Despite overseeing perhaps one of the weakest West Ham teams in recent memory, Gianfranco Zola nevertheless goes down as someone who got the respect of the Upton Park faithful, and is largely remembered by Hammers fans today for his brief glimpses of promise – rather than the many negatives that came along with his reign.
It remains interesting to compare the former Stamford Bridge legend with the club’s present boss, Sam Allardyce. Although West Ham’s current squad looks a great deal better off under Big Sam than any selection the little Italian gent ever had to pleasure of working with, it seems that Zola was able to connect with the supporters far more successfully and far more frequently than Allardyce has ever been able to.
The Boleyn Ground is still a very long way off from proudly singing ‘Big Sam’s Claret & Blue Army’ any time soon after all…
So with thoughts of our former manager in mind, just what would life have been like if West Ham had shown that bit more faith in Gianfranco Zola, and were the two Daves ultimately too hasty in their decision to fire the ex-Chelsea man in the first place?
Well first of all it must be remembered that in the one full season in which the Italian was in charge of the Upton Park dug-out, the Hammers weren’t exactly the most formidable side the Premier League had ever seen.
2009/10 was a pretty tiresome campaign for most West Ham fans. The team seemed vulnerable to nearly every set of opposition in the league, the likes of Benni McCarthy and Mido were some of the worst signings the club have made in many a year – and as for the team’s pretty lacklustre 17th place finish that season – Gianfranco Zola simply wasn’t shone in the most positive of lights come the end of the year.
Yes, the season before – in which the former striker replaced Alan Curbishley very early on – was a great deal more successful for the Hammers, but as the club had taken a serious nose dive in Zola’s only full campaign at Upton Park, the signs seem to suggest that both David Sullivan and David Gold made the right call in sacking the widely respected Italian.
Such a harsh analysis of Gianfranco Zola’s reign in the east end simply doesn’t tell the whole story, though…
Eggert Magnusson and his merry band of Icelandic cronies had left the Hammers in a state of ruin by the time he was appointed. West Ham seemingly had no real chairmen to call their own, the fans were left in a risky state of limbo regarding what was really going on behind the scenes – and as for the club’s annual budget for the season’s transfer windows – Gianfranco Zola barely had a dime to spare.
The freebie, has-been type characters that were drafted in throughout 2009/10 were only acquired because there was simply little else left on the table for West Ham at that point.
When it actually came to the style of play and entertainment value around Upton Park under Zola however, the Italian still fared a great deal better than the ever criticised Sam Allardyce.
With a trio of Mark Noble, Scott Parker and Valon Behrami in the heart of the team’s midfield – with Carlton Cole seemingly in the form of his life – the Hammers played a passing brand of football that often worked out a treat. The then England striker’s well taken goal against Wigan in 2008/09 acts as a great example of the kind of philosophy Zola was trying to build during his brief stay at the club.
Youth development was also high up on the the little man’s agenda. He simply showed a great deal more faith and perseverance in the young up and coming talents at Upton Park than Big Sam has ever seen fit to do. The club just felt a great deal more traditional under Zola than it has done since, and as West Ham managed to successfully stave off relegation during the Italian’s time in the east end, it must be said that he performed admirably well in the end.
As the former Blues man has subsequently failed to do the business at both Watford and Cagliari however, a conclusive outcome will seemingly never be reached.
That said, with the benefit of hindsight, the club would have been far better off persevering with Gianfranco Zola than hiring the ill-fated Avram Grant any day of the week – and that is something the two Dave’s must take responsibility for, despite somewhat saving the club from near bankruptcy.