Zola lends his support

Gianfranco Zola has already shown his commitment to developing young talent at West Ham United but he took time out from his hard work at Chadwell Heath to pay a visit to a group of coaches preparing to work with players at a considerably earlier stage of their footballing development.

The manager spent an afternoon in Beckton to show his support for a scheme launched by the West Ham United Community Sports Trust in conjunction with the Barclays Premier League and the Professional Footballer's Association. The club successfully bid for £120,000 from the two bodies to run a three-year project which will see 12 youngsters from Newham and Tower Hamlets trained as football coaches over each of the next three years.

The local community will benefit hugely from the programme with the coaches expected to teach over 1,000 children from the area every week. Having completed their first year, the initial group of 12 coaches will then go on to train the second batch and they, in turn, will teach the final year's intake. This ripple effect will ensure that 36 new coaches will be trained by the end of the three-year programme, meaning youngsters in the area will not only have access to top-quality coaching, but positive role models to look up to for years to come.

On the afternoon of his visit, the manager spent time talking about his own coaching philosophy with the trainees before the arrival of a group of children from several local schools. "The players are a mirror of your mood," he said . If you come in angry, they will be angry. If your shoulders are down, their shoulders will be down. Smile, be happy, enjoy. And they will smile and enjoy too."

According to Zola, players - whatever their age - should be treated the same. "It is the same with professionals as it is with kids," he explained. "My personal opinion is that the character of the team is very close to the character of the manager. You have to show them you are enjoying it so that they can get joy from what they do. That way good football comes."

The weather on the afternoon of Zola's visit was cold, wet and windy but the manager practised what he had just preached by spending time with all the youngsters with that characteristic smile on his face. After a couple of trademark flicks, you could see just how much both he and the children were enjoying themselves.

"I've had so much from this game, when you do things like this you feel you are giving something back," he said. "It is something I encourage everyone to do, my players but also managers. Right now, as you can imagine, it's quite busy my time, but when I have the opportunity, it's a good feeling."

After spending two hours with the children, Zola was mobbed by excited youngsters (and their parents) as he walked back to his car. Despite the awful weather he waited patiently until every single child had either a signature on a scrap of paper or a photo safely stored on their parents' camera phone.

If the new coaches for Newham and Tower Hamlets can copy the Italian's dedication and positive attitude, then this project will be built on solid foundations.

Mick King, CEO of West Ham United Community Sports Trust

Mick King heads the West Ham United community project and will oversee the implementation of the funding. "We earned the right to put this scheme into operation because we bid for it and were lucky enough to get it. The club is matching what funding we get from the Premier League so it is very much a partnership process.

"The money will be spent on expenses for the young people in order to cover their costs while learning. They represent excellent role models for the local area. They are local people - six from Newham and six from Tower Hamlets - and they all work extremely enthusiastically. You can see today their dedication and commitment."

He added: "Linking the club to the community is vital to us. This is a point of access to the football club for the community, so it's good news for us and for the club, and it's great for the community to engage with that. The help we get from the board in terms of strategy, financial and moral support is vital. The professional back-up that is here today with Gianfranco [Zola] and Scott Duxbury is great."

Kieron Joseph - Trainee Coach

Nineteen-year-old Kieron was one of the 12 youngsters selected to train as part of the scheme. He was delighted to see the West Ham manager at the training session. "It was great that Gianfranco Zola came down to have a look at what we're doing. The children didn't know he was coming down so when they saw him they were jumping up and down with excitement - I was even a bit like that myself!

"With a lot of professional clubs, a lot of first-team players don't interact with younger people or the academy. To have someone with Zola's stature here interacting with us is fantastic. It was great meeting him and talking to him. And what he said was right. I remember being at school and if a teacher come into the classroom angry, then I'd be angry straight away. You've got to be up with these kids all the time. Then they'll stick with the game.

"Next year we are going to be leading the new trainees when they come on the scheme. Hopefully this will influence other Premier League clubs to take on what we're doing."


Gianfranco Zola  Community