Big chance for little Zola, as Bilic & Laudrup drop out of contention for the West Ham job

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “It’s just bizarre. It’s bleedin’ surreal. I found out about it watching Sky Sports News, it just came up and that was it. I haven’t been at the club since but I’ve heard about it on TV and in the papers. When I heard about Robinho, I just laughed to be honest. We seemed all out for Berbatov and were bidding for everybody, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Rather than the big four dominating all the time, we’ve now another club that can compete in the transfer market. Anyone with that money that is willing to spend it, well, players will come. I think it’s inevitable we can become one of the biggest.”- Richard Dunne.

Runner-up: “Sometimes I think to myself, if I had a manager who said to me, ‘Go out and do your stuff, and you can have two or three indifferent games,’ as players do, then maybe I could be an even better player than I am. I haven’t had that in my career. I would take playing anywhere, sit on the bench, go and play in goal, for a cap for England. I do pride myself on that. But it’s nice to have someone right behind me. The gaffer’s got as much belief in me as any other manager’s had over the years, I imagine. Footballers will say, ‘I don’t have to prove myself’. But I think you’re in the shop window every day, you get judged on every performance, every training session. I try and do my best, every day and in every game… My best position is definitely playing off the two strikers, going left and right. Nowadays you look at players in my position who play there, like – not comparing myself to them at all – but players like [Lionel] Messi, Ronaldinho, [Cristiano] Ronaldo. They play left, right and centre. Football has become very fluid. Look at the movement of teams like Manchester United. You just need to be an attacking midfielder, basically, in my position. You have to be sound defensively, and there has to be some structure. But there has to be movement.” – Joe Cole.

Today’s overview: The top news story today centres around the wide-spread belief that Gianfranco Zola will become the new West Ham boss. According to Dominic Fifield “Zola has emerged as the London club’s preferred candidate ahead of the former Italy coach Roberto Donadoni,” Jeremy Wilson is quick to point out that “Slaven Bilic [was] ruled out yesterday because of his refusal to consider taking the position on a full-time basis and Michael Laudrup [is] poised to take charge at Spartak Moscow.” Gary Jacob reports that West Ham fans will support Zola, despite the Italian having played for Chelsea.

Next under the microscope is England. Kevin McCarra offers England little hope in Zagreb and calls for Capello to win ugly, while Alan Smith offers an almost scared set of instructions to England on how to play in Croatia (“Gareth Barry’s instincts as the holding midfielder could be tested to the limit”).

Sam Wallace wonders whether there is any truth to Joe Cole’s claim that he is an unloved footballer. Focusing in on Joe Cole’s description of his ideal playing position, Martin Samuel concludes “[his] definition of the job of the attacking midfield player that was so expansive, it is a wonder he does not have to join a different queue when the England team approach passport control at Luton airport.”

Other articles on England include James Lawton’s positive spin on the difference in attitudes between Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello after their separate wins in Andorra, Ian Wright’s cliched words of advice for Fabio Capello, John Nicholson explores how booing has regrettably become commonplace (“To me it feels wrong. Wrong like licking your sister’s nipples.”), while Robbo Robson calls for teams like Andorra to be forced to pre-qualify.

There are a few free-standing articles worth a read. Dan Sabbagh investigates the Setanta-England row, Sid Lowe reviews how Spain have reacted to the European Champions only beating Bosnia 1-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier, following last week’s crazy week in the Premier League, Michael Henderson asks where was Richard Scudamore, while Henry Winter interviews Micky Thomas to help plug the footballer’s new autobiography.

Troubles on Tyneside make up the final section this morning. McDermott yesterday from the coaching staff, but the fans plan to revolt. Rob Stewart counters with news that Mike Ashley is preparing to slog it out with the supporters. Finally, Steve Brenner claims that Newcastle are closing in on Gus Poyet.

Dominic Fifield (Guardian) leads with reports that West Ham will try all-out to sign Gianfranco Zola as their new manager. “Zola has emerged as the London club’s preferred candidate ahead of the former Italy coach Roberto Donadoni and, with personal terms having effectively been agreed, confirmation of his appointment as West Ham’s first foreign manager could be made later today. Indeed, the club are already drawing up tentative plans to unveil the 42-year-old at the Boleyn Ground as early as Thursday ahead of the weekend trip to West Bromwich Albion.”

According to Jeremy Wilson’s report in the Telegraph, West Ham’s choice of Zola also has something to do with not getting their preferred candidate. “With Croatia manager Slaven Bilic ruled out yesterday because of his refusal to consider taking the position on a full-time basis and Michael Laudrup poised to take charge at Spartak Moscow, the short-list had narrowed to Zola and ex-Italy coach Roberto Donadoni. Both had impressed during talks with Nani and Duxbury but, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Zola became the frontrunner after particularly shining during his second interview in Rome on Sunday. It is understood that personal terms have already been agreed and an official announcement is expected in the next 48 hours.”

