Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Zola And The Dutch Oven

“What occasions the greater part of the world's quarrels? Simply this: Two minds meet and do not understand each other in time enough to prevent any shock of surprise at the conduct of either party”
John Keats
Krzysztof Kieslowski once said that optimism is two lovers walking into the sunset arm in arm. Or maybe into the sunrise- whatever appeals to you. With one round of media interviews yesterday evening, Gianfranco Zola dropped the first metaphoric fart in the marital bed and how the United board now reacts will determine the future of this fumbling, tentative relationship.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Boxing Day fixture against Portsmouth, Zola delivered a Christmas message to his West Ham paymasters which emphasised he would be "very annoyed" if the club renege on their promise not to offload anyone in the January transfer window. With West Ham just a point off the bottom three, changes appear to be needed at Upton Park and reports suggest Zola will have to sell if he wants to buy in January.

However, the Hammers boss insists he has received fresh assurances from the Hammers board he can keep all his star players. "They are very good players and I'm not surprised that big teams want them," said Zola. "As far as I am concerned they are not for sale and I don't want to sell my best players. I want to try to improve the team if I can and that's the target for the January transfer window."

Zola confirmed that the list of those who have had a 'not-for-sale' tag firmly slapped on them includes Craig Bellamy, Matthew Upson, Valon Behrami, Robert Green, Dean Ashton and Scott Parker. He continued: "As far as I'm concerned no, they won't be going. The club have told me I won't be selling those players. I would be very annoyed if we did. They have to give me a very good reason if they do that. The club have been very good to me and I don't think they want to make this team weaker."
Zola is aware that the current board have form for selling players against a manager’s wishes, with the sales of George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland in the summer cited by previous boss Alan Curbishley as the main reason his role became untenable. But while his insistence that he would be “very annoyed” if any of his super six were sold might not exactly sound overtly aggressive, it would be unwise to believe Zola has not received positive noises from the board to back such a stance, given it leaves him with next to no wriggle-room in the event of sales.

Zola refused to elaborate on how he would react if the club went against his wishes, and was keen to reiterate his faith in his employers. "We can't really talk about what could be," he continued. "In football you never know. I won't be pleased because I want to improve the team. I have faith. The club remain positive and want to keep on with this project. If we can't make it with this team then we might make changes. Everyone wants to make this project work. We want to strengthen the squad."

Despite the frenzied activity of agents to place players away from the club – Bellamy is thought keen to rejoin Mark Hughes at Manchester City – there is believed to be some reticence from the board. They are aware of the potential damage to the value of the company in, firstly, selling its best assets and, secondly, further financial damage which would be caused by relegation. So for all the gloomy talk of financial meltdown and the threat of relegation, the club remains positive about their predicament, despite being just a point above the drop zone.

Before the transfer window opens again, West Ham face Portsmouth and Stoke and Zola insists he is just focusing on those at the moment. With only one win in their past 12 league games and having scored only five goals in those matches, the Hammers boss admits the pressure is on. "This is part of the game," added Zola. "The pressure is on everybody. The pressure is on Portsmouth, Chelsea, it's all over. You have to keep confident and keep working. My strikers obviously feel like they want to do more. They have to carry on working and believe in themselves. If they lose that self-belief it makes it very difficult. At the moment we are just focusing on what we have here. If we can't get the team to progress then we might consider getting someone else, until then we've still got a couple of games. Hopefully they can do this and I'll stick with them. We're just focusing on what we have here."

Having witnessed his team go four games unbeaten on the road and more than match the nation's top sides this month, Zola is rightly upbeat about the prospects for the new year to come after his early days at the Boleyn Ground helm. Speaking on the official site, Zola insisted: "As far I am concerned, it's been a great experience. It's a strong challenge and it's pushing me a lot. I'm focused on the next match. We know we've been unlucky. We didn't deserve [to lose to Aston Villa last weekend] but that's football. So being focused and ready for the next match is vital for us. On Wednesday we'll start focusing on what to do to beat Portsmouth. We need to improve certain things and we are going to be working on that. I want to improve as a manager and person. It's a big challenge. I've had so many problems to look after but I like competing. No matter how it goes, I've accepted this job and I feel it is making me better."

The next few days will be a busy period at Chadwell Heath but the manager said he will still find time for festive cheer. "I certainly will enjoy Christmas even though it's a difficult time. Football is like this. Sometimes you get bad moments but you have to remain focused and do the best you can and I'm sure here everyone is doing the best that they can. I remain positive that everything will be good."

In other news, Julien Faubert has threatened to leave West Ham and return to France if Gianfranco Zola does not play him more regularly. The Hammers’ right midfielder Faubert has become frustrated by his lack of action, as he sat on the bench during the clashes with Chelsea and Aston Villa. The 25-year-old’s priority is to revive his international career and he understands that moving back to his homeland would boost his chances. Faubert has hinted he could be interested in moving from London during the January transfer window, while West Ham need to raise some cash to sort their economic crisis.

Faubert told France-Football: “I must speak with the coach, Gianfranco Zola, to see what he wants from me. I must confess how disappointed I have been to remain on the bench for the game against Chelsea that was shown everywhere in Europe and especially in France. I should keep my cool and not act under pressure. There’s nothing concrete (with other clubs). Why not returning (to the French league)? I’m 25 and think about France and the 2010 World Cup every day. I tasted it and I’m missing it. I really want to play for Les Bleus again. And I know that you have to play and be good to make it. This could be with West Ham or elsewhere.”

Experienced goalkeeper legend Jimmy Walker admits he is open to staying at Colchester United permanently. Walker joined Colchester on loan from West Ham United last month and his temporary deal expires in early January. He has made four appearances for the Us and is enjoying the chance to play regular first-team football with the League One club.

The 35-year-old is unsure of his long-term future, but will not rule out agreeing contract to stay with Paul Lambert's side. "I don't know what the future holds for me yet," Walker told the Gazette. "I spoke to the gaffer and we decided on a month's loan to get some games because I haven't played as much as I'd have liked. It was the right decision for me and who knows, at the end of the month we shall see what happens. Colchester have two really good keepers in Dean (Gerken) and Mark Cousins, who have impressed me a lot in training. The future looks good for them and hopefully I can be a part of that but we'll see."

Lastly, Dagenham boss John Still is refusing to rule out a loan swoop for West Ham United's exciting midfielder Tony Stokes cometh the January transfer window, but only if any of his starlets get picked off by bigger clubs. Still has revealed that the promising youngster has been training with the club, with a view to a possible loan move. Despite the 21-year-old having only made one appearance for his parent club, 'Stokesy' has built up some experience with successful loan spells with the likes of Stevenage Borough, Rushden & Diamonds and League One outfit Brighton & Hove Albion.

Still told the Ilford Recorde: "Tony trained with us last week and I've known him since he was a lad. He's got a good attitude so I will be speaking to Tony and West Ham, but nothing can be done until January. There's no urgency, I couldn't just bring him in anyway as I have no facility to do that, but if there is movement in what we do, it's something I could look at."

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