West Ham cast doubt over Zola but insist his job is safe for now
Owners say keeping manager until end of season is best option to protect Premier League survival chances
Thursday 25 March 2010
The joint owners of West Ham United have agreed not to replace Gianfranco Zola as manager in the immediate future but they are understood to be in disagreement over his long-term suitability. David Gold is keen to give the Italian more time while David Sullivan is less enthusiastic about Zola's attributes as a Premier League coach.
The pair have agreed, however, not to sack Zola in the wake of West Ham's disastrous 3-1 home defeat to their fellow relegation battlers Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday night. The joint owners met with Zola, along with the vice-chair Karren Brady, late on Tuesday evening to discuss his short-term future.
Sullivan and Gold have noted fellow strugglers Hull swapped Phil Brown for Iain Dowie and they do not see the point in making a similar switch at such a crucial stage of the season. The owners have conceded that Zola represents West Ham's best option at present, given that they are still three points above the relegation zone with seven games to go.
Sullivan, however, has raised doubts about Zola as a Premier League manager after the pair bought 50 per cent of the club in January. Last month he suggested the former Chelsea striker might be "too nice" to be successful. The club's fifth defeat in a row has made a change of manager far more likely in the summer, but the owners are unwilling to make change for change's sake, especially as there is a lack of viable alternatives. Zola and his assistant Steve Clarke both signed three-year contracts in May last year.
Zola's case for a longer stay of execution will not be helped by damaging dressing-room revelations from the striker Benni McCarthy, who after Tuesday's game told of how his team-mates are "hiding".
In a startling but honest admission, McCarthy, 32, revealed that morale in the side is at "rock bottom" and that players even hid their heads inside their shirts during half-time. The South African said: "Everyone started hiding a little bit and that's no way to go about it when things are not going your way – when you need to try to give back a little bit of what you've been given, and we didn't do that.
"The manager tried. Everyone's head had dropped. We didn't really perform. Everyone's heads were in their shirts and everyone was shy to show their faces. It was really hard. We have reached rock bottom because we can't get any lower than this. It's hard to know what to say any more because it was just shocking. You play a home game you had to win, needed to win, especially against Wolves. No disrespect to them but we should have won. You lose it and you think 'Where does it go from here?'"
McCarthy's damaging revelations concerning the fragile state of the West Ham dressing room could prove to be the final straw for Zola. The manager was taunted by home supporters on Tuesday night who sang "You're getting sacked in the morning".
Both the owners spoke publicly about the defeat yesterday. Sullivan said: "We're all shell-shocked and deep in thought. I still don't think we'll be relegated but it is more likely now."
Gold described West Ham's situation as "looking at the abyss". He said: "I had a chat with [Guillermo] Franco after the game. Obviously people are going to question the manager because they are looking for someone to blame. Every West Ham fan will be saying 'Who can we blame?' They start off blaming the players, then the manager and finally the owners. It's just the way of things."
The players were booed off the pitch by their own fans on Tuesday, with many supporters singing "You're not fit to wear the shirt" during and after the game. It was the first time this season that the fans have turned on the team, and the effect has been devastating for the players who can normally rely on vocal support, at least when they play at Upton Park.
The Hammers' captain, Matthew Upson, admitted that the crowd's response added to the stresses. He said: "Is it helpful? Probably not at this time but it's a test of us as a team and if you can't deliver then you shouldn't play for West Ham. There is pressure, of course.
"The supporters and everyone around it demand a certain quality and we haven't delivered that in the last two or three games. Yes, there is pressure but if it gets to us then we are not going to survive it. So it is a big test for us as a group."
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