Zola would have been put off by the challenge of getting in the team, but for the young forward it was just an incentive to work harder. "When you had somebody great like him in front of you it inspires you to do better. So then it was a challenge for me to get to his level of football. They were so good and always playing the ball but I never gave up. I always said to myself if I want to get in this team I must improve and get better than them. It was a good mentality," he said.

Speaking ahead of his managerial bow, Zola certainly has visions of the way he believes the game should be played, with the emphasis being firmly on enjoyment. "I want the football to be enjoyable - firstly for the players. If the players enjoy it then the results you get are much better," he said.

"I also know that there are moments that you have to work hard and make sacrifices, but you don't feel them as you are enjoying what you are doing. It happened to me that I was working maybe seven or eight hours a day on my game but I didn't feel the stress or the fatigue. I want to get to that point so the players here feel it."

Zola's playing time with Maradona taught him that keeping the ball was key. "What I would like to say to the players is that when they get the ball they have to be totally comfortable with it. Tthe problem is not when we have the ball but when we don't have it. So when we are in possession we have to look after it and play it in the best way possible."

As well as the footballing legacy, the Neapolitan way has also left its culinary mark on Zola. That said, he is more than impressed with what he has encountered since arriving at Chadwell Heath. "I went to the [training ground] canteen and I very much enjoyed the food so I don't want to change that part ... They are very professional in that way here," he said.

It may not be on the menu at the training ground, but he is also still hoping to sample one special east end dish before too long. "Pie and mash?," he queried when asked if he had tried one particular local favourite. "No not yet. I hope I can have a very big pie and mash dish after the match against Newcastle." One thing is sure, a Maradona-inspired Zola certainly seems a recipe for success.