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Zola opens door to Chelsea

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GIANFRANCO ZOLA and Steve Clarke have opened the way for an approach from Chelsea by stalling on signing lucrative new deals at West Ham.

The Hammers managerial partnership put themselves in the shop window today as they confront their former club in a derby dogfight at Upton Park.

It could be seen as a dress rehearsal for next season, for both Zola and Clarke are on the Blues shortlist to replace Guus Hiddink. A win for the Hammers would send out signals that they are the combination to take Chelsea to the next level.

And with West Ham’s future tied up in a tug-of-war between Icelandic banks and would-be buyers, the time might be right for both to consider their options.

West Ham are desperate for both Zola and Clarke to sign, and talks have taken place. But the duo are in “no great rush” to seal the deal. The Hammers are keen to head off further interest from Chelsea and they could put a long-term deal on the table as early as next week.

But with their management team prevaricating, it gives Chelsea time to consider their options. Initially, they targeted Carlo Ancelotti, of AC Milan, but if their courting of him runs into problems then they have a ready-made replacement team to step in.

Both Zola and Clarke were legends at Stamford Bridge, while Clarke has indicated he wants to go into management.

“Gianfranco is in discussions with the club about extending his contract. They have approached me about the same,” he said. “We have had good talks but I have only just arrived and it will be sorted when it is sorted. There is no great rush, I have two years left on my contract.”

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Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink says West Ham United counterpart Gianfranco Zola has the potential to be a great manager.

"I see potential," said Hiddink. "I haven't seen the younger managers working, but I see some guys who, when you have a conversation with them or they appear on television, come across very intelligently.

"Zola is one of the guys who can make this change to being a manager. But I also see some English managers.

"Everyone has to start at high levels sometimes. One can need 500 games and might not feel he's suited for that job. Another one less.

"I haven't seen him (Zola) working. I see him from the outside. He's a very intelligent man. He was a brilliant footballer, a very intelligent man and player, and I think he likes to learn a lot still. But I cannot judge whether he's capable of doing that (managing Chelsea) now."

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