Sunday, 17 May 2009
Has Zola Been An Improvement On Curbishley?
Reading Hammerfan's recent post about rumours linking Curbs with Reading FC (unlikely until he gets his compo) set me thinking. Why did Hammers fans universally dislike Curbs? His record last season was the same as Zola's is this season after 36 games. Curbs left us in 4th place and we have since slipped backwards from his target of top 8. Curbs was an ex-West Ham player and had been brought up in the East End, plus he had a record of distinguished service in the Premiership keeping Charlton in there. Surely that was a recipe for a long and successful relationship as West Ham's manager?
To Eggert Magnusson, Curbs must have seemed like manna from heaven after discovering the incumbent, none other than players' wife shagging (reputedly!) Pardew with a “Reo-cancer in the dressing room,” was floundering. Relegation was staring our new Icelandic owners in the face and does anyone even dare to think how significantly worse our financial fortunes could have been had we been relegated? But that's another subject...
Was it just that we had been promised exciting times and a route to Champions League football and then got 'safety first' Curbs? Possibly, but I suppose Eggy was right to appoint a safe pair of hands at that time as he did actually save us but, it was a close run thing. For me, Curbs then promised a period of stability and that was what he delivered in our second season of Icelandic ownership. I was ready and happy to give him an extra season to change things for the better but, he decided to resign after 4 games just as it seemed we were on a self-destruct path by selling players over his head.
I believe Curbs was disliked mainly because of the poor quality of football. He had learnt to play a cautious game of defensive football with 9 or 10 players behind the ball and hitting teams on the break at Charlton. That style also suited Darren Bent who has only average skills in my opinion, but he's quick and pacey, troubling slower defenders. Thank goodness we did not waste £18m on him. Well done Spurs but that's another story.
Curbishley's style of play is just not the West Ham way. I believe that the team we had under Curbs in 2007/8 was not as good as the team we have had for the majority of the current season. Faubert, Bowyer, Mullins, Etherington, Ljungberg, Anton, McCarthy et al, have not been missed yet were regulars under Curbs. Mind you, Tristan and Di Michele are hardly stars either but I am looking at the season as a whole.
I do believe Curbs was right though. Had we played an open, attacking game at that time, it would have seen us struggle with relegation again. Curbs could have carried off our defensive game plan had he taken his poor PR into consideration. I don't think he realsied how poorly he came across in the media. He was used to Charlton fans being grateful to him for keeping them in the Premiership and expected us West Ham fans to be just as grateful for doing the same for us. We weren't because we expected something else! Had Curbs communicated better instead of being such a misery, he could have carried our support more. His constant excuses and moans painted him into a corner where he was seen as a miserable sod without any ambition beyond 40 points.
I don't know a single Hammer that would argue that Curbs was a better manager than Zola. Yet after 36 games played, we are on exactly the same number of points as we were under Curbs last season! That's right – Curbs did equally as well as Zola has this season with a weaker squad. The differences are that firstly, Zola still gets 9 players behind the ball but calls it attacking football because it is all about the way we build out of defence. Curbs way was to boringly hit space behind opposition defenders for a fast forward like Darren Bent to run onto. We now build and retain possession which is far more pleasurable to us Hammers brought up under managers like Greenwood, Lyall and to a lesser degree, the younger Harry Redknapp. Secondly, Curbs constantly made excuses about injuries when to most Hammers, they were self-inflicted because he signed injury prone players and appointed an ex-Charlton medical team clearly unable to cope and with a history of injury crises behind them.
Again though, there hasn't been that much difference in reality. I understand that none of the ex-Charlton medical team has actually left the club yet their fortunes have now been transformed where they are now seen as the epitome of sports injury management. We have merely brought in senior pros from Italy to manage them better! We have still had several injuries to key players this season although not quite as numerous as under Curbs. The big difference is that Zola gets on with it in as positive a frame of mind as anyone could imagine. He has motivated the team really well even though the players clearly know the limitations of Tristan and Di Michele as well as us fans do. It must be extremely difficult for Zola to do that and keep speaking positively about players that are not fit to lace his boots, yet he does it with that constant smile on his face. Superb!
So it seems that little of substance has really changed at our club yet there is a definite feel good factor about the place despite having to watch Tristan and Di Michele lately. They are the biggest let down, yet no-one calls for Zola to be sacked because we know it is a result of a bankrupt Chairman and not the manager's fault. Yet it was Zola that bought Savio, a 19 year old unproven record signing at the time we needed a direct replacement for Bellamy. We forgive him that and any other errors because we can see the guy is really trying hard for us and is the best manager we are likely to get considering our potless state, waiting for new owners to arrive.
I guess it is all a question of style. Something Italians naturally seem to excel at. Our manager has style in the way he always speaks positively and always wears a smile. We have style going forward and I've noticed the fans of other clubs and commentators agreeing that we are looking good on the field. No-one misses Curbs but no-one should have the bad grace to wish him anything but well in my opinion. He at least gave Zola the platform from which we have definitely progressed in everything except statistics.
In summary, the only change since Curbs left has come about from the positive nature of Zola and the style of play. For that we are developing an adoration of Zola's methods and skills as a manager. Curbs got us just 1 point in the last two games of 2007/8 season. Let’s hope Zola can improve on that at home to Boro next week!
Come On You Irons!
Posted by Hammersfan at 22:47