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."

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