According to Gary Jacob (The Times), Hammers’ fans will accept Zola even though he played for Chelsea. “Some fans will not like the idea of enlisting a former Chelsea forward – voted the West London club’s best ever player by fans in 2003 – but West Ham believe that the dignified Italian is held in high regard throughout England for his exploits on the pitch. It is also believed that his promised playing style will match the fans’ expectations of flowing football, rarely achieved under Curbishley. If he is appointed, he could be joined at Upton Park by Steve Clarke, the Chelsea assistant coach, who is a contender for a first-team coaching role.”

Kevin McCarra (Guardian), giving the impression that he offers England little hope in Zagreb, calls for Capello to win ugly. “Capello’s reputation is for getting the job done by whatever means are required. This practicality, unfortunately, is exactly what England need nowadays. The interest in the national team is always great and, in that overheated environment, it is easy to forget how disproportionate it can be to the actual status of the squad.”

Alan Smith (Telegraph) offers an almost scared set of instructions to England on how to play in Croatia. “Starting from a central position, possibly alongside Mladen Petric, Olic will work both flanks, meaning England’s full-backs, Ashley Cole and probably Wes Brown, must stay in constant contact with their centre-halves to make sure he doesn’t wriggle free. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, however, will have to avoid the temptation to drop off. That would only create room for Luka Modric, whose superb goal against Kazakhstan on Saturday served as a reminder that he needs to be closely watched… Gareth Barry’s instincts as the holding midfielder could be tested to the limit, what with Modric lurking nearby and Rakitic cutting in. So, Frank Lampard must help out. For this game, the midfielder must curb his instinct to join the attack and stay fairly close to Barry.”

Reacting to the “Runner-up” quote of the day, Sam Wallace (Independent) wonders whether there is any truth to Joe Cole’s claim that he is an unloved footballer. “Cole’s admission that he has never had a manager who truly believed in him was some statement from the man who scored two goals against Andorra and cannot be sure of his place in the team in Zagreb for what is the pivotal game of the Capello reign… Cole, 25, is perceived as the nearly man of English football for club and country while in fact Steve McClaren, during his reign as England manager, started Cole in every game for which he was fit – 10 in all. Similarly, no Chelsea player started more games than Cole last season. If anything he is one of England’s more established players, with four caps – two of them starts – under Capello, and it is hard to believe that Stewart Downing’s lacklustre performance against Andorra will keep Cole out the side tomorrow.”

In a week when Steven Gerrard identified his preferred central midfield role in such narrow terms that he claimed to have been played there only five times in 68 matches for England, Cole gave a definition of the job of the attacking midfield player that was so expansive, it is a wonder he does not have to join a different queue when the England team approach passport control at Luton airport… For England, the golden generation has become the tramline generation. Too much is played straight, too much has one dimension. It is argued that the English game lacks technique, but more debilitating is the absence of wit. If Gerrard, one of its finest players, cannot conceive of central midfield unless he is accompanied by a water-carrier such as Nicky Butt and is free to charge up and down like the best footballer in the schoolyard, there is a serious problem.”

The Independent’s James Lawton is encouraged by the difference in attitudes between Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello after their separate wins in Andorra. “It was also surely significant that when Steven Gerrard made a result-saving impact against the same opposition in the same city in European Championship qualifying last year a grateful McClaren talked about the world-class quality of England’s saviour. By comparison, Capello had only the rough end of his tongue for Joe Cole after the Chelsea man lifted England’s performance and secured their result. Wayne Rooney, who shook himself out of what can be described as deep somnolence to make rather beautifully one of Cole’s two goals, also ran smack into a touch-line tirade… [Capello’s] essential message was realistic.”

Ian Wright collects his usual bag of football cliches to offer words of advice to Fabio Capello in The Sun. “Tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier in Croatia is the perfect opportunity to start rebuilding the love… If the players can show they are giving their best, if it doesn’t come off no one will complain. Fans respect triers. It is a simple and effective philosophy… The players will make the first move in rebuilding bridges with the fans by sweating every last drop from their bodies in their efforts. And while the team are making the first move and start generating some love, Fabio Capello has to realise and draw on the fact that most other countries HATE England.”

Taking his usually sideways approach to football, Football365’s John Nicholson explores how booing has regrettably become commonplace. “In the last ten years booing seems to have become endemic and a totally acceptable way for fans to vent their spleen. They may be right or wrong, I don’t know. I do know I’ve never booed my club, the Boro, or England at any time despite extreme and persistent provocation to do so. To me it feels wrong. Wrong like licking your sister’s nipples. It’s just a cultural assimilation I made at an early age, like talking to cats, eating my greens and ogling exposed cleavage. Its soul deep now and no amount of godawful players and performances can make me change. I ain’t booing no one. Never have, never will.”

