Zola sacked – The stats don’t lie, or do they?

by James Baker

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Well, that is that then. Arguably the nicest man in football was dismissed by West Ham earlier today. Some will be rejoicing, some will  have sympathy for Zola and some just won’t care. Personally, I think Zola has been badly short changed by the club but we will come to that in a minute.

Firstly, the facts. Statistically, Zola is the most unsuccessful manager in the Hammers history winning just 23 of a possible 80 games, a win percentage of 28.75%. Before Zola, Glenn Roeder had the worst win percentage of 31.40%. The man Zola replaced, Alan Curbishley had a win percentage of 39.44%. The Hammers have produced some really insipid stuff this season. They never really had a good run and have stayed up comfortably in the end with 35 points a terrible final figure. To put this in to perspective, the Hammers were relegated in the 02-03 Premier League season with 41 points, a record for a 38 game season.

They are pretty damning statistics and some would say are difficult to argue against. But, you guessed it, argue I will!

Zola joined the Hammers just as the bubble was bursting. The money had run out. Curbishley had brought players in to the club on huge contracts. Scott Parker, Matthew Upson, Kieron Dyer, Luis Boa Morte, Lucas Neill, Craig Bellamy and Freddie Ljungberg were brought in as the Hammers tried to establish themselves in the top 10 of the league. Obviously, we know all about the problems Dyer and Ljungberg have created and experienced with the Hammers. However, when Zola came in September 08, the Icelandic banking crisis had taken hold. The owners were skint and Bellamy, their outstanding player was sold in the next transfer window. Zamora and Etherington were sold as well to raise funds and look at the seasons they have had this year. Fulham and Stoke’s players of the year. Still, the core of the team stayed together and the Hammers finished a respectable 10th, the same as the previous season.

The eve of this current season saw massive unrest at the club. The club were facing huge debts and if you believed the press, every player they had would be sold and the club was facing administration. One of the main reasons for the Hammers seeing out the previous season comfortably was their solid back five. They had the England goalkeeper in Robert Green, Lucas Neill, the skipper at right back with Upson, Tomkins and Collins filling the central defence and the Congolese left back Herita Ilunga forming a solid backline. Just before the dawn of the season, Collins was sold to Villa to help release some funds to buy an attacking player. Collins went on to have a great season for Villa as I am sure Villa fans will testify. But for, for me, the biggest loss of all was Lucas Neill. He has a well-earned reputation in England for being a football mercenary and following the money. Because of this, I never felt Neill got the recognition he deserved. He was a brilliant captain and organiser. He left and the defence lost its leader. Ilunga started the season but hardly played after Christmas.

The team was stripped of all pace. Diamanti was brought in from Italy. A player with great ability but also a bit of a luxury player. There were the inevitable injuries every team will suffer but Zola managed to keep the club moving along before Christmas.

Then the two Davids’ came along. It was quite clear they didn’t fancy Zola. They failed miserably to back him and launched tirades against the players. They didn’t seem to realise that Zola was working closely with Gianluca Nani and Scott Duxbury with recruiting players and it seemed to work. They were shopping in the bargain basement and found a few gems. They found the odd mistake as well (Savio anyone?) but they seemed to work well together. I appreciate that cuts needed to be made but when you are operating a Director of Football policy, surely that needs to stay in place until at least the end of the season. All of Zola’s confidants had been sacked except Steve Clarke.

Most English fans think the Director of Football thing as a joke. Look how Spurs have benefitted since they gave control to one man. However, this seemed to work for Zola. He wanted to coach the players. He would pick players to sign with Nani and Duxbury and they were doing ok. I don’t think it was any surprise the club went in to free fall when Zola was left on his own.

I am not saying Zola is the greatest manager but he deserved better than the treatment he received. You could say his inability to find a system to get the most of their most skilful player, Diamanti is his fault, the uninspiring displays, especially away from home are all down to Zola. However, I don’t think people should be so naïve to think this is all Zola’s fault. I fully believe the team would not have gone through their turgid end of the season if Nani and Duxbury were still around. Managers need support not brash little men telling them and players how it is before a big game. By all means do this in confidence but don’t splash it across the press everywhere. It was hugely destabilising for the team as were many other Sullivan comments. If someone is under-performing, there are ways, as a manager to try and improve performance. Public humiliation is not the answer, ask Phil Brown.

