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Jan 19, 2010

David Sullivan: No plans to replace Gianfranco Zola

After completing his takeover of West Ham late on Monday night, David Sullivan has told Soccernet that he plans to retain Gianfranco Zola as manager and give the Italian the chance to prove he can eventually transform the club into top-four contenders.

• Kevin Palmer on the takeover
• West Ham takeover complete
• Harris: West Ham's transfer targets

Reports have claimed Sullivan and Gold could be lining up Mark Hughes after the Welshman was sacked by Manchester City but Zola, appointed by the club to replace Alan Curbishley last season, has the faith of the new owners at Upton Park.

Sullivan, in his first interview after both he and David Gold took control of the cash-strapped Hammers, revealed: "We shall almost certainly keep the manager, but of course, you never know.

"The fact is that we are not sacking owners. In the 16-and-a-half years we were running Birmingham we only sacked two managers, and one of them, Barry Fry, we regret sacking and we should have given him another year at least. So, no, we don't plan to come in and sack Zola."

It is not quite a ringing endorsement of Zola because Sullivan still believes the little Italian is an 'unproven' manager, but he seems willing to give him a chance and see him work at close hand before making a definitive decision.

Initially, Sullivan and Gold will put up money for new players and plan to quickly draw up a list of potential targets. He said: "Some money will go into bringing in new players in the January transfer window.

"This is not the best time to buy players - everyone says that - but we need to buy to keep the club up and that has got to be our priority, and then we can look again in the summer. There really is so much work to be done at this club, you hardly know where to start."

But it is Sullivan and Gold's seven-year plan that will intrigue Hammers fans, with a move from their traditional Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium a key objective as they seek to break into the top four.

Sullivan said: "We are the club of the East London and Essex. We are based in the Borough of Newham and that is where the Olympic Stadium will be and that is where we need to be to help us regain our former glories and move into that elite top four."

The Mayor of Newham, Hammers season-ticket holder Sir Robin Wales, welcomed the new regime's plans, pledging his support to the propsals and describing a move to the Olympic Stadium as the "obvious choice''

"This is great news and augurs well. The new owners were in Birmingham for the long haul and they clearly have the best interests of West Ham at heart,'' Wales said. "West Ham is synonymous with the East End and deserves the chance to be the best and beat the best.

"We have always argued the Olympic Stadium deserves a top-flight football team after London 2012. In my eyes there is only one obvious choice - and that's the Hammers.

"Allowing the club to move into this iconic setting would ensure a fitting legacy for the stadium. It would boost England's bid to hold the 2018 football World Cup to boot as the stadium would have to be adapted for football. Having hosted one of the greatest sporting shows on earth why not help hold the other too?''

Before all their grandiose plans can be put into operation, Sullivan and Gold have to tackle the debt mountain at Upton Park. Sullivan is damning about the financial profile of a club that has mostly been quoted in the media as having debts of £35 million.

"I would put the debts at £110 million. There is £50 million owed to the banks, £40 million to clubs in transfer fees and also to Sheffield United, while we are not owed any money on transfers, the club have sold their season tickets for the next two years for £12 million, and that's before you start with Alan Curbishley, VAT, image rights, and a £3 million hole in the pension funds, so don't start me off on the debts here!"

London 2012 organisers say West Ham would have to agree to keep a running track at the Olympic Stadium if they are to move into the venue after the 2012 Games. London mayor Boris Johnson is also keen on a football club taking over the running costs of the stadium but the decision will have to be taken by the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC).

A London 2012 spokeswoman said: "The OPLC are looking at the legacy of the Olympic Park, including the stadium. Everyone is clear that the stadium will have a running track in legacy but additional sporting use is a matter for the OPLC.''

Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development and a former West Ham player and board member, also welcomed the takeover.

"It's good something has happened and it needed to be resolved from everyone's point of view," Brooking said. "Gianfranco's position will be all right hopefully - I think with the style of football they play all the fans will be very supportive of him staying.

"The proposed move to the Olympic Stadium is also interesting although having a running track has always been an issue with a football stadium.''

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