In the week that Diego Maradona created ripples in world football again with a winning return to the game as the Argentina coach, his former apprentice will be hoping to enjoy similar good fortune. Gianfranco Zola says he learned everything from El Diego when they were at Napoli together, even secretly spying on him to learn the skills of the past master.
It was in Italy that Maradona showed just why he was one of the best players in the world, turning the little side from relegation battlers into Serie A champions and inspiring a young Zola to greater feats in his homeland and then England, where he starred with Chelsea and became one of the finest foreigners to grace the Premier League. Just like Maradona, Zola is now cutting his teeth in management, but is finding it tough at West Ham. The club, troubled by financial problems, are toiling at the wrong end of the table after going seven of his 10 games in charge without a win.
The pressure is on the likeable Italian as his side visit Sunderland today, but he has belief in himself - and the fast, adventurous style in his team. "I like the way we play and I think the club put me in charge because I have this kind of mentality," he said. "I don't give up my ideas because we are in a bad spell. I keep faith in my ideas and this is the reason I went into management because I want to make my ideas work. Obviously I can't be the happiest man in the world because of the situation but I like to keep positive. If I let myself get down I won't be able to help my team. Despite all the interest and money involved, this remains a game, a wonderful game, and for me to enjoy what it is I have to stay positive all the time. I might succeed, I might not, but I'll do my job the way I want."
Roy Keane is of similar ilk and the pair share mutual respect for each other from their days as rival players. The Sunderland boss has also endured a tough time recently with four straight defeats leading to reports he was going to quit. He denied that and believes Zola will come through his own difficulties. He said: "He brought something to the Premier League, without a doubt. The fact he was a brilliant player, but [also] the way he played.
"He played with a smile on his face. Everyone liked him, opposition supporters, even players; you didn't really want to kick him. He has the credentials and qualities [as a manager] and this will be a tough test for us." firstname.lastname@example.org