Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Don't Cry for the Argentinians

Dont Cry for the Argentinians. Weep for the Insularity of English Managers
By Martin Samuel

There is a lot riding on Javier Mascherano’s proposed loan transfer to Liverpool; far more than the Premiership career of one player. There is the judgment of Alan Pardew, the reputation of Alan Curbishley, indeed the general ability of what we would style the bread-and-butter English managers to be at home at the high end of the modern game. For if Mascherano thrives at Anfield, if he holds the midfield, uses the ball with brio, goes the 90-minute distance, as he did for Argentina during the World Cup, and regains his standing as one of the most promising young players from South America, what will that say about us? What will it say when two of our most highly regarded coaches refused to give him as much as a second look?

Mascherano’s failure to make any impression on the first team at West Ham United is a riddle. Had there been rumours of misbehaviour or poor attitude, it would have been explicable; had there been suggestions that he enjoyed the London nightlife or was excessively morose and homesick, no questions would have been asked. Yet whenever inquiries were made into his commitment or mental state, the response was the same. Nice, quiet lad, does his work, goes home, never complains; no trouble at all.

Then the team sheet would go up and in Mascherano’s place in the heart of midfield would be the usual journeymen suspects: Hayden Mullins and, latterly, Nigel Quashie, a player whose arrival at a football club tends to have roughly the same impact as the promotion of John Reid to a government department.

Under Pardew, Mascherano would watch from the bench, undisturbed, and Curbishley’s arrival served to move him even farther down the pecking order. The former Charlton Athletic manager revived the career of Shaun Newton after suspension for using recreational drugs, reintroduced the calamitous Roy Carroll in goal and took Mark Noble back from loan at Ipswich Town. But the 22-year-old who played every minute of every game for what many insist was the best team at the 2006 World Cup? He remained a spectator.

At which point, Rafael Benítez stepped in. And while opinion may be divided about his consistency in the transfer market, as a Champions League winner and Spanish league champion, the Liverpool manager deserves the benefit of the doubt. Benítez clearly thinks that Mascherano is a player, so much so that his club have fought to overturn Fifa rules to make him available this season. As few like to make enemies of those who run the game, this would suggest that Benítez considers Mascherano worth it.

It would also imply something more: that Benítez, who has monitored the player since his early career with River Plate in Argentina, believes that Mascherano’s previous managers in England did him a disservice. If he is proven right and a world-class performer lay wasted in the reserves of a club who were sinking deeper into relegation quicksand because his managers lacked the invention to make use of him, the shortcomings of certain English traditionalists will have been exposed. This is much more than the average transfer deal.

In recent years, without doubt, English managers have had a raw deal from FA Premier League chairmen. In any other country, a coach with the record of Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers would have been headhunted by a leading club by now. As it is, Allardyce’s name is not even mentioned in the shake-up. Through all the speculation about José Mourinho’s future at Chelsea, there has been no hint that his successor would come from these shores.

Yet Allardyce is no different to Benítez or the Seville coach, Juande Ramos, in that before getting a tilt at the big time, their reputations were for overachieving with smaller clubs. But while Spain will give its coaches a break, to earn respect from the biggest clubs in England a manager must be imported.

It does not appear to matter that Allardyce has frequently chosen to work with foreign players of pedigree and has extracted surprising levels of performance from them, plus a fervent commitment to unfashionable Bolton. His career will remain on hold and the glass ceiling for English managers sits above the fifth Premiership place.

Might Allardyce be the exception, though? Looking at the players he buys — Nicolas Anelka, El-Hadji Diouf, Youri Djorkaeff, Iván Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Tal Ben Haim, Stelios Giannakopoulos — Allardyce would appear to have an imagination and appetite for the unconventional that sets him apart from many contemporaries. Certainly, the way Pardew and Curbishley handled Mascherano and his compatriot, Carlos Tévez, does not indicate great empathy with a world outside the lower reaches of the Premiership.

Mascherano, in particular, seems to have been harshly neglected. With Pardew in charge, he made his debut on September 14, 2006, in a 1-0 home defeat by Palermo in the Uefa Cup, in which he was the best passer in the West Ham team. He then took his Premiership bow at home to Newcastle United. West Ham lost 2-0 and he was taken off after 67 minutes. The next weekend he played in the 2-0 defeat away to Manchester City, the last time he was on for a whole game.

He featured on four other occasions, twice taken off with 22 minutes to go and twice brought on as a substitute, in the 84th and 86th minutes. He did not feature under Curbishley. In all, Mascherano played 393 minutes of football for West Ham in five months, compared with 510 minutes for Argentina in five matches during the World Cup. Had José Pekerman, the coach, not contrived to knock out his own team with negative substitutions against Germany, he might even have come to England with a winner’s medal.

If there is mitigation for his treatment at Upton Park, it is that he was finding it hard to adapt to the pace and physical demands of English football. Pardew feared this from the start, which is why he gave him his first game against Italian opponents, thinking that the pace would be more familiar to him.

Unfortunately, Palermo were a huge, brutish team, very English in approach, who stole an away goal and shut up shop. Mascherano was still the pick of it for West Ham, but against Manchester City and, most particularly, Newcastle, when he let Scott Parker run off him for much of the match, he did not seem attuned to the domestic game. As he was allowed just one more start from there, he was hardly given much opportunity to learn.

By the time Curbishley succeeded Pardew, West Ham were in crisis and it could be argued that a lightweight holding midfield player, learning on the job, would not be much use in a fight to the death. Then again, Mascherano could not have been less effective than the West Ham midfield that went down 6-0 away to Reading or lost at home to Watford in the FA Cup last weekend.

Nor would he be alone in making a slow start in English football. Michael Essien, by popular consent one of the players of the season, took a year to settle in at Chelsea, as did Didier Drogba. Even when it was obvious that Andriy Shevchenko was struggling, Mourinho insisted on using him in the hope that he could turn his season around.

By contrast, West Ham gave Mascherano a handful of matches and then bit-parts in games that were already lost. Pardew and, in particular, Curbishley showed scant open-mindedness or understanding of his problems. They will argue that English football showed up Mascherano’s limitations as a player; Benítez may yet counter by showing up uncomfortable limitations closer to home.

Benítez said that Liverpool will provide a better home for Mascherano. “We speak Spanish and play a style of football that suits him,” he claimed. Yet this saga runs deeper than that. There are many managers who overcome the language barrier and if everybody needed to be singing from the same phrasebook, Liverpool’s most recent European Cup win would not have been achieved with a coach still learning the English language.

As for Liverpool’s style, it bypasses midfield more frequently than West Ham’s and has a directness that would be anathema in Argentina. The reason Mascherano has more chance at Anfield is simply because this manager is prepared to believe in him.

Which leaves West Ham where? The new owners are investing transfer funds at a level intended to make an impact, at least, on Uefa Cup places next season, but relegation is still very much a possibility and, either way, such advancement cannot be made using English or English-speaking players alone. Luís Boa Morte, Quashie, Lucas Neill, even the expensive present targets, Matthew Upson, of Birmingham City, and Darren Bent, of Charlton, are all strictly second class when compared with a player who is a regular with Argentina.

If Mascherano succeeds at Anfield, it is the stock of English managers that will have fallen. And chairmen will continue to ask whether a truly ambitious club can afford to place its future in the hands of just any old Alan.

The Times column

West Ham United 1 Liverpool 2

Kuyt's Edge and Class of Crouch Help Liverpool Put Heat On Chelsea by Sam Wallace
The race for the Premiership title has long been the preserve of an exclusive club of two managers but with five successive Liverpool wins it is becoming very difficult to deny Rafael Benitez membership. The gap to the Premiership champions in second place is a mere two points. Over to you, Jose Mourinho... The Independent
Curbishley's Hammers Cut To Quick By Crouch Cracker by Jon Bodkin
It was eight months ago that West Ham were a minute from beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final but that memorable match must have felt far more distant to them last night. Defeated by the same opponents, the team remain in the relegation zone and show little sign of finding a way out. They have gone seven Premiership games without a win and must end that run next month - when they face Aston Villa, Watford and Charlton... The Guardian
Crouch And Kuyt Ensure No End To West Ham Worries by Matt Dickinson
There are plenty of ways of blowing a fortune in the East End of London even without a supercasino. Just ask the new Icelandic owners of West Ham United, who were given even more reason last night to fear that they have spent £85 million, and another huge outlay on players this month, on a club that will be ejected from the Barclays Premiership in May... The Times
Liverpool Cling To Title Hope by Henry Winter
Liverpool made only two slip-ups at Upton Park last night, Rafa Benitez falling over – much to the hosts' amusement – and then his team conceding a late consolation to Kepa Blanco, but otherwise there was a strong air of upward mobility about the Merseysiders... The Telegraph

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Every Second Counts

My name is Eggert Magnusson, and this is the longest day of my life...

