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Zola's powers of prediction make a mockery of Cole

Tuesday 19th July 2011
Many moons ago, when top flight football remained the order of the day at Upton Park, a well loved and much respected Italian, perhaps high on the ecstasy of victory against Fulham, was able to get away with the odd one or two outlandish comparisons.
Buried in the fallout and fervour of a 3-1 home win, Gianfranco Zola, then West Ham manager, affectionately compared one of the West Ham scorers that day, Carlton Cole, to his former Chelsea team mate Mark Hughes.

The comparison, at the time, appeared genuine. Zola was credited with getting the best out of the Croydon born centre forward, Cole had just scored his sixth goal in nine games and improvements in his finishing and control had many calling for him to be rewarded with a call up to Capello's England squad. ‘More than any other player, he reminds me of Hughes, especially when he's holding the ball up' explained Zola.

In the heat of the moment, we can afford most managers the use of glory induced hyperbole in praising their players. Martin O'Neil memorably adorned his then Aston Villa star Ashley Young with chants of ‘you are world class boy', in the aftermath of the most dramatic of victories at Goodison some years ago for example.

But the value of Zola's quote comes instead in its powers of foresight. For who'd have known, back in 2008, that Cole and Hughes would share a summer blighted with such indecision and ultimate disappointment.
Hughes left the banks of the Thames and his comfortable job at Craven Cottage as a self-titled ‘young, ambitious manager, looking to further his experiences'. His ambition ultimately lead him to unemployment. Where he had previously seen himself walking into the managers office at a club of European pedigree, it was then believed that Hughes would take the smaller, but still positive step up of becoming the new Aston Villa manager upon Gerard Houllier's resignation.

But, either Hughes' ambition did not match that of Randy Lerner's at Villa Park or the former Wales and Manchester City manager priced himself out of a job that had appeared to be tailor made for him.

This is the same feeling of pretentiousness that I get from the proposed, but ultimately failed Carlton Cole transfer to Stoke City last week.

The opportunity for an immediate return to Premier League football was gift wrapped and hand delivered to Cole's doorstep by Stoke boss Tony Pulis. With the fee negotiated and agreed between both sides Cole appeared to be a Stoke City player in all but name. A physical presence, with additional pace, again he was tailor made for the unwelcoming cauldron that has become the Britannia.
Yet, like Hughes, Cole stood firm, choosing not to play out his future in the West Midlands. He priced himself out of what seemed like an ideal move. Cole's wage demands, reportedly set at £50,000 a week at West Ham, became a stumbling block and the eventual reason for the deal's collapse, leaving the striker's future in limbo. His desire to move from West Ham is clear, his wages are a drain on the London club's already stretched resources, and his transfer would bring in much needed revenue for Sam Allardyce to rejuvenate a tired and threadbare squad.

If Cole had ambition as a footballer, he'd have seen the proposed move to Stoke City and jumped at the chance to be reunited with Premier League football, a standard he sees himself at, at the very least. Yet instead he faces a summer of uncertainty, unwanted by West Ham and unattractive to any potential buyer from the big league on account of his wage demands.

Hughes himself shares a similar fate. Impatient to get his managerial career back to the heights he had hoped to reach with Manchester City, he is left jobless, criticised in parts of West London for his disloyalty and seeking to takeover a side with pedigree greater than his curriculum vitae would assume.

Gianfranco Zola, himself out of work this summer, may not have had the necessary powers of foresight to see that a striking triumvirate of Cole, Mido and Benni McCarthy would be enough to keep him in his job the following winter, but the unlikely comparison he made that day rings true in the ears of the footballing public and amongst the alienated pair of Cole and Hughes.
Andrew Greasley

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