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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 13:27 UK

West Ham's Zola gamble

Gianfranco Zola
Zola has admitted his dream is to manage Chelsea one day

By Simon Austin

The story of Diego Maradona, Gianfranco Zola's idol and mentor, is a stark reminder that great players seldom make great managers.

Maradona's spells in charge of Argentine clubs Mandiyu of Corrientes and Racing Club in the mid-1990s were brief, acrimonious and hugely unsuccessful.

Zola, who grew up under the tutelage of Maradona at Napoli, is one of the finest foreign footballers to have graced the English game.

However, there is nothing on the Italian's CV to prove he can replicate this success as a manager with West Ham.

The 42-year-old has been assistant coach of the Italy under-21 side for the last two years and helped lead them to the play-offs for the 2009 European Championship, yet he has no experience of managing a club side.

Marcel Desailly
Young players like Frank Lampard used to try and emulate Gianfranco - he is a guy who leads by example

Marcel Desailly

The Hammers, though, insist they have been thorough and thoughtful in their search for a new boss.

Within hours of Alan Curbishley's resignation last Wednesday, the board had compiled a checklist of 25 qualities they wanted an ideal replacement to have.

These included coaching ability, motivational skills, willingness to work within the club's structure and, perhaps most importantly of all, a record of developing young players.

Chief executive Scott Duxbury and technical director Gianluca Nani compiled an extensive list of suitable names before eventually settling on a shortlist of Zola, ex-Hibernian boss John Collins and former Italy manager Roberto Donadoni.

Zola established himself as first choice following an impressive interview last week.

"We were very happy with all three candidates, but Gianfranco really impressed us with his vision for the club," a boardroom source told BBC Sport.

"He has a track record and passion for developing young players, which is a crucial part of our philosophy, and his time with the Italy Under-21s proves what a good coach he is.

"Gianfranco was a world-class player who wants his team to play exciting, attractive football, which is the West Ham way.

BBC Sport's Frank Keogh

"And, importantly, he has extensive experience of the Premier League and has convinced us he will be able to motivate the team."

Marcel Desailly played alongside Zola at Chelsea for five years and believes he will be a success.

"Tactically and technically he will be able to improve the West Ham players," the former AC Milan star told BBC Sport.

"People in Italy tell me that Gianfranco is a quality coach. He was always demanding of himself as a player and will want his team to show the same level of commitment and professionalism.

"Young Chelsea players like Frank Lampard used to look at Gianfranco's attitude, professionalism and technique, and try to emulate it. He is a guy who leads by example."

And is West Ham a good move for Zola?

Gianfranco Zola
Born: Oliena, Sardinia, 5 July 66
Clubs: Nuorese (84-86), Torres (86-89), Napoli (89-93), Parma (93-96), Chelsea (96-2003), Cagliari (03-05)
Honours: Napoli (Serie A 90); Parma (Uefa Super Cup 93, Uefa Cup 95); Chelsea (FA Cup 97, 00; League Cup 98; Cup Winners' Cup 98; Uefa Super Cup 98)
Coaching: Italy U-21s (06-08)

The fact that the Italian is synonymous with Chelsea, whose fans hardly have a friendly rivalry with their West Ham counterparts, does not worry Zola.

"That is not a problem - my playing career is in my past," he says.

Gary Firmager, editor of West Ham fanzine "Over Land and Sea", agrees.

"West Ham fans respect that he was an exciting player, despite playing for Chelsea, and if he brings that here, he will be adopted," he says.

The availability of funds to strengthen the squad will be of greater concern.

West Ham have been trying to cut their wage bill following the excesses of Eggert Magnusson's chairmanship, yet there is encouragement for Zola.

"(Owner, Bjorgolfur) Gudmundsson is a billionaire, the second richest man in Iceland and one of the 1,000 richest men in the world," the boardroom source told BBC Sport.

"So he has the money to invest in the club and strengthen the squad.

"It is down to Gianluca Nani and Scott Duxbury to prove they can effectively manage the transfer budget and wage bill before Mr Gudmundsson starts to invest heavily in players again."

Zola interview on Inside Sport - April 2008

And Zola is also sure to be more comfortable working with Nani than his predecessor in the West Ham hotseat was.

The terms of Curbishley's employment effectively changed once Nani joined the club as technical director in March.

If Zola does prove a success at West Ham, the shadow of Chelsea is likely to loom at Upton Park.

Earlier this year he admitted: "Let us put it this way - one day I would like to be good enough to manage Chelsea. It is in my heart."

see also
West Ham unveil Zola as new boss
11 Sep 08 |  West Ham
Zola ready to take West Ham job
11 Sep 08 |  West Ham
West Ham reject Curbishley claims
04 Sep 08 |  West Ham
Curbishley quits as West Ham boss
03 Sep 08 |  West Ham
End of big spending at West Ham
09 May 08 |  West Ham
West Ham confirm Nani appointment
17 Mar 08 |  West Ham
Magnusson steps down at West Ham
13 Dec 07 |  West Ham

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