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Dugout Blues: New jobs for Gianfranco Zola and Gus Poyet

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After a mini hiatus we’re back, and so are Chelsea icons Gianfranco Zola and Gus Poyet, both of whom have new teams to manage.

Birmingham City V Brighton & Hove Albion- Sky Bet Championship

THE MAESTRO RETURNS

It was all doom and gloom a month ago after Gus Poyet (Real Betis) and Kevin Wilson (Nuneaton Town) became the 14th and 15th managerial departures of Dugout Blues 2016. But just 30 days later, an air of promise wafted through WAGNH HQ as a Chelsea icon returned to football management.

On December 14th the man, the legend, the award-winning gelato vendor, Gianfranco Zola was hired by Birmingham City Football Club of the English Football League Championship, as reported by BBC sport.

Zola’s name had been mentioned regarding a number of roles in European football. The most sexy rumour out there was at Inter Milan, where Zola interviewed before losing out to Stefano Pioli in November. There were also murmurings at Nottingham Forest. Nobody saw the Birmingham job coming.

No-one, outside the club’s board, realized former Brummies’ boss Gary Rowett was in danger. He’d been there since 2014, was very popular with the fans, and had led Birmingham within striking distance of the play-off places. But Birmingham’s new-ish Chinese owners, Trillion Trophy Asia, wanted a change and seemingly wanted a name that represented flair and cosmopolitan football (despite Zola yet proving himself nothing more than an average gaffer).

Zola’s last gig was as manager of Al Arabi in Qatar. He was fired in the spring after an uninspired mid-table performance.

Zola’s first game in charge of the Birmingham Blues was on December 14th at home to title-challenging Brighton. Despite taking the lead in the second half, the Italian’s new side conceded twice in the last 10 minutes, handing the visitors a 2-1 win. The result saw the team stuck at eighth in the league, three points away from the play-off zone.

Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

ELSEWHERE

The other former Chelsea player making his return to the manager’s chair was Gus Poyet, who had been out of work just a couple of weeks since being fired by La Liga’s Real Betis after a disastrous first half of the season.

Poyet has gone east, taking over at Chinese Super League side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua (not to be confused with Shanghai SIPG, who are led by André Villas-Boas and will likely be featuring Oscar in the near future).

According to ESPN, Poyet took over on November 29th, replacing Spanish journeyman coach Gregorio Manzano who led the side to a 4th place finish in 2016. The team Poyet has inherited has a core of players who should be well known to experienced Premier League-watchers. Former Chelsea man Demba Ba and ex-Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins play upfront for “The Flower of Shanghai” (though Ba will be out for some time after a horrific leg break he suffered in July versus Shanghai SIPG). In midfield Shenhua also have former Inter player Fredy Guarin. They are also supposedly interested in signing John Terry.

Dan Petrescu used to manage in the Chinese Super League, but nowadays he’s in the UAE, in charge of inconsistent Al Nasr of the Arabian Gulf League. On November 25th his team lost 1-0 at home to Al Shabab, but four days later they responded with a 5-1 away win versus Ittihad Kalba. On December 4th they lost at home to Hatta 2-1, then on the 8th they beat Bani Yas 3-0 away. On December 17th they got their best win of the year, a 2-0 home victory over league leaders Al Jazira. This win took them up to 8th in the league, eight points from the top.

In England, Slavisa Jokanovic and Fulham are holding their top 10 spot in the Championship table. They finished November with an away loss to Brighton, but on December 3rd they smashed Reading 5-0 at home. After that they drew 4-4 at Wolves, beat Rotherham 2-1 at home, and then drew 2-2 to Derby, also at home.

Lower down the leagues Ritchie Hanlon and Paul Hughes are not having a good start to their reign as co-managers of Hayes & Yeading in the Southern Premier League. They beat St. Neots 5-1 on December 6th, but then they lost to Chesham 6-0 on the 10th. Recently they also lost to Hitchin (3-0), Banbury (5-0), and my hometown of Frome (3-1). The terrible form has them 22nd in the league and in the thick of a relegation battle.

A league below them, in the Spartan South Midlands Football League’s Premier Division, Micky Hazard is also struggling. His Hadley FC team are 18th in the league despite an away win over Crawley on November 26th.

In Scotland, David Hopkin is flying high. He has Livingston United 10 points clear at the top of League One after 4 wins in a row. In December his side beat Albion Rovers, Stranraer, and Strenhousemuir on the road, and then Aidrieonians (who are second place) at home. Livi also progressed in the Scottish FA Cup, knocking out those same Aidrieonians by a score of 2-1.

RUMOUR MILL

Zola and Poyet are back in the game. How long until their old teammates Roberto Di Matteo and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink join them?

The Sun was among a number of outlets who reported that RDM has a shot at the vacant manager’s job at 1860 Munich, who were relegated from the Bundesliga last season. Before managing Aston Villa, Di Matteo had the helm at German side Schalke 04.

JFH is a man in demand, apparently. However, it seems he’s not ready to get back into football after being sacked by QPR last month. Sky Sports reported that Hasselbaink had turned down the chance to manage Charlton Athletic. A week later Sky Sports stated that he had turned down a role at Coventry too. Which struggling former Premier League team will he say no to next? I’ll predict... Swindon Town.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK MONTH

Gianfranco Zola has yet to show he is a special football manager, especially in English football. He’s had his moments, but he’s never had a team consistently perform at a high level. However, no-one can deny what the diminutive Sardinian has done in England with the ball at his feet. Just so we don’t forget that, here’s all 80 goals Zola scored in Chelsea blue (and the occasional putrid Chelsea yellow).