So the Hammers are looking for another boss. I am very disappointed for Zola. I believe he will be a better manager for this experience and I hope he goes on to be a top boss somewhere. Who do you think is the man to lead the Hammers in to a new era? Who would want to work with two chairmen, one who cannot help himself but say all the wrong things and another who seems to clear up his mess? Intriguing times ahead at the Boleyn.

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  • http://www.myspace.com/lindsaywesker Lindsay Wesker

    Excellent article. I totally agree with everything you have said. Zola has been unlucky.

    Having said that, I think the “brash little men” will put West Ham’s house in order (they did a great job at Birmingham) and, provided we get a decent manager, there actually are a core of decent players at the club who can do a job next season.

  • Chris

    stop making excuses for Zola.

    Spector playing instead of Daprela, Da Costa sitting in the reserves all season while Tomkins struggled and Diamanti out on the right?

    He had it rough but he couldnt get the players to work!

  • kevin57

    the david’s approach made perfect sense to me. if zola would walk rather than be sacked they’d avoid a huge contractual pay out, legal action or both. Zola has been a disaster and is the latest in a long line of great players who have demonstrated that they can’t manage. The troika of zola, duxberry and nani that you lionise failed. it ended with the ‘unbalanced’ squad which the two davids rightly diagnosed as a critical problem with the squad. the troika had money to spend and indeed spent it, just not on the right players and when zola came to pick the team not only did he vassilate hoplessly with his formation but also invariable picked the wrong formation at the wrong team ..4-4-2 away at Liverpool who played 4-5-1 .. if that’s not an invite to the stronger team to overrun our midfield and take pot shots all day i do not know what is. Even more strangely against weaker teams he played with a,lone striker-bonkers. Then he had a fetish for playing players out of position ; we had right footers on the left, left footers on the right, right midfielders at right back and right backs at left back ; he seemed to think that crossing from the bye line was an ugly tactic and eschewed it despite the only foward that we had of any note being a strapping 6′ 4″ lad built to head in crosses. Avram Grant had far worse problems at portsmouth than we did and I’ll bet his stats make better reading

  • JB

    I think they are valid excuses. I did say that he had failed to find a formation to suit Diamanti. A system where he doesn’t need to track back. Spector played instead of Daprella because Daprella is only 18 and Zola obviously felt it was better to trust Spector even though he was out of position. I might not agree with it but I see the reasoning. I love it when fans rave about a young player they have seen a few times and think he is the answer. Maybe Daprella is but it would have been a big risk playing an unproven 18 year old there in a relegation fight. Daprella played against City as the result didn’t matter. Da Costa is ok but I think Tomkins is better bet long term. When Tonkins was going through that rough patch, Da Costa was suspended for 3 games for benig sent off against Chelsea reserves.

    I am not a fan of the Director of Football thing but it did work for a while. Zola concentrated on coaching the players and the other two on identifying players and doing the contracts. Zola had some money after the sale of Bellamy and they made their one big error in signing Savio. This cost a couple of million I believe. There was no money to buy players without sellign first. I think we all agree Behrami was a good signing. Da Costa and Daprella were bought with the future in mind because that was all they could afford. Diamanti scored some vital goals and I think he has stacks of talent. I cannot disgree with some of the formations he chose and the away form was shocking. The two David’s may be right to change the manager now but instead of making him a sitting duck after sacking his right hand men, they should have sacked him when they came in instead of creating the shaky situation that only just saw us avoid relegation. They seriously destabilised the team at a time when it didn’t need it.

  • Dexylongshot

    Quality article jim, looks like the saves are teeing up avram grant with Steve Clarke staying on, I just pray we don.t sell of all the family silver in uppo,Carlton etc.

  • dexylongshot

    Looks like Big Sam is being touted as the savior of Upton Park.
    Bangs goes the Arsenal Blueprint, in comes Jack Charlton style aerial bombs for the forwards. It will be like the blitz again in East London.

  • JB

    I never thought I would say this but if Fat Sam became West Ham manager, I would not renew my season ticket. He represents most that is bad about football. His brand of football is mind numbing.

    I am worried more and more by the two David’s.

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