Managers Zola and Ancelotti face differing pressures
East meets West - Zola and Ancelotti at Upton Park
By Frank Keogh
In he walked, dour and downbeat. The contrast to his chirpy countryman moments earlier could hardly have been starker.
Brooding and fielding questions he could have done without was Carlo Ancelotti, manager of table-topping Chelsea.
Compare that then to the smiling Gianfranco Zola, whose east London side lie 18 places, and 26 points adrift, of their big-spending rivals from up west.
West Ham's 1-1 home draw with Chelsea on Sunday gave one Italian a lift as Zola hailed the special atmosphere among his lowly squad.
The other said he was pleased to go a further point clear at the top, but was unhappy with his side's performance.
West Ham attitude heartens Zola
Zola said the draw could be a springboard for better things.
"The attitude, the passion, the courage that we put on the pitch was remarkable. I think it is a really good starting point and it will affect everybody from now on," said the man once voted all-time favourite player by Chelsea fans.
He even hoped reporters had a nice day, and slipped in a joke about his own team.
"They were tired, but it didn't look like it - I'm sure they could have played another 90 minutes," said Zola.
Zola hailed his goalkeeper Robert Green, the defence, the "unbelievable" workrate of midfielder Jack Collison, plus the "impressive" Scott Parker.
Was he furious about the debatable penalty that led to Chelsea's equaliser? No, merely disgruntled.
"The players were disappointed, especially with the linesman. We don't need to speak about it any more, nothing takes away from the performance of the players," he said.
Chelsea's point in a hard-fought London derby satisfied, rather than cheered Ancelotti, 50, twice a Champions League winner as boss of AC Milan.
"This period to play every three days with pressure on the games is not easy," he said.
As if to illustrate the contrasting pressures of men at different ends of the Premier League, the post-match questions moved on to a third Italian - the new Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, a replacement after the controversial sacking of Mark Hughes.
"Mancini is a good coach, a very good coach. He has very good experience in Italy and can do a good job at Manchester City," said Ancelotti.
Zola, whose experience with younger players in Italy proved decisive in his 2008 appointment, was actually selected for the West Ham job after the Hammers held talks with Mancini.
"He will not have a very easy task," conceded the 43-year-old, who scored 10 goals in 35 appearances for Italy.
"I am very sorry for Mark Hughes. I feel very much for him. I think he has done a great job at Manchester City and I am disappointed not to see him still doing his job."
Zola partnered Hughes in attack for Chelsea when the Blues began their revival in the late 1990s.
Now the revered player, who stands less than 5ft 7in tall, is trying to show a younger generation how they can reach new heights.
"In the past we played some good games but I never felt the atmosphere I did in this match," he said.
"The way the players were encouraging each other, working off each other was really contagious."
Despite being 19th with only three league wins from 18 games, Zola - assisted by fellow former Chelsea favourite Steve Clarke - appears to be under little immediate pressure from a West Ham crowd who enjoy good passing football.
Success this season might be judged as escape from relegation, while Ancelotti will know Avram Grant was deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge in 2008 for 'only' finishing runners-up in the Champions League.
"I don't think Chelsea are in the best moment right now. The teams at the front are struggling a little bit. They have got what it takes to win the title, it will depend on their form," said Zola.
"This is very much an open championship - up there and at the bottom that makes it very interesting."
It was a weekend that saw Chelsea held, while Manchester United and Liverpool lost at Fulham and Portsmouth, respectively.
"For every team, this is not the best period. There are a lot of competitive games and to play every three days is not easy for everybody," said Ancelotti.
What remains to be seen is how the footballing lives of Italian trio Zola, Ancelotti and Mancini may be interwoven over the remainder of the season.
Will Zola have to fend off advances for striker Carlton Cole and midfielder Parker, will the Chelsea boss fight to keep Terry and others from City's grasp?
Zola has operated at West Ham this term with financial restraints, injuries to key players and various off-the-field problems for the club.
The club's Icelandic owners are looking to sell up, with the two Davids - Gold and Sullivan - eyeing a takeover.
Uncertain times, yet West Ham are only one point worse off than a year ago, albeit with arguably a weaker squad, when they finished the season in ninth.
It is understood Cole has been told by members of England's national team that staying with the Hammers - and regular first-team experience - will help his chances of making the squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
We only deserved a draw - Ancelotti
Zola, who played alongside Cole at Chelsea, has helped revive the fortunes of a striker who has netted 14 times in 25 games since Boxing Day 2008.
Can West Ham survive? When I asked Ancelotti, he replied: "I think they played well today. They showed character and determination and some good ideas. I hope so, because I am a fan of Gianfranco."
Character, determination, passion and courage - qualities all three Italians will need over the coming months if they are to enjoy or endure another season in the Premier League pressure cooker.
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