Matthew Upson, Darren Bent, Craig Gordon, Giuseppe Favalli, Rolando, Tim Cahill, Michael Gravgaard, Gabriel Paletta, Ruud Knol, The Mystery Man From Liverpool, Wayne Routledge, Frederic Piquionne, Jose Antonio Reyes, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Herman Hreidarsson, Jason Koumas, John Arne Riise, Andrew Cole, James Beattie, Mauro Camoranesi. The clock is ticking.

The Law of the Pound

Another day and another bout of media hysteria concerning our alleged interest in Darren Bent. Certain sections of the media remain convinced that we are casting covetous eyes in the direction of the Charlton striker, a player whose price miraculously rises exponentially to the length of time he remains injured. Sky Sports News announced that we had tabled a massive bid of £18 million for the player and for the second time in twenty-four hours both camps were forced into a quick public denial. It was hard to decide who was more embarrassed by being associated with this rumour, West Ham for being linked to such a ludicrous offer in the first place or the Latics for being thought foolish enough to turn it down.

Whatever the truth, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our new found wealth makes us a convenient target for media speculation. In a certain sense we are in danger of becoming the Al Czervik (or Eggy Cervix) of the Premiership country club; a perceived newly minted member of the nouveau riche, gracelessly throwing our wealth about in the vainglorious pursuit of Premiership survival. As Baudrillard might have said, a football club which allows an abominable event to burgeon from its dung heap and grow on its surface is like a man who lets a fly crawl unheeded across his face or saliva dribble from his mouth - either epileptic or dead. Even in the hyperrealism of the transfer window, if West Ham blithely allows itself to be abused by paying vastly inflated prices for average talent then it sets a dangerous precedent. The moment we define ourselves by our conspicuous wealth then we eviscerate the heart and soul of the club, detaching it from the core values that have always underpinned its existence. The short term problem of such an approach is the one that we currently face. The whiff of money (and the stink of desperation) encourages every dog in the pound to think he can shaft us in the market place; even the three-legged runts like Charlton and the worm infested arse skidders like Birmingham.

In other news, Liverpool moved a step closer to securing the services of Javier Mascherano after FIFA relaxed their own newly implemented ‘three club rule’. It proves once again that Scousers really will nick anything if you leave it hanging around long enough. When Alan Curbishley rolls into training tomorrow morning he is likely to see just a stack of bricks in the spot where our world class Argentinian has been parked for the last few months. I think it is sight that will hurt him just as much as it will every other West Ham fan; at least I hope so.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Pass the Bong, Brucie.

Samuel Butler wrote that happiness and misery do not depend upon how high or low you are but on the direction you are tending. Given that things could not get much worse following our FA Cup exit on Saturday, I think there could be some mileage in trying to look on the bright side today.

Firstly there is the news that the Aussie swagman, Lucre Neill, will be back within three weeks rather than the six originally predicted. Mercurial Israeli Yossi Van Helsing will return to the squad for tomorrow night’s clash with Liverpool and even Carlitos is back in training a lot sooner than I thought given that he was last seen on a beach somewhere south of Buenos Aires. I half expected him to do a Reggie Perrin with worried lifeguards finding nothing but an abandoned Hammers kit on the shore of Bahia Blanca. Even the news that Dean Ashton has suffered a slight setback on his road to recovery can not dampen the spirits. I convinced myself several months ago that he probably wouldn’t play at all this season so to hear he is back kicking a ball is a limp in the right direction.

On the transfer front, Steve Bruce has revealed he is looking for at least £20 million before he will release Upson from his Brummie purgatory. Fuck me Brucie, step away from the bong. I mean, Upson is a decent central defender but he is not a great one. He has only limited Premiership experience and has had a litany of injuries that would make Kenny McCormick wince. Even if you were spazzing on Carlos Castaneda’s out-of-date peyote buttons you would still never mistake him for the second coming of Bobby Moore, which is exactly who I would want for that kind of money. On the bright side, there are reports tonight that negotiations are still ongoing between the two clubs, which I would like to believe means Birmingham have seriously re-evaluated their position.

Nearer home and the stubborn floater of a rumour concerning our interest in Darren Bent resurfaced again this morning. The tabloid story that we had made an official £12million offer was quickly flushed by both sides, an over the top they ‘doth protest too much’ response that I choose to take as a sign that something might yet happen. One offer regrettably confirmed was for Charlton’s fast defrosting Bejamic defender Hermann Hreidarsson. Charlton have turned down the £2.5million bid and in keeping with the positive thoughts of this post I want to believe that will be the end of our interest.

The continued absence of Robert Green is another source of irritation but news today that we have joined the chase for Hearts keeper Craig Gordon, the man described by Gianluigi Buffon as one of the brightest goalkeeping talents in Europe, has gone some considerable way to leavening the gloom. Finally, Scandinavian newspaper reports have us showing an interest in F.C. Copenhagen centre back Michael Gravgaard. The imposing defender has bagged 4 goals in 11 games for the Danish national team and has been tagged 'The Copenhagen Airforce' because of his aerial prowess. That’s obviously some claim; I don’t think Danish armed forces even had aircraft until at least the 1950’s.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

West Ham United 0 Watford 1- FA Cup 4th Round

McNamee Finds Target As West Ham Hit Panic Button- Amy Lawrence

Aidy Boothroyd has coined a catchphrase called 'possible impossibles'. He sometimes sounds like a lone voice in the dark when he preaches how Watford can achieve what is logically unachievable. But a team who looked doomed long before Christmas have just enjoyed their best week since promotion... The Observer

McNamee Thrives on Carroll Clanger- Jason Burt

Hardly a respite, hardly a distraction as West Ham, last season's finalists, crashed out of the FA Cup with the kind of guileless performance that does not bode well fortheir chances of Premiership survival either. That they lost to Watford, one of only two sides below them in the League, will stick in the craw while, as for the visitors, how manager Adrian Boothroyd would have swapped this victory for three points when the two meet again in a fortnight's time... The Independent on Sunday

Watford Deepen Crisis For Curbishley- Roy Collins
West Ham will try to kid themselves that this defeat does not matter, that it was almost a blessing in disguise, allowing them to concentrate all their efforts on Premiership survival and preventing any possibility of a harmful fixture pile-up between now and the end of April... Sunday Telegraph

Carroll Hands It To Watford - Paul Rowan
A week in which the firm smack of desperation was heard around West Ham United with the signing of Lucas Neill on a salary substantially larger than that of Cristiano Ronaldo ended with the sound of booing around Upton Park, last year’s beaten finalists knocked out by a goal that arose from a calamitous piece of goalkeeping from the error-prone Roy Carroll... The Sunday Times

Saturday, 27 January 2007

One-on-One With Paolo Di Canio

On this date in 1999 West Ham completed the signing of Paolo Di Canio. The temperamental Italian had been banned for 11 matches for pushing referee Paul Alcock and was working in a clothes shop in Ternana when the Hammers paid the £2 million needed to bring him back to England. Harry Redknapp said at the time: “He’s the only one I ever wanted. A million people were thrown at me but I wanted Paolo Di Canio. That’s how strongly I feel. The bloke is a genius, just wait until you see what he can do. Players of his class don’t turn it on all the time, but when he does just sit back and enjoy the show.” West Ham fans did just that, for four and a half eventful seasons. What follows is an extract from an interview carried out by Martin Mazur in which Di Canio reflects on some of the memorable moments of his Upton Park career...

It’s a glorious morning in
Rome and as Cisco Roma’s training session draws to a close Paolo Di Canio, having lead the way in every exercise and every drill, rushes into the small dressing room to get changed. Minutes later, he emerges wearing a commemorative T-shirt of Lazio’s 1973-74 champions. We jump into his blue Mini Cooper and he attempts to run over a couple of team-mates. They curse him and he returns the gesture with interest.

Where do you get your passionate personality from?

It’s generic. Certain circumstances- like growing up in a tough neighbourhood- can bring out that passion, but I’ve been like it since I was a boy. When I see something bad, I say so. I prefer an uncomfortable truth to a beautiful lie and I get incredibly annoyed when people try to sell a false image of themselves. I may be more reflective as my daughters grow up, but if calming down means not saying what I think, I’ll never, ever change.

Who’s the best player you’ve played with?

Vialli, a natural-born champion. Van Basten, Gullit and Baresi, who was the epitome of charisma, were great, but Vialli was above them all. We’re talking about someone who came from a rich family. He had a 40-room mansion in Cremona but he made sacrifices and never complained. Seeing that helped me develop. He’d stay behind for 40 minutes after training practising shooting. I’d look at him and say; “Fuck! He could be living in Monaco and he’s shooting at an empty goal in the rain!”

