Monday, 9 February 2009

It's Only Just Begun

It is Mop-Up Monday where we apply a thickly cut slice of Blogger rye to the left-over Hammers related slop from the weekend's football fare.

First up, Gianfranco Zola insists he will not walk out on the Hammers after Chelsea fans called for the Blues legend to become their new manager. With Luiz Felipe Scolari's position at Stamford Bridge becoming increasingly unstable, reports suggest the Blues may be in the hunt for a new boss in the near future. Supporters reportedly hurled abuse at Scolari after Saturday's 0-0 draw at home against Hull City and displayed banners demanding the Brazilian be replaced with former fans' favourite Zola. The Italian was voted Chelsea’s greatest player and would be an obvious choice, helping to appease those supporters who have grown disillusioned with the club.

Zola has certainly made a positive impact with the Hammers this term, his first managerial post, having stepped into the void created by Alan Curbishley's departure in September 2008. He has led the club into the Premier League's European hunt and has received widespread acclaim for the manner in which he goes about his job. Now he has made it clear that an emotional return to Chelsea is out of the question, insisting he has every intention of repaying West Ham's faith in his credentials. "In football you never know what lies round the corner but I have no intention of walking out on West Ham," Zola said in the Mirror yesterday. "I owe a lot to them. Not many clubs would haven given me this opportunity. My main aim is to do well here and repay the faith West Ham and their supporters have shown in me. It's not in my nature to walk out on something that has only just begun."

The Sardinian declared himself proud of his side's performance after a Ryan Giggs goal was all that separated them and Manchester United. "For me it has been a positive match, forget about the result," Zola said. "I know we lost but I don't just watch the result, I also make other considerations as well. We were playing against the best team in Europe, if not the world and we just lost by one goal in a very tight match. I am very happy for my team, despite the fact we lost the game." West Ham challenged the champions in every department and the match was a good indicator of how far West Ham United have come under his stewardship. Zola said: "I am sure it won't be easy for anyone to come here and beat us. But they [Manchester United] did it in a very professional way. They punished us in the only mistake we made. Our goalkeeper hardly made any saves, so I'm very complimentary to them as if you can win games like this you are very strong."

Jack Collison, for one, has vowed to take the positives from the experience of facing Manchester United legends Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. United's Wales midfielder played a full part in the Hammers' encouraging performance against the Premier League champions on Sunday. Afterwards, the 20-year-old was impressed by the displays of the 35-year-old Giggs and 34-year-old Scholes, both of whom were at the hub of the visitors' best moments at the Boleyn Ground. "It was obviously a tough game," admitted Collison. "Coming up against Manchester United you know what to expect. They hadn't conceded a goal in 12 - now 13 - [Premier League] games so we knew it was going to be hard, but looking back on the game we were disappointed not to come out with more than nothing.

"I think we created a few half-chances but against a team like them it takes someone to take one of those half-chances to maybe put one over on them. It took something special to unlock us too. Ryan Giggs scored a great goal and, from a Welsh point of view, it's a bit of a shame he's retired [from international football] to be honest. He and Paul Scholes were fantastic. Scholes is someone I also look up to as he's been at the top his whole career. Trying to get close to him was a great experience for me. The way he keeps it simple and keeps the ball moving is something I can learn from."

While it is unlikely that Ryan Giggs’ status as English football’s most decorated player will ever be beaten, Collison believes he can trump the great man on at least one front. Collison is one of a group of young Wales stars with their eyes on a major international tournament — an experience denied Giggs despite his heroics for his country. Along with Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Cardiff’s Joe Ledley, Collison is part of a gifted Welsh brat pack emerging under John Toshack.

The Bedford-born West Ham youngster, who qualifies for Wales on the grandparents’ rule, has been a revelation over the past three months under new boss Gianfranco Zola. His credentials came under further scrutiny against Giggs and Manchester United yesterday but the 20-year-old displayed talent, self-belief and determination. "For players of my generation, Ryan Giggs is an obvious inspiration," he said. "He is one of the greatest-ever players, not just for Manchester United but for Wales and the rest of the nation. A great role model as well. He has won so much but maybe I could do something that he hasn’t. With Wales we now have a lot of good talent coming through. England only just pipped our under-21 side to the Euro finals in a play-off and that has given us belief that, in the next few years, we can qualify for a World Cup or European Championship. There is a real good chance under John Toshack because he has not been afraid to give younger players a chance, even in the big games."

Neither, of course, has Zola. After a poor start under his guidance, the Italian and assistant Steve Clarke abandoned a Chelsea-style 4-3-3 in favour of a diamond midfield — with Collison an integral part. Incredibly, he was on the verge of being farmed out on loan to Peterborough until an impressive performance at Old Trafford against yesterday's opponents. He explained: "It was towards the end of October but the day I was due to go to Peterborough, Mark Noble got a knock, so I was pulled back. The next thing I knew I was coming on as a sub against Manchester United at Old Trafford. I haven’t looked back since."

Collison’s emergence has coincided with a return to form for the Hammers. Since that 2-0 defeat by United on October 29, they haven’t lost an away game and have earned 14 points from the last 21. "The management and the coaching staff have got their tactics spot on and all the players are willing to work hard for each other," Collison explained. "That’s been one of the main reasons why the form and results have improved."

