Thursday, September 11, 2008

Zola at West Ham: Will it work?

I have to start by stressing I really hope Gianfranco Zola performs wonders at West Ham and has a long spell as manager of the Upton Park club. But...I have serious misgivings about whether he should have taken the job.

Former Chelsea star Zola has never managed a football club before - he was previously assistant manager of the Italy Under-21s - so to take a job as big as the one at West Ham has to be seen as a risk. "As big as the one at West Ham?" I heard you snigger! Yes, West Ham, a London club who have been in the Premier League for some time, have to be considered a big club in terms of a first job in management.

Zola himself said he couldn't turn the job down, and who can blame him? If a burger-flipper at McDonald's was offered to become a board member at Burger King, they wouldn't turn it down. While Zola's new job isn't quite such a huge leap, it is certainly a leap of sorts.

The former Italian international's aim appears to be to play attractive and attacking football. Hopefully that works, but recent history has shown teams concentrating on attacking and, in particular, attractive football are rarely the ones at the very top of the table (okay, Arsenal may be an exception, but they had the players for it).

Zola said: "It's my philosophy is to play offensive football if I can as I have always done that so we will try to play this style of football. What we do here is to make it enjoyable for the players and for the club,"

So can West Ham turn back the clock to the days when they "Won the World Cup," as their fans like to claim? Has anything really changed since Alan Curbishley and the club parted company last week? To be honest, no; the only real change is one for the worse.

The appointment of Zola may bring some cheer to the Upton Park faithful, and they are guaranteed some media coverage for a while, but that doesn't win leagues. In my book at least (a book I'll never write!), Alan Curbishely offered the Hammers a far better chance of success than a person whose managerial virginity remains intact.

And the men in suits upstairs are still the same people as last week...

Extra police drafted in at Newcastle

Newcastle fans are nothing if not passionate and, following Kevin Keegan's resignation, there appear to be fears that passion could turn into something more sinister on Saturday (Sep 13).

Extra police have been drafted in following reports there will be five demonstrations throughout the city before, during and after the Toon take on Hull City. Hopefully the protests will be incident free and the fans get their points across - they have every right to publicly ask questions of owner Mike Ashley and if more supporters were actually prepared to make a fuss, English top-flight football would not be in the mess it currently is.

A boycott of official club merchandise has already begun, and I honestly hope it is successful. Even ignoring the specific problems at Newcastle right now, clubs across the country have been taking fans for a financial ride for far too long. I would urge any fan of a top-flight club who is reading this to take a look at their club's online shop and try and justify every item stocked.

Many will have different views on what criteria would be used to "justify" the merchandise. For me, I try to keep the fact that football was meant to be a working-class game where the fans could cheer the lads on at the back of my mind when I look through the shops. Imagining how the early football fans would react to some of the items on offer is usually a good way to start.

Football moving away from its working class roots has arguably been the main factor in the death of the top flight game. The players generally have a working-class background but the reliance of the clubs on other socioeconomic groups (I think that's the PC term these days) has increased over the years. How they can expect hard-working fans on low incomes to afford two or three club kits for each of their children each year is beyond me.

(And yes, I know nobody is forcing the parents to buy the kits, but they are advertised in such a way - namely by being on television and in front of the crowds at every match - that parents will be under pressure to buy the replica strips).

Now, with the sort of investment Manchester City have just had, it's clear the game is as far away from its origins as it possibly can be. Is it even the same game it was in the 19th century? In the 1960? Heck, even the 1980s?

I honestly don't think it is. The version of football we have forced upon us by the top-flight clubs is all about big-money. It's not about sportsmanship or camaraderie, and hasn't been for some time.