Now that eight years have passed, how do you view the Paul Alcock incident?

I met him again a year later and I still wonder how the hell he managed to fall like that from such a soft push. But I’ve got no excuses. Pushing the referee is not something I recommend, even if all the decisions go against you. Kids are watching and that’s an awful example to set, even if he deserved more than a push. It would have been better to say, “piece of shit” or something just between us.

After you pushed Alcock, you made Nigel Winterburn shit himself. Why didn’t you hit him? You’d already been sent off…

You wanted me to get a 100-match ban, didn’t you! The truth is, I was very annoyed and he approached and started bullying me. I pretended to hit him and he ran away like a sissy. What could I do? Chase him all over the pitch and end it like a bar fight? And I’m sure he was quicker. But today we’re close friends!

Why on earth did you sit down on the pitch and ask to be subbed when West Ham beat Bradford 5-4 in 2000?

Because the ref was completely against me. He should have given me two penalties and I didn’t have the will to carry on playing. Harry told me: “No, Paolo, please, we need you!” A minute later, I said to myself, “Why the fuck should I give up? This referee will not beat me!” Harry wanted me to play, the fans had never deserted me, so I couldn’t give up in return. It was an awesome victory.

Was the catch you made to sacrifice a goal against Everton in December 2000 really intentional? You’re not known for your sporting behaviour.

Of course! And I would have done it with any other player in the same situation. It would have been his ball, so there was evidently a problem and I couldn’t go on. It’s not that he dropped the ball and faked an injury. In that case, I wouldn’t have stopped.

You had altercations with Frank Lampard and Simone Inzaghi over taking penalties. Who was supposed to take the penalty: you or them?

I’ve always accepted orders because I’m a comrade, but if you think that by doing something different a better result can be achieved, I’ll do it. But there weren’t even managers’ orders. With Lampard, I’d missed a penalty a week earlier and perhaps he thought he should take it. Wrong. I’ve never shirked my responsibilities.

At West Ham, you seemed frustrated at Joe Cole not fulfilling his potential. What do you make of his progress now?

I’m incredibly happy for him. Now he’s disciplined, plays for a big club and understands what sacrifice means. And I take 0.001 percent responsibility for that. It seems he listened to me a bit, even if my words dawned on him later. At West Ham I was seen as the ball-breaker in the dressing room. Then when Lampard and Rio Ferdinand left, they said: “Now I understand the things Paolo used to say.” I’m proud of that. They understood that it was a positive for their careers, not mine.

Is it true Harry Redknapp used to fix the five-a-sides in training at West Ham if you turned up in a bad mood?

The only lie about that is that they weren’t five-a-sides, but seven-or eight-a-side. It was true that if I lost I’d leave the pitch smashing everything, so I guess he wanted to keep me calm. But I didn’t know about that trick until he told me. And I quickly understood something he used to say before those games: “I bet Di Canio’s team will win today.”

Why did you wear your shorts backwards for one Charlton game?

Charlton? No, it was West Ham v Arsenal. The reason? Simple. If you notice that you’ve accidentally put something on backwards, you should leave it that way because it’s a symbol of good luck. That day, when I was warming up, someone told me my shorts were backwards. Before the game, the boss said: “Come on Paolo, put them right.” ”No way!” I told him. I knew it was a sign. We won 2-1, I scored both and we beat Arsenal for the first time in 14 years. So if you see you’re wearing something backwards, leave it!

Who’s the craziest person you’ve come across in football?

Razor Ruddock’s antics during training were absurd, but John Moncur wins easily. Once, in winter, in temperatures below freezing, he appeared on the field completely naked, his dick dancing here and there, and splash-landed in the water. He came into the dressing room trembling.

Did you fancy joining Portsmouth when Harry became manager?

Playing for Harry again? I’d run there to sign. He always says, “Come with me Paolo” and when I hang up my boots, I’ll definitely consider working with him. I’m very grateful to him, because he had patience with me and in return I gave my best. We argued so much, but always for the good of the team. He understood me.

What will you do when you finally retire?

I’ll probably be a manager or help the kids in some way. I’ll be a good manager. If I find a player like Di Canio, who arrives early, tries to integrate rather than disrupt, likes to train hard, thinks of the team rather than himself, and accepts that I give the orders, we wouldn’t collide, because I like players with character. Give me 11 Di Canios and I’ll be a happy manager!

Taken from FOURFOURTWO magazine

A Sex Dance for Luis Boa Morte

I am happy to do a sex dance for Luis Boa Morte
By Russell Brand

Faith is a powerful tool in navigating us through life on our silly journey to inevitable death. Sometimes I believe in things simply because not to believe in them would make my life unbearable. I like to think that my cat, Morrissey, loves me and that his affection is not simply a tool to avoid starvation.

Apparently new-born infants affect the facial formation of a smile long before they understand what they're conveying just so they look sweet and their parents don't dash their brains out on the wall of the cave (this technique was pioneered by caveman babies when infanticide was more common).

If the sweet gurgling grin of a tot is up for question and even the loyalty of my cat how can I so blindly believe that Lucas Neill has joined West Ham for the honour of wearing the claret and blue shirt and not for the reported sixty grand a week he's being paid (I think that's what Paul Scholes gets, that puts things in too much perspective)? When it's suggested, as it often has been over the past few weeks that Neill snubbed Rafa Bénitez and the Kop because he fancied the cockney dollar I bristle.

Surely it's better to play your football in East London under intense pressure to avoid relegation than to faff around on Merseyside perpetually under-achieving (penalty shoot-outs aside) trying to recreate the boot room glory days. It is. It's much better and that's why dear sweet, noble Lucas has come to Upton Park. He likes a challenge and, as he said himself, Curbishley has a shopping list that made his goolies fizz.

I hope it's a sensible investment - admittedly West Ham's chief problems, atrocious refereeing aside, appear to be defensive and one queries how much impact even the most versatile and influential full-back can have. The Hammers legend Julian Dicks played on the opposite flank to Neill and were capable of dragging the team along with pure aggression and I suppose Gary Neville is a potent force at United but is he as important as Scholes?

The simple fact is West Ham need players and are in no position to quibble over trifling matters such as wages. If Nigel Quashie demands his income be supplemented by spending half-time with The Hammerettes (the team's cheerleaders) I think it ought be granted. In fact, if it can guarantee us Premiership survival, I myself am happy to troop out in the interval with the mascots - the hammer, the bear and the inexplicable dog in a blue nurse's uniform - and perform a humiliating sex dance for Luis Boa Morte, such is my desire to see those boys happy.

A friend described West Ham as a rubbish Chelsea, with our tin-pot, bickie rich, Kojak oligarch and unglamorous signings. But it appears the dominion of the blue flag may be on the wane. Jose Mourinho is, it seems, a rather quixotic character, a tactical troubadour only content to remain at a club for a couple of seasons before moving on. In fact he's like the littlest hobo - he does terrific work then clears off leaving John Terry with a frog in his throat cos' "there's a voice that keeps on calling him".

Poor JT all injured and heartbroken, can the dream really be over already? The blue flag yanked down from its pole to dry Drogba's tears? T'were always likely that it would end in ignominy; you can't purchase tradition and pedigree. One assumes the glory days will return to Anfield, it's in their blood, but Chelsea were always gonna crumble, slung together, a papier mache empire made from pound notes and the tears of Stanley Matthews weeping for football's egalitarian dream. The Irons will stay up, powered by Neill's unequivocal loyalty but the Blue Tower shall fall.

Guardian column

Friday, 26 January 2007

Magnusson a Happy Hammer

Magnusson a Happy Hammer
By Greg Demetriou & Jim Agnew

Eggert Magnússon turns 60 next month, but is far from contemplating a quiet life. The West Ham United FC chairman has been extremely active in the transfer window, as he tries to recruit the men he thinks will ensure Premiership survival. Upon taking charge as part of a new Icelandic consortium in November, he found West Ham in a perilous position that was a far cry from last season's success.

Neill arrival
Having gained acclaim in May by reaching the FA Cup final against Liverpool FC, West Ham looked certain to progress with a UEFA Cup chance and new faces like Argentina stars Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tévez. Instead, they were quickly knocked out of Europe and have spent the season in relegation trouble. After the "difficult decision" of replacing manager Alan Pardew with former West Ham midfielder Alan Curbishley, five players have arrived to raise hopes, not least Australia defender Lucas Neill who rejected Liverpool. Some sneered that he went for bigger wages, but there is clearly something happening.

