Gianfranco Zola has emerged as a strong favourite to become West Ham United's new manager after Croatia boss Slaven Bilic was quoted as saying he does not want the job.

Bilic, a former Hammers defender, was seen as the leading candidate to take over at Upton Park following Alan Curbishley's resignation last week, but he appears committed to the task of leading his country to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals.

"I'm not going anywhere," Bilic told The Sun newspaper. "Any club from England is a great opportunity. Not for money, honestly, for me it's about ambition. It's about working in England, a country you know I adore. But it's like, no. West Ham is my club, I have feelings for them but I won't go."

Bilic led Croatia to Euro 2008 last year and his reputation as a coach was enhanced by home and away wins over England in the qualifiers. The two countries have been drawn together in the World Cup qualifying competition and England are due to play in Zagreb on Wednesday.

Bilic added: "I had many offers in the period between our win at Wembley last November until I signed a new deal (with the Croatian FA) in May. I decided to stay. Whether that's good for me only God knows."

Croatian football chiefs have expressed anger over the speculation linking Bilic to the West Ham job, which they see as a plot to destabilise the national team ahead of Wednesday's crucial match.

Vlatko Markovic, the Croatian FA's President, was quoted in English media as saying: ".

This is another dirty trick by the English. They obviously want to cause trouble for us before we play

Vlatko Markovic is angry about West Ham's pursuit of Bilic.

"It's typical of the sleaze in English football. For the story about West Ham wanting Bilic to come out now is very poor. We are very suspicious and unhappy as it is not the first time something like this has happened with England."

With Bilic apparently out of the picture, former Napoli, Chelsea and Italy midfielder Zola is in pole position after having a second interview for the post at the weekend.

Zola is currently the assistant-coach of Italy's U-21 squad and has also been linked with the vacancy at Newcastle. Former Italy boss Roberto Donadoni is also in contention, while Danish legend Michael Laudrup was due to be interviewed on Monday.