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Zola hails Clarke as most crucial signing

PUBLISHED: 10:55 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 13:52 05 October 2010

Premier League clubs will splash out millions when the transfer window reopens in January, but West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola believes he has already made the biggest coup of the season

By JONATHAN CLEGG

PREMIER LEAGUE clubs will splash out millions when the transfer window reopens in January, but West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola believes he has already made the biggest coup of the season.

The Hammers boss is convinced that Steve Clarke, who joined the club as the Italian's No2 in October, is the most important signing of his managerial reign at Upton Park.

Clarke has attempted to bring the winning mentality of former club Chelsea to the East End and Zola believes his assistant's hard work on the training ground is beginning to pay off.

The Italian has leaned heavily on Clarke's advice following a seven-match winless streak during his opening months as Upton Park boss.

The Hammers ended that dismal sequence with three successive clean sheets before Monday night's disappointing defeat by Tottenham and the West Ham manager credits Clarke with the defensive turnaround.

He said: "Talking to me about Steve Clarke is like talking to me about my father. He's such an important person for me - which is why I said since the day I took the job that I wanted him with me. I would say he is my best signing."

Zola was persuaded to install Clarke as his deputy after former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho urged the Italian to lure the 45-year-old to Upton Park.

Mourinho promoted Clarke from youth-team coach to his assistant after becoming manager at Stamford Bridge in 2004 and the pair went on to win two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups.

Zola admits that the two still talk regularly and echoed Mourinho's comments that Clarke will soon become a top-quality manager in his own right.

"They keep talking to each other. But I don't know if he gets tips from Mourinho. [Steve] knows a lot about the game and has given me his own tips," said Zola.

"I am a little bit worried about losing him. But my worries are completely overcome by the pleasure of seeing him going his way and having the success he deserves."

Zola is confident that fitness chief Nikos Tzouroudis will also prove to be a key addition at Upton Park as he attempts to overcome the long-running injury problems that have plagued the club in recent years.

Tzouroudis was appointed head of the medical team at West Ham in the summer and Zola has revealed that the days of a treatment room full of players are at an end.

He said: "People aren't getting injured like they used to. It's another thing we're improving and it's very important.

"The players are working well and the physios are doing a good job. When you are fit and well trained, it's very difficult for you to get injured.

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