'Hard work'
"I don't think it is all about money," Magnússon told "I think it is more about an ambition and when I met these players I told them what I am trying to achieve at West Ham. Not today, not tomorrow but in a few years' time, I think they believe what I say. It has not been easy and the January window is always very difficult because usually teams don't want to sell somebody before they have somebody in. It has been very hard work but the hard work has already paid off."

UEFA role
Neill claimed Magnússon's enthusiasm was a major factor in his decision, and it is not hard to see why. For 15 years from 1992 the outgoing Football Association of Iceland president sat on the UEFA Executive Committee and been an important voice for smaller nations among the major players. It will be no different in the Premiership as he plans to take West Ham to the élite level. It is clear he feels they deserve to be on such a stage, given his praise for the fans and their "unbelievable passion".

Fans first
He added: "I think the fans have been very good to me, maybe because they know I am a football man. I have been in football most of my life at every level of the game. I think when I am speaking to them they realise that it's all about football. I think that is what is necessary to them. To be fair, the other party that was competing with me to take over the club came from a different part of the football world and I think our supporters were happy to have me."

Overseas owners
The subject of foreign ownership has been well-documented in the Premiership with the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa FC following on from Fulham FC, Portsmouth FC, Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC in being run by overseas investors. Magnússon believes it does not matter who runs a club provided the owners have the "best interests" at heart. "The main thing is that they are thinking about the people who love the club, the people who come every week."

New stadium
Those best interests include "doing more" for the club's famed youth system and, in all likelihood, a new east London home away from the atmospheric Boleyn Ground. "About the stadium, we are looking very seriously at moving to a 60,000-plus stadium. We are in discussions with the Olympic authorities regarding the [2012] Olympic stadium. It will be difficult. I think there will be a decision in February. If that is not going to happen, we will go somewhere else."

'Emotional man'
Essential to all of this is the team. On Saturday, West Ham welcome Watford FC in the FA Cup while Liverpool come calling in the league three days later. Victories would leave West Ham in the fifth round and possibly outside of the bottom three. Magnússon will relish the chance to enjoy both fixtures, especially as "at the moment, it is very hard work and there are many things that we are chasing". His legendary passion is sure to surface. "I have always been an emotional man. I think I am a little bit famous now as a chairman in England because I cannot change myself. My feelings come out in the stadium."

Dream date
Ask him about the prospect of West Ham one day competing for club football's ultimate prize and Magnússon's emotion is evident. "I was one of the people sitting in the [UEFA] club committee when the [UEFA] Champions League started. I have been there all along. For me it will be a dream come true when West Ham are playing in the Champions League." The use of the word 'when' is everything. While there may well yet be more uncertainty, there will eventually be no stopping a man who has got where he is by fully understanding the “privilege” of a life in football.

Taken from UEFA.Com Magazine

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Not Your Average Footballer?

Several months ago the Times carried an interview with Nigel Reo-Coker. It was prior to the cup final when reputations were being forged and our collective star was in the ascendant. If you read it back now it is hard to equate the person in the article to the actions of the same player on and off the pitch over the last six months. I’m not saying he has been badly advised over a whole host of issues, or that he has been unduly influenced by the people and things around him, but clearly something has changed.

The Big Interview: Nigel Reo-Coker
By Paul Kimmage

When the interview ends, Nigel Reo-Coker steps outside on to the pavement with the photographer to have his portrait taken. It is a glorious Thursday evening near his home in Tadworth, Surrey, and he is wearing jeans, a designer (Bathing Ape) T-shirt, unlaced trainers and a baseball cap twisted sideways on his closely shaven head. Tony Finnigan, his friend and manager, watches from across the street. “Is that your Snoop Dogg pose?” Finnigan asks. “
Yeah,” Reo-Coker says, smiling. He’s a footballer. Why should anybody take him seriously? This is how his day begins. The alarm sounds at 7.55am, he steps from his bed, switches on the radio, showers and brushes his teeth. The West Ham training ground at Chadwell Heath takes an hour to reach in his black sports Mercedes via the M25, Dartford Tunnel and A13. A bowl of porridge prepared by Tim, the club’s resident chef, awaits him for breakfast. A physiotherapist with soothing hands will unravel the niggle in his back. The team suits have arrived for next weekend’s FA Cup final in Cardiff and some tailors are standing by to make alterations. He must choose a new pair of sunglasses, and there are shirts and balls to be signed and some Cup final preview interviews to be completed for Sky. Tim cooks a nice piece of cod and some bangers and mash for lunch. His work done for the day, Reo-Coker leaves the training ground and heads for the city, wishing it could be like this all of the time. He is back in his car now, driving towards his aunt’s in Elephant and Castle, south London, with the sunroof open and the window down and his fingers drumming to the rhythm of his favourite song, Dear Mama by Tupac Shakur. “. . . Running from tha police, that’s right Mama catch me — put a whoopin to my backside And even as a crack-fiend, mama, ya always was a black queen, mama I finally understand for a woman it ain’t easy — trying to raise a man.” Was that you in the grey Ford Focus with the sweaty brow stopped alongside him at the traffic light? Maybe you noticed the baseball cap and the young black arm hanging out the window of the fancy black car and shook your head dismissively. And who could blame you? He’s a footballer. Why should anybody take him seriously? But what if you were wrong? What if this guy was an exception? What if Nigel Reo-Coker was the most interesting 21-year-old footballer you had ever met? What if he told you that he believed in true love, went regularly to church, and was a patron of a worthy charity, Hope and Homes for Children? What if his favourite reading wasn’t Loaded or Knees Up Mother Brown but The Art of War by Sun Tzu? What if he told you that he loved deep-sea fishing and that the first thing he does every morning when he steps from his bed is listen to the news? You’d be sceptical, wouldn’t you? You’d be tempted to set him a test. “Okay,” I inquire, dubiously. “So what grabbed your attention from the headlines this morning?” “The votes the BNP will be receiving in the (local) elections,” he says. “I’m very worried about that. I don’t understand how people can say, ‘I’m not a racist’ and vote for the BNP, because they are a far-right-wing party. And the things they are saying to get voters, this fear about ‘the growth of Islam’ is a disgrace. “Some of the candidates that are running for the BNP are convicted criminals and convicted football hooligans. I understand how people are feeling about these asylum seekers who committed crimes and weren’t deported, but it’s just adding fuel to the flames and it’s very worrying.” “That’s not what most 21-year-old footballers worry about,” I observe. “No, that’s true,” he agrees, “but it is worrying. People should really think about how they are going to vote, because if you give people like that power . . . what kind of laws are they going to bring in? How will it reflect on England as a multicultural society?” “You’re a deep thinker,” I say. “I’ve been told that, yeah. Sometimes I think too much, but that’s just the type of person I am. Every action has a reaction, and you have to be careful with your actions and think about what you are doing and how it will affect other people.” “You sound like a natural politician. Is it something you’d consider beyond the game?” “Not for me, no chance, I really can’t see it,” he replies. “There are too many politicians making promises they don’t deliver. They present themselves all high and mighty with no skeletons in their cupboards until the stories about their affairs, or they start lying about their allowances and cheating with their expenses, and I just think . . . No.” “Why not? You could change it. You could be different.” And he fixes me with a smile. “I’m a footballer,” he says. “Who is going to take me seriously?” ONE OF the most popular works of fiction on recent bestseller lists is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It is the story of woman whose husband suffers from a rare condition. His genetic clock periodically resets itself and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. Nigel Reo-Coker shares a similar affliction. “He was born in this country, so they couldn’t have doctored his birth certificate, but the kid has never been his age,” says Finnigan. “He was 14 but he was never 14; he was 18 but he was never 18; he is 21 but there aren’t many 21-year-olds with the ability to grasp what he grasps. He understands the value of life, he understands the value of money, and when he goes to work he goes to work and to compete to be the best. I just love the kid. I wish all footballers were like him.” Reo-Coker has always broken the mould. He made his first-team debut for Wimbledon at 17 and within two years had become the youngest captain in the history of the Championship. He has captained England Under-21s, is the youngest ever captain to play for West Ham, the youngest captain ever to play in the Premiership, and, if his team beats Liverpool on Saturday, will become the youngest captain ever to lift the FA Cup. “Is that important to you?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Does it add to it?” “Yes, it adds to it. It can also be a burden, but I’m used to it now. People have always seen me as a natural-born leader, even my close friends. They call me Skip. I have to sort out holidays and anywhere we’re going. It’s always, ‘Come on, Skip, what are we doing?’” “Does anything stand out on the path to the final?” “Before the semi-final against Middlesbrough, (manager) Alan Pardew read us a letter from a fan that was really touching. The fan was saying, ‘Think of us when you’re out there playing. We’re the parents that buy boots for our kids and support them on cold Sunday mornings, but we live our dreams through you’. “It really hit the spot and took me back when I was listening. West Ham have always been seen as the underdogs, the people from the wrong side of the river, and that’s exactly how it was for me. My mum and sisters used to buy boots for me; they couldn’t afford it, but managed to find a way and put me where I am.” For Reo-Coker the wrong side of the tracks was a tiny apartment in Elephant and Castle where he lived with his mother, Agnes-Lucinda, and older sisters Natalie and Vanessa. Born in London, he spent the first six years of his childhood in Sierra Leone, where his father, Ransford, worked as a doctor. In 1990, his parents separated and Agnes-Lucinda returned to England with the children. “My mum really wanted us to get a British education and to spend our teenage and adult years here,” he explains, “but the start was a real struggle. We moved into a dingy one-bedroom apartment in Elephant and Castle and then near the East Street market where we were burgled three times. My mum had to work really, really hard to get us out of there, but we eventually moved to a house in Thornton Heath and it was better from there.” His mother calls him at least once each day and remains the driving force of his life. “I think seeing how hard she had to work, and not having a father figure or role model in my life, definitely made me stronger and more determined to succeed,” he says. “I could have gone the other way and let my life go down the pan and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t have a father’, but I didn’t want to use that as an excuse. That would have been too easy.” And Agnes-Lucinda didn’t do easy. Natalie and Vanessa were put through college and emerged with degrees in law and business, but the boy was a real problem. He was doing well at school, but was talking about being a footballer! What kind of a degree was that? And although she tried her best to dissuade him, he clearly loved the game. One night she watched him waiting for a call from a Fulham scout who had asked for his number. It was the first time a professional club had shown an interest and he almost burst with excitement. He counted every second of the hours that drifted by until finally it rang with a coach from Wimbledon who asked to speak to his mother. Agnes-Lucinda might have ended it right there if she hadn’t been softened by the glint in his eyes. Would she consent to her son playing for Wimbledon on trial? She would. She let her heart rule her head — but Nigel was always wary of the bottom line. “I didn’t want to be the failure of the family,” he explains. “I didn’t want to see my sisters achieve and be successful while I was a failure. I was interested in graphic design and multi-media and knew it would be harder to be successful in football than in industry, but it was just the determination in me. I knew I had to work hard, but I was determined to succeed.”

