His management team struggled at West Ham
12 July ~ When Alan Curbishley was forced out of Upton Park at the start of the 2008-09 season, he could have been forgiven for wondering about the lack of uproar among West Ham fans. Following a tenth-place finish the previous season – not to mention a miraculous escape from relegation in 2007 courtesy of seven wins from the final nine matches – the team had won three of their opening four games. Although many fans were mystified by the turn of events that saw Curbishley resign, there was hope that Gianfranco Zola would take to managing as he had to playing, and push the club up the Premier League.
Fans of Watford, where Zola recently replaced Sean Dyche as manager, may want to turn a blind eye to how his tenure at Upton Park panned out. Despite a shaky start, Zola recovered quickly to guide the team to a mid-table finish, before a disastrous second season. In that respect, his two-year reign was almost identical to that of Glenn Roeder.
The difference was that, while Roeder was relegated with 42 points, Zola stayed up with 34. That he was replaced by the even more hapless Avram Grant (three years under Alan Pardew aside, the noughties really were not a great decade for West Ham) should not detract from just how rudderless the team were under Zola.
The nadir of the 2009-10 season was a six-pointer at home to Wolves, who would finish the season on just 38 points. Mick McCarthy's men won 3-1 and it should have been more. On reflection it isn't hard to see why. The West Ham team that night contained Fabio Daprela, Radoslav Kovac, Junior Stanislas, Guillermo Franco and Jonathan Spector.
In Zola's defence, he was not in charge of transfers. That lack of autonomy was the very reason Curbishley had quit. Zola may have been inept at getting the best out of the players at his disposal, but he can at least distance himself from their acquisition.
This will be of little consolation to Watford fans, as the man who was in charge of signing the likes of Walter Lopez and Araujo Ilan, as well as the aforementioned Daprela, Kovac and Franco, has also arrived at Vicarage Road as a technical director.
During his time at Upton Park, Gianluca Nani decided that James Collins and Lucas Neill should be sold to pay for Alessandro Diamanti and Luis Jimenez, who between them would make just 24 League appearances. Diamanti may now be known as the man who knocked England out of Euro 2012, but he struggled to acclimatise to the Premier League and was at best a poor man’s Paolo Di Canio.
Nani was also responsible for the £9 million signing of Savio Nsereko from Brescia, his former club. Savio started just one game before being offloaded back to Italy. Exactly how much West Ham were able to recoup for a player who in 2011 was reported missing, is unknown.
In Nani's defence he was not in charge of the budget. Had he been given the vast resources afforded to Curbishley, he would presumably have recruited better players (although the signing of Savio suggests otherwise). The club was brought to its knees when the credit crunch hit the Icelandic owners hard.
Scott Duxbury, chief executive until 2010 and the final piece in Watford’s new triumvirate, is notorious among West Ham fans for his complicity in the club's disastrous financial strategy – though this implies that a strategy actually existed. He may not have been responsible for Landsbanki running out of cash, but his stewardship of the club was nothing short of catastrophic. It was on his watch that exorbitant wages were paid to the likes of Freddie Ljungberg and Kieron Dyer. A qualified lawyer, he also oversaw the flawed signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, which ultimately cost the club £30m.
A few months into Zola's reign at West Ham, Duxbury claimed: "There is a change of philosophy at this football club. I keep referring to the football project. It's a business plan that we stick to, to deliver success." A year later he had resigned in order "to pursue other opportunities".
Watford fans must hope he has taken the opportunity to consider where his last "project" went wrong. His employment has started with the sacking of a manager whose Watford team, on the way to an 11th-place finish, played West Ham off the park last season and would have deservedly left Upton Park with all three points were it not for an 87th-minute equaliser. Whatever the reasons for recruiting the trio of Zola, Nani and Duxbury, it is unlikely anyone at West Ham gave them a reference. Neil Fairchild