Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Zola: Quietly Committed

Gianfranco Zola has moved to reassure West Ham United's board that he has no intention of quitting the club, amid fevered speculation he is a contender for the managerial vacancy at Chelsea. It was inevitable that Blues legend Zola would be linked with a return to Stamford Bridge following the surprise dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari yesterday. However, Sky Sports News 'understands' that Zola has privately given his word to West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury that he remains firmly committed to the Upton Park outfit, although he will not comment officially on the Chelsea link.

As recently as this weekend Zola made a public declaration that he owes United a great deal of debt for giving him his chance in management. "In football you never know what lies round the corner but I have no intention of walking out on West Ham," he was quoted as saying. "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."

As of last night, unnamed senior West Ham sources had informed Sky Sports that there is no need for supporters to be concerned, as Zola will definitely not be lured from East London. The feeling, they say, is that he is 100 per cent committed to West Ham and feels no need to comment on every story.

Which is not a sentiment necessarily shared by the Sardininan's legal representative. Within an hour of the formal announcement of Scolari's departure, Fulvio Marrucco had spoken out to confirm that no contact has yet been made between his client and Chelsea, but he was equivocal in the extreme about any possible switch by Zola. "At the moment we know nothing about the link between Gianfranco Zola and the vacant position at Chelsea," Marrucco was reported as saying. "Gianfranco is very happy at West Ham and still thanks them for giving him the opportunity to be a coach in the Premier League. It is very difficult to say if anything will happen but Chelsea is a special place for Gianfranco Zola."

As might be expected, this morning's papers are rife with speculation as to the identity of the next Chelsea manager, though few are considering Zola a viable prospect. The Times claim Chelsea are primarily searching for a short-term managerial appointment to salvage their season by qualifying for the Champions League. Frank Rijkaard and Roberto Mancini are the leading contenders as Chelsea focus on finding a coach who is available to start at Stamford Bridge immediately, but several other permutations have been discussed as they seek to fill what has become one of the most difficult jobs in football.

Chelsea’s intention is to appoint an experienced manager with a proven track record on a caretaker basis until the end of the season, with the carrot of a lucrative permanent contract and huge funds to reshape an underachieving squad in the summer if they are successful. Whether a Champions League winner such as Rijkaard would accept such unusual terms remains to be seen. Plan B is to muddle through with a less illustrious temporary coach — Avram Grant, Scolari’s predecessor, is available and has retained his home in London, while a seemingly outlandish pairing of John Terry, the captain, and Ray Wilkins, the assistant first-team coach, has been mentioned but discounted — in the hope that Carlo Ancelotti will be available at the end of the season.

The Mail think Guus Hiddink has emerged as the favourite to take charge at Chelsea, although hiring him when he remains Russia’s national coach was being described as ‘complicated’ by Chelsea insiders last night. The Dutchman is the manager club owner Roman Abramovich wants after losing patience with Scolari, and ignoring the advice of chief executive Peter Kenyon and chairman Bruce Buck by sacking him after only seven months in charge. Chelsea need to make a quick appointment and accept it would be difficult to secure the services of another club manager.

Instead, claims the article, Abramovich wants to reach an agreement with the Russian FA that allows Hiddink to continue leading their World Cup campaign while taking the reins at Stamford Bridge in time for their Champions League game against Claudio Ranieri’s Juventus on February 25. It has proved impossible for Abramovich to poach Hiddink from Russia in the past but Hiddink is in a pay dispute that could be to Chelsea’s advantage. If Hiddink can’t be hired, Chelsea will examine a shortlist that includes Roberto Mancini, Frank Rijkaard and Bernd Schuster, while Sven Goran Eriksson is in a precarious position with Mexico and Avram Grant has not yet found employment after leaving Chelsea last May.

It is Grant who may be regarded as a safe pair of hands to steer the club through to the end of the season if other, stronger candidates are not hired. The Independent has the Israeli on a short-list of six potential candidates, which does not include Gianfranco Zola. As much as Chelsea supporters would like the club to make a move for the United manager, says Jason Burt, there seems very little chance the Italian will walk away from West Ham United. Instead Roberto Mancini and Frank Rijkaard are mentioned again, while agents are also discussing the possibility of an approach for three other managers, perhaps in the summer more than now, who have been linked with Chelsea in the past. They are Milan's Carlo Ancelotti, the Russia coach Guus Hiddink and, surprisingly, Manchester City's Mark Hughes. As the trio are all in work they are unlikely to be approached immediately, with Chelsea hoping to have a new manager in place in time for Saturday's FA Cup tie away to Watford.

Burt agrees with the prevailing thought that Chelsea want an experienced, currently unemployed coach to take control for the rest of the season. The new man will be asked to make sure Chelsea remain in contention for trophies – although he does not have to win one. If he is successful, then a permanent contract will be offered in the summer. However, the interim measure also raises the prospect that Chelsea already have another possible manager in mind, but that the individual will not be available until the end of this campaign. It does, indeed, point towards Grant taking over for now unless someone of the calibre of Mancini or Rijkaard can be persuaded to take over in such circumstances.

The consensus is supported by the Guardian, who insist the search for a fifth Chelsea manager in as many years has begun with the club wanting a quick appointment, most likely someone currently unemployed and considered a "firefighter", to be taken on initially on a short-term basis. If the appointment proves successful the candidate would have a chance to earn a longer deal. Frank Rijkaard, the former Barcelona coach, is again fingered, together with the ex-Internazionale coach Roberto Mancini as Chelsea embark on a familiar recruitment process.

While there is a sense of surprise at the timing of the dismissal given that Chelsea are still competing in the Champions League and FA Cup, concern had been growing behind the scenes as the side slipped seven points behind Manchester United in the title race. Unrest had swept through the stands at Stamford Bridge as the team toiled against Hull on Saturday, with Scolari enduring chants of "You don't know what you're doing". One banner was unfurled championing former Chelsea players Gianfranco Zola and Roberto di Matteo, although, states the article, neither is in serious contention to return to the club at this stage of their fledgling managerial careers.

Current betting on the next Chelsea manager before the market was suspended over night:

Frank Rijkaard (Fav)
Guus Hiddink
Sven Goran Eriksson
Gianfranco Zola
Roberto Mancini
Carlo Ancelotti
Alan Curbishley
Gianluca Vialli
Avram Grant
Louis van Gaal
Steve Clarke
Jose Mourinho
Slaven Bilic
Didier Deschamps
David Moyes
Marttin O'Neill
Mark Hughes
Marco Van Basten


Anonymous said...

There you go -- a man of honour. Zola doesn't see the need to even comment on the media speculation. Class.

Fantastic site by the way. My first call every evening when I log on. You should charge for this!

Trilby said...

You're right. I'm proud that we have a man with such integrity associated with the club.

Thanks for the comment, it's good to know someone outside my immediate family reads this blog!


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