Zola: regime change a 'massive' boost

Manager hopes club is over crisis while new owners launch bid for Blackburn striker
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The Independent Football

Gianfranco Zola, who claims his gruelling first 18 months in management has provided him with five years' worth of experience, has voiced his relief at the takeover of West Ham and insists there is no chance of any of the club's leading players leaving Upton Park this month.

The arrival of David Gold and David Sullivan, who bought a 50 per cent stake in the outfit last week, has brought financial stability to a club that was burdened by debts of over £100m, together with the promise that a new striker will be arriving within the next few days.

It has not yet, though, done anything to alleviate the precarious standing of Zola's side on the fringe of the bottom three and tonight's visit to Portsmouth will go a long way towards determining how long the new-found feelgood factor will last at the Boleyn Ground.

Zola acknowledges the troubles endured by the club have given him a crash course in the more testing elements of the job and carried a personal toll. Yet he is certain the recent boardroom changes have already had a direct impact on the club's prospects, particularly in providing a commitment to keep the likes of Matthew Upson, Robert Green, Carlton Cole and Scott Parker.

"That's really, really massive," said the manager. "That will refocus everybody. At the beginning of the season we had some problems because, every window, we had to sell because of the financial problems. To know everyone is staying is massive. It would have been a big, big thing for us to lose players: not only because of the loss itself, but because of the message you send to the other players. We're trying to build something here."

The new owners have already pledged to fund the signing of a new striker and while a bid for Real Madrid's Ruud van Nistelrooy failed, Blackburn Rovers announced last night that they had received a written offer from the Hammers for their striker Benni McCarthy. The South Africa international has fallen foul of the Rovers' manager, Sam Allardyce, by failing to appear for the last two training sessions.

Such a bid marks a dramatic shift for Zola who had been forced to scour the budget end of the market and the Italian admits the last 18 months has presented him with the steepest of learning curves. "It's been a difficult situation," he admitted. "I came here last year and, after a week, all the trouble started.There are worse things in the world than this but, in the managerial point of view, it was difficult. I have had, in one and a half years of my first experience, a lot. But I'll take it another way. That year in a half is maybe worth five years of experience in any other job.

"I've got, even more responsibility. And less hair. But this is the job. I'm ready for anything. Obviously, when you do this job, you have ups and downs. But the fighting spirit is there. I don't like to give up on things or step back at difficulties. I'm still alive and fighting like a crazy man."