Sullivan's rage spells end for Zola
West Ham manager's days appear numbered as owner fumes at 'pathetic' displays
It now appears a question of when, not if, Gianfranco Zola leaves West Ham after co-chairman David Sullivan undermined his claim to support the manager "100 per cent" with a lacerating attack on the team's organisation and personnel yesterday.
In a personal message to supporters on the club's website, Sullivan, who bought a controlling interest in the club with David Gold in January, said he had endured a sleepless night after Tuesday's 3-1 home defeat to relegation rivals Wolves. Sullivan added: "I was as angry and upset as every supporter in the stadium at the disorganised way we played, allowing Wolves so much space that they looked more like Manchester United. This was the culmination of five defeats in a row, including an appalling performance against Bolton."
In what can only be interpreted as criticism of the management team of Zola and Steve Clarke, who have been at the club for 18 months, and have contracts until 2013, Sullivan added: "We have a few very talented players in our team, but it is a very unbalanced squad. Individually we have some very good players, but this is not being converted into a good team performance."
Sullivan had said in the wake of the capitulation against Wolves: " We're 100 per cent behind the manager," adding, in a reference to Hull City's change of management: "I don't think bringing in an 'Iain Dowie Mark II' will make us a better team."
Of Zola's future the 61-year-old had said: "We will see what he is made of in the next few games. If he wins the next seven games [which begin with Stoke City at home tomorrow] he looks like the best manager of all time. If he loses them he's the worst manager of all time."
Zola himself said: "I take responsibility. These are the moments when you have to react." West Ham, who have not won away since the season's opening day and are thus targeting their home games, are currently three points clear of the relegation zone.
In his heartfelt, if rambling, open letter, which paid homage to a raft of former West Ham players, from Bobby Moore and Bryan "Pop" Robson, to Frank McAvennie and Paolo di Canio, Sullivan apologised to fans for the "pathetic showing on Tuesday night", and appealed for "new heroes" stating: "We need this team to show us their talent, their desire, their passion, their dare." Having said that, he added, "When I first started supporting West Ham, we had a tradition for playing the game 'the right way'. I will settle for any way right now, as long as it is the winning way!
"Nobody at the club should delude themselves that we are a good team. The table at this stage of the season does not lie. I accept that the club is in deep relegation trouble. However, we are a long way from being relegated. With some of the outstanding players we have, we can and must do better as a team."
One of the key players, centre-half Matthew Upson, said the chairman's comments are unhelpful. "If David Sullivan wants to air his views in public then he's entitled to, he's the chairman," Upson said. "I wouldn't say, from a player's point of view, that it helps, but we only concentrate on what the coaches and manager want us to do. They're the people we want to listen to. Everything else is pretty irrelevant."
However, Upson, whose club form is jeopardising his World Cup chances, admitted: "At home in the last couple of games we haven't delivered performances that were acceptable. You could say we're close to rock bottom. Perhaps we need to realise that."
Upson, who will probably leave Upton Park in the summer whether the club stay up or not, added: "It looks like we've lost that ability to work as a team. It's up to us, the management and the players, to do something."
Sullivan, who previously owned Birmingham City but has long been a West Ham fan, concluded: "It's hard being an owner. I'm finding it's harder being an owner who is a supporter."
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