TONY FINNIGAN can recall vividly the moment he realised that Reo-Coker was a player. When football is your business — Finnigan is managing director of the Wright Wright Wright agency — it pays to keep an ear to the ground, and he had taken a tip from a friend at Wimbledon, Carlton Fairweather, to come and take a look at their new 13-year-old.
“The first time I saw him was a T*tenham game in 1997-98,” Finnigan explains. “The kid was playing against Andre Boucard, a boy wonder, and he was taking the piss out of Nigel. The kid would try to close him down and Boucard would move it; he’d try to tackle him, and he’d dummy him or move it again and was a yard in front with his brain every time. “The thing that stood out, though, was his (Reo-Coker’s) tenacity and appetite to compete. He kept coming back and coming back, trying to compete against this guy who was a yard in front every time. But before the end of the game he got to him. They went for a 50-50 ball and Nigel tackled him so hard that he (Boucard) couldn’t finish the game. “I asked Carlton for his number and made an appointment to see his mother. ‘They’ve all been here looking to sign him’, she said. ‘SFX and all of the big boys, but there’s just one problem’. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. She said, ‘My son needs a guardian, because his father is not around’. I said, ‘Well, I’m prepared to do my best’.” One of Finnigan’s first lessons was to encourage him to make the most of what he did best — his Roy Keane/Patrick Vieira/Steven Gerrard ability to compete from box to box. “I told him, ‘You’re an engine, be an engine’,” Finnigan says. “ ‘Don’t be a wing mirror, don’t be a hubcap, don’t be the rims, be the engine. Nothing works without the engine’.” And over the three years that followed, the engine took off. The senior players at Wimbledon knew it was coming. They listened to him bossing the youth team on the training ground and understood he was a future leader. “I trained with Robbie Earle and Michael Thomas and Andy Roberts and Kenny Cunningham a few times when I was young,” says Reo-Coker, “and they were always very encouraging. ‘Keep doing it, keep working hard’, they’d say. ‘You’re going to be a player’.” The club was in financial freefall as he pushed towards the summit. By the time he had established himself as a first-team regular, the fans were boycotting games over the move to Milton Keynes and there was suddenly nobody to play for. “To dream about becoming a professional footballer and to have to run out at home games with only 30 or 40 people supporting you was heartbreaking,” he says. “There were times when I thought, ‘Why bother? What’s the point?’ But if anything, it made me stronger and the experience was invaluable. “There have been a couple of bad times at West Ham when I’ve thought, ‘Look at what you’ve been through to get here. You used to be playing for a Championship side at home in front of one man and his dog, with 20,000 people against you supporting the away side! You have nothing to lose and nothing to fear’. It really did teach you about the other side of this life — it’s not all glitz and glam and being a celebrity.”

IN JANUARY 2004 he made his debut for West Ham — a 2-1 defeat of Rotherham in front of 34,483 spectators at Upton Park. Most were supporting the home team. None had brought his dog. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The crushing pressure to perform was a new experience.
“There’s having fans and having West Ham fans, and to go from having no fans at all to a 35,000 sell-out who are as passionate and vocal as they can be was daunting. If they’re not happy, they let you know that they’re not happy. It wasn’t until the start of my first full season (seven months later) that I felt comfortable here. And even then it wasn’t easy. “There was so much pressure to get back to the Premiership — you couldn’t feel comfortable enough to go out and express yourself.” In October, after a solid start to the season, Pardew handed him the armband before a home game with Wolves and he became the youngest player to captain West Ham. But within three months his engine wasn’t firing and he was left out for six games as the race for promotion entered its critical phase. “I went through hell during that time. I want to be successful. I want to be remembered. I want the respect of people to say, ‘Yeah, he was a player’. Nothing hurts more than when you are not involved with the team. I sat back and tried to analyse what was happening. I went back to my childhood years and asked myself, ‘Why did I love football so much then? Why was I enjoying it? What was I doing on and off the field to perform?’ And eventually he (Pardew) gave me my chance again and I grabbed it like it was the end of the world. “The first game I came back was for Wigan away. It was a big game. We needed to win. I partnered Hayden Mullins in central midfield and people described it as one of the best games of the season. That’s when we started to get the wins and come together as a team. I haven’t been left out since. We crept into sixth place and just qualified in the playoff. And then we said, ‘Right, we’re going to go all of the way this year’.” At the start of the season not even the most ardent West Ham fan would have interpreted “going all the way” as a top-10 finish in the Premiership, a place in Europe and the first appearance in an FA Cup final for 26 years. But Reo-Coker seems relaxed and calm as the excitement reaches fever pitch. He is not sure if he will make a speech before the game next weekend. “I’m not the type to be in players’ faces and get excited. I try to let my football do the talking, winning tackles and driving forward with the ball and passing and shooting. I think it’s important, being so young, that we don’t get caught up in the occasion and allow it to pass us by. “I’ll probably get the lads together out on the pitch for a few brief words. Something along the lines of ‘No one remembers second place. We have an opportunity to write our names in the history books at West Ham United. We’ve achieved a lot this season, but let’s not leave it there. I wanted to be a footballer to be a legend, and if you want to be a legend, this is a good place to start’.”

HE MAKES an impressive attempt to convert me to Tupac as our interview draws to a close, but I protest that I’m too old. The final question relates to his highlight of the season. He smiles and offers the view that the best may yet unfold. There’s the game against T*tenham this afternoon.
“We’ve got to show T*tenham the respect they deserve, because it’s a very big game for us and another cup final for our fans. It’s been sold out for four months.” How about the announcement of the England squad for Germany? “I’ve heard a few whispers that I could be in the squad of 27, but it’s just rumours, nothing concrete. My holidays are booked, but if I have to cancel them, it would be great. I’d be lying if I told you I won’t be disappointed if I don’t make it. But everyone has their time to shine and I believe that eventually my time will come.” And what footballer hasn’t dreamt of lifting the FA Cup? But his highlight of the season has already been chosen. Five months ago, during the build-up to Christmas, he called at his mum’s one afternoon in Thornton Heath and suggested that they go for a drive. He drove south and into Purley, stopped outside a new house and told her he had a surprise. He presented her with the keys. She started crying. “I can still picture the look on her face when I handed her the keys and will cherish it for the rest of my life. It made me feel so good after all she had done, holding down two jobs so that my sisters could go to college and helping me to become a man.” She has succeeded.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Idiot Wind

Journalistic standards on television are not relevant in today's world. In fact, we're not getting much journalism on television - we're getting entertainment and therapy and voyeurism, but not credibility, restraint when necessary and a fundamental belief that there's a difference between reporting the news and leaving the camera turned on. Football agents are crass, venal, opportunistic and self-promoting. They have too much money, bend the rules and are in many cases pathological narcissists. So when the two worlds collide, as they did outside Upton Park this afternoon, the result is a particularly unedifying experience.

