Saturday, 30 June 2007

Faubert or Faux Pas?

Hands-up all those who have heard of Julian Faubert. In fact, hands-up (if you dare admit it) all those who actually read the Daily Express. According to this 'esteemed' publication the club are about to complete the £6million capture of the Bordeaux winger, having stolen the prospect from under the nose of Glasgow Rangers, Arsenal and Tottenham. A report yesterday claimed West Ham boss Alan Curbishley was preparing to fly to France and seal a deal within the next 24 hours. Bordeaux have been fighting for several weeks to keep their young star, who is under contract for another four years, but the signs were ominous when the player went on strike this week in a bid to secure a move away. Rangers had originally tabled a bid that fell considerably short of the French club's valuation and Bordeaux president Jean-Louis Triaud confirmed that the Glasgow club had all but run out of time to submit a new bid for the 23-year-old midfielder. "I'm afraid they will be too late" he said. "We have now received another bid for the player. I'm not sure what Rangers want to do about it but if they want this player then they would be better to make their best offer immediately. It makes no sense to wait. Rangers have made one offer which we did not accept. They have not made a second offer. We now have one which is superior to the Rangers offer and we have given the player permission to speak to the club." Declining to name which club was now looking set to sign Faubert - Roma and Fiorentina have been linked - Triaud said: "As soon as we have agreement with the player and the club we will announce it. But the player will have to undergo his medical so it might have to wait until Monday." The article finishes with a quote from a source close to West Ham saying that "we've got Faubert and the deal could be signed and sealed this weekend." This story has not be reported anywhere else in the media so it would represent a significant coup for the paper if it turns out to be accurate.

The rest of the papers seem more concerned with the availability (or not) of Messrs Defoe and Tevez. The Guardian insist that little Jermain intends to start next season with Tottenham despite the possibility of being Martin Jol's fourth-choice striker. In an article bereft of any actual quotes, it is suggested Defoe has been assured he still has a future at White Hart Lane following the completion of Darren Bent's transfer from Charlton for a club record £16.5million. The Times think the situation has become so bleak for the diminutive hitman that Defoe has returned to his Catholic faith in pursuit of the mental strength required to elevate his position at the club. Even so, he remains adamant that he does not want to leave Tottenham, from where he could depart on a free transfer in two years’ time. The article also claims the player has already turned down the chance of a return to West Ham United, the club he left three years ago. Probably not the best time to mention the various rumours flying around the net that West Ham officially tabled a bid for the player late last night then.

The Independent have finally caught up with the rest of the football reporting world with the revelation West Ham striker
Carlos Tevez will not make a decision over his future until after the Copa America. The BBC also has the story and quotes representative Kia Joorabchian as saying: "Carlos is playing in the Copa and that is where his prime focus is. It is a big competition and we intend talking more seriously about his future when the Copa is over. At the moment there is no development." The Copa America final is on 14 July.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The Fall-Back Position

I mentioned a couple of days ago that someone with good connections to the club had revealed that Carlos Tevez was very close to signing on for another year at Upton Park. The situation as it is understood now is that West Ham have agreed a deal with Kia Joorabchian and the player will sign it at the completion of the Copa America tournament in Venezuela, as long as no other interested club matches the full valuation (close to £30million) and wage demands in the interim. It appears Tevez's agents are using the new West Ham agreement as a fall-back position and are actively testing the market to see if a prospective buyer may be prepared to make a move. It is in light of this that the recent stories linking the Argentinian to both Arsenal and Inter Milan should be treated with a little scepticism. Both rumours originated from a freelance journalist stationed around the Argentina training camp and both were little more than flirtatious displays from Tevez's representatives. The intention was to elicit some kind of favourable response from arguably the only two clubs who might be remotely interested in taking the player at the grossly inflated asking price. In reality, a further full season of Premiership exposure (such as West Ham are offering) still remains the likeliest route to securing the huge financial pay out that Joorabchian seeks.

That Tevez should be at the centre of so much media speculation is readily understandable. Respected football journalist Gabriele Marcotti recently devised his list of the World's top 50 current footballers and placed the Argentinian at number eight, wedged snugly between Leo Messi and Steven Gerrard. Whatever the merits of such a exercise- a huge debate has been raging across the paper since the article was published- it is hard to imagine that many pundits would fail to include the player somewhere in their top 20. Intriguingly, with the exception of Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon and South America based striker Rodrigo Palacio, Tevez was the only player in the entire list who did not feature in European competition of some description last season. To be mentioned in the same breath as Kaka, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eto'o and Totti without the mass market global exposure of the Champions League is a testament to the man's huge talent, and a major reason why so many people seem keen for the player to move to a bigger stage.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Foe- The Man Without An Enemy

"My strength is my calmness. I believe you are at your best when you are discreet and calm"- Marc-Vivien Foe

Deaths on the pitch are an exceptionally rare occurrence in football, with only a handful of cases recorded around the world over many years. Cameroon's
Marc-Vivien Foe became one of very few players to die during or soon after a match when he collapsed after 72 minutes of a Confederations Cup semi-final clash against Colombia four years ago today. Playing in stifling heat in Lyon, the 28-year-old former Manchester City and West Ham midfield anchor fell to the ground unchallenged in the centre circle. Despite the immediate attention of medical staff, he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later. The tall, powerfully built midfielder represented his country 56 times, scoring eight goals, and was survived by his wife Marie-Louise and three children.

Born in Nkolo, Marc-Vivien Foe started playing for what he later called pocket money, with L'Union De Garoa, but his first major club in Cameroon was Yaounde. He was not unfamiliar with France, having visited it as a youth player, and, in the 1994-95 season, he began his impressive career in Europe, joining Lens, then managed by Gerard Houillier. Foé had just played all three, somewhat ill-fated, games in the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States for a Cameroon team at odds with its officialdom, a mere parody of the brilliant side so unlucky to lose to England in Naples in the previous World Cup quarter-finals. Drawing 2-2 with Sweden, it proceeded to lose 3-0 to Brazil, then to disgrace itself with an abject performance against a Russian team which beat it 6-0.

