Zola hails Tristan as one of the best strikers in Europe!!!

THINK OF the top strikers in Europe. Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nicolas Anelka, Fernando Torres or even Wayne Rooney spring to mind, writes DAVE EVANS. However, the name of West Ham s former Spanish international striker Diego Trista

THINK OF the top strikers in Europe. Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nicolas Anelka, Fernando Torres or even Wayne Rooney spring to mind, writes DAVE EVANS.

However, the name of West Ham's former Spanish international striker Diego Tristan does not spring immediately to mind - unless, that is, you are Gianfranco Zola.

"The problem with Tristan was only the physical condition," explained the West Ham boss. "When he first came here in November he wasn't as good as he is now physically.

"Other than that he has got everything, he can be a top striker in Europe easily, though obviously he has to be supported by very good condition, especially in the Premier League."

Now there is one thing to get behind your players, but this is a whole new ball-park.

The 33-year-old Spaniard has scored three goals this season for the Hammers, two of them against Stoke City, and one of which simply deflected off him to hit the net.

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For the most part, Tristan has been incredibly disappointing, and even at Aston Villa last month, where he headed in a late equaliser, he had put in a dreadful display up to that point.

Zola is almost as glowing in his reports about Tristan's strike partner David Di Michele, although at times he seems to be contradicting himself.

"I think we have a great record defensively, but scoring goals I don't think we are on the same level - that is what we have got to try and improve in the next year," he said at one point, before then going on to praise Tristan once again.

"Don't forget he has been in the national team for Spain and he has been a top scorer in his country for many years.

"He just lost a little bit of it in the last few years, but he is getting back very quickly and in the last few games he has been outstanding. The way he played against Chelsea and Stoke City was remarkable."

Zola was speaking before the clash with Liverpool, where once more Tristan descended into an anonymous role up front.

But the manager did have plenty of words of praise for Di Michele after the Liverpool defeat, despite the striker having something of a nightmare and being met by ironic cheers when he was substituted with 20 minutes to go.

"What can I say? Di Michele doesn't get many goals, but he is a key player for us, he makes the team play very well," explained Zola.

"It is a pity because if he could score a few more, he would be a top player. Other than that, he really makes the team play well."

The phrase 'if my auntie had doo-dahs she would be my uncle' readily springs to mind.

If Di Michele and Tristan were good strikers, surely they would be scoring goals.

On Saturday, Tristan didn't have a shot in anger, while his Italian strike partner made himself a laughing stock by falling over after going clean through.

"I don't think he was looking for a penalty, though the ref booked him for that," said Zola.

"I think he just lost his legs, he just lost his balance, but I don't think it was a simulation," sniggered the manager.

Zola refused to be drawn on whether either striker would be at the club next season and to most that suggests they won't be, however much he extols their virtues.

"His contract ends at the end of the season and then we will see," the boss said of Tristan. "He has put himself in a strong position. I haven't spoken to him, but I believe he wants to stay."

And what about Di Michele, who is on a season-long loan from Serie A outfit Torino?

"We'll see. I'm not considering next year yet. A lot depends on where we finish this year, so it is too early to say," he concluded.

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