Saturday, 18 April 2009
Zola and Clarke, the new Clough and Taylor! Eat your hearts out Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City!
Zola signed a rolling contract which would be reviewed at the end of each season. So a new contract would always have had to have been discussed at this stage of the season. It is going to be a 4 year contract in recognition of the fact that when all the circumstances of the season are measured and weighed, Zola has done superbly. I know the earlier Zola post was worded so as to invite debate but what the hell, I'll bite.
Zola took over a side who for the latter half of the previous season had looked as far removed from a West Ham side as it was possible to get without ringing up Vinnie Jones and asking if he and his old Wimbledon mates fancied coming out of retirement. Not only were our results shocking but the football we had played was turgid, woeful crap that would make the average Sunday league time cringe. Curbs had shown an ability to spend money badly, fail to motivate a team and when it came to tactics, well he seemed to think they were those little white minty things that "gave you a lift".
A number of high profile candidates were linked with the job and some were interviewed and when the board met Zola they found the one guy who had the ultimate quality, a quality so rare that it wasn't even on the list of requirements for the job. Duxbury didnt know it existed before he met Zola and, to be fair, neither did anyone else on the board.
GiannFranco Zola is the embodiment of West Ham United Football Club. He is the greatest player to never have played for the club. If you took the essence of what our club stands for, the sheer joy of playing football, the sense that principles matter more than trophies, that sportsmanship is a sign of strength not weakness and that dedication to the art of football is every bit as important as studying the science of football, then it exists in a 5ft6 Sardinian.
There was only one other person on the medias list who could come close and that was Paolo DiCanio. Now dont get me wrong if PDC managed WestHam I would follow that man to the gates of Hell and if he told me to I would walk right through them and kick the Devil in the arse. When I was in Rome for the Ireland Italy 6nations game this year I tied a WestHam scarf to the railing of the Stadio Flaminio where he played his last season. But with Paolo there is an element of the flawed genius, there is a dark side, there is a temper, he and Zola are like fire and ice. They share the same spirit and skill and love of the game but Zola is calmer, more pragmatic, while Paolo is a raging inferno GiannFranco is cold steel.
The board gave us exactly what we demanded from our club in the form of a manager. This was in fact a bigger risk than simply giving us PDC, because if they had done that me, you and every Hammers fan would have defended him to the death.
Zola took on a club with an identity crisis, the name The Academy of Football was becoming a snide comment from other fans. He came in and tried to give us exactly what we wanted, WestHam football and it looked against Blackburn and Newcastle that it would work like a charm, but it didnt, we stumbled, it was too far too soon. This is when we see the pragmatism of Zola come through, he lets Clarke influence team affairs more, he ups the work level on the training pitch, goes back to learning to walk before trying to run, giving the players the tools to do the job he wants them to do. He then places himself squarely in the media spotlight, barely a month into his first job and accepts the blame for the teams failings. He allows a reputation as one of the most gifted players the game has ever seen take a battering in the press to protect his team, to draw the focus away from their short commings, to allow Clarke to work unfettered from the press glare. He takes it week after week and every time he stands up to accept responsibility, the team watch him go out of the dressing room to throw himself to the lions to protect them. They know they may never be the player he was but for him, for what he is doing for them they will be the best player they can be, no more than that they will be the best player he can make them be.
Suddenly things start to change, the team stops the rot. As fortunes change, Zola points to Clarke and the players and says its down to them. When we stumble he goes forward and again says its down to him, he picks us up by letting himself be knocked down. With more strife off field than an Eastenders Christmas special, he remains calm and dignified and never, not once, chooses to use it as an excuse. He is resolute in defending the club, its position, its plans and its people.
He is brave enough to take the hard decisions, he lets players go in the window, he puts his trust in the players he keeps. When his first major signing isn't an instant success he doesn't let his ego force him to play the kid week in week out with the pressure mounting, he lets him find his feet, he puts the individual's needs above those of his own. He tells him he will be a great player and gives him the time to become one.
He is respectful of other managers, responding with good humour and honesty about their comments, he doesn't blame referees or linesmen, if they are wrong he says so but says it is part of football and doesn't use them as scapegoats.
Even now with the club in 7th he refuses any credit. As injuries mount he refuses to lower his expectations for the club, he will not take the easy option. Even Martin O'Neill has started blaming Villa losing their Champions League chances on injuries but not Zola, and because of that what he says rings true. He is believable, and if he believes then so can we.
The man gets offered a 4 year deal for increased money and does he jump at it? No he agrees to it, so long as his assistant and backroom team get similar deals. Zola and Clarke will be the new Taylor and Clough, they will put our club where we want it to be and not force us to choose between success and the traditions that made us love this club in the first place. They will mould the next generation of WestHam players into a winning team by taking all that is great and good about WestHam and fusing it with the work ethic and dedication that was a hallmark of Zola himself; they will teach them the savvy of playing your game in the way that gives you the best chance of beating the opposition in front of you that has been a hallmark of Clarke's coaching.
Zola and Clarke will make the Academy of Football a revered title spoken in hushed respectful tones by football fans all over the world. The will make ambition a part of our new tradition, they will take all that we love about the club and build a legacy on it. Forget 4 more years, they can have the job for as long as they want it in my book!
By Celtic Hammer
Posted by Hammersfan at 09:04