Thursday, 29 January 2009

Something Special

Gianfranco Zola feels West Ham are slowly building "something special" at Upton Park after watching his side extend their unbeaten run with a 2-0 win over fast-fading Hull. In-form striker Carlton Cole struck again to take his tally to six in seven games after Italian David Di Michele had put the home side ahead as the Irons consolidated their position in eighth place with the hard work put in by Zola and his team now paying off.

Zola said: "The team is strong mentally, technically and physically and it is good as we are building something important here and you can smell the atmosphere here, I am very pleased to be involved in this. We want to build an atmosphere with fair competition between each other with everybody looking forward to getting into this team. They are enjoying themselves, and that is what we want here. Every time they play, it is always the best game, which is the biggest complement you can give to a team."

Away from the pitch and Zola said he despises the transfer window but still hopes to do some more business before it closes next Monday. The West Ham United boss, who started with new signing Savio Nsereko on the bench for last night's game, is searching for a midfield replacement for Hayden Mullins, who has joined Portsmouth. "If we feel the squad need strengthening we will try and do something but the transfer window is a nightmare and I can’t wait until it’s over," said Zola.

To that end, West Ham appear to have won the race to sign experienced Czech international Radoslav Kovac. He arrives as a ready-made replacement for the recently departed Mullins, a vacancy that has left the Hammers somewhat thin on the ground in central midfield. The club, who are thought to have been trailing 29-year-old Kovac for several weeks, have moved swiftly to land the defensive midfielder in order to fill the void.

United's interest had been confirmed earlier in the week by Spartak Moscow general director Valery Karpin; he said: "We have received a formal proposal for Kovac from West Ham in London, as well as another one in England and Spanish clubs. All of them will be considered, taking into account the views of the player, but the final decision may be taken as early as Wednesday."

Kovac, who currently plays for Spartak Moscow has featured predominantly in midfield throughout his career but can also cover in central defence. A former Czech League winner with Sparta Prague, he is valued around the £4million mark but United will look to take the player on loan initially with view to a permanent deal in the summer.

Kovac began his career with Sigma Olomouc before moving to Sparta Prague in 2003/04 where he was a member of the squad that won the Gambrinus Liga in 2004/05. After two years at Prague he moved to Russia to join Spartak Moscow. Having made his debut for the Czech Republic in their 1-0 win over Romania in October 2004 Kovac has gone on to make 26 appearances for his country, briefly featuring in the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 tournaments.

Despite Kovac's age and United's new found preference for bringing in mostly young talent, the club have been actively seeking an experienced head to complement their relatively young midfield line-up, and is able to challenge immediately for a first team spot. At an imposing 6'3", Kovac would also provide an aerial threat at set pieces- something Gianfranco Zola feels the first team is currently lacking.

Kovac, who is set to fly to England in order to rubber-stamp his move within the next 24 hours, could be involved in the squad that faces Arsenal at the Emirates this weekend alongside United's other new boy Savio Nsereko, who made his debut in last night's 2-0 win against Hull City. Talking to Sovietsky Sport, Kovac confirmed that he rejected a number of other offers in order to play in the Premier League. "The last decision was for me to choose West Ham over Celtic, but my decision was because of the Premier League. West Ham's manager and executives want me. West Ham love Czechs, they already have Jan Lastuvka and Marek Stech in their squad. This year I will be 30 and I only have a few years left before I become known as a veteran, so I want to realise my dream of playing in one of the main championships. Everyone whom I have asked for advice have told me to go, and the examples of Vidic and Pavlyuchenko gives me the motivation - they have both moved to England and succeeded there."

Kovac - who has been on Gianfranco Zola's hit-list for some time - confirmed that the deal had been completed in little more than a day. "Everything happened on Wednesday," he added. "My agents recently started to actively work and they found a few options, but I never really thought my pre-season with Spartak now would be my last one. I haven't even had chance to say goodbye to my team-mates, but I have had a call to say everything is ready and my ticket to London is booked."

One man definitely not coming to Upton Park is Mario Balotelli. Inter Milan remain adamant the teenage striker will not leave the club in this month's transfer window. The 18-year-old is reportedly a target of West Ham, but Inter assistant coach Giuseppe Baresi told the club's website the player is going nowhere. "He is an Inter player and will remain so," Baresi said. Balotelli, an Italy Under-21 international, has also been linked with a loan move in order to gain more first-team experience after making 14 appearances for the Serie A leaders this season. In the meantime he was left out of Inter's squad to face Catania for 'disciplinary reasons', according to coach Jose Mourinho. Reports suggest the teenager was originally included but, upon finding out he was set to spend the entire 90 minutes either on the bench or in the stands, refused to travel.

West Ham's technical director, Gianluca Nani, insists the Hammers have had no contact with Balotelli - a player Hammers manager Gianfranco Zola knows well from his days as assistant Italy Under-21 coach. "I have never talked to Balotelli," Nani told Sky Italia. "I don't even know what his voice sounds like. We are happy like this, and Inter have never called me to complain."

Elsewhere, there is a curious little piece in the Mail where West Ham's much publicised ban on selling players to Tottenham has supposedly coincided with an outbreak of "transfer gloating" emanating from White Hart Lane. The article states that this month's issue of Spurs’ official magazine recalls the biggest deal between the two clubs — Jermain Defoe’s £7million switch five years ago — and that its blatant triumphalist tone will not make for pleasant reading in east London.

Finally, appropos nothing really, I thought I'd print the 'Harry Redknapp Flow Chart' as was sent to me this morning.

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