Sunday, 13 May 2007

Beginning Of The End

Short of Alan Curbishley's West Ham reverting to their early and mid-season malaise and capitulating to the new champions, just as Wigan raise their game sufficiently to overcome hosts Sheffield United, Eggert Magnusson's sentiments- "that the matter of who wins the championship, who is relegated, should be decided on the pitch"- will be as fanciful as a tale from the saga of Noggin The Nog, according to Nick Townsend. In his column in the Independent, he writes: "Magnusson insists that West Ham's decision not to appeal against their £5.5 million fine 'is the end of the matter, as far as I am concerned'. In truth, unless West Ham end the afternoon being the condemned man of the trio it is liable to be no more than the beginning of the end."

In light of that, the Premier League's top two officials, chairman Sir Dave Richards and chief executive Richard Scudamore, failed last night in an attempt to destabilise the 'gang of four' clubs protesting about West Ham's punishment in the Carlos Tevez affair. An executive from one of the four clubs insisted they were there to put pressure on and to reduce the gang of four to a gang of two. In a story in today's Observer an insider is quoted as saying: "'Within around nine or 10 hours of the commission's findings, Tevez was allowed to play at Wigan because the League says it received a letter or fax from West Ham, saying that [part of the] contract was unenforceable and therefore they've torn it up. We want to see evidence, proof that Tevez was legally able to play on. Look at it this way - no money, apparently, has changed hands for a player who has transformed their season. No money at all. So who owns him? Unless we are shown a bank statement or other proof then are we to believe that someone, out of the goodness of their heart, has given him to West Ham for nothing?'

Scudamore wrote a second letter on Friday, having already stated the League's position in an earlier missive, in an attempt to persuade the clubs to stop their action. But his tone has simply increased their anger. "He is still saying that the Premier League is unassailable - that as the commission took the decision, then that's good enough. Well, all of the clubs will pursue this. Nobody has changed their view,' said the club official. 'It is not just us four clubs, either. There are others unhappy. Tottenham, for example, are very vocal about this privately. They can see it becoming just a matter of how big a fine do you need to buy yourselves out - they point to Chelsea, who could pay £15million or more. Aston Villa and Middlesbrough are also unhappy with the principle. Scudamore is aware that there are at least seven clubs in this - that's why he's so scared. And that's why he's trying to reduce the "gang of four".

Such is the indignation of Patrick Barclay in The Telegraph that he actively encourages a collaborative effort at Bramall Lane to mastermind the 'right' result of a West Ham relegation. He declares that Sheffield United and Wigan, like West Germany and Austria in the World Cup a quarter of a century ago, might be criticised, but West Ham, unlike Algeria, would not be innocent victims. Barclay has also penned another article, this time a far more salutary piece about Alan Curbishley, the pressure of the fans and the untapped potential of the football club.

Elsewhere, the beleaguered West Ham management have stumbled into another storm, this time over an agreement not to play Luis Boa Morte against his former club in January. Fulham were infuriated by the Portugal winger’s appearance, having initially refused to sell Boa Morte until after the fixture but relenting because West Ham wanted to play him the previous weekend in the FA Cup. The two clubs reached a noncontractual agreement that Fulham’s former captain would not be used against them in the match, which West Ham proceeded to ignore. A source at Fulham said: "We are furious at West Ham’s handling of the Boa Morte transfer." West Ham naturally deny promising not to use Boa Morte, which would, of course, have been a flagrant abuse of the Premiership rules on third party influence. A spokesman said: "As far as West Ham were concerned no such agreement was made, either contractual or noncontractual."

In the same paper there is an interesting article on football's greatest relegation escapes. Jonathan Northcroft says West Ham hold their fate in their own hands today- a great advantage according to those who have survived previous final day dramas.

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