Saturday, 21 February 2009

Roger And The Pole Dance

Gianfranco Zola admits he cannot understand those who see the UEFA Cup as a nuisance and is desperate to take his West Ham United side into Europe as soon as possible. Victory at Bolton could lift the Hammers into seventh place in the Barclays Premier League - firmly in contention for next season's rebranded Europa League. For Zola, that would represent a significant triumph. While the Champions League remains a coveted prize, Europe's second competition has suffered from a downgraded status in recent seasons, with Wanderers boss Gary Megson placing it firmly below last season's relegation scrap and Harry Redknapp selecting a shadow Tottenham side against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Zola, who won the UEFA Cup during his time with Parma, insists any continental cup deserves the utmost respect - even if the standard is not quite the same as when he lifted the trophy in 1995. "For me the UEFA Cup is not the same as the one I won with Parma because it is a different story," said Zola. "Only the teams which finished first in their leagues were in the Champions League and those who finished second and third were in the UEFA Cup, so it was a strong competition. Now it is different but it is still a European competition and I would love to be involved in a competition like that. I don't understand why people don't like it but I am sure there are still plenty of teams who want to be in it. Being in the UEFA Cup would be a nice problem to have. If teams don't like the competition, then maybe we should change the format, but for me it a good tournament to be involved in because it can make your team better."

Zola also finished as a UEFA Cup runner-up in 1994 before enjoying success in the 1998 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with Chelsea. He believes the experience of playing overseas can only be good for players. "It's not just the silverware you can get but the chance to give you players some European experience," he said. "I'm not the kind of manager to stop the players from thinking about it. It's good to have ambitious targets and work hard to achieve them. If they want to be ambitious then I am very happy if they work hard to make their ambitions happy."

Meanwhile, things have gone from bad to worse for Julian Faubert. The United loanee has contrived to ease himself out of Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos' plans after just three weeks and about 30 minutes of first-team football. The French midfielder was a substitute in his first week at the club and was then an unused substitute last week. Now Faubert has not been named in Ramos' 19 man squad to play Real Betis tonight despite the fact that the Spanish coach admits he is considering rotating players with one eye on Wednesday's Champions League tie with Liverpool. Ramos said: "Possibly playing one big game and then inside a week being properly recuperated to play another one is too much so there could be rotations."

Elsewhere Pawel Brozek has shamelessly reciprocated the come hither glances of Roger Cross with the player's agent indicating his client would be well up for a move to Upton Park. The Polish striker's goalscoring exploits for Wisla Krakow has brought him to the attention of a plethora of European clubs. He was also the star turn in Poland's recent international game against Wales, earning rave reviews after yet another powerful display. West Ham's chief scout was one of those watching and he has spoken favourably of the players abilities. "I have heard the rumours about interest from West Ham and I believe they watched him playing for Poland," Agent Osuch the Panda told Sky Sports. "Of course Pawel would be interested in a move to West Ham. They are a nice club, they are in London and they are playing good football under Zola. Pawel is the most talked about player in Poland and there are a lot of clubs interested in him from Russia, Germany, France and England. He will stay at Wisla until the summer and then we will see what happens."

Brozek is a combative centre forward who shares some similarities to Dean Ashton (though hopefully not in the ankle or groin department). He has been something of a well kept secret back in his homeland, and only really come into prominence in the last couple of seasons. Now he has seemingly decided it could be time to leave his beloved Krakow and seek a new challenge elsewhere. That's not to say that Ashton no longer figures in Gianfranco Zola's future plans. "For me it is unfortunate because I have not had Ashton in my side before," the Italian said yesterday. "It's a big blow because I know how important he can be for us. I'm sorry especially for him though, being out so long is not an easy thing. He is one of those player whose qualities would be perfect for this team. I'm sure he would like to be involved but when he comes back he will make up for it I'm sure."

The comparatively chaste Ivory Coast international Gervinho has demurred at the possibility of moving to the Premier League after a month of speculation linking him with West Ham United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hostpur, Manchester City and Newcastle United. The 21-year-old striker, who turned in several eye-catching performances for his homeland at the Beijing Olympics, looks set to leave French side Le Mans in the near future as he looks to take his career to the next level. Speaking to Sky Sports, Gervinho revealed: "My future is at Le Mans at the moment. It is here that I belong. Anything else is just a dream at the moment. The Premier League? That is just a dream. One day, maybe next year, maybe in two years, I will go."

Another unsubstantiated report has West Ham United joining Everton in the race for Roma forward Stefano Okaka Chuka according to reports in Italy. The Italian press reported Everton's interest in January and now claim Gianfranco Zola is supposedly ready to join the battle for the Nigerian born striker. Okaka Chuka is an Italian citizen which would allow the striker to move without a work permit. Zola has reportedly been aware of the player's talent since he was the Under-21's boss for Italy and sources on the continent suggest he is now among the front-runners to sign the starlet. Other reports continue to credit the Hammers manager with an interest in Sampdoria's Italian international Antonio Cassano.

Finally, is it possible that someone has miraculously discovered the secret of Danny Gabbidon's mysterious 14 month absence? Speculation is rife across several West Ham forums, sparked by a source claiming to have close connections to the player, that Gabbidon has been suffering from a painful spine alignment problem that was finally identified by the Italian medical staff when carefully analysing his gait. This, according to the physios, was the main cause of his hernias. The source was then isolated to his neck bone alignment, and ultimately, to his jaw. The end result of all that is he had six, or possibly seven, molars removed to realign his jaw, which in turn has got his neck back in kilter. He is now reportedly back in training and has been trying to adjust to a new running style by pounding the roads around Cardiff. Gabbidon apparently has no other issues but is obviously nowhere near match fit yet. I have no idea as to the voracity of this story but it seems genuine and it is nice to have some news of the player (rather than spurious claims of terminal illness, drug abuse, marital problems and debilitating bouts of depression) following such a prolonged silence.

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