Monday, September 29, 2008

We're stroking the ball around ...

Manager Gianfranco Zola is 2 for 2 in Premier League matches (the Carling Cup loss to Watford notwithstanding!), but even more so than the results, it's the type of football we are playing that's winning new converts and reinforcing the convictions of the old guard of supporters. Watching the 2-1 win over host Fulham at Craven Cottage last Saturday, I was struck by the degree of Hammers ball movement on display. The football I saw reminded me of the heyday of gaffer Harry Redknapp, most specifically the brand of offensive, probing football we played during the "famous" FA Cup run to the quarters in 2001 -- when Spurs "stole" a result in the rain at Upton Park. There are some good footballers at the club now: first and foremost, Swiss international Valon Behrami is an absolute stud! Throw in Frenchman Julien Faubert at his new "right back" position, and factor in good, old-fashioned English midfielders like Scott Parker and Mark Noble and then you're on to something! But what's really making this team tick is the (potential) England combination of winger Matty Etherington and striker Carlton Cole. At first glance, these two represent all the positive attributes of the English play -- commitment, talent on the ball and a 100 per cent-committed mentality when it comes to the game. They also draw in the dark side: Ethers with his gambling, Cole with drink driving. But nevermind. Zola will sort this out, and Hammers will NEVER totally eschew the English club mentality. Fortune's always hiding, you know ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We Have Our Man!

Gianfranco Zola has landed. What a time to be a Hammer! Yes, the jury is still out over whether he will replicate his stellar, attack-minded accomplishments as a player while prowling the touchline in a suit and tie. But you have to like the odds. I have been told by Jim Sturman -- a name familiar to many of you Hammers' fans -- that "Gianfranco is a wonderful man." It only takes one look at the Italian's massive, ever-present grin to know that Sturman's assessment rings true. As much as you had to admire what Curbs accomplished, bottom-line wise, at our club, can you ever imagine Zola keeping a player of Tevez's caliber on the bench as West Ham capitulated to a club like Reading (no offense meant to Royals supporters) 6-nil on a chilly New Year's Day? He will have the instant respect of the pumped-up egos that inhabit the dressing rooms of the modern-day Premiership. The problems the "flash" Alan Pardew and "old-school" Alan Curbishley had in keeping the bling-bling Anton Ferdinands and Nigel Reo-Cokers of the world in line evaporated the minute Zola signed his deal. Here is a man who was an understudy to Diego Maradona at Napoli, for goodness sake! Zola shredded defenses at Chelsea, but his intellect, first touch and movement were as much a part of the package as his finishing. And Zola truly was at the vanguard of changing the way Prem players looked after their diets and fitness. No more guzzling 12 pints at the pub on your day off from training; more like a glass or two of red wine and a fish (minus the chips) or pasta dinner. I honestly don't care if Gianfranco uses our club as a steppingstone to managing his beloved Chelsea someday. Just grab us an FA Cup or a shock spot in the Champions League on the way, please!

Monday, September 08, 2008

If It's Zola, I'm Fine With That

All reports out of England indicate that ex-Chelsea striker and It
alian international 
franco Zola (pictured above top, twice) will be named as West Ham's first foreign manager within days, if not hours. There has been a subtle uproar amongst Hammers supporters -- mainly due t
o Zola's Chelsea connectons, but also as we try to get over the fact that Europe's manager du jour, Croatia's Slaven Bilic, won't be returning to his one-time Upton Park home. But when the Ha
mmers' Icelandic owners signed up Italian Gianluca Nani as technical director, you knew that the days of (now) ex-manager Alan Curbishley's tenure were numbered. This continental set-up -- with both a technical/football director and a first-team coach -- is the way forward in the Premiership. You might wonder why I say that, but think about the Hammers' recent sale of Northern Irish international left back George McCartney. Supposedly, that was the straw that broke the camel's back and forced Curbs to resign.
But let's look at it another way. While McCartney was a fine player, the club -- under Nani's guiding hand -- moved quickly to sign a replacement in Uruguayan Walter Lopez (pictured above, in Hammers' kit), a 22-year-old who played for Argentine giants River Plate. That kind of knowledge of the world market would be non-existent if Curbs were calling the shots when it comes to transfers. He wanted to sign ex-Millwall thug Ben Thatcher, for goodness sake! Curbs acquitted himself very well in his 15 years at Charlton, and he guided his boyhood club Hammers through some rocky times. But he never won over the Upton Park crowd (and, yes, I have been part of that number on five occasions, plus an away match at Derby despite my living in New Jersey) with his "caution first" approach to football. It was effective, and he is a more-than-competent manager in the English top flight. But we want magic. It's why we prefer players with a slight cutting edge like Mark Noble to the cool efficiency of a Scott Parker. We love the Di Canios and FA Cup shocks of the world -- not the dreary, grinding 1-1 tie at Boro to consolidate 10th place in the Premier League. Maybe it's pure vanity, but being a Hammer is about much more than stability. It's about (very!!) occasional magic, and if Zola can produce that then I say welcome aboard!!! Fellow countryman Roberto Donadoni would have been like an Italian version of the charisma-less Curbs, despite his pedigree. One gets the feeling that Zola -- and his potential No. 2, fellow Italian/ex-Chelsea striker Pierluigi Casiraghi -- can be the real deal. Here's hoping! We need some luck and some verve (sadly absent since Harry's tenure, Pards' Cup run and Tevez) around the place. Fingers crossed ... tightly.