Gianfranco Zola on brink of quitting as West Ham manager as internal warfare continues

26 March 2010 10:57
It is understood that he is considering walking out after Saturday's vital relegation battle against Stoke City even if his team are victorious.

Zola could stay until the end of the season, but what appears increasingly certain is that he will not remain in charge for the next campaign, even though co-chairman David Sullivan offered him his "100 per cent" support earlier this week. The beleaguered club, yet again, is enveloped in a crisis.

Zola, it is understood, thought that he would leave in the summer but wanted to make sure he steered West Ham to safety before he did so because he felt a debt to the club, supporters and players. If he were to walk out now it would mean he might forego a pay-off from his £1.9 million salary.

Club sources insisted on Friday that it was "by no means certain" that Sullivan would sack Zola if West Ham lost on Saturday, although, given the chairman's public criticisms earlier this week, the relationship between the pair now appears to have collapsed.

Sullivan would require the permission of Straumur, the failed Icelandic bank which still owns half of West Ham, to remove Zola.

Sullivan's co-chairman, David Gold, was at the training ground on Friday and insisted that "Franco's our man" and there was "no question" of his being sacked, adding that he [Gold] was "content with the way things are".

However, when Zola was asked directly whether he felt that the owners were trying to get him to walk away, he said: "That is a good question. I don't know. I understand the chairman, Mr Sullivan, is very much concerned about the situation. We are not in a very good position and he is concerned. I am concerned as much as him. I have faith in the players I am working with."

That faith does not appear to be shared by Sullivan who was at the club's Chadwell Heath training ground on Thursday and addressed the players himself. Among his criticisms he has attacked the team, and therefore Zola, whom he previously questioned as "too nice", for being poorly organised and lacking in fight was a claim that they were not fit enough.

Sullivan is understood to have been challenged by one senior player who told him that it was harmful to make so many public comments attacking the squad.

Sullivan had also hoped to sit in on a team meeting with Zola but was asked to leave by assistant manager Steve Clarke who, it is understood, was annoyed and told the owner that he and Zola should be allowed to get on with their work.

With tensions rising, Sullivan insisted to Telegraph Sport on Friday that he did not "want to do anything that will hurt the team at this time". He has also previously stressed that his track record at Birmingham City shows that he not only supports managers but does not often make changes. He added: "We only want to do what is best for WHU."

Zola has been asked by Sullivan to account for his training methods and tactics, with the co-chairman also making it apparent in his open letter to fans, which was posted on the club's website on Thursday and emailed to season-ticket holders, that he expected changes to be made to the team after the "pathetic" defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday which has plunged the club into turmoil.

Zola accepts that he has made mistakes and is also responsible for the team's plight but there is a sense that the pressure is taking its toll on him, especially after the dismissal of technical director Gianluca Nani last month.

Zola, it should be remembered, is still a managerial novice and when he was appointed in September 2008 it was made clear that he would be primarily a coach, working on the training pitches.

Mistakes have been made and a legitimate criticism of Zola is that he has been naive at times and also shirked confrontation. His faith in certain players also has to be questioned, while the balance of the squad is an issue. That has much to do with financial constraints, with West Ham having to sell to stave off the threat of administration.

Meanwhile the loss of Lucas Neill, who failed to agree a new contract, and the sale of James Collins which was insisted upon by Straumur and West Ham's former chairman, Andrew Bernhardt, to finance the purchase of Alessandro Diamanti has hurt.

On Friday Zola said he had not spoken to Sullivan about his open letter which was dismissed as "irrelevant" by club captain Matthew Upson.

Upson has given no indication that, with one year left on his contract, he will sign a new deal while the future of Robert Green is also in doubt. Valon Behrami and Diamanti whose signing has been questioned by Sullivan are also likely to go while there is little chance that Guillermo Franco will be offered a new contract.

Of Sullivan's criticisms, Zola said: "The owner is entitled to have his opinion and express it because he is the owner. However, when you use those words, you have to be very careful how you use them because sometimes they can be painful and cause more damage than you can imagine, and that could be the case.

"I will keep my focus on my job, I have a responsibility and will turn it into a positive thing for me and players." Pointedly, alluding to Sullivan's letter, he added: "The good thing is that I do not need to motivate the players with a team talk tomorrow, because they have already had one."

Asked whether the owners had asked him whether he would quit, Zola said: "No, they didn't say anything about that. But there is no need to talk about that. I don't want to hear that. I know my responsibilities and where my position stands."

He added: "I have thinking about this situation and have been saying, 'What the hell is going on here. It is a football game, Jesus Christ.' This is what I think about. I question myself, 'Am I doing everything that I can?' And I have to say 'yes'. I am doing it with passion. I am doing it with honesty. So why should I be kicking myself or banging my head against the wall?

''That is what I say. I love the game and I have a fair approach to it. Sometimes things don't work. I don't understand. Maybe the job I am doing is not good. But I do it with honesty. If it is not good they should just tell me."

Source: Telegraph