Interview: Gianfranco Zola Swaps Pitch for Putting

Football legend Gianfranco Zola swaps the football field for the fairway and finds out how Golfzon data could be as important as talent.

As natural as Gianfranco Zola’s footballing ability might be, he’s always willing to explore new techniques, processes and technical data in the quest for improvement.

His remarkable skill and ability on the pitch made Zola one of the stand-out players in the Premier League. His glittering career took him to Napoli, Parma and Chelsea, while also collecting 35 caps for Italy. Along the way, he played in both the Euro 96 competition, as well as the 1994 World Cup.

Zola retired from playing professional football in 2005 and has since embarked on a coaching career with stints at West Ham, Watford and Birmingham City. He recently left his role as assistant manager at Chelsea, so could be described as being between jobs. That’s giving him time to concentrate a little more on another sport he plays well; golf.

David Leadbetter, Gianfranco Zola and JJ Rivet in front of a Golfzon simulator.

Already playing off a five handicap, Zola took time to join CALIBRE in checking out the new facilities at the Leadbetter Academy’s European HQ at Stoke Park.

Kitted out with state-of-the-art Golfzon simulators, Zola was put through his paces by both machine and David Leadbetter himself, learning first-hand just how important technical data is to improve your game.

Each of the high-definition simulators comprises two high-speed cameras, equipped with the proprietary T2 sensor, which accurately traces club movement and impact of all shots with fast processing of high-precision data. Additionally, a moving Swing Plate – a high-tech tee mat – automatically adjusts to uphill, downhill, and side-hill lies, by simulating course slopes from the tee box to the putting green.

“I think the Golfzon simulators within the Leadbetter Academy are fantastic,” explained Zola. “You have that instant data in front of you which can only help you improve, especially when you have the best coach in David telling you what you should be doing.

“As a footballer in my career, that sort of data was just not available. You just had to trust what the manager was telling you. But since becoming a coach and a manager myself, the data is vital these days.

“As a manager, I am often trying to explain to a player that they should be doing something differently – to run somewhere else, to be faster in certain parts of the pitch or how they should be doing more for the team,” he explains.

“Sometimes they argue with me saying ‘I already do that’. But when you can show them exactly what you mean with video and the technical analysis, it helps!”

There are similarities between football and golf that surprised Zola a little. Leadbetter, alongside biomechanist JJ Rivet, underlined some of the shared methods in generating power, with Leadbetter even taking on the impromptu role of a goalkeeper to make his point about the importance of posture and balance.

While Zola is better known for his fiercely curving free kicks, the fascinating insight into the similarities between football and golf, along with world-class tuition backed by hard data from the Golfzon simulator, means that Zola’s now hitting balls straighter than ever.

“I love my golf. It is a more technical sport than football but you still need that little bit of imagination and creativity sometimes and there are some similarities I hadn’t thought about before,” added Zola. “But it was incredible to understand a little bit of David’s knowledge – I definitely have some things to work on with my game!”

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Phil Huff

Phil Huff is one of the UK’s leading motoring journalists, with years of experience test driving new cars for national magazines and newspapers, as well as popular online sites. When not driving other people’s cars, he can be found provoking the ire of Cambridge residents in his old Corvette.

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