Dead man walking
David Sullivan’s arrival, with David Gold, at West Ham United in January effectively sealed Gianfranco Zola’s fate.
Sullivan and Gold, the former Birmingham City owners, take over at West Ham United: “West Ham need stability after all the recent upheaval,”says Sullivan. “We appointed four managers and parted company with two at Birmingham in 16 years. We believe in our managers and give them the time and support they need.
“We’re taking on a huge task at a club with enormous problems. It will take time for us to turn it around,”
Sullivan has had time to look at West Ham’s books and doesn’t like what he sees: “I can’t believe the contracts I’ve inherited,” Sullivan says.
“Every position is overpaid, whether in administration or on the playing side. Everyone at the club will be asked to take a salary cut in the summer. The club is in a mess and we all have to pull together. If we go down I can’t even consider the situation.”
The news of a possible pay cut leaves Zola frustrated at the timing. “They [Sullivan’s comments] should have been done at a different time instead of just before a match like tomorrow’s [a home match with Birmingham City when West Ham were in the relegation places],” says a weary Zola.
“It would have been better to say what was said at another time and, maybe, talk to us [the players and staff] before the newspapers. I am not happy about it, I don’t think it does any good for the team.”
Asked about Zola’s future at the club, Sullivan is unequivocal: “It’s 100 per cent secure. We support managers and we will bring in players to improve the team in the summer. I think over the next 14 games we’ll learn an awful lot about everyone at West Ham the team and the manager. I’m confident over the next 14 games that the team will improve and that we’ll claw our way up the table.”
After West Ham capitulate to Wolves in a relegation six-pointer at Upton Park Sullivan writes and open letter to the club’s fans: “I am writing this on Wednesday morning. I had no sleep last night, having watched the shambolic performance by the team against Wolves. I was as angry and upset as every supporter in the stadium at the disorganised way we played.”
Zola reacts to Sullivan’s letter: “I don’t know [if Sullivan is trying to get the Italian to walk away]. I understand the chairman, Mr Sullivan, is very much concerned about the situation. We are not in a very good position and he is concerned. I am concerned as much as him. I have faith in the players I am working with.”
After victory over Sunderland takes West Ham four points clear of relegation, Zola is unwilling to look too far ahead: “I am the manager of West Ham,” he says, “and my focus is to get them safe and then we will see what happens.”
Sullivan tells Telegraph Sport: “No decision has been made [on Zola’s future]. He did indicate he might resign at the end of the season, but he might well have changed his mind. In interviews he has not committed his future to the club beyond the end of this season.”
Sullivan outlines his ambitious plans for the summer transfer window: “Other than Scott Parker, there is not a player we wouldn’t sell if it was the right bid,” he says.
“Scott will not be sold and we will be buying more than we are selling. There will be no fire-selling and we will enhance the squad, not diminish it. We will have to shake up the pack because there is no point kidding ourselves otherwise we will be in the same position next year – the table doesn’t lie.”
Zola reacts to the news that West Ham made a £4m offer for West Brom midfielder Graham Dorrans: “I just found out in the newspapers,” he admits.
“It was quite a surprise. I know he is a good player and had a very good season but I didn’t know the club was interested in him. He is a good player but I am not prepared to say at the moment whether he would be in my interests for next year.”
Zola prepares for his end of year review meeting with his employers: “We will have a long and interesting chat,” says Zola. “It’s been a tiring and exhausting season for us.”
Zola is sacked as manager of West Ham.