With England under-21 star Noble a major influence, Collison and two 19-year-olds — Freddie Sears and James Tomkins — knocking on the door, there is the feeling the famed West Ham Academy is producing another group of star graduates. This time around, it is the club’s intention to hang on to their starlets, building a successful team around them, assuming the club’s uncertain ownership and long term finances are resolved. Collison added: "When I left Cambridge after their academy folded, there were a few teams interested but I was well aware of West Ham’s history when it came to bringing players through the youth system.

"Looking back at the past decade there’s Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick, then Frank Lampard and Joe Cole. They all played in the same side and look at them now! They haven’t done bad. They remain an inspiration for someone like me. And then you look around at what is happening here at the moment and you think that maybe my generation could do the same — but this time stay around for longer and bring success to this club. I suppose in some ways it puts a bit of pressure on us to produce the goods if comparisons to the past are made — but we can thrive on it. Sometimes it is hard to blood youngsters in the Premier League but the manager has done that. It bodes well for the future."

Meanwhile, at the tender age of 21, West Ham midfielder Mark Noble is adapting well to playing for his fifth managerial team at Upton Park. On the youngster's seventh birthday, his dad bought him tickets to his first football match: West Ham against Manchester United, writes Paul Doyle in the Observer. Noble's heroes were vanquished that day, but the boy would grow up to become something of a rarity – a player who has beaten Manchester United more often than he has lost to them.

"I've played them three times and been on the winning side twice," grins Noble, who thinks that despite that improbable record his career has witnessed far too many disappointments. While only 21, he is the longest-serving player at Upton Park and has seen much upheaval, from managerial instability to reports of impending financial ­meltdown. "I feel a lot older than I am," he admits. Now, however, he believes manager, Gianfranco Zola, and his assistant, former Chelsea No2 Steve Clarke, are in the process of rejuvenating him and his beloved club.

"I'm on my fifth manager now. I've seen Alan Pardew and Alan Curbishley and I also travelled a few times with Trevor Brooking and Glenn Roeder, but the way these two [Zola and Clarke] bounce off each other is brilliant. They complete each other and know exactly how they want us to play. The gaffer came in and he put so much belief into everyone that we go out and play freely. You listen to him when he talks to you and he builds that confidence inside you to go out, try your best for him and play with a smile on your face. If you look at our matches against Fulham, Stoke and Hull, for example, we played good football as well as scoring goals. People keep coming up to me and telling me this is the best they've seen West Ham play in years and years."

While acclaiming the manager's motivational skills, Noble has no doubt that the main cause for the improved performances is improved training. "The standard and speed has gone up massively from the first day he came in," he says. "The drills we do, and some of the passing exercises, are fantastic. We do so many keep-ball practices. It just gets into your head that if you stay on the ball for more than a couple of seconds you're going to lose it and if you lose it against the likes of United and Arsenal, you're going to get punished. So everyone's got better with the ball. And because we've also got more confidence, you see boys who were playing within themselves have really come out of their shells. Look at how Carlton Cole has been lately, for example. I think we're really creeping up in the right way."

Fabio Capello is beginning to believe Carlton Cole could have a big England future after naming the West Ham striker in his squad for the friendly against Spain. On a night when David Beckham will be hoping to equal Bobby Moore’s record as England’s most-capped outfield player, Cole is looking increasingly likely to win a cap on Wednesday evening. An injury to Emile Heskey- who reported to the England team hotel in Hertfordshire yesterday with an achilles tendon problem- has dramatically enhanced the striker's chance of featuring in Seville.

Capello is desperately short of striking options for the friendly against the European champions, with injuries to Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe, Michael Owen and Theo Walcott forcing the England chief coach to travel with just Gabby Agbonlahor and Peter Crouch in addition to Heskey and West Ham’s Cole. "Cole gets better and better in every game," said Capello. "His movement and his strength impress me. When he is in front of goal he has to be calmer. Sometimes he is too fast and he wants to shoot too quickly. But he is young - he is interesting."

Cole has scored ten goals this season, with six goals in his last eight appearances. Zola, speaking after yesterday's narrow 1-0 defeat against reigning league champions Manchester United said of his in-form striker: "Carlton is a player that is improving all of the time and getting better and better. If I was Fabio Capello I would have had a very good impression. He kept them alert all the way through the second half. I think Carlton is going to be a very good player for him; whether he plays him or not I don't know."

Cole, who received his first ever international call-up on Saturday night joins Robert Green and Matthew Upson in the England squad. Also in international action this week are Valon Behrami (Swutzerland v Bulgaria), Radoslav Kovac (Morocco v Czech Republic), Lucas Neill (Japan v Australian) and Jack Collison (Wales v Poland).

Finally, Juande Ramos has declared that Julien Faubert did not pull up any trees during his first ever appearance in Real Madrid’s shirt. West Ham right midfielder Faubert made his debut in the Spanish league on Saturday night, in Los Merengues’ 1-0 win over Racing Santander. The Frenchman came in as a substitute for Arjen Robben with 30 minutes to go, and helped his team claim a seventh consecutive win in the Primera Liga. For his part, Ramos, who is massively criticized in Spain for playing ‘boring football’, said about the Hammer after the game: "He didn’t show anything, as well as the team at the end of the game. We would be better not to speak about his display because it was just his first match."

No comments:


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari