Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obfuscation, A Shortlist And A Zola Eclipse

The Searchers

I'll say one thing about West Ham - they do nothing quietly. Or with anything approaching competence.

First, the club announce a list of 30 candidates, which they whittled down to 5 within about twenty minutes, presumably after calls to Barack Obama, the Sultan of Dubai and President Bartlett et al were answered with a loud guffaw.

They then conducted a short, but very public interview process which culminated with Gianfranco Zola being unveiled today as our brand spanking, shiny new manager.

I began to have my doubts about this approach, when PR "guru" Mike Lee appeared on Radio 5 Live this weekend giving a running assessment of the candidates. To say that this is unusual is to rather understate the fact. I have never heard of this before, and for the life of me I cannot understand why the Club decided to conduct the search so publicly.

Still - chin up, Allardyce wasn't mentioned.

Before We Begin

Like most of those I have consulted (i.e: Papa Shark and the Beluga), I remain an unabashed Slaven Bilic fan. This is nothing to do with his West Ham past, indeed it is largely in spite of it, but rather more because of the progressive style of football played by his teams.

I am acutely aware that even as I type this, Bilic's Croatian team are somehow contriving to lose 4-1 to an England side containing Wes Brown, Emile Heskey and Jermaine Jenas, but let that not obscure the tremendous job he has generally done with his national team. After all, it can't be helpful when your goalkeeper seems to have the spatial awareness of a salad bowl and your centre backs are demonstrating the depth perception of elks.

But I have a question about our courtship of Bilic. Did he not take the job because he didn't want it, or because he didn't want to accept it before the game against England was over? If it is the latter, then this seems to be a ludicrous, if entirely believable, situation. The self imposed deadline of Saturday's match against West Brom was always a curious one from the outset, given that it seemed to rule out Bilic immediately.

With all due respect to Zola, and with slightly less respect to West Brom, what exactly is a new manager going to do in these two days that would transform our fortunes against a side who are relying on the goalscoring talents of Chris Brunt to stay up?

If we have missed out on Bilic simply because we were too impatient to wait for him, then I can't fathom exactly who at the club ran this search, but I wouldn't feel at all silly suggesting that it might have been one of the ballboys.

How Not To Interview

Was anyone else put in my mind of the FA's calamitous search for a successor to Sven Goran Eriksson over the last week? I rather suspect the FA phone call to Phil Scolari went something like this:

FA: "Hello, is that Big Phil Scolari?"
Phil: "It is I"
FA: "Phil, we'd really like you to be the England manager"
Phil: "And I would have the chance to work with players like Robinson, Downing, Jenas and Neville?"
FA: (excited) "Yes!"
Phil: "Fuck off"
FA: "We'll give you £6m"
Phil: "It would be an honour"
FA: "Great, when can you start?"
Phil: "After the World Cup"
FA: "Great, we'll announce it tomorrow"
Phil: "Well, can't you at least wait until I've knocked you out?"
FA: "No"
Phil: "Why?"
FA: "Erm, we haven't worked out why but we feel very strongly about it"
Phil: "Then I must decline. You idiots"
FA: "No problem, we have a top quality alternative"
Phil: "Who"
FA: "Steve Maclaren"
Phil: "Seriously?"
FA: "Yes"
Phil: "See you in 2010"
FA: "Don't you mean 2008?"
Phil: "No" (hangs up...)
FA: "Phil?......Phil?..... Phil?"

Substitute Slaven Bilic, Scott Duxbury and the odd mention of Luis Boa Morte in there and it feels like we have ourselves a picnic.

Zola Power

Quite how we have ended up with Gianfranco Zola is a bit of a mystery. The fact that he was once a Chelsea player is irrelevant to me. I care so little about Chelsea that they may as well play another sport for all the impact they have on my life. In fact, during our home match with them last year that was pretty much the case.

My issue with Zola is purely that he has no managerial experience. Certainly it's nice to think that his team would play in his image, but he could just as easily channel Bryan Robson as Frank Rijkaard. Indeed, at this point the only tangible difference between Zola and Di Canio appears to be that the former is sane. I'm not ruling out the signifance of that point, but it is an interesting notion. After all, pretty much every other fan that I know simply laughed at the idea of Di Canio as manager.

Of course, as Papa Shark pointed out, Alan Curbishley had plenty of experience and that didn't exactly turn out to be the worlds most illuminating two years, so I can probably live with Zola's rawness if it doesn't translate into 4-5-1 at home to Bolton.

Perhaps there was an inevitability about us ending up with an Italian. Many of our backroom staff are Italian, and clearly Gianluca Nani had a huge input into the selection of the candidates. I have to assume this is true, because otherwise it seems like we just got a Panini sticker album from 1994, closed our eyes and pointed.


The Director of Football role was perhaps the biggest stumbling for a strong personality like Bilic, and perhaps a pointer towards the future we can expect under Zola. A manager prepared to see a semblance of his traditional powers siphoned off and given to Nani, was the only person who would ever have been given this position.

To be fair to Nani, we have no idea quite how good he will be in his role, and maybe this will be the most succesful restructuring of a British football club ever, but it seems like quite a risk.

My biggest concerns for the future are that Gudmunsson is engaged in a course of monumental asset stripping, and that Nani is about to turn us into the Italian version of Arsenal (France) or Liverpool (Spain).

We have made 5 signings since Nani was put in his role and nary a one has been English. Call it xenophobia, nationalism or call me Oswald Mosely (well don't - but you know what I mean), however I prefer it when our team hail from Beckton and not Brescia.

In Summary

I have absolutely no idea what to make of this appointment. I'll feel a hell of a lot better about it if Steve Clarke comes across as Zola's assistant, but largely this just feels like leftest of left field appointments.

As safe and dull as Curbishley was, it feels that Zola sits right at the opposite end of the spectrum. And I don't mind admitting that the prospect is actually quite................................heaven help me, exciting.

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