Upton Park was engulfed with cries of \’You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ as Wolverhampton Wanderers rattled in their third goal of a 3-1 victory at the expense of West Ham United in the Premier League last night.
The game was as a proverbial relegation six-pointer between two sides stationed in the bottom six of the table but Mick McCarthy’s side produced their best away performance of the campaign and deservedly took all three points.
Gianfranco Zola cut a forlorn figure on the sideline at the game’s conclusion. West Ham produced a thoroughly abject display and were rightly booed off by their home supporters.
With barely an hour on the clock, Hammers fans were already streaming out through the exits as their side suffered a fifth consecutive league defeat.
Zola’s side lacked ambition, creativity and appeared to have little bottle for the fight once the score became 3-0.
A single Scott Parker effort that rattled the upright was all West Ham had to show for a depressing first half performance. Five wins from 15 attempts at home in the 2010 campaign is relegation form. Irrespective of any future investment following the club’s takeover by David Gold, West Ham are in serious trouble and the fans have now turned on their manager.
A cult figure at Chelsea, Zola graced every Premier League ground with a dazzling array of skills throughout a glittering career.
The genial Italian was brought in alongside Steve Clarke as a \’dream-team’ managerial combination to resurrect West Ham United and return the London club to the top echelons of the Premier League. Big wages were paid, huge transfer fees changed hands and an Icelandic takeover melted at Upton Park before Zola finally appeared to steady the ship.
West Ham gambled big and lost ending up more or less broke until Gold and David Sullivan’s intervention. The Italian was praised for blooding young talent like James Tomkins in recent months but results, and more worryingly performances, have nose-dived leaving the Hammers in danger of relegation.
“I have to take the criticism. Last year, when we were playing well, the fans were showering me with compliments. Now they’re blaming me but I have no problem with that. I have to put things right” commented Zola after last night’s loss.
Therein lays the problem. The Italian is clearly respected by his players for his good-nature and career as a footballer. He is not feared as a manager.
Manchester United produced a poor display at the same ground some years ago and Sir Alex Ferguson locked his side in the dressing room for over an hour afterwards. All he would say following that enforced sit-in was simply that United’s performance was unacceptable.
That was enough to inspire (an admittedly top class side) into action in their next game and United players were left in no uncertain terms as to what was expected off them. Bottom line: similar performances would not be tolerated or else they would be sold.
“If the fans have to pick on someone, they should pick on me.” were Zola’s after-match comments which appeared sincere. Those words failed to convey the necessary warning to his players that such displays can simply no longer be tolerated at West Ham or else they will go down.
There is no reason the current West Ham first-team cannot – at the very least – compete with the likes of Wolves, Bolton, Burnley and Hull in their attempt to keep Premier League football at Upton Park next season. It is Zola’s job to inspire his players and attempt to resurrect a season that’s descending into relegation scrap for survival with the bottom three clubs.
The manager received the dreaded vote of confidence from his chairman this morning but that will do little to appease the West Ham fans who deserve better than the performance served up last night.
If West Ham go down, it won’t matter how nice a guy Zola is/was, he’ll be sacked (and deservedly so) because he wasn’t a strong enough manager.
Maybe if the Italian repeated that last sentence to himself every morning between now and the end of the season West Ham might have a better chance of staying up.
Ger McCarthy is author of Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork League junior footballer.