Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gianfranco Zola Faces a Bleak Future at West Ham

Gianfranco Zola was mesmeric as a player. The little man from Sardinia is loved by those who were lucky enough to see him play. The skill, professionalism and good nature he provided during his seven years with Chelsea mean he is regarded by most as the best foreign player ever to play in England.

In 2006, when he announced he was getting into management with the Italian U-21s, he was given an unbelievable amount of goodwill as he began on his new career path. And most fans of the EPL hoped we would see him in charge of a team in England someday. Most suspected it would be a return to Chelsea, few would have predicted West Ham...

Zola took over from Alan Curbishley a little under two months ago. He replaced a manager who felt he was forced to resign. During the previous year, Curbishley had seen most of his best talent sold from under him, aswell as the club failing to sign his targets as West Ham became the latest club to embrace the Director of Football.

As it stands Curbishley is suing West Ham for "constructive dismissal" as he seeks compensation for what he sees as him being forced out of the club.

Bjorgolfor Gudmundsson, West Ham's owner has seen billions wiped from his vast fortune and has been actively looking for a new owner since his banking empire felt the full wrath of the financial collapse of the banking system.

Not only are the club fighting Curbishley in court, they are also awaiting a decision from the Court of Sports Arbitration, who recently found in Sheffield United's favour in their dispute with the EPL and West Ham over the "third party" signing of Carlos Tevez.

The costs have yet to be agreed upon, but it's widely held that The Hammers could pay Sheffield United anything up to £40M compensation.

So what drove him to manage a club that looks like it could go into free-fall at any moment?

That someone so new to their management career would choose to manage a club in so many predicaments is strange to say the least. But that's probably a fault in all managers. They believe they're the ones to turn it around, make poor clubs great and in West Ham's case—save a sinking ship.

Many managers have taken over in worse positions and made things right. Just look at Harry Redknapp's instant success at Spurs. Who were also a club who up until recently embraced the Director of Football position.

But where we know Redknapp's track record over his 20 years as a manager we have no such reference points for Zola. So we can only judge him by his recent results and his comments in his short time as a manager.

Currently West Ham are on a run of five games without a win, and they look destined to be involved in this season's relegation dog-fight. Granted, two of the games were losses to Manchester United and Arsenal but there are certain elements you look for in every team; organisation, leadership, discipline, and the ability to work hard.

These are the foundations that all managers install in their teams. The basics that every team must have before tactics can be worked on, before flair is added to a side, and before the team can realistically challenge for honours.

What is most striking about West Ham at the moment is that they seem to lack any of these ingredients. But most worrying are Zola's comments, he doesn't seem to recognise the lack of these fundamental basics in his team.

After the Arsenal match where they were outplayed completely he said: "I know it might look crazy, but I am not worried at all because we are going to get through this. It would be easy for me to have a go at them but the players' commitment is fantastic and their attitude is perfect".

You don't expect a manager, especially a new manager to lambaste his team after a poor performance, but coming out with comments like these only show his naivety in dealing with the current situation.

Against Manchester United it was more of the same. The Hammers were brushed aside within the first half an hour as United took control of the game as West Ham wilted. The second half didn't get any better as United pushed on looking for more, with West Ham's only real attempt on goal being a 45yrd free kick from Craig Bellamy.

Again Zola's comments were similar, he said: "They are the Champions of Europe so it's difficult but I have great belief in my players, I trust them very much, and I am sure this bad spell will be over soon."

Winning against two of the best sides in Europe will never be easy, but the manner of West Ham's performances will be worrying to fans. More concerning will be the defeats to Bolton and Hull, these are two sides that West Ham need to get results against if they are to avoid a relegation battle. But again the performances were worrying as Bolton and Hull proved far more industrious than a lacklustre West Ham.

Off the pitch, Zola's hands are tied. In becoming the manager at West Ham he agreed to work under a Director of Football, allowing him carte blanche when it comes to transfers in and out of the club. This was the main reason Curbishley resigned—Players weren't being signed and he lost his two central defenders to Sunderland.

Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson was a majority shareholder in the £85M takeover of West Ham in 2006. And he quickly added the remaining five percent to become sole owner in 2007, however since then his Icelandic banking empire has collapsed under the current economic plight and his bank has fallen into the Icelandic Government's hands.

His estimated wealth of £1Billion has been reduced by anything up to £400M and has been looking for someone to take The Hammers off his hands since early September. His asking price for West Ham is rumoured to be a paltry £30M as he looks to offload this asset for some much needed capital.

Strangely enough, the British Government have been mooted to be one of the organisations looking to remove West Ham from it's Icelandic owners.

The British banking system is owed £20BN by the Icelandic banking system and the latter have refused to release funds as it needs all the capital it can get it's hands on to try and get it's economy out of recession. The British Government threatened to forcefully take over any Icelandic commodities operating within Britain to make up it's losses, which is where West Ham fit in.

It is extremely unlikely that the EU or the US would allow Gordon Brown to enforce such an extreme measure but it shows you the distinct lack of capital in the financial system at the moment.

What shows you, is that West Ham have no money to spend. Ever since Gudmundsson took over in 2006 their operating base has increased by almost 50 percent, meaning West Ham have to sell even more players as they look to reduce their operating costs.

So come January should Zola and West Ham be in a relegation battle, as many have predicted, the clubs survival will rest firmly on the little man's shoulders.

It is still far too early to write Zola off as a manager, he hasn't even managed his team through 10 games yet, but there are alarm bells ringing as West Ham have failed to show any of the basics needed to compete at any level.

While time may be on Zola's side and he may go on to be a great manager, time is most certainly not on the side of West Ham.

twitter / WillieGannon