West Ham had called an official press conference to introduce new signing Lucas Neill and confirm the capture of Spanish loan signer Kepa Blanco. The main event was then reduced to a sideshow when Tony Finnigan arrived and loudly announced to the assembled journalists that he was Reo-Coker’s representative and was here for a meeting. Premeditated and meticulously stage-managed for maximum exposure, Finnigan emerged several hours later to grandiosely inform the press that his client intends to “give his all as he always does in the next 14 games and at the end of the season we will have a look at it.” It’s nice to know our club captain has every intention of giving his best on the pitch for at least the next 14 games of his lengthy and very lucrative contract. If that constitutes news then we are in even more trouble than I thought.

Monday, 22 January 2007

I Hate You Butler!

I was reading Iain Dale’s excellent West Ham blog this morning when I came across the post Where Are They Now: Peter Butler. Now, it is not often that I can help with questions like this but on this occasion I really can fill in a few blanks.

For anybody too young (or too old) to remember, Peter Butler was a combative and occasionally belligerent central midfielder who made about 70 first team appearances for West Ham at the back end of the Billy Bonds yo-yo years of the early to mid nineties. Always an energetic presence in the Hammers engine room, Butler was sometimes reminiscent of a dog chasing a balloon; a constant heel snapper and possession stealing counter point to the more thoughtful Ian Bishop. In the successful 1992/93 promotion season Butler played in nearly every game, culminating in the memorable 2-0 victory over Cambridge United that sparked a wild pitch invasion seconds before the final whistle. In a spiteful game that also confirmed Cambridge’s relegation, one of my lasting memories is of a brutal foul on Butler by Phil Chapple that referee David Elleray completely missed. Butler, obviously in a lot pain with a nasty wound opened up down his shin, struggled back to his feet as best he could without any thought of play-acting, complaining or retaliation and just got on with the game. Honest, unfussy and uncomplicated, Butler was cast from the same mould as his manager and was the embodiment of his tough northern roots.

The following 1993/94 Premiership campaign saw a slightly reduced role for Butler, but he still made over 20 appearances as the Hammers finished 13th. The next season he departed for Notts County and then onto Grimsby and WBA before returning home to Halifax for his final two seasons. It was there, in around 2000, that I bumped into him in a restaurant in the Calder Valley. He was standing in the bar area waiting for a friend who was running late. I recognized him instantly, and having already had a little bit to drink, had absolutely no reservation in approaching him. I remember calling over “I hate you Butler!” in a pretty crap Blakey impersonation and he just smiled politely like he had heard it more than a few times before or else he had no clue what I was talking about. Anyway, we ended up chatting for about twenty minutes. He wasn’t really playing much at the time as he had fallen out of favour with manager Paul Bracewell, and he was already making active plans to move into the property business somewhere out in the Far East. He had contacts interested in investing in the tourist industry in Bali.

I’m not sure what happened next but I do know Butler took a player/coaching role with Sorrento in the Western Australia Premier League in 2001. In 2003 he moved into a managerial position with Sabhar Rhinos in Malaysia, taking them to the Malaysian cup-final in his first season. By 2006 he had accepted the post as coach with the Singapore Armed Forces Football Club, known popularly as SAFF Warriors, but his attempts to implement Western training ideas apparently did not prove popular with the players. A terrible run of results, internal club disputes and private upheaval (his wife and family were still in Kuala Lumpur) saw Butler leave by mutual consent. That is where the trail runs cold. I’d like to think he has finally made it to Bali, lying on a beach somewhere rubbing chip fat into his goose-white, battle-scarred limbs, claret and blue knotted handkerchief on his head.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Newcastle United 2 West Ham United 2

West Ham Cry Foul Over Milner Strike- John Wardle
Newcastle's defensive woes continued as they failed to handle a West Ham attack that had previously scored only twice away from home this season. Alan Curbishley's side doubled that miserable tally inside the first 22 minutes and Newcastle looked in danger of an embarrassment to rival their 5-1 midweek FA Cup defeat by Birmingham... The Observer
Solano Steadies Ship For Newcastle- Simon Turnbull
The meeting of the Hammers and the more recently hammered on Tyneside yesterday brought to mind the Monty Python sketch in which the Yorkshiremen debate who had it worst - the one who lived in a shoebox in t' middle o' t' road or the one sustained by a daily handful of hot gravel. "So you lost your last match 5-1," Alan Curbishley might have said to Glenn Roeder before kick-off time. "Luxury! We lost our last away game 6-0."... The Independent on Sunday
Newcastle Recover Thanks To 'Farcical' Offside Law- James Mossop
You could read the pain in Alan Curbishley's face as he graphically exposed the farce of the "active, inactive" element of the offside law and soon afterwards Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder, a beneficiary of the moment that allowed his team back into the game, agreed with him... The Sunday Telegraph
Hammers Let Points Slip Away- Paul Forsyth
Rarely can the acquisition of a point have come as such a relief to Newcastle United. At the end of a humiliating week for the Tyneside club, another shambolic start threatened to inflict further embarrassment here, but with the kind of stirring response that was missing in the FA Cup on Wednesday, they almost claimed an unlikely triumph... The Sunday Times
Curbs Spends To Keep Fans On Side- Colin Young
Alan Curbishley had spent more than £10million of Eggert Magnusson’s money before he stole Lucas Neill from under Liverpool’s noses as West Ham try to buy their way out of the bottom three... The Mail
Parker Happy In Front As West Ham Lose Grip- Michael Walker
Sporting a Noel Edmonds-style multi-coloured cardigan that would have had Uriah Rennie, for one, searching for his red card, Scott Parker talked last Friday about Alan Curbishley, about meeting him as a nine-year-old and about the impact he had had on the young midfielder's career. "Git" was Curbishley's response 24 hours later. It was said with a wry smile... The Guardian
West Ham Fail To Finish Job- George Caulkin
Football - monkey business with a bag of air, or a trial of endurance, character and capacity for suffering? For the players, management, directors and supporters who attended Saturday’s match at St James’ Park, relief was the least objectionable emotion on offer. After a season spent crouching in the trenches, groping for reserves of strength, it could have been worse... The Times

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Some People Buy A Dog, I Bought A Football Club- Part Two

The second part of the excellent article that appeared in the Reykjavik newspaper Morgunbladid. It has been brilliantly translated by TheJourno on the KUMB forum.

The army generals meet regularly

The army generals, as Eggert calls them, meet every morning at Upton Park. It consists of Eggert, Duxbury and Alan Curbishley. “We work very closely together. In these meetings we set out our plans but then we go our separate ways and we all try our hardest in our quest for new players.”

West Ham is only one of many clubs locked in the January transfer race and the clubs in the relegation dogfight are the ones that are the most active. “The problem with the short period of time we get to sign players is that most clubs don’t want to sell players unless they have signed replacements for those players. It makes it very difficult to get players in. During the summer, the time to sign players is more flexible and people are more relaxed. Some clubs don’t want to sell us players based on the fact they don’t want us to get stronger. A lot of stress comes with it also.”

Eggert also says a lot of players do not want to come to a club fighting in the relegation zone. “Nobody wants to be relegated. That is very natural.”

Eggert had no love for football agents before he moved to
England and that has not changed during his time as West Ham chairman. “We not only have to deal with the clubs, but the bloody agents too, excuse my language. They come and they often have the final say on which players we get and which players we don’t get. It is intolerable and scandalous that they should have this power. This is a problem that needs to be addressed in the game.”

The reorganization of the club

Even though transfer issues are at the top the agenda these days, the whole picture regarding the club has not been put aside. Eggert tells me the club is currently being reorganized. “West Ham is a great club with fantastic supporters who deserve the best. When we looked at the club in the beginning we could see its enormous potential and we are going to take advantage of that. We will build our model based on the top clubs of European football, Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona. The ambition is strong and we aim to take West Ham right to the top. We know it will take time but we are in no rush. The goal is to be playing Champions League football within five years.”

Eggert admits it would be a backwards step should the club be relegated come spring, but re-iterates that if that should happen, the plans would not be changed. It would just take a little bit longer to get to those goals. “When we took over the club, the possibility of relegation was staring us in the face so we are well aware of it. We have therefore structured a sidestep plan should we get relegated. But we are not going to be relegated. That is why we are so active right now.”