A broken leg led Foé to miss the finals of the 1998 World Cup in France. Indeed, it also stymied a transfer to Manchester United, which was under negotiation at the time. But he played all three matches for Cameroon in the 2002 World Cup in Japan - a draw with Ireland, a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, defeat by Germany and consequent elimination, again at the first group stage, though somewhat more honourably.

At Lens, Foé made 85 league appearances, playing four full seasons for them and another five games in season 1998-99, before joining West Ham United. He had scored just 11 goals for Lens, and none in his first spell at West Ham, comprising 13 league games, just one the following seasons when he appeared in 25 league matches.

At Upton Park, he won the admiration of the then manager, Harry Redknapp. After Foé's death, Redknapp reflected that everybody had loved him at West Ham, and had enjoyed having him around. "I don't think," he continued, that "he ever made an enemy in his life."

From east London, Foé moved back to Lyon in the 2000-2001 season, making 25 league appearances and scoring once. The following season, he played just 17 league matches, scoring twice. On loan at Maine Road, however, he was a more frequent scorer, getting nine goals in his last season, making use of his height and power in the air, at set pieces. But he was known chiefly as a solid defensive not an attacking midfielder.

In the 2003 season, he played 35 Premiership games for Manchester City, having made an important contribution to the club's return to the Premiership. In the week that he died, he had obtained a free transfer from Lyon, and City were eager to welcome him back to Manchester. But Redknapp, who had paid £4m for him at West Ham and then sold him to Lyon for £6m, had also faxed Foé, on the day of his death, an invitation to play for Portsmouth, his newly promoted team.

Marc-Vivien Foé, footballer born May 1 1975; died June 26 2003

Further reading: Rigobert Song's tribute; A piece by Keir Radnedge; The hidden timebomb; A woeful way to treat Foe; Obituary in The Independent; Final of grief and memory; Obituary in The Telegraph; Keegan distraught;

Monday, 25 June 2007

Yakety Sax

Who would have thought that Marlon Harewood would turn out to be the hottest of our available properties this summer? Certainly not Nigel Reo-Coker, who must be scratching his head at all the admiring glances being cast in the striker's direction. While our want-away skipper desperately waits for his phone to ring, Harewood seems to have more pursuers than a Benny Hill Show finale. Having being courted by Birmingham, Fulham, Aston Villa, Bolton and Portsmouth, the Mail insists Sven-Goran Eriksson has now added his name to the list. Eriksson is expected to be appointed Manchester City boss within the next 24 hours following the takeover of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last Thursday. According to the article, the Swede is a huge admirer of the 27 year old and even considered taking the 'muscular star' to the World Cup as a squad player last year before he was injured. In Eriksson's eyes, Harewood is seen as an "Emile Heskey clone" (fuck me, of all the players you could genetically engineer) and could be partnered with Michael Owen in a new-look strike force if the Swede gets his way. The story is also in The Mirror, where it is claimed City fans expecting a swoop for Barcelona's Javier Saviola or even a late move for Charlton's Darren Bent, will be in for a shock. As Darren Lewis points out- Harewood, despite his honest endeavours for the Hammers last season, scored only four goals.

There is little else in the way of news, save for the fact that The Guardian have become the latest newspaper to include
Carlos Tevez on a list of candidates to replace Thierry Henry at Arsenal. According to the feature, the 23-year-old Argentinian's success in almost 'single-handedly securing the survival of West Ham United' has seen him linked with all of European football's giant clubs, including the Italian champions Internazionale. They say his current market value is £20million. A player worth considerably less (but who probably owes just as much) is Matt Etherington. Reports tonight suggest the troubled winger is close to sealing a £1.5million move to newly promoted Derby. It is said Billy Davies plans to land the flyer when he returns from holiday this week. Lastly, Sky Sports believe West Ham are one of several clubs showing an interest in Le Havre sensation Didier Digard. The 20-year-old would be available for around £1.6million but there is also strong domestic interest from both Paris Saint Germain and Monaco.

Curb's Perfect XI

Ever wondered what Alan Curbishley's ideal Premiership team would look like? What the shape, form and characteristics would be of a West Ham team moulded in our manager's vision by our chairman's ambition; fashioned without the constraints of circumstance, time, personnel and money. In short, the look and feel of the team we could all be watching play Champions League football in a new 60,000 stadium within five years.

Below is Alan Curbishley's 'perfect eleven', hand-picked from the entire back-catalogue of Premiership footballers and manipulated into his system of choice. Interestingly, Curbishley shows himself to be neither an apologist for 4-4-2 orthodoxy nor a slave to 4-5-1 pragmatism. His team would be fluid in movement, physically imposing and possess a goal threat from every area of the pitch. There is an emphasis on 'English backbone' and strong leadership, with organisation rather than pace the key attribute in defensive areas. The central midfield would be combative rather than creative, but pace and creative flair would be allied to a strong physical presence in the final third of the pitch. If everything goes to plan, a version of the following team could be coming to a pitch near you very soon.

Goalkeeper- Peter Schmeichel
He took the Premiership by storm. You've got to be a certain sort of player to go to Old Trafford: you can't play for that club unless you can handle it. He galvanised United at the time and I don't think Alex has ever replaced him successfully. I've never seen anyone warm up for a game like Schmeichel: he's so intense it's unbelievable. He must have needed a shower after his warm-up! He was also the first keeper that would catch the ball and throw it to the halfway line. A major icon for United.

Right-back- Gary Neville
I'll go for Gary because he's been in the Premiership for as long it's been going, and has been very consistent. Most Premiership bosses would want him as their right-back. I think England missed him and Beckham missed him when he didn't play at the World Cup. He's a proper leader - very vocal in the dressing room, and a fantastic ambassador for United.

Centre-back- John Terry
Terry has been fantastic for five years and has become a major part of Chelsea's dominance. He's given Chelsea an English backbone, which is important. He's invaluable as a defender but he also chips in with goals: he gets a fair quota every year.

Centre-back- Tony Adams
Tony pulled Arsenal through their successful years, single-handed sometimes! I've recently read Tony's book, and I found it interesting when he says he challenged Dennis Bergkamp when he arrived at Highbury. He asked Dennis why he'd come, whether he had what it takes to win trophies. That's the kind of determination he had. Tony was very defensively solid and - like John Terry - he chips in with important goals.

