The recent takeover at West Ham has placed uncertainty on the future of the manager Gianfranco Zola. There have been disagreements, played out in the papers, between Zola and the new co-owner, David Sullivan, so is there a long term future for the Italian?
David Sullivan is an outspoken chairman, and he is certainly not backward in coming forward. From the moment he emerged at Upton Park in a claret smoking jacket, West Ham fans were talking about his and business partner David Gold’s plans for the club. The duo are a rarity; successful football chairmen. They were stable owners who despite a complicated sale have seemingly left Birmingham in a very strong position.
Gianfranco Zola is one of the most popular foreign people in English football. All fans marvelled at what he achieved at Chelsea. From an outsiders point of view he always came across as a great man as well as a great player. His managerial career at West Ham has in general been a successful one. With a fit and firing squad he led them to strong 9th place, just two points off a Europa League spot last season. This season in contrast the Hammers have struggled but this is because of key players being injured and there has been little if any thought of sacking Zola.
David Sullivan’s claims therefore that he was unsure as to Zola’s ability are odd and must be somewhat worrying for the Italian. New owners are entitled to make changes, as they seek to improve their new investment and the managerial position is an obvious option. Zola however has proved to be very popular with his players and Sullivan may be better off sticking by Zola.
It is however a concern for the longevity of Zola’s career in the east end. Look at Mark Hughes and uncertainty that his position was held in by the new owners at Manchester City. Hughes was effectively given a stay of execution but eventually the owners acted as they wished regardless. In the meantime the squad became bloated and now Mancini, arguable the owners choice all along, has to takeover Hughes’ squad. It will inevitably take Mancini time to get the squad to adjust to his own style and it seems now like time was wasted under Hughes’ management. Why not just get the man you want in and back them accordingly?
Sullivan may well choose to remove Zola at some later point but Hammers fans must hope that the uncertainty does not affect the team’s performances. It would all too easy for Zola and the players to be distracted by the uncertainty and not plan ahead to the future. Pleasingly however the contrary emerged recently with the celebrations after Alessandro Diamanti’s goal seeming to suggest that the players are rallying behind their manager and improving their efforts. If the players are all united in wanting to keep the Italian, then they have a responsibility to continue to improve their performances. Nothing will serve Zola better in his negotiations with the owners than a successful side.
West Ham have had a tumultuous few seasons and the solid financial backing of Gold and Sullivan bode well for their future prospects. Zola has shown enough in his short managerial career to be given a fair go under the new owners and the three men can steer West Ham up the league. It would not be conducive to success to partly back a manager and then eventually sack him anyway. If they are genuinely unsure about Zola then they should act in the summer, as change now would further risk relegation, and bring in a new man. If not then they need to back him and his coaching team and allow them the trust to build a competitive squad. If Zola is on borrowed time from the owners then eventually West Ham will lose a man of great stature and also potential.
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