Gianfranco Zola is pleased with his start to life as manager of West Ham United as he looks ahead to the televised Barclays Premier League game against Bolton Wanderers on Sunday.
The manager has enjoyed two wins from his first two top-flight games but thinks that the good form is mainly down to the players' professionalism on the Chadwell Heath pitches. He said: "I saw how the players trained in the first week and I told them after one week 'if we can keep this attitude and transfer what we are doing on the training ground to the pitch then we have a very good chance to perform well'.
"They did so - I'm surprised but not that much. Nothing comes by chance, if you train well then do the same things on the pitch then most of the time good things come. The players are enjoying what they are doing first and they believing what they are doing so we are getting the right results just for that."
Matthew Etherington also appears to have enjoyed Zola's arrival, scoring in the last two fixtures and his boss singled him out for particular praise. "The first day we played some possession ball and I saw him and asked him to play more in the middle and he was actually one of the best. It is something that he knows how to do and he has always known how to do that. Maybe in the past a manager has asked him to do something different but he can do that job and I can assure he will get much better."
Zola was also happy about how quickly his new-look management team have gelled. "Steve Clarke's contribution is immense, the same as Antonio Pintus and also Kevin Keen - we have established a fantastic group here. When you come into work and it so pleasant to work, the players feel this and they are responding. You get the best out of yourself if you are enjoying what you are doing and that's what we try to do. So far things have gone well and we hope we can keep it [going] for a long time."
Although he has enjoyed the bright start, the manager knows there will inevitably be some tougher points still to come. "Now it is easy because we are doing well but there will be moments that things will not be the same but we need to carry on what we are doing. I'm really drilling this into the players that they focus on the game, the system and the way we play. All the other things will come along."
With several senior players nearing a first-team return - Zola revealed the Bolton game may have come slightly too early for James Collins and James Tomkins - and the youngsters impressing for the reserves in midweek, 'Mr', as the players refer to him, could soon be spoilt for choice. "I'm sure that as that everyone is playing well and we are going to have [Craig] Bellamy back and we have Freddie Sears who is pushing, it gives them motivation and another reason to train well. Competition is one of the most important things to keep you alive and keep you fresh all the time."
Bellamy has enjoyed a good week in training and the manager hopes that the Welshman can play a key role this season. "He knows he is a very important part of this team. [Against Fulham] he played for 20 minutes, maybe next time he will play more. We will see. He knows that if he doesn't play straight away now he is still a very important player for this club."
Dean Ashton, who will not play again until 2009, underwent ankle surgery this week and Zola is happy with the initial reports back, although he stressed it was "too early to say" when the No9's return date would be. "The main thing is the operation went well. Now we need to wait a little bit to see how long it will take. As far as I know there were a few particles that needed to be removed but the main thing is that it went OK," he explained.
Zola, who also confirmed that out of contract Spanish striker Diego Tristan was training with the squad but that no decision had been taken about signing him, faced Sunday's visitors during his playing days and knows what to expect. "Bolton are a straightforward team, a very direct team. They are a team we have to respect. Last time they lost 2-0 to Manchester United but they were very unlucky and played very well so it is going to be tough. They put many bodies behind the ball so it won't be easy to find space for us. They are a threat from set-pieces so we will need to perform well against them."
When some new managers arrive at a club, it is often the case that the first thing they change is the eating habits of the squad. Zola revealed with a smile that he has had no such problem at Chadwell Heath. "The food is fine so the players don't have that problem. To be honest when I see the players in here they eat properly. I see what the cook prepares and it is very good ... I prefer to stay here actually but don't tell my wife as she may take it the wrong way!"