Left-back- Denis Irwin
Denis Irwin: a right-footed player playing left-back. He never got exposed, he was always driving forward, he got goals. You either sink or swim at Old Trafford, and he was a local boy, he was hungry and he grabbed his chance. I think the back four I've picked would produce 15 goals a season.

Right-midfield- Steven Gerrard
I went for Steven because over the last three or four years he's dragged Liverpool along on lots of occasions. He roams around, playing wide right, wide left; wherever he goes, he's influential. He's the backbone of the team and he can defend, he can score fantastic goals and he can make goals. A real winner.

Centre-midfield- Roy Keane
My captain. I don't think there has been a better player or captain at Old Trafford. He would sit there in the middle controlling things, put in great tackles, get his fair share of goals and create chances, too. He was a real catalyst. Roy never hid, and he got things going all round him: when it wasn't going well on the pitch, he would step up and sort it out.

Left-midfield- Ryan Giggs
Ryan is unbelievably consistent. He must have played in the last 11 or 12 Premierships, so he probably goes unnoticed now. He'd give this side some balance, and he's such a good footballer. Alex is playing him wide right, wide left, centre midfield, up front, all over, and Ryan can do it all. Just the perfect footballer. The injuries have slowed him up, but when we used to play against him, he was a massive threat.

In the hole- Eric Cantona
I wanted to fit in two forwards in, so I'd have Cantona in the hole. His period of dominance was when the Premiership really took off. He had his faults but what a player. United dominated when he was on his game, he really imposed himself. I think Eric would probably ideally like to be one of a front two dropping off, but I can't leave the other two forwards out, so I'm being very offensive.

Striker- Alan Shearer
His ability to score goals is second to none: headers, right foot, left foot, he'll score it. He makes goals, too. And if a game wasn't going well, he'd still give you 90 minutes and battle away for you. He wouldn't ever go missing. His record speaks for itself: he is the ultimate British and Premiership centre-forward.

Striker- Thierry Henry
Henry is unstoppable when he's in full flow. He can turn a game in seconds, and he's brought a new dimension to the Premiership because he's a centre-forward that doesn't play like a traditional centre-forward. He'd drift out and around, making the side a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1. He can isolate a defender, and you can turn defence into attack so quickly with him, because a simple ball over the top becomes very dangerous.

Manager- Alan Curbishley
I'd love to manage this team. It's a physically imposing side, and it's got goals. When I think about the last 10 years, I've come up against all these players, and they've hurt me in all sorts of ways. I could pick a team that would have a bit more balance and shape, but as individuals, these players stand head and shoulders above the rest. I think they could probably manage themselves though! You've got captains all over the pitch.

Substitutes- Ashley Cole; Dennis Bergkamp; Frank Lampard; Steve Bruce; Robbie Fowler

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Hot Gossip

It is usually an arduous task sifting through the detritus of the Sunday tabloid gossip pages so before I start I am going to relay a couple of West Ham related snippets that come from a far more reliable source. Someone with a good connection to the club has let it be known that Carlos Tevez is now extremely close to signing on for another year. According to the inside information the player has always been content to stay at the club but will ultimately be compliant to the machinations of Kia Joorabchian. The West Ham management have been trying to reach an agreement with Tevez's representatives for some considerable time but the demands have constantly been changing. It is now thought that a deal is very close. The second piece of information surrounds Shaun Wright-Phillips. The club have firmed up their interest in this player to such an extent that a fee has been agreed. The player is currently on holiday but is aware of the situation and will be talking to us on his return. All this information is passed on in good faith and comes from someone who has an unblemished record in this kind of thing.

Now onto the fictional stuff! The News of the World are following the Shaun Wright-Phillips story but they quote a 'Blues insider' as saying the proposed figure of £11million would not be nearly enough to persuade Chelsea to sell. The article states West Ham United would also find it tough to persuade the diminutive winger to make the switch as he is not keen on surrendering the chance of playing in the Champions League. Although a wage packet of ££,000 (make up your own figure here) is on offer, no deal would take place before the result of the arbitration hearing is known. The same paper claims four Premiership clubs are chasing out of favour Hammers striker Marlon Harewood. Birmingham City have already had an offer rejected by the club for Harewood but it is claimed Fulham, Aston Villa and Portsmouth are also preparing bids. The 27 year old former Nottingham Forest forward is valued at £3.5million by Alan Curbishley and Harewood's agent, Mick McGuire said: "Marlon is keen to secure his future and we are hopeful of sorting out a deal".

The Star have picked up on The Sun story from yesterday and suggest
Alan Curbishley wants Chelsea left back Wayne Bridge after missing out on Reading's Nicky Shorey. The Mirror have a different idea and insist the club are lining up a £5.5million swoop for Wigan's England Under-21 star Leighton Baines. The article states that Hammers boss Alan Curbishley wants the left-back to bolster his defence and is ready to match the Latics' asking price for Baines, who starred in the European Under-21 Championship. JJB chairman 'Honest' Dave Whelan would be reluctant to sell to the Hammers after the Carlos Tevez affair, but he has a policy of informing his players about transfer interest. At least he has integrity in one area of his professional life then.

The Sunday People has eschewed tawdry transfer speculation in favour of an update on the arbitration hearing. It is claimed that Sheffield United believe 'silence is golden' in their bid to regain a Premiership place or win a big cash pay out. Apparently, the Blades are taking the delay in a decision on the Carlos Tevez affair as a positive rather than a negative sign. The wait has raised the prospect of a least a hefty compensation award if the panel finds fault with the Premier League for refusing to dock West Ham United points for fielding
Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.

The last word goes to The Observer who are running a story that Nigel Reo-Coker's proposed move to Aston Villa is in jeopardy because West Ham value the midfielder at far more than the £7million the Midlands club are prepared to offer. James Stirling writes that Reo-Coker cost only £500,000 when he moved to Upton Park from Wimbledon as a 19-year-old in January 2004, but his career has flourished until recently. He captained West Ham to promotion in 2005 then the FA Cup final a year later. He also led the England side that reached the semi-finals of the Uefa Under-21 Championship in Holland last week and sources close to Villa indicate the Hammers want as much as £12million for him. However, the player was the subject of widespread criticism from fans as West Ham struggled last season and is believed to have spoken to the board in a bid to get them to reduce the fee they require. An Aston Villa source said: "Reo-Coker wants to come to Aston Villa but in terms of agreeing a price, the two clubs are poles apart." When you consider the £10million fee paid by Aston Villa in January for the services of Ashley Young, a player with far less Premiership and international experience, you can certainly understand
Eggert's Magnusson's position.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Nicky, A Shore Thing?

