Gianfranco Zola returns to English football with Birmingham City in a shock move for the Blues fans who were fans of Gary Rowett. This is perhaps the last chance for Zola to prove he can manage at this level or even at all after numerous failures.
Zola has not had the most enjoyable managerial career and admits himself that he ends up pulling out his hair and getting angry far too often. The problem he has, is that he can’t keep away from a pitch when he is out of work. So when Birmingham City came a calling there was no chance he would miss the opportunity. But is it a wise decision?
He will be entering a club who are reeling from the sacking of a popular manager, who wasn’t doing much wrong. Blues are 7th in the league and former boss Gary Rowett was seen as being the man to build a club capable of promotion. Unfortunately for Rowett the brand new Chinese owners did not see him as such. After a reputed falling out between the board and Rowett, he was sacked. Zola was appointed a mere six hours later, showing the foresight by the new owners.
Gianfranco understands his situation at Birmingham will be difficult following a popular man. “The difficulty was that my predecessor was doing very well,” Zola told BBC WM. “Sometimes that makes it not easy for a new manager, but I’m professional, it was a good opportunity and I could not refuse it,” added the Italian.
This extra difficulty also comes with expectations from owners. They want to create a more attractive brand of football. Even Rowett admitted their recent success came from determination and hard work more than passing a team off the pitch. So Zola has to replace a popular man, make Birmingham City into a promotion team in half a season, while also changing the style of the football with the same squad. Even I feel for the little Italian who has never managed to stay at a club for very long.
In England he had the chance to manage West Ham and Watford and while he was applauded for style, the truth is that the results are the only thing that matters. He resigned from Watford after being unable to win any of the last nine games and the promotion candidates ended up at 14th in the Championship. After this there was an embarrassing spell with Serie A side Cagliari. He replaced manager Zdenek Zeman midway through a season, inheriting a club in the relegation zone. But after 10 games and failing to make any progress he was sacked. To add insult to injury his replacement was the man he replaced Zeman!
For anyone this would be a knock to their confidence. Top marks should go to Zola for his bravery. He would be able to get any comfortable coaching job training the next generation of magicians now, but he is adamant managing is what he wants. Unfortunately his track record is one that his playing days can longer justify. This Birmingham City opportunity is one he says he could not ignore, but it could be his last. Entering a club in the current situation has made his job that much harder too. All I can say is Good luck Gianfranco.