Saturday, 20 January 2007

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!"

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