The Independent is not usually a paper for spurious transfer tittle-tattle and this morning they claim West Ham United are closing in on the signing of Reading's Nicky Shorey, with the intention of announcing a £6million deal for the left-back as early as next week. Jason Burt states that Shorey has two years left on his present contract at the Madejski Stadium but has been promised that he can re-negotiate it and become one of the club's highest-earners. With Reading's strict wage structure that would see him earn around £20,000 a week, although West Ham are prepared to offer far more. Shorey, who has been a virtual ever-present since signing from Leyton Orient for just £25,000 in 2001, has also interested Newcastle United but it is thought that West Ham are favourites to secure him should he decide to move on. The Hammers have a long-standing interest in the player and have grown increasingly confident that a deal could be struck. Hayden Mullins is central to any move as he is a Reading target and would be a makeweight in any proposed transfer. The article also claims that Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips are still very much on Alan Curbishley's shopping list.

The Sun has a different take on the West Ham left-back situation. According to Andrew Dillon, West Ham management have now targeted Wayne Bridge after growing frustrated in their pursuit of Reading's Shorey. Bridge, 26, has overcome two major hurdles to establish himself in the team at Stamford Bridge, having battled back after eight months out with a broken ankle. Although holding his own against Ashley Cole in the fight for a first-team place, the ex-Southampton defender privately admits Cole is Jose Mourinho’s first-choice. Dillon speculates that Bridge’s £26,000-a-week wages would easily fit in with the Hammers’ pay structure.

Elsewhere, The Mirror have become the first to spark the 'Tevez to Arsenal' speculation in the wake of Thierry Henry's belated decision to join Barcelona. Darren Lewis claims Arsene Wenger will now turn to Tevez as he has become one of the most sought-after strikers in European football following his success in almost 'single-handedly' dragging West Ham to Premiership safety from the jaws of relegation. At 23 Tevez - who plays in next week's Copa America for Argentina - would be a sound long-term investment for the Gunners who have registered their interest with the player's advisors. Lewis states Manchester United and Inter Milan are also interested in the pint-sized hitman, who recently admitted he would be more than happy to stay at Upton Park if the right package could be put together, but Arsenal's need now appears greatest. The Gunners are desperate to prove to their fans that there is life after Thierry Henry.

Finally, it wouldn't be Saturday without the regular piece of anti-West Ham bluster from the Daily Mail. Today it is the 'explosive' news that Sheffield United are closing in on 'new explosive evidence' which threatens to 'explode' the Carlos Tevez affair wide open again like a very big 'explosion'. According to Sportsmail there are three contracts are in existence which prove that Kia Joorabchian and MSI maintained third-party 'influence' over Tevez — even after West Ham had been fined £5.5million having pleaded guilty to not holding exclusive ownership of the Argentina striker. Lawyers working on behalf of Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe are, even as I type this, supposedly pressurising lawyers of Joorabchian to make the documents available to the Premier League. Rather meekly, the article adds the caveat that these three contracts cannot actually influence the decision of the arbitration tribunal as no new evidence is now admissible. However, claim the Mail, the League will be under pressure to act if these documents are made public and prove West Ham continued to play Tevez illegally.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Radio Eggert

So don't become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don't know or just don't care
And just complain when you're not there
You had your time, you had the power
You've yet to have your finest hour
Eggert Magnusson has always had a tendency to give insightful and honest interviews to the Icelandic media and today he was a guest on a Reykjavík FM radio show. The Footbolti website provided details of his appearance in which the West Ham chairman discussed his hectic life at the football club. "I'm usually up before half past six. We have to start early and I'm off to bed pretty late also. There is plenty work to be done," said Magnusson, who expects more players to check in at West Ham in the coming weeks. "I think at least two world class players will be added to the squad. It's also certain that there will be players leaving, like our captain Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood. Other players could also depart." On the subject of incoming talent, Magnusson categorically denied the club is about to make a move for Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen. "The player gets constantly linked to the club but we are not looking to sign any Icelandic players," he said. "We are looking for a speedy striker and we all know that Eidur isn't the quickest. He’s not a player we’re interested in at the moment. We are focusing on bringing in a striker with lots of pace."

A lot has been talked about the future of Carlos Tevez at West Ham and Magnusson is optimistic the player will remain at Upton Park. "We sincerely hope so. He’s our player to keep for the next three years. We are currently in the process of renegotiating his salary and contract and without giving too much away I am very hopeful that he will remain at the club." With reference to the latest arbitration hearing, the Chairman revealed he has few concerns. He said: "I have no worries over that matter. We are a Premiership club and we earned that status by getting more points than the relegated sides. Therefore the hopeless battle of a few relegated clubs is ridiculous."

Back-Page Splash

The 'super soar-away' Sun has a back page splash claiming Liverpool will increase their bid for Yossi Benayoun to £4.5million — after West Ham pulled the plug on his new contract. Andrew Dillon believes Hammers chairman Eggert Magnusson has finally lost patience with Israeli midfielder Benayoun and withdrawn his offer of a new £13million five-year deal, a contract that has remained unsigned for several weeks. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has long been an admirer of the player and now plans to cash in on the rift, possibly offloading misfit striker Craig Bellamy in the process. Benayoun said: "I’m honoured a club like Liverpool is interested in me. I’m contracted to West Ham so we will have to see what happens." West Ham insist the player has not submitted a formal transfer request, although the Israeli's feelings have been made clear that he fancies a move to Anfield. The Independent are a little more circumspect and claim West Ham United are only willing to do a deal if they can persuade Craig Bellamy to move in the opposite direction. The paper claim the revised offer from Liverpool, who had initially offered £3million, comes close to the £5million that West Ham hoped to receive for the Israel international. Interestingly, most of the media seem to believe that if a swap deal was effected between the two clubs then there would be a cash adjustment in Liverpool's favour. This is in direct contrast to what I have been told by people this end who are adamant that it would be the Hammers who receive the supplementary funds.

