Gianfranco Zola has confirmed he is leaving Chelsea to join Italian Serie B club Cagliari.
The former Italy international is out of contract at Chelsea and had been considering signing a new one-year deal at Stamford Bridge.
But the 36-year-old had always stated his ambition to finish his career in his native Italy and has decided the time is right to return to his homeland.
Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri was extremely keen to keep Zola at the club and following Russian Roman Abramovich's takeover at the club, the player was offered improved terms.
"We tried hard to find a solution, and when the new investors came in it was
the very first issue on the agenda," Chelsea chief executive Trevor Birch told the
club's official website.
"As a result of additional resources being made available we were able to
offer terms which satisfied him.
"But being the man he is he felt that having
given his word to his home island club he would have to leave us and join
Chelsea chairman Ken Bates has led the tributes to Zola, who is regarded as one of the clubs best ever players.
"Zola was undoubtedly one of Chelsea's greatest
players ever," said Ken Bates.
"He's been a joy to watch and a great influence both on and off the
field, particularly because of his great interest with young fans.
"We owe him one hell of a lot of thanks.
"On behalf of every Chelsea fan I wish him and his family all the very best of good fortune in the future."
Negotiations are now underway to set up a game between the two clubs so
Chelsea fans can say farewell to one of their heroes.
Zola joined Chelsea for £4.5m on 8 November 1996 and made 185 Premier League appearances for the Blues, scoring 59 goals.
He was named the club's player of the year after his first season at Stamford Bridge.
During his time at the club Chelsea won the FA Cup twice, the European Cup Winners' Cup and the Worthington Cup.
Meanwhile, Chelsea's on-loan midfielder Enrique de Lucas has returned to Spanish club
Alaves after his agreement expired.
De Lucas left Espanyol to join the Blues last summer after previously signing a pre-contract deal with Alaves which allowed him to play abroad for one season.
The player took up the option at Stamford Bridge, where he made 31 appearances
and scored once.