Collison sings the praises of popular idol Zola

To be playing in the Premier League with one of your idols as the manager might faze many young men, as might the current rumours that a new owner could immediately sack him. Jack Collison has taken it in his stride, just as he has most things while establishing himself in the West Ham and Wales midfield this past year.

Not that it wasn't a little intimidating at first for a boyhood Chelsea supporter when Gianfranco Zola was appointed and he donned his boots for the first day's training. "I was a little bit star-struck at the beginning, to be honest," the softly spoken Collison admitted. "A lot of my family are Chelsea supporters so I got to see them play and he was just an absolute magician. It's an honour and a pleasure to work with him and I really feel he's improving me as an individual.

"The first day in training here he scored an absolutely ridiculous goal and everyone just stood there and clapped. It's great for us to have someone like that who you really look up to because you're willing to work really hard for him as you don't want to let him down."

West Ham may rarely have been guilty of that this season – Zola is almost touching in his compliments – but for the second year running they spent Christmas in the bottom four and now have much work to do to repeat anything like the rise that saw them finish ninth last May. The consolation, as Collison says, is that after a difficult trip to Aston Villa today, there are a number of winnable games on a crowded list of five matches in 16 days.

"It's been very interesting this season, there's a lot of teams down there," he said. "If we can put a little run of wins together we can push right up the table. We feel we've got a good set of players and the right people in charge, and we're working hard at it."

With so much still to be resolved about the sale of the club, Zola has admitted that it is not possible to buy reinforcements at present. The sight of Carlton Cole working on the training ground on Friday has lifted spirits – he has been missing, and missed, since the 5-3 win over Burnley two months ago – but now Guillermo Franco is injured too and one of the young boys that West Ham specialise in producing must do a man's job at Villa Park.

Collison is used to doing that, having been taken to the FA Cup final with Alan Pardew's squad aged 15 and then accepted new family responsibilities when his father was killed travelling by motorcycle to watch him play at Tottenham last season.

With Calum Davenport needing surgery after being stabbed in August – he was later charged with assault – and Dean Ashton forced to retire, it has been a traumatic 18 months for the club even without all the financial woe.

Collison suffered a dislocated kneecap last spring, and further knee trouble earlier this season, but in the light of what happened to Ashton he says: "I feel very blessed to be fit and playing football every day." Especially in the company of an idol.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory