Gianfranco Zola remains a gentleman. After the financial uncertainty surrounding the club this season, after the repeated attempts by David Gold and David Sullivan, co-owners of West Ham, to discredit his position, and even after suffering the ignominy of being sacked Zola still refuses to attack his persecutors. His behaviour is as dignified as it is misplaced in the current climate of football.
The diminutive Italian greeted journalists and camera crew camped outside his residence yesterday with a tray of fresh coffee and personally served them. A statement released through the League Managers’ Association read:
“I am extremely disappointed to be leaving West Ham United. Over recent weeks I have been the subject of various adverse comments, from within the club, which have been widely reported in the media. Despite what has been a very difficult period for me I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at West Ham.”
The decision that Zola would not be manager for the beginning of next season appears a premeditated one. Gold and Sullivan were new owners who perhaps would have preferred a new start with a manager of their choosing. To add to this, West Ham finished only one place above relegation – a bad season for the players and the manager alike. Irrespective of these circumstances however it does not excuse the tactless manner in which Gold and Sullivan handled themselves since becoming owners. The issue is further compounded because the object of their sustained public, and no doubt private, campaign was the highly likeable and unfailingly dignified ex-Chelsea man. Zola definitely deserved better treatment.
Zola’s departure comes at a cost, £3.5m being paid in compensation, and with debts of £110m to address it prolongs the uncertainty that has shrouded West Ham for much of the season. A host of speculative targets have been rustled up by fans and Mark Hughes seems a popular replacement but, as with Zola’s future up until yesterday, it’s all just speculation. I’m surprised to hear many people use Zola’s inexperience as a manager as a primary stumbling block for the team this year. In his debut season he took them to a very respectable ninth place finish and, despite debilitating scrutiny and pressure from the media, kept them in the Premier League for at least another term. I’d even argue that this season tested his managerial ability to breaking point and he passed. The man was fighting a battle from inside the club and out; through takeover, very public financial turmoil, and a flagrant lack of confidence exhibited by his new employers. Somewhere in that mess he just about managed to do his job and salvage West Ham’s position in the top flight of football.
Whether Zola takes a long break from management and enjoys a Sardinian summer or whether he gets back into the game, as manager or assistant, his behaviour cannot be condemned and his integrity remains intact:
“I would like to sincerely thank the players and my staff for their continued support, hard work and commitment. I am extremely proud of their efforts, over a long and difficult season, in retaining West Ham’s place in the Premier League. West Ham is a great club, with fantastic supporters and I wish the club every success in the future.”
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