The BBC’s Robbo Robson calls for teams like Andorra to be forced to pre-qualify. “Andorra are rubbish. It’s not surprising. All the men of marriable age play international football. Frankly there is no point whatsoever in a team like that playing dozens of qualifying matches. They are about as likely to win an international football match as Andy Murray is to win a beauty pageant. Andorra do not really play football – they play a football version of piling up the furniture against the door stop a baddie getting into your bedroom. It kind-of works too if the baddie in question is as witless as England. But surely it’s time that the minor nations – and I mean the ones that are not so much minnows as krill – can have their own pre-qualifying shindig and we can find out which one of San Marino, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and Andorra and Scotland (joke!) are allowed to join the party.”

With the Setanta-England issues still raging, Dan Sabbagh (The Times) looked into how much the broadcaster had to pay for the Andorra-England match. “England’s laboured 2-0 victory over Andorra on Saturday evening was watched by fewer than a million people at home, which means that Setanta Sports, the broadcaster, paid £5 for every person watching. Tomorrow evening’s match away to Croatia, like the game against Andorra, is available to watch only on pay-to-view television because a row between Setanta and the terrestrial channels means that there will be no highlights shown on ITV or the BBC… The low audience is an embarrassment for the FA, which saw the national game overhauled by Andy Murray, the British No1 tennis player whose victory over Rafael Nadal, the world No1, at the US Open was watched by 1.2million at its peak on Sky Sports.”

In the Guardian, Sid Lowe reviews how the Spain have reacted to the European Champions only beating Bosnia 1-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier. “Four months ago a performance like this would have had the knives out. In fact, performances like this did have the knives out. And the hankies. And the whistles. And the boos. But winning Euro 2008 has changed everything for Spain. The glass is half-full now. The pessimism that tended to engulf the national team – or, at least, those around it – has gone (for now). Dominating possession without scoring goals used to have fans breaking out in a sweat; now it’s a sign of technical superiority and confidence. There is a conviction that Spain’s players really are the best, a commitment to a style. Spain may not always play brilliantly, they may not always get great results – and, frankly, 1-0 against Bosnia is not a great result – but they have earned the benefit of the doubt. Better still, by winning Euro 2008 and winning it the way they won it, they have dispelled the doubts altogether.”

Following last week’s crazy week in the Premier League, Michael Henderson asks where was Richard Scudamore in the Guardian. “Although the events have now been assimilated, morsel by morsel, they remain astounding. It may be fair to say there has never been a week quite like it in the history of association football in this country, and yet we have not heard a word from Richard Scudamore who, as the Premier League’s chief executive, should have the most to say… There’s money everywhere, and not a trace of respect for the game. A decade from now England will still have the richest league in the world, and no national team to speak of. There simply won’t be any players. Does Scudamore have anything to say about the situation? Last week, offered a chance to speak clearly on behalf of the game, he was invisible.”

In the Telegraph, Henry Winter interviews Micky Thomas to help plug the footballer’s new autobiography. Thomas: “I’d stay in a hostel for homeless people, cost me a tenner, or I’d drive to the Bridge from the training ground at Harlington, get the key off a groundsman and stay in the ground. I’d sometimes have a kickabout on the pitch. Then I’d sleep in the referee’s room, or in the dressing room. I wasn’t on my own – I had some female companions. You can’t do that today! I think some of the fun has gone out of football. It’s more professional, there’s more money. Players are getting escorted in by two security men. They are kept away from the fans.”

McDermott yesterday from the coaching staff, but the fans plan to revolt. “For many fans, the identity of Keegan’s successor is of less importance – Gustavo Poyet is the bookmakers’ favourite – than securing the departure of Mike Ashley, the Newcastle owner. While the sports retail luminary has consistently denied speculation that he is prepared to sell the club he bought last year, that is the widely desired outcome… In requesting “an immediate and indefinite boycott of Newcastle United merchandise”, from replica shirts to patronage of club bars and catering outlets, as well as Ashley’s Sports Direct empire, supporters hope to make a financial impact that the billionaire businessman will feel directly.”

Yet over in the Telegraph, Rob Stewart reports that Mike Ashley is preparing to slog it out with the supporters. “The sports retail tycoon has vowed to remain defiant in the face of hostility following the resignation of Kevin Keegan as manager after he lost a power struggle with Wise, the director of football, and his boardroom colleagues. ‘Mike is firmly committed to Newcastle United,’ a club source said yesterday. ‘Despite the backlash from Kevin’s departure, he remains determined to get the club moving forward again.’… Ashley, who has increased his own personal security by employing former SAS soldiers and Gurkhas, will not go to the Hull game.”

The Sun’s Steve Brenner claims that Newcastle are closing in on Gus Poyet. “Gus Poyet is on the brink of becoming Newcastle boss. Owner Mike Ashley made his move last night as Spurs No 2 Poyet met Toon officials in London. He is seen as the perfect man to replace Kevin Keegan thanks to his brilliant relationship with Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez.”