The Mail has yet another Carlos Tevez story, having kept a dignified silence on the matter for an impressive 48 hours. This time it is claimed Real Madrid are in talks with Carlos Tevez's owner Kia Joorabchian over a 'controversial' £30million deal. The Spanish champions have held a meeting between top negotiator Predrag Mijatovic and Joorabchian, who still claims to have the rights to West Ham's Argentina striker. It is suggested that the player's future could be decided in the next two days, with Inter Milan also keen, but both Liverpool and Chelsea are reluctant to meet Joorabchian's asking price. While Eggert Magnusson insists his club own Tevez, the article states that Joorabchian continues to blatantly hawk the striker around Europe. Real are thought to be the most likely buyers as they are happy to pay the fee demanded by Joorabchian and the investors behind MSI, who took Tevez to Brazilian side Corinthians. It is intimated that should Tevez be sold against the wishes of West Ham then it would provide serious food for thought for the deliberating Premier League arbitration panel. This rumour has also been picked up by the people over at The Telegraph. Charles Carrick states that Spanish newspaper AS reported that a deal could be imminent and that Tevez is keen to play in the Champions League. Madrid are currently on an end of season tour to Israel, but are already putting plans in place for the next campaign after the departure of David Beckham. Carrick suggests that the Spanish champions will face strong competition for Tevez from Inter Milan but now look the favourites to sign him and a deal could be reached over the weekend.

The same paper features a story that Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill has been given the green light to bid £8million for West Ham skipper Nigel Reo-Coker, as well as make a move for long-time Hammers target Shaun Wright-Phillips. On the same page there is a another article, this time insisting Sven-Goran Eriksson is set to become the Premiership's highest paid manager on an £8million package at Manchester City- and will begin the rebuilding task at Eastlands by launching a bid of his own for Reo-Coker. It is rumoured that the midfielder is seen as a perfect replacement for Joey Barton, who left City to join Newcastle, and is likely to be available for around £8million after an impressive series of displays for England Under-21's at the European Championships in Holland.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports are reporting that a quartet of Premiership clubs are chasing striker Marlon Harewood.
West Ham are ready to let Harewood move on and the news has alerted Birmingham, Fulham, Portsmouth and Aston Villa. The player's representative, Mick McGuire confirmed there are no shortage of admirers for Harewood. "There are four Premier League clubs who have expressed an interest in signing Marlon," he said. "Birmingham have already seen one bid turned down by West Ham for Marlon. Fulham, Portsmouth and Aston Villa are also keeping tabs on the situation. Marlon is keen to secure his future and we are hopeful of sorting a deal out." Also on Sky Sports is the news that Preston have given two unnamed clubs permission to talk to highly-rated striker David Nugent. It is said Everton, Portsmouth, West Ham, Derby County and Sunderland have all been linked with the player in the last few months and the two clubs who have matched Preston's valuation are thought to be among this group.

Finally, Ghana defender John Paintsil admits he might have to leave West Ham United to save his international career. Paintsil joined the Hammers from Hapoel Tel Aviv last year but has endured a miserable spell at the club, playing just five times in the Premiership. Paintsil told BBC Sport: "I want to play, it's as simple as that. It is a difficult situation for me. I want to be playing for Ghana in every game and fight for the red, gold and green colours. But I know that club form is important so all I can hope is that I can rectify that in the coming season. My future is important and I can't end up like this. I am hoping that everything works out well even if I don't get the opportunity at West Ham." Despite enduring a difficult first season in England, Paintsil has the dignity to resist a personal attack on either the club or the manager. "Alan Curbishley talked things over with me and has assured me the club will take my interest into great consideration in whatever decision they make about me," Paintsil said. "He set my mind at ease with that conversation but it is has been a very difficult situation for me. The money I earn at West Ham is about a 1,000 times what I had in Israel but that means nothing if I am not playing. Sometimes I sit on the bench watching games and wonder why I do well at training and never get to play. I just chose to focus and keep training so that when the chance comes, I won't disgrace myself. I can't sit down and complain all day so I rather put more hours into training and make sure when I get the opportunity I won't blow it." He may not be the most technically gifted player but with a first class attitude like that you would hope things work out for him.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Odds And Ends

Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again
The guns have fallen silent on the arbitration front today so it provides a timely opportunity to catch up on a few of the lesser reported West Ham stories, many of which have been overshadowed by the events of the last few days. The Citizen carries an interview with Mark Noble in which he admits he is already dreaming of the day when he will captain the club. "I've captained the youth teams for West Ham and it would be a dream to captain them in the Premier League and to take us onto better things," he said. "We've got the chairman, players, manager and staff to kick on this season and show what we can do. I really think we can go on to be a top-five team in the next few years if we sign the players who all the talk has been about. We've now got Scott Parker who is a fantastic player and I'm really looking forward to playing with him. I'm hoping I come back from Holland fully fit and I'll be firing for my place in the team."

While Noble aims to be a future captain, Lucas Neill has more immediate ambitions. Journalists in the Australian media seem convinced the Aussie will skipper West Ham when the new season kicks-off after impressing boss Alan Curbishley with his leadership qualities during the Hammers' miracle escape from the drop. With incumbent, Nigel Reo-Coker, seemingly on his way out of the club and new arrival Scott Parker the second choice for the job, it is predicted that Neill will take the captain’s armband when he arrives back from Asian Cup duty with Australia in early August. Neill is not taking things for granted though. "It would be an honour to skipper a club with such a proud history,” he said from Bali, where he is on holiday before linking up with the Socceroos at their Singapore training camp. "But I'm certainly not counting my chickens. It goes without saying that I enjoy being a leader. I've only been at West Ham a short time but I'm feeling right at home now and with the ambition of the chairman I know we can make massive strides next season. It's exciting to be a part of it all."

