Gianfranco Zola and Alex Ferguson share united ambitions

Gianfranco Zola admits that he has followed the example of Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson in a bid to guide West Ham into Europe

By JONATHAN CLEGG

Gianfranco Zola admits that he has followed the example of Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson in a bid to guide West Ham into Europe this season.

The Hammers secured an encouraging ninth-place finish in Zola's first season in charge, narrowly missing out on a Europa League berth in the final weeks of the campaign.

But the Italian's attempts to bolster his side with reinforcements this summer have been scuppered by a lack of transfer funds, with on-loan midfielder Luis Jimenez the only major signing at Upton Park.


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Yet West Ham's frustrations in the transfer market have not left Zola feeling downhearted.

Instead, the Hammers boss has spent the summer reshaping his side, taking inspiration from Ferguson's reconstruction job at Old Trafford.

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The United manager lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in July, but chose to alter his team's style of play rather than splashing out in a bid to replace the Portugal winger.

And Zola has also spent the summer reconfiguring his side as he seeks to sharpen West Ham's attacking instincts despite the club's failure to land any of their forward targets.

After forging a reputation as a footballer of rare imagination during his 20-year playing career, Zola now hopes to bring similar creativity to his role as manager.

"I'm not frustrated [by the failure to sign a striker], because I know my team and I know myself. In difficult situations we become very creative," Zola told the Advertiser.

"In terms of mentality, I'm not someone who sticks to one thing and only does that. If changes have to be made, I'm willing to make them.

"If for the sake of the team we need to change shape or change the way we play, we will do that.

"We will be all right - Sir Alex Ferguson, who is one of the best managers in history, has said that this year he needs to adjust something.

"West Ham did very well last year for our situation, but we're willing to make changes. We need to be adaptable.

"This year the team is known better and we will have to be able to switch and change our scheme from time to time. We know that and we're working on that."

If West Ham's 2-0 victory over Wolves on Saturday is any indication, the early results of Zola's tactical tinkering are positive.

The Hammers lined up in an unfamiliar 4-3-1-2 formation, with Jimenez and Kieron Dyer given licence to roam in front of a midfield three made up of Scott Parker, Mark Noble and Jack Collison.

With Carlton Cole deployed as a lone striker at the top of this Christmas Tree, the movement and interchanges between West Ham's attacking players were often bewitching and the Hammers should have added to goals from Mark Noble and Matthew Upson.

The verdict from Zola was also positive. He said: "It was a good game for us. We conceded some chances, but on the other hand we created so many opportunities to score.

"I had every respect for Wolves because the teams that have just come up have a lot of enthusiasm, but I knew when I saw us play against Napoli [during the pre-season] that I saw some good things from my team.

"We can produce good football this year - we just need to make sure that the goals come from players other than Carlton Cole. [Saturday] has been good - two goals, one from a defender and one from midfield.

"I'm looking forward to seeing more goals in the future from other midfielders."

The manager reserved special praise for Kieron Dyer, who looks set to flourish in West Ham's dynamic new formation.

"I was very pleased with Kieron Dyer. He had a very positive game and caused them so many problems," Zola said.

"We know that when Kieron's fit he can make the difference and that was the case today. I am looking forward to seeing him playing regularly.

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