Upson sets captain's example

Matthew Upson has spoken about the impact of Gianfranco Zola and revealed his pride at being asked to be captain of West Ham United.

Reflecting on the anniversary of the manager's arrival at the club, the England defender claimed Zola "has put his stamp on the club now" and had instilled in everyone, at every level of the club, "how he feels football should be played".

Upson added: "He brings a togetherness to the team. His man-management has been very good and every player here would voice the opinion that they have and are really enjoying working with him.

"However, their year has gone on a personal note, there has been, for everybody that opportunity to improve which is the most important thing and the thing that he strives for as a manager."

In Upson's case, that opportunity to improve has seen him fully establish himself in the FIFA World Cup plans of Fabio Capello and left him considered as one of the three best centre-backs in the country. At club level, he has accepted the skipper's armband as a "great honour" and sees it as a positive endorsement of his game.

"The captaincy hasn't changed the way I approach the game," he said. "You are probably aware of the responsibility a little bit more on the pitch but it doesn't affect the way I play. There is a bit more to do behind the scenes and off the pitch - organising this, that and the other - but I am really relishing that and enjoying settling into the role. It is a great honour."

Whether the captain or not, Upson has long had a mentoring role at the club as one of the senior professionals. He particularly has words of encouragement for his defensive partner James Tomkins, who is almost exactly ten years younger but has excelled this season and last whenever given a chance to shine.

"This is a great opportunity for James. He has shown he is capable of holding his own at this level and he has improved and progressed really well. It is important for young players to get the opportunity at the start of their career to establish themselves and show how good they are. I am sure he will take full advantage."

Upson also spoke positively about Danny Gabbidon, another who will challenge him and Tomkins for a centre-back berth and who did well in an unfamiliar role last Saturday in the 1-0 defeat at Wigan.

"Danny did excellently at left-back which isn't his normal position. Physically he is looking really good and he is back and looking like the player he is capable of being. If anyone deserves it, he certainly does after the long process of recovery he has been through."

Defensively the club have competition for places with the manager possibly set to have a full complement to choose from for the visit of Liverpool. Upson sees this as a major plus point for the squad's chances of success, with everyone hoping to make amends for the Wigan reverse.

"We have Herita [Ilunga] coming back, Julien [Faubert] has done well, Manuel [Da Costa] has arrived. It is good as there has to be competition for places at the back and throughout the team. It is how you get the best out of the players.

"If you don't perform well enough then someone can come in and take your place. That is the reality of it and that is what draws the best out of you every week.

"I hope we can put things right against Liverpool. We didn't play as well as we can do against Wigan. It was a disappointing afternoon and we will all be looking back at a game where we could have got three points from. The key is how we bounce back and we will be preparing hard for Liverpool."