Zola can be the Irons' new Ron

PUBLISHED: 11:57 11 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:37 05 October 2010

By JONATHAN CLEGG WEST HAM will break with a century of tradition by naming Gianfranco Zola as the first foreign manager in the club s history this week. But there is a welcome precedent that suggests the Italian s appointment will not represent a comple


WEST HAM will break with a century of tradition by naming Gianfranco Zola as the first foreign manager in the club's history this week.

But there is a welcome precedent that suggests the Italian's appointment will not represent a complete break from the past.

Zola, who was named Chelsea's greatest ever player in 2003, will arrive at Upton Park hoping to emulate legendary Hammers boss Ron Greenwood, who also swapped west London for the East End.

Greenwood, who spent three years at Chelsea, played 65 times for the Stamford Bridge club, winning the league championship in 1954-55 before moving to Fulham and subsequently retiring a year later.

Like Zola, who will leave his post as coach of the Italy Under-21 side to take the Hammers job, Greenwood also cut his teeth as a manager in international youth football, coaching the England Youth and Under-23 teams before joining West Ham.

Greenwood, of course, became the visionary coach who developed West Ham's famous academy and nurtured the talents of the club's World Cup-winning trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.

It is unrealistic to expect Zola to achieve similar feats, yet there is evidence that the 42-year-old shares Greenwood's approach to the game and his commitment to developing homegrown talent.

The Italian, who was a member of the first British side to field an entirely foreign starting line-up at Chelsea in 1999, has since come out in favour of a quota system limiting the number of overseas stars.

"I have said many times that [the number of overseas players] is not very good," Zola told the BBC's Inside Sport programme in April.

"You have too many and not all of them have the top qualities. Those medium players are taking the place of the young players coming through.

"The majority of players should be from this country and on top of that you add good foreign players, giving a perfect balance.

"I look back to the 1980s and 1990s, when Italian teams dominated Europe. They had maybe three players from abroad, but they were the best players in the world. That was perfect, because there was always the possibility for young Italian players to get in the team."

It will come as a relief to Hammers fans who have grown disenchanted with the style of football seen at Upton Park in recent months that Zola is also in tune with Greenwood's vision of free-flowing football.

Greenwood was a thoughtful coach, who preached simplicity but also instilled skill and enterprise among his players - and Zola will seek to impart similar lessons to the new generation of academy graduates.

"I like good football but there has to be a balance. You have to win and play the game properly," he said.

"[Diego] Maradona was my maestro. On the pitch, he was fantastic - it was good and it was very simple. One of the things that impressed me the most was his simplicity.

"In football you come to the stage where it seems you have reached the top and it is at that moment that you have to carry working and put in an extra effort.

"The big players always have something more inside. They want to achieve it, they fight for it, they are like lions inside and this is something that young players should learn."

If Zola applies those same principles in his new role as West Ham manager, history suggests he will not go too far wrong.

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