The transfer rumours have died down quite dramatically this week but there have still been a few stories floating about. The Times revealed how Birmingham City have had a £3million bid for striker Marlon Harewood rejected by the club. City made an offer of an initial £2million plus add-ons for Harewood, who is surplus to requirements at Upton Park, but the Hammers are looking for something near £5million for the former Nottingham Forest player. Harewood played a major role in the Hammers regaining their Barclays Premier League status two years ago when he scored 16 goals, but he has gradually slipped down the pecking order and last season netted only four goals. Birmingham, who are also interested in defender Paul Konchesky, could consider the asking price to be unrealistic as Alan Curbishley is looking to recoup the majority of the £6million he paid Birmingham for defender Matthew Upson in January. The bitter nature of the transfer negotiations involved in that particular transfer will doubtless be fresh in the minds of both clubs.

The Daily Mail insist West Ham have been offered Argentina striker Javier Saviola to replace Carlos Tevez. World Cup star Saviola is being touted around Europe after a bitter end to him time in Barcelona. He will not cost a penny in fees as he it out of contract, and the paper believe West Ham could offer him the £80,000 a week that would attract him to the Premier League. There are two striking things about this report. Firstly, it makes the assumption that Tevez will actually need replacing, and secondly it makes an outrageous claim about the kind of wages on offer, even though Eggert Magnusson has already stated our highest wage bracket is around £55,000 a week. It seems the message is still not getting through.
Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy admits he is pleased to be linked with both Chelsea and West Ham as speculation mounts with regards his future.

A story on the Sky Sports site quotes the South African striker as saying: "I am very flattered to be linked with clubs like Chelsea and West Ham, with great history and both are great teams in the Premier League.
Like I said, I've got a contract and I am here to serve a duty to my club that I am contracted at. But if the opportunity does come to go and play for a team where you can move up a level and play Champions League football, that will always be my dream. That is always what I strive towards as a player, to play at the highest level. If that opportunity occurs to go and play for a team like that, then I would love for my management to look at the possibility and look in their heart to make it possible to make a move like that." Of course, those quotes would seem to suggest Stamford Bridge as a far more likely destination for McCarthy. The Hammers have been credited with a strong interest in the player in the past, namely under Alan Pardew, when only a last minute intervention by McCarthy's club Porto prevented his switch to Upton Park.

Finally, Javier Zanetti has become the latest player in and around the Argentina national squad to encourage Carlos Tevez to leave West Ham. It seems that there is no-one outside of East London who thinks the player would benefit by staying at the club. The Inter Milan captain believes Argentinian compatriot Tevez would be the ideal signing for the Italian champions. Zanetti said: "It would be a great signing for us because he is a player that never gives up. He would be ideal for Inter, he has great talent and we really hope he will join us."

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

No News Is Good News?

Sheffield United have been informed that they may have to wait for another ten days before the result of their arbitration hearing will be known. The arbitration panel considering the South Yorkshire club's complaint about the league's handling of the Carlos Tevez affair - the Blades contend that West Ham United should have been docked points rather than fined £5.5m - yesterday deferred its verdict, possibly until the end of June. "It's been a very complicated case, and the panel are going away to review the evidence and submissions," said the Bramall Lane club's plc chairman, Kevin McCabe, in a statement yesterday. "We have been told to expect a decision by the end of the month, hopefully sooner." The Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, would not comment, but he is understood to be interpreting the delay as a positive sign. As David Bond, writing in The Telegraph, points out, with less than two months until the start of the new season, any delay should be seen as a blow to Sheffield United's chances of victory. There is unlikely to be sufficient time, he concludes, for a new commission to re-examine the Tevez case before the campaign kicks off.

The Guardian also pick up on this point. Matt Scott insists any delay will present logistical difficulties for the Premier League if it must reconvene the initial hearing, which is the most extreme verdict available to the panellists if they find in Sheffield United's favour. If that is the outcome of the panel's deliberations it will leave the league with only six weeks before the new season in which to hold a new tribunal that would have the power effectively to relegate one of its member clubs. The situation is further complicated by the news that Sheffield United could face their own disciplinary inquiry over the transfer of Steve Kabba to Watford, after claims that United insisted on the striker not playing against them in a Premiership fixture between the two teams at Bramall Lane in April.

The Premier League said yesterday they would be looking into the claims to see if there is any evidence of a formal agreement having been in place. Such clauses are not permitted in transfers between Premier League clubs and, although a similar situation occurred with Everton keeper Tim Howard against his old club Manchester United, those clubs escaped disciplinary action as there was no formal agreement between them. The Mail insist that little should be read into this latest development. They claim that there is no mention of an agreement that could be a clear breach of Premier League rules in the contract and no separate written agreement. There may have been a gentlemen’s agreement, but as has already been shown, this would be unlikely to lead to the Premier League taking disciplinary action.

West Ham have so far remained silent on Sheffield United's bid to have their £5.5 million fine for breaking third-party ownership rules overturned and replaced by a points deduction. But they went on the attack last night after growing increasingly irritated at what they believe to be United's deliberately misleading claims that the current arbitration panel could order West Ham to be relegated to the Football League and replaced by the Yorkshire side. Last night a statement from Upton Park said: "West Ham United are and remain a Barclays Premier League Football Club. There is no scope for this to be changed by the Premier League's arbitration panel and West Ham United's status cannot be called into question in relation to next season. West Ham United were not and are not a party to the arbitration and our standing as a Premier League Club is not in doubt as a result of the panel's hearing. The Club are well advanced in preparing for the new season and are taking further steps to strengthen the playing squad over the summer. We will not be deflected from our goal of achieving success in the Premier League next season."

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

First Day Review

The majority of the morning papers are concerned with the sudden appearance of Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, as a witness at the Premier League tribunal hearing yesterday. Nick Harris, writing in The Independent, states Parry was called to the stand because he was the first chief executive of the Premier League in the 1990s, and Sheffield United wanted him to answer questions about the establishment of certain League rules. Harris claims that it is purely incidental that Parry first drew attention to West Ham's rule breaches over the signing of Carlos Tevez when Liverpool signed Javier Mascherano from them in January. It is a stance supported by David Bond in The Telegraph who reiterates Parry's purpose as a witness was solely as someone who was instrumental in drawing up the Premiership regulations.

The people at the Mirror have a slightly different interpretation and believe the Anfield official was called by the Blades to answer questions over legislation on player ownership after being the Premier League's first chief executive from 1992-1998. In typical sensationalist fashion, The Sun insist league chiefs were amazed and astounded when the 'Kop bigwig' apparently supported the Blades’ argument that West Ham’s punishment was wrong. Premier League supremo Richard Scudamore was aware of Parry’s presence but it was assumed he would merely 'follow the party line' that justice had been done.

