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

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