Saturday, 14 February 2009

Visions Of Sparky

Gianfranco Zola reckons he can see shades of Mark Hughes, his old Chelsea team-mate, when he watches Carlton Cole in action and he is hoping West Ham's fledgling England striker will prove just as adept in helping him savour more FA Cup glory.

The fifth-round meeting with Middlesbrough at Upton Park today rekindles special memories for Zola since it was against them that he celebrated what he calls his happiest hour in football, Chelsea's 2-0 victory in the 1997 Cup final at Wembley. Hughes picked up a winner's medal alongside him that day and now the Italian cannot help comparing Cole, who earned his international debut against Spain this week, to his brilliant Welsh former team-mate.

Speaking in today's Telegraph, Zola said: "More than any other player, he reminds me of Hughes, especially when he's holding the ball up. Hughes was fantastic at holding and protecting the ball; Carlton may be not as good as him but he's very close. He's also very fast. All he has to improve is his finishing, which is maybe not as good as his control of the ball, but he's on the way, he's working hard and I'm sure he'll fill that gap."

Zola is credited with bringing the best out of the 25-year-old whose career began at Chelsea just as the Italian's was nearing its conclusion. He has been impressed by a recent hot goalscoring streak during which Cole has netted in six of the last nine West Ham games and was disappointed that his one opportunity in England's match against Spain ended with his goal-bound shot being scrambled off the line.

Yet he is convinced that Cole will continue to improve dramatically. "He is one of those players who doesn't even realise how good he is," said Zola. "He doesn't realise completely but he's getting better and better and, for me, he's not even near to his peak yet."

In other news, West Ham midfielder Scott Parker signed a new contract which ties him to United until 2013. The England midfielder, who put pen to paper on the new deal yesterday afternoon, said on the club's official website: "I am very happy, pleased and excited – especially after all the speculation in the transfer window – that I can now put that to rest and sign a new long-term contract. In the last few weeks, the way the club is going and the direction that the manager and the board want to go is something I want to follow."

The former Charlton, Chelsea and Newcastle player continued: "By signing my new contract, it says that I want to do this as well. It also says a lot about West Ham. There have been a lot of negative things written, saying there was a crisis and all of that. This shows that West Ham are in a position to keep their players when others want them and as a player and for the fans, that is a great thing. The manager showed a real desire to keep me. He sees me as a massive part of the squad and that meant a lot to me, especially when there were things being written everywhere. So I am delighted to sign."

Parker follows England strikers Dean Ashton and Carlton Cole in committing himself to the club long-term, while Herita Ilunga and youngsters Jack Collison and Freddie Sears have done likewise. Zola said: "This is great news. Scott is an excellent player and it is good to have him at our service for more years. We have a long-term view, and we need time to set up our project and give it a chance to grow. The club are sticking to this policy and it is brilliant. It means we are really serious about everything that we have said."

The club's chief executive Scott Duxbury said: "Scott is a hugely important player and his belief in the club's vision is a fantastic boost for everyone at West Ham. He has been tremendous this season, not only with his individual performances but for his example and leadership to the talented youngsters we have coming through. Added to the absolute assurances Gianfranco has given fans this week about his long-term commitment, this agreement is a further sign that we can all look forward. Today's news underlines that a lot of nonsense has been written and said about this club in recent weeks. It is clear that even if external forces try to destabilise us, nothing will stand in the way of our football project and our efforts to bring success to this club and our supporters."

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