The Times offer the most detailed break-down of events from yesterday's proceedings. It is claimed Sheffield United focused primarily on why the Premier League cleared Tévez to play within just a few hours of an independent commission’s judgment in April that the registrations breached Premier League rules, when it took Liverpool several weeks to get clearance to play Mascherano. The club want the panel to consider whether the Premier League acted unlawfully by not removing the player registration of Tévez once West Ham were found to be guilty of the breaches. There were three matches of the season left at that point, with Tévez playing a significant role in each of the wins that ultimately rescued them from the drop. In addition, they have asked the panel to determine whether the decision taken by the commission to fine West Ham, rather than deduct them points, was legally flawed.

As a footnote, it also emerged yesterday that Fulham have been granted permission by the Premier League to sit in on the hearing although they will not be able to give evidence in support of United. Fulham, who also protested at the verdict in the West Ham case, had called for the League to set up a separate arbitration into their grievances and they were invited last week by the panel to give submissions.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Half-Time Report

It is half-time in the arbitration process and both sides have retired for a cigarette and a cup of tea. The first big surprise of the day was the appearance of Rick Parry. The Mail report that the Liverpool chief executive took the stand for Sheffield United as the relegated Yorkshire club launched a desperate late bid to get back their Premiership status. Surprise witness Parry has intimate knowledge of Premier League rules as its first chief executive, and he also handled Liverpool’s difficult signing of Javier Mascherano from West Ham in January, which needed special FIFA approval. It was Parry who first drew attention to the rule breaches which emerged during the process of signing the Argentinian. Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe also appeared as a witness, with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore and general secretary Mike Foster appearing for the other side.

It is in the remit of the panel to order a new disciplinary hearing against West Ham, or award compensation be paid to Sheffield United. An official statement released this afternoon read: "An arbitral panel, made up of Sir Philip Otton, Mr David Pannick QC and Mr Nicholas Randall, is sitting in central London to hear the dispute between Sheffield United and the Premier League board. Sheffield United are represented by Ian Mill QC; the Premier League by Paul Goulding QC. Fulham are represented by Michael Beloff QC.

Sheffield United are asking the arbitral panel to determine two matters. The first is whether the decision by the independent disciplinary commission on April 27 to fine West Ham, rather than dock points, was legally flawed such as to require the issue to be determined afresh by a disciplinary commission at some point in the future. The second is whether the Premier League acted unlawfully by not de-registering Tevez. Fulham are seeking similar relief.

The arbitral panel have no power to decide what the penalty to be imposed upon West Ham should be. This will be within the exclusive remit of the disciplinary commission, if one is convened as a result of the arbitral panel's decision. The arbitration is scheduled for two days and it is expected that proceedings will run into tomorrow. It is not yet known when a decision will be reached."

Upon leaving the hearing today, McCabe said he remained hopeful the panel will make a decision tomorrow. "It's been a busy day," he told Sky Sports News. "Tomorrow there will be further evidence and then the panel will opine and decide. The arbitration is going well and I think the panel recognise all the points of the case. It's about writing the wrongs from the first decision. That's really part of the arbitration proceedings and why we served the notice on the Premier League back in mid-May." Asked whether he was hopeful of a decision tomorrow, the plc chairman said: "I hope so, yes, but it still rests with the panel." Questioned as to whether Parry's appearance as a witness was due to Liverpool's signing of Javier Mascherano from West Ham, McCabe said: "Not particularly. Rick is an experienced football guy. He's a good witness."

Arbitration Day

Sheffield United take their fight to regain Premier League status to an arbitration panel in London this morning. The relegated club maintain that West Ham should have been deducted points by an independent commission in April rather than being fined £5.5 million for breaching transfer regulations over the signings of Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano. According to The Telegraph, the heart of Sheffield United's case is that the penalty imposed on West Ham by the Premier League's independent commission was "irrational". The commission said that points would not be deducted because it was so late in the season that any such penalty would almost certainly lead to the club's relegation. The commission's chairman, Simon Bourne-Arton, publicly admitted that had they met in January, rather than April, they might have come to a different conclusion.

Although West Ham cannot be relegated from the Premiership as a direct result of today and tomorrow's arbitration proceedings, the panel could order a reprise of the initial hearing, but only if the first tribunal's panellists were regarded as remiss in their legal duty. The Premier League and Sheffield United have submitted witness statements to the new panel detailing their observations of the process and how it was conducted. These are open to cross-examination but there will be no league or club officials present at the hearing. The two-day arbitration means the door is still open to Sheffield United eventually being reinstated, but, according to The Guardian, it is only one step on a long road. Even if the new panel finds in their favour and orders a new hearing, a subsequent panel would have to be persuaded that a points penalty was appropriate. The Premier League is confident that the panel will agree that it acted strictly according to its regulations. Should Sheffield United persuade Sir Philip Otton, a former Court of Appeal judge, David Pannick, the leading QC, and Nicholas Randall, a sports and employment law specialist, otherwise, it still is the opinion of The Times that their best hope would be for compensation rather than reinstatement.

While both parties to today's process must agree that the verdict is "final and binding", there is a feeling at Bramall Lane as well as at Fulham and Wigan Athletic - two more of the so-called gang of four, Charlton Athletic being the other - that there is legitimate recourse to civil action. McCabe has suggested that his club would accept the panel's verdict, unless further points were raised which were thought to be worth pursuing. "I'm sure the arbitration panel will be the key people to make a decision and a full decision, so maybe by the close of play on Tuesday we will know, " he said. "I think we will know by then [whether] we are back in the Premiership or playing in the Championship next season. I think the panel is a strong panel that will make their decision properly." He did not, however, rule out the option of pursuing West Ham for £20million in damages. "If the arbitration fails, we go to court," said Fulham's chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed. "I just don't let people get away with unfair and unjust practices. Especially the Premier League." There have already been dark intimations from the West Ham camp that a protracted legal challenge would ensue if the decision is eventually reversed. As is pointed out in today's Telegraph, if West Ham are eventually deducted points it would have to be a very specific deduction - three or more - for Sheffield United to regain their status. Only one club, Leyton Orient, have ever lost three points or more for fielding ineligible players. And if West Ham become the second, the only certainty is there will be more work for the lawyers.

