Funtime Franco puts emphasis on joy

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The Independent Football

Until three weeks ago, West Ham United's idea of a foreign manager was Luigi "Lou" Macari, who was born in Scotland and brought up at the other end of Upton Park from the Boleyn pub. He did not last, resigning after less than one season. But it is easy to work out what the club's owners saw in Gianfranco Zola, the first of their 12 managers to hail from outside these shores.

Imagine him sitting down for the job interview with that boyishly cheeky smile, looking young enough still to be playing and saying what he did to the assembled media at the training ground on Friday: "Entertainment is what we're here for. It's vital. It's not just a war where you need to get a victory at all costs. What we're doing is trying to give a smile to people and make it enjoyable." Music to the ears.

There had been too few smiles and too little enjoyment in the preceding Alan Curbishley era, even though there cannot be many managers who have left a club after winning their last two matches 4-1. Despite having been brought up with West Ham as "part of my life and my family", Curbishley was unable to find the right balance between results and fun that the club's supporters have always craved.

Saving them from relegation and then finishing in the top half of the table with an injury-ravaged squad might have been considered erring on the right side of the equation, but there were surprisingly few tears shed when he walked away last month.

Zola has had the benefit of successive League wins over moderate opposition in Newcastle (3-1) and Fulham (2-1) and, as he acknowledges, "we are tied to results". Another one like that, at home to Bolton today, and any lingering concerns about his background as a Chelsea man will disappear altogether. Bolton, with their direct style and emphasis on set-pieces, present a particular sort of challenge, one that is supposed to alarm southern and Sardinian softies. If West Ham have their proud traditions, so do the Trotters, going back to Nat Lofthouse barging the keeper over the line and one full-back shouting to the other of a fancy Dan winger, "when tha's finished with 'im, chip 'im over 'ere".

Zola recalled how, when he first arrived at Chelsea, Ruud Gullit said he would have to play in midfield because of the brutal English defenders. "Then after four games I ended up playing striker and was voted Footballer of the Year. If you believe in what you are doing and do it well, you can get results. It was tough for me, but I tried to get the most out of it, make my qualities work. I learnt to be stronger. And I stayed seven years."

Management, he hopes, will work the same way. Already he has made an innovative tactical change in moving Matthew Etherington inside with the Italian David di Michele, the pair operating just behind Carlton Cole in a 4-3-2-1 formation. Now, although Dean Ashton will not play again until next year after undergoing surgery on an injured ankle, Craig Bellamy is available again to increase options.

Training under Zola, says England squad member Matthew Upson, is "very structured, based on improving technically and tactically". A rare clean sheet would be welcome but reassuringly for the traditional West Ham follower, Upson adds: "With the style of play we're using, we're always going to be an attacking team." That's how they like it down the Boleyn way.

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