THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 14 December ~

If you had to select a home banker from this weekend's fixtures, West Ham's visit to Stamford Bridge today would be the one. Not that anyone should risk it in view of Chelsea's recent form. Still, a win would take the home side top, a defeat for West Ham will keep them no more than two points about the bottom three. Yet all is not well with Luiz Felipe Scolari who may feel he has as much to complain about as his opposite number today, former Chelsea favourite Gianfranco Zola.

Roman Abramovich, stung by big losses in the international financial crisis, has seemingly decreed that his plaything will have to start paying its way, for the time being at least. Discussions with Abramovich's gopher Peter Kenyon have established that Scolari will have to sell before he can buy, or else shop for bargains, and is known to be unhappy at that prospect. Rather than bringing in Brazilians from Serie A, Chelsea are now homing in on Emile Heskey. Fabio Capello has been credited with revitalising Heskey's career and is known to have recommended the player to his friend Scolari. The explanation for Chelsea's apparent interest in what might be termed the lesser Heskey, Bolton's Kevin Davies, is less obvious – although he did at least form an effective partnership with Nicolas Anelka, and not many players can claim that.

Meanwhile, the fact that the grinning idiot PR man Jamie Redknapp has been just be appointed to their coaching staff doesn't suggest that Chelsea have any expectations of their current crop of teenagers. Indeed, the lack of progress in that area may bring about the departure of another expensive recruit, “director of development” Frank Arnesen, who has had no discernible impact since being poached from Spurs a couple of years ago.

But West Ham fans would still welcome such problems. Gianfranco Zola is resigned to losing several member of his first-team squad in January with Matthew Upson and Craig Bellamy among those likely to leave. Zola thus finds himself in an almost identical predicament to his predecessor Alan Curbishley who resigned in protest at the August departures of George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand. Curbishley's reputation hasn't been significantly damaged by his spell at Upton Park thanks to his previous achievements at Charlton. The management novice Zola, however, has no such laurels to rest on. Since he took over, morale at the club has clearly been affected by the effects of the global recession on the Icelandic owners and by Sheffield United's pursuit of compensation over the Carlos Tevez saga. While Zola can claim some mitigation, a season spent in a relegation battle, especially if it proves unsuccessful, could fatally damage his future management prospects. The January sales might yet provide an opportunity for a dignified withdrawal.

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