Like at many clubs that are newly promoted to the Premiership there is a clause in players’ contracts that states their wages will drop should the club drop down a division. Eggert says that it is important and will make the running of the club easier should things go wrong come May.

When you are building a club with the aim to put it at the top of European football, ambition is not enough. Money and finance are crucial– and it has to be available in the vast amounts. Eggert confirms that a large reserve of money is available to be used in the transfer market. “You must not forget, with better results and more success, the more money is coming into the club. It’s like a chain reaction.”

Curbishley is the right man for the job

Eggert is in no doubt that Alan Curbishley is the right manager to lead West Ham United to the adventures of Champions League football. “He has great experience and managed to be very successful at a small club, Charlton, for a long time. Now he has the chance to help a big club to achieve its goals, which are European football at first and then later to battling regularly for trophies in English Football and all within few years. That’s what I told Alan I wanted when I hired him and he knows what he has to do.”

Eggert says he has already become known at West Ham as someone who has desire to make things happen quickly. “I don’t care for standing still so I am integrating my ways of thinking into the club: act now if you want to achieve something and don’t wait until tomorrow. Have them done yesterday,” he says and smiles.

Regardless of this kind of thinking, Eggert assures me he will not turn his back on the club should his goals not be achieved in the given time frame. “Of course I understand that this could take longer than I anticipate. But from the knowledge we have acquired in European football, I have the utmost confidence we will succeed in the given time frame.”

West Ham is famous for its development of great young players and currently Anton Ferdinand bares witness to that. Eggert aims to strengthen that aspect of the club. The mediocre success of the club in the past few years has made it impossible for the club to hold onto its best players, especially those brought up through the youth system.
To name but few players who are now key players at other clubs include: Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Joe Cole and Frank Lampard (Chelsea) and Jermain Defoe (Tottenham).

Reo-Coker stays

Eggert says the key issue is that the club must keep its best players if it wants to begin to progress. “We will emphasize the importance of keeping our best players, especially those who have grown up at the club, that is, if they share the same future vision as us. If they don’t, they can pack their bags and we will find suitable replacements.”

A lot has been written about the future of the West Ham captain, Nigel Reo-Coker, in the last few weeks and he has been linked with number of clubs. “Reo-Coker stays with us. He sat in the same chair you are sitting in a couple of days ago and we reviewed his situation at the club. The conclusion is that he will stay at the club. I don’t deny it was a difficult and sensitive subject because some of our supporters have turned on him because of the many rumours surrounding the player. However this issue has now been settled.”

Upton Park, or rather Boleyn Ground, as the ground is formally named, has gone through changes in the last few years with three of the newest stands having been reconstructed since 1993. The stadium is beautiful from my view from my hotel room at the West Ham United Quality Hotel.

New 60,000 capacity stadium?

Even though the ground situation at Upton Park is fairly good, the West Ham hierarchy is nonetheless exploring other options. “Upton Park is a 35,000 capacity stadium but our vision is a 60,000 seater arena in the mould of the new Arsenal stadium. The support of this club is widespread so we would have no problems filling that sort of stadium but it of course depends on the club doing better than it is doing now on football pitch. Arsenal have achieved great income from companies and VIP-guests so we will try to market ourselves to those kind of supporters also. That is one of the reasons why a
London based club was so marketable, because we have no problems filling these seats here rather than in Liverpool.

West Ham is currently in discussions with the City of
London over the future use of the new Olympic stadium, which will be finalised before the Olympic Games take place in London. However, Eggert says it is impossible to tell how these discussions will pan out. “I’m going to meet Ken Livingston, the mayor of London, about this issue tomorrow (last Thursday). We are also looking at building a stadium on land near to us and Livingstone has mentioned that possibility to us. The third option would be to enlarge Upton Park but that is probably the toughest option of them all because of land issues.

Asked when West Ham could be able to play their first game in a new stadium, Eggert answers: “Within three to five years.”

The nearest surroundings of Upton Park is an aging district but Eggert believes it will be transformed with the arrival of the Olympics. “A lot of new housing will be built. The mayor here in Newham is a stout West Ham supporter but he wants us to move away so a new district can be built on the land. However I should note that he doesn’t want us to move very far. He still wants to have the club near to him.”

Into the leisure market

West Ham Holding have a lot of other things brewing at the moment, like strengthening the brand name of West Ham United, which Eggert believes is a great resource. “The brand West Ham United is known throughout
Europe and we are very interested in expanding that knowledge. Football is a part of the entertainment industry and we are exploring possibilities for entering that market. There is nothing concrete yet but if exciting opportunities arrive we will look at them with an open mind. I can name, for example, Danish club FC Copenhagen, which has all kinds of leisure activity based around their football team. If we move to another stadium then we should take note of all the possibilities that will be open to us, like for example, hotel and conference halls. I think it is feasible to have some kind of hall to house concerts and other activities.

Eggert is very comfortable in his new office at Upton Park. “I have had the greatest respect for West Ham ever since the club won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 after a great final. The club has always wanted to entertain people on the football pitch and play beautiful football. Many great players have been at this club, most notably the trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters who were the most important players of the 1966 World Cup winning
England team. Hurst and Peters come regularly to watch games, as well as other greats such as Trevor Brooking and Tony Cottee. Billy Bonds doesn’t come to games a lot now after he fell out with the previous chairman. I will fix that.

Eggert is an emotional man and does not hide his feelings while sitting in the stands watching his team. The English media has picked up on that. “Cameras are often directed at me at games and then shown on Match of the Day. The English seem to enjoy this but I am just acting like I have always acted, in a passionate way, and that will never change."

He says he has been welcomed wherever he has been. “A lot was reported about the takeover and it doesn’t matter where I am, everyone seems to recognize me. Maybe it’s because of my stylish haircut,” says Eggert and puts his hand on his head. “It’s an odd feeling to become a little bit recognized around these parts.”

“Here is Mr. Magnusson’s car.”

Now is a good time to quote the cab driver again. He did not only know Mr Magnusson but he also knew how he travels about
London. “Look,” he said when he parked his car at Upton Park. “Here is Mr Magnusson’s car. He is most definitely in at the moment.”

Eggert says he is not afraid that the West Ham supporters will turn on him should the club be relegated in May. “I think the general supporter is fully aware of what has gone on at this club in the past months and appreciates what we are trying to do now to save the club from relegation. I am also a lot more open person than the previous chairman and I am not afraid of the spotlight. When I took over, the first thing I did at my first game was to greet the people in every stand. I have heard the last chairman was last seen in these stands some fifteen years ago.”

Eggert and his wife, Gudlaug Nanna Olafsdottir, are enjoying life in
London even though they have not moved into permanent housing. “Six months ago I could not have imagined myself sitting in this office but I am used to things happening very quickly around me. My wife expects something new every day and she probably feels good when I am feeling good and keeping myself busy. Maybe it’s best for her to get a break from me. I don’t know,” says the chairman and starts to laugh. “I am just being funny,” he continues. “She’s a football fan too. Otherwise this would not be possible. She also has obligations as the chairman’s wife, like for example when we greet Prince Andrew, who is due to arrive here for a visit tomorrow (Thursday). We have been married for forty years and we have always been happy. Now, when the kids have flown out of the nest, something had to replace them. Some people buy a dog, I just bought myself a football club."

Some People Buy A Dog, I Bought A Football Club- Part One

This is an excellent article that appeared in the Reykjavik newspaper Morgunbladid. It has been brilliantly translated by TheJourno on the KUMB forum.

Some People Buy a Dog, I Bought a Football Club.

West Ham United manager Alan Curbishley is sat with Eggert Magnusson on the sofa when I come into the room. I have been like a grey cat in the office all morning but Alan Curbishley had not noticed me because he had other matters to attend to on the training ground. Eggert introduces us and tells the manager about the reasons for me being here. After that, Curbishley stands up and is about to leave the room. “Where are you going mister? The reporter is going to interview you,” Eggert calls to his manager. “Oh, were you going to speak to me?” Curbishley asks embarrassingly. “I thought you were here to interview Eggert.” The three of us begin to laugh at this misunderstanding. Eggert then leaves me and Curbishley alone.

Onto more serious things, after all there is no comedy at Upton Park these days with the club lying third from bottom in the Premiership. “There probably couldn’t be a worse time to take over a team. Just two weeks before the transfer window opens,” says Curbishley. “But the good thing about it is that I have taken over a football club that believes that everything will go well in the end. The chairman doesn’t stand for anything negative and is ready to do all in his power to back me and the team all the way in this struggle.”

Curbishley threw himself straight into the deep end and has steered the team through seven games in four weeks because there are a lot of games around Christmastime in
England. “It’s not ideal. Because of the number of games and the need to rest players between games we haven’t been able to get things straight on the training ground during this time. So I have had a limited opportunity to get my message across to the players. Having said that, I am fully aware of the magnitude of this job."