There is an article in The Sun that reiterates the point. Ian McGarry claims West Ham would plunge the Premier League into chaos if Sheffield United win their appeal in the Carlos Tevez affair. He states that the Hammers are facing an eventual points deduction that could see them relegated if the Blades succeed in the hearing which is held today and tomorrow. But the Upton Park club have already vowed to go to court if the arbitration committee rules against them — and that would have a knock-on effect for fixtures. The Premier League schedule for next season was published last week with West Ham included. If the Blades are officially re-instated with legal action pending, however, both clubs could start the season in the top flight. It is a nightmare scenario for League officials but having been fined £5.5million, West Ham feel they have been punished enough. A senior Hammers source informed the paper: "The Premier League made its decision and we were fined and we accepted our punishment. If that is overturned then we will go to court and fight our case there and no one should think otherwise." If that came about, it is highly unlikely the case would be heard and resolved before the opening weekend of fixtures on August 11.

Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe insists that the fight to be reinstated in the Premier League is more a matter of principle than profit. "I think we are very confident of winning,” the chairman said. "We have a compelling case that’s based upon an irrational decision given by the first independent commission that was set up. We would not have pursued going to arbitration unless we thought we would win. It’s not so much the money, it’s the fact one club that has not breached the rules has been relegated whilst another club that has breached the rules has retained its Premiership status." Despite the bullish words of McCabe, as well as the lobby of Parliament led by the actor Sean Bean, there was still
not a lot of optimism in this corner of Yorkshire yesterday. "I don't think anyone is anticipating a reversal of the decision," said Neil Warnock. "But I think it is right that Sheffield United carry on the fight to arbitration because most people at the time thought it was an injustice."

When the appeal was launched by the 'gang of four' - Wigan, Sheffield United, Fulham and Middlesbrough - Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, predicted that United's support from the others would quickly fade away "because that is how football is". It is certainly true that Fulham and Wigan have won no friends with their active support of the Blades. At the recent AGM 17 of the Premier League's 20 member clubs tried to persuade them to drop the fight, with only Middlesbrough abstaining. Indeed, Sheffield United may be feeling rather lonely this morning. Neither Middlesbrough nor Fulham have been especially vociferous and Wigan chairman Dave Whelan's gut feeling that unless Sheffield United forced a quick decision they would lose, may be correct. It is more than a month since their relegation and the Premier League fixtures have already been issued without them.

Ironically, The Times believe it is the release of the fixtures than sustains what little hope that remains for the Blades. A 'quirk' of the fixture computer ensured both Sheffield United and West Ham have identical home-and-away commitments next season, suggesting that it would be easy for the clubs to switch divisions if the panel rules in Sheffield United’s favour. Conspiracy theorists are suggesting collusion between the Premier League and Football League, but the top flight’s ruling body said yesterday that the mirroring of fixtures was coincidence. It is just one of many controversies to surround this case. Yesterday, it emerged that the Yorkshire club had breached regulation U18 by insisting that Steve Kabba could not play against them after his sale to Watford. However, Kevin McCabe, Sheffield United’s plc chairman, argued that this had been down to a gentleman’s agreement rather than any contractual matter. "The contract transferring Steve Kabba was one that was open, was honest and was properly looked at by the Premier League and registered," McCabe said. "There is no grey area on that whatsoever." When asked if the Kabba deal had contravened Premier League rules, he replied: "Not at all. There are a few incidents, there must be dozens and dozens, these last few years where there may be gentleman's agreements between managers that in fairness the clubs probably know nothing about. I think there have been one or two instances this season of players between Premiership clubs."

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Noble Cause

Noble Cause: The West Ham midfielder has changed his playing style and is proving a vital player in England's European under-21 bid
By Duncan Castles

Twenty minutes to play at Arnhem’s stiflingly roofed-over Gelredome and England are headed out of the Euro under-21s. Italian opponents seemingly intent on setting a national record for shots on goal have erased a 2-0 advantage and are sweeping through England’s hurriedly reshaped five-man midfield.

Newly moved into a solo holding role, Mark Noble watches Alberto Aquilani trick the ball past a teammate and decides it is time to intervene. He races towards the Italian, lunges almost horizontally at the ball and sends it and Aquilani over the touchline. The Italian just about evades the worst of the tackler’s mass, rises slowly to his feet and offers a handshake. Noble wants none of it, striding away with not a glance back.

Mark firmly laid upon him, Aquilani visibly withdraws from the contest, Italy’s attacks diminish in frequency, and the match ends in a draw that leaves England best placed to reach the semi-finals when they meet already-qualified Serbia in tonight’s last Group B tie. In his first start for the under21s, Noble had proved himself an enforcer capable of intimidating men accustomed to winning hard yards in Serie A and the Champions League.

"It was just one of those things where the referee kept giving silly free kicks for nothing," reflected Noble the next day. "I thought, if he’s going to book me he’s going to have to book me for something proper. What goes through your mind in a moment like that? Loads of things. It’s just the passion and the emotion. I don’t like when players do tricks and try and take the mickey out of you. I don’t go in to hurt, I go in to win the ball, but I think my tackles look a lot worse than what they feel for me. Everyone says, ‘You’ve got to calm down sometimes, you’re going to get sent off tackling like that’. But that’s me, that’s the way I tackle and, touch wood, I ain’t missed one yet."

Whatever lumber Noble has been tapping of late should be kept close, for he has developed an enviable knack for turning fortunes these past six months. Feted as a free-running creative in his debut season at West Ham United in 2004-05, a year and a half later Noble’s career had hit a brick wall graffitied with loan moves to Hull City and Ipswich Town. "He had a bit of a lull," said Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Director of Football Development. "The year West Ham went up through the play-offs he came in the last three months and lifted the team, but then he hit a little bit of a wall. He went out to Ipswich and did quite well there."

As West Ham’s new owners, panicking at the spectre of relegations, pumped money into a January squad overhaul, Noble refused to accept a further Championship loan, electing instead to battle for a place at Upