Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Zola fears lackluster performance against Fulham

AFP , LONDON

West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola watches his players ahead of their English Premier League match against Newcastle United at St James’ Park in Newcastle, England, on Jan. 10.

PHOTO: AP

West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola fears speculation over the futures of several of his star players could lead to a lackluster performance in today’s London derby against Fulham.

Zola has spent much of the week fending off approaches for Australia defender Lucas Neill, Wales striker Craig Bellamy, England internationals Scott Parker and Matthew Upson, and Portuguese winger Luis Boa Morte.

With West Ham’s Icelandic owners badly affected by the global credit crunch, the Hammers are short of cash and open to offers for any of Zola’s squad.

The Italian coach has been trying to persuade Bellamy to stay at Upton Park and has turned down several advances from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, while also rebuffing Newcastle United’s bid for Neill and Arsenal’s interest in Upson.

However, Zola is well aware that his players could be more concerned about their prospective departures than focusing on Fulham’s visit to east London this weekend.

Bellamy was one of several players who opted not to attend Friday’s voluntary training session at Chadwell Heath, to the frustration of former Chelsea forward Zola.

“What can I do about it? As far as I am concerned, I want to keep Bellamy — and the club want to keep him. But if a player wants to go it is difficult,” Zola said. “At the moment, he is a West Ham player and he will stay a West Ham player. However, I do not know if he will play on Sunday. We will see what happens. It is a club matter. We have spent the whole week talking about this and that, but we need to focus on the match. It is difficult to keep players who are unhappy at the club, but we will see what happens.”

While Zola knows there is a good chance he will have to sell some players before the window shuts, he is adamant that Socceroos star Neill — his club captain — has not been given permission to speak to Newcastle, despite Magpies manager Joe Kinnear admitting he has been talking to the player’s agent.

“I read it in the newspaper. This is something I would never do,” Zola said. “I stick to my philosophy. I have respect for Joe Kinnear and all managers, and I would expect them to behave the same way I would behave. I have spoken to Lucas and he is very much committed and is happy to stay here. He is enjoying his football and that is all that matters to me.”

Fulham will make the short trip across the English capital with transfer distractions of their own, as Cottagers boss Roy Hodgson admits he is prepared to sell Jimmy Bullard.

Bolton Wanderers had a bid for the England midfielder rejected earlier this week after failing to match Fulham’s £5 million (US$7.4 million) valuation.

Negotiations to extend the 18 months remaining on Bullard’s contract are reported to have stalled, so Hodgson is willing to cash in while his value is still high.

“We’ve heard nothing about Jimmy recently. I don’t know what Bolton are doing,” Hodgson said. “They spoke to me and our chief executive Alistair Mackintosh some days ago. They made an inquiry for the player, were told our valuation for him and they offered something considerably less. If they’re not interested, they’re not interested. Bolton made that inquiry, but that’s it so far.”

“We know where we stand in the market and if big clubs come in for players it’s difficult to nail their feet to the floor,” he said.

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