Gianfranco Zola may be a relative novice in the managerial trade, but already the Italian has experienced more dizzying highs and stultifying lows than many of the most grizzled veterans.
In the space of just over a year, he has led West Ham to a top-half finish in the English Premier League, been forced to contend with myriad off-field financial problems and, most recently, negotiated a slump in form which put his own job prospects on the line.
That Zola has met all these scenarios with equanimity speaks volumes for his character and serves as confirmation of why he is still considered one of the brightest managerial prospects in the top flight.
Even during the most recent crisis – a nine-match winless streak which dumped West Ham in the relegation zone – Zola remained unflappable, insisting his team’s fortunes would take a turn for the better, sooner rather than later.
His faith was justified by a last-gasp victory over Aston Villa last Wednesday and the former Chelsea striker can now confront Sunday’s meeting with Everton, who are locked in their own dangerous downward spiral, with genuine enthusiasm.
“Football is about confidence,” he reflected.
“We know we have been playing well but not picking up the points we needed. That victory (against Villa) will give us a lot. The rest is all there.
“We know we have the qualities, we know that we can compete at high levels. The mood has been very positive and everybody has been lifted.”
Zola’s squad might be on the thin side but at least he can call upon genuine quality along the spine of his side in Robert Green, Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole, all England internationals.
There were signs before the Villa victory that West Ham were a team on the rise.
Arsenal were held to a draw courtesy of a stirring fight-back in the dying minutes and the Hammers raced into a two-goal lead at Sunderland before flaky defending cost them two points in the second half.
A three-match unbeaten run might not be cause for jubilation in east London but Zola believes it could be the start of a more sustained recovery.
“The team needs some personalities and they need those personalities to step in at the right moment, which is what they have been doing recently,” Zola added.
David Moyes’ Everton team are in the midst of an appalling run, having not tasted victory in seven games in all competitions thanks to a combination of a crippling injury list, nose-diving confidence and poor form from key players.
The gloom enveloping Goodison Park is a far cry from the halcyon days of spring, when Everton achieved a second successive fifth-place finish in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final.
Moyes’ meagre squad appears to be struggling to cope with the gruelling schedule provided by the Europa League where they have suffered back-to-back defeats against Benfica.
“As a manager it is down to me to put things right, to find a winning formula from the ranks that I have here,” Moyes said.
“In the past I have tended to do that, I feel it is probably one of my strengths. I have tried not to have any regrets about it (playing in Europe).
“But the more and more games you play in it, the more and more times you realise that some other managers have talked a lot of sense about the number of games in the Europa League.
“With the squad we have got it is very difficult to win Premier League games when you have got so many midweek games.”
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