Curbishley started off in style with a win over table toppers Manchester United, but is not happy about how things have panned out since that great start. “We haven’t managed to get the number of points that we need. It was especially painful to gain only two points in the two games against Fulham when in all honesty we should have had six. That would have meant we would not be in the bottom three and that matters to us now in January in our quest to sell this club to quality players.”

West Ham have nonetheless been active in the transfer market since the transfer window opened and Curbishley has been very passionate about that issue. “I am aware now how powerful Eggert is. The man is an incredible energy bolt,” he says and starts to laugh. “He doesn’t like to hang around over things.”

Curbishley says their transfer strategies have changed since the New Year as he and Eggert are searching high and low for a new centreback. “It was not a priority at first but after James Collins and Danny Gabbidon got injured and will be out for a few weeks we needed to re-evaluate our strategies. Anton Ferdinand has also had some injury problems, so we are in dire need of a centreback.”

The central defender was reeled in the day after this interview in the shape of Calum Davenport.

Curbishley is mesmerized by Eggert Magnusson’s future vision. He has set himself on a quest to bring West Ham to the forefront of English football within five years. “The ambition is certainly there and it was about time that the people who run this club began to think like that.”

Asked whether he thought Eggert would succeed, Curbishley had an emphatic answer. “This can be achieved but it will take hard work. But the foundations are there, our supporters are great in number and we certainly need them to support us. We all know we are a part of a giant, some would say a sleeping giant, but now it is time to awaken this giant.”

The first step, Curbishley says, is to let the footballing side do the talking on the pitch. “If we succeed in doing that we will become a big club in the coming years, but even if we fail to do that we will still be a big club. It will just take us a little bit longer. Of course no one wants to get relegated but it is not the end of the world.”

When Curbishley is asked to explain the difference between how West Ham are doing this season compared to last season, he blames the lack of new faces at the club. Even though, this is oddly not the same team. “Injuries have been a big factor. We lost Dean Ashton at the beginning of the season. That was a big blow because he is an England international and would be part of the England squad right now. Ferdinand, Collins and Gabbidon have also been out for brief and longer periods, as has Matthew Etherington. So you see, this is not the same team. Last season, the injury problem was not so much of an issue and everything was great. The rhythm was solid unlike what we are experiencing now.”

Curbishley says that history has taught us that the line between laughter and tears in the English Premiership is very thin. Teams who narrowly escape relegation one season can be fighting in the top 6 the season after that. “That’s why it is so important to finish no lower than the bottom four or five come spring. That’s all I am asking for right now. Then we can train hard in the summer and strengthen our squad with new players. Then we will be a force to be reckoned with.”

It is almost a cliché the number of world class players West Ham have lost over the years. The one way to stop that is to achieve Champions League status, according to Curbishley. “The only clubs who don’t need to sell their best players are the teams who finish in the top four in the Premiership. And even they are not safe. Liverpool nearly became that kind of club, a selling club, only two years ago when Steven Gerrard nearly joined Chelsea.”

Curbishley explains that his relationship with Eggert is black and white when compared to his relationship with Charlton chairman Richard Murray. “I was at Charlton for 15 years and I always had the same chairman. We grew up together, so to speak, and educated one another through that period of time. I met Eggert for the first time four weeks ago. I got a call and was asked whether I was interested in becoming the manager of West Ham. It was like going on a blind date. But West Ham is my club. I began my football career here and even though I was disappointed for Alan Pardew I did not hesitate when I got the call,” said Curbishley.

The manager re-iterates that it is important for Eggert to show the supporters that he has the club‘s interest at heart. “That’s what he is doing by buying all these players and nobody can question his desire to do the very best for West Ham. Hopefully we can bring him that.”

Eggert Magnusson has been the chairman of West Ham United for two months now. These have been a hectic two months, especially the last few days as Eggert and his West Ham staff are busy scouring the transfer market in search of players to help them in the fast approaching relegation battle in the English Premiership.

“What are you going to do at West Ham?” asks a London cab driver when I sat myself down in his cabbie at Liverpool Street in London. He has a twinkle in his eyes. I enlighten him that I am an Icelandic reporter and that I am going to have a look around the club and have a little chat with the chairman who is my fellow countryman. “Mr. Magnusson. That’s great,” says the cab driver and his enthusiasm is real. He is 57 years old and has been a Hammers fans since he was walking around in nappies. Maybe that isn’t so surprising, since I have heard that every other cab driver in London follows the Hammers.

“I love him,” answers the cab driver when I ask him about the new chairman. “He obviously loves football and he also seems to have money to burn. That is also a plus,” says the cab driver and smiles. “And we need it the way things are going right now.”

The cab driver thinks the West Ham supporters are mainly supportive of Eggert but a small tension began brewing when Iranian businessman, Kia Joorachbian was trying to take over the club. “We didn’t want that Arab at our club,” he says without hesitation. The cab driver is, however, alright with the fact that Eggert is also a foreigner. “It doesn’t matter, as long as West Ham is number one in his life.”

Under the watchful eyes of Bobby Moore

The morning after, I find myself sitting in Eggert Magnusson’s luxurious and comfortable office at Upton Park. The tradition of this historic club is carefully highlighted on the office walls. They are covered with memories and souvenirs. Eggert sits directly in front of me in a deep leather chair and behind him hangs a picture of David Beckham taking a corner kick in a friendly against Australia at Upton Park from a few years ago. As I turn, the smiling face of the late Bobby Moore greets me. It bodes well that West Ham’s favourite and greatest son is watching over us during the interview.

Eggert is a very busy man these days because the transfer window is now active and will stay open until the end of January. West Ham have no time to lose. The team needs to be strengthened as a fierce relegation battle is at hand. He is ready for the interview but explains to me that he could have to stop at any time to take a phone call or leave the office to attend to transfer matters. Scott Duxbury, Eggert’s right hand man, frequently enters the office during the interview. Actually there comes a time when I think I am at a train station because the traffic is that bad in the chairman’s office on this particular day.

However, the chairman doesn’t break a sweat as he takes care of every matter one after another, most often with a smile on his face. “It has been real busy,” answers Eggert after being asked how the first few weeks in the chairman’s chair have been since he and Björgólfur Guðmundsson took over the reins at the club. “It has been hard but enjoyable work.”

The projects have not all been rosy but Eggert let two head figures of the football club go, days into his job. Chief Executive, Paul Aldridge, and manager Alan Pardew had to leave. “It was not easy but I had to do it. Aldridge had been here for ten years and I expected him to be here for a little while longer. It soon became clear, however, that he was too attached to the other party trying to take over the club, the Iranians. So he lost my trust and it was for the best for him to go.”

Not trained properly

Eggert says it was very hard to let Alan Pardew go but it was unavoidable. It is clear that there is more to it than first appeared. “There is no point in talking about it publicly but the key factor was that something just wasn’t right in the dressing room. Tension had been building between the players and the manager for a while. That was a cancer we had to cut out.”

Eggert feels that the West Ham players were not trained properly and feels the preseason preparations were mishandled because of the tension that was building. “That was entirely unacceptable.”

West Ham regained their Premiership status in the spring of 2005 and had a great season last year. They finished ninth in the league and lost in the FA Cup final to
Liverpool on penalties. “We have a very young team who achieved remarkable success last year. Now the wind has started to blow against us, and what happens, is that some of these young players fall apart. That’s why we are focussing on getting older players in at this point in time; fierce characters who will drive these young players forward. We have already bought Nigel Quashie and Luis Boa Morte, and we are working, day and night, to get more players in. The best scenario would be to add three or four more players during the transfer window.”

The day after this interview West Ham sealed the signing of Tottenham defender Calum Davenport, and that was a name heard quite a lot during Eggert’s conversations with Duxbury.
Blackburn defender, Lucas Neill, is obviously very high on the club’s shortlist and he will most likely be a West Ham player on Saturday (yesterday). Arsenal defender, Lauren, who was also wanted by West Ham, chose Portsmouth and Eggert feels the asking price of Birmingham defender Matthew Upson is a little steep. On two occasions this morning Eggert tries to get in contact, via the telephone, with Sevilla’s chairman over a possible loan move for striker Kepa Blanco. However, on both occasions, the Sevilla chairman is unavailable. Eggert is in good mood and says to the secretary on the other line: “Hey, you will have to send me a picture of yourself. We have talked so often on the phone and I think I have to see what you look like.” On the other line I hear the secretary start to laugh. One Icelander has also been on Curbishley’s shortlist. “We tried to sign Hermann Hreidarsson from Charlton but the answer was short and to the point: No!"


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari