I'm Sardinian and Sardinians never give up, says Zola
Irons manager ready to fight on but is he waiting for a pay-off?
Sunday 09 May 2010
During this season, in the Premier League at least, the straightforward sacking of a manager has been a rare occasion. Bolton dispensed with Gary Megson's services, Ports-mouth of Paul Hart's and, after a brief reprieve when a P45 appeared to be in the envelope, Phil Brown was at last placed on gardening leave by Hull City.
Yet that does not mean that everyone else has been happy with their managers this term, nor they of their employers. The campaign has been notable for a steady deterioration in the relationship of Rafa Benitez with an ever-changing Liverpool hierarchy, and Martin O'Neill appears to be in a similar position at Aston Villa.
Then there is the curious tale of Gianfranco Zola at West Ham, a soap opera that might just, at long last, be approaching a period of clarity.
To many, the Italian appears to hold one of football's most untenable posts. He has not one but two chairmen who appear keen to undermine him at every opportunity. When they are not busy publishing scathing criticism of his and the players' performances on the club's website – to be reprinted in the matchday magazine in case anyone misses it – they are trying to sign players behind the manager's back, although West Bromwich Albion have so far rebuffed their efforts to prise away the Scottish midfielder Graham Dorrans, a player not known to have ever appeared on Zola's radar.
Talks are scheduled this week, once the final fixture of the season, a home game with Manchester City, is concluded today, with the Italian happily announcing he is yet to prepare a speech worthy of Rome's finest orators: "I don't know what I am going to say – I am not very good at promoting myself."
Given that just two months ago Zola was considering his position after defeats at home to Wolves and Stoke, the smart money has long been on the Italian walking as soon as the season is over. Why would such a principled character, who prides himself on honesty and integrity, allow his ideals to be compromised by employers who do not value him?
That picture has since become cloudier, however, for a number of reasons. Firstly, Zola has since declared he is not a quitter after all. "I'm Sardinian and Sardinians, they never give up," he declared. "If I wasn't able to do the job for this club I would not just take the money. That's where the Sardinian spirit comes. The more difficulties you have around you the tougher you become." Is that a statement that says he wants to stay, or merely code for "you'll have to pay me off if you want to get rid of me"?
Another factor that has to be taken into consideration is that although the two Davids, Sullivan and Gold, are long-time business associates – and ran Birmingham prudently before taking over at Upton Park midway through this season – they are not identikit characters.
Sullivan, the pornography magnate, is quicker in temper and is viewed by Zola with a mixture of distaste and wariness. He is not the ideal employer in the eyes of the Italian, who enjoys a healthier relationship with Gold, the sex shop chain-store entrepreneur. Gold's white Rolls-Royce is often parked at the club's Chadwell Heath training ground and he enjoys a more cordial relationship with his manager.
Gold and Sullivan, life-long Hammers fans, inherited a mountain of debt and a background of administrative chaos when they took over and Zola knows a substantial portion of the supporters appreciate the efforts he has made in adversity. Indeed, when he came on for a 20-minute cameo during a testimonial at Upton Park in midweek, which featured Rio Ferdinand among others, he received two standing ovations.
"The other day they gave me a reception I didn't expect and it was very pleasant because they recognise that although there have been problems, the job has been done," he said.
By job done he meant relegation had been avoided, of course. Or did he? Perhaps soon we will discover exactly where the smallest man in top-flight management actually stands.
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