Zola Chelsea link costs BBC libel payment

LONDON: West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola and first-team coach Steve Clarke accepted undisclosed libel damages from the BBC Tuesday over an interview in which it was claimed the pair were planning to become the new management team at Chelsea.

The interview, with football reporter Harry Harris, was broadcast by BBC Radio Five Live in February. In it, Harris claimed Zola and Clarke had recently been interviewed by Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich with a view to taking over at Chelsea next season.

The BBC acknowledged that the claims made by Harris were unfounded, apologised to the two coaches and agreed to pay their legal costs and damages.

James Quartermaine, representing Zola and Clarke, told the court: "The broadcast of this unfounded allegation caused Mr Zola and Mr Clarke acute distress and anxiety as it was understandably feared that it would damage their relationship with their employers and with the players and fans of West Ham United."

Zola and Clarke have been seen as potential successors to Chelsea's current, interim manager, Guus Hiddink, because of their links to the west London club.

Former Italy midfielder Zola is regarded as one of the greatest players to have played for Chelsea while Clarke was both a long-serving defender and a successful assistant manager under Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant before moving to West Ham in September 2008.

Zola and Clarke both signed new contracts at West Ham last month which ostensibly will keep them at the club until 2013.

Hiddink is due to return full-time to his job as Russia's national coach at the end of the season and Chelsea have been looking at potential successors.

The current AC Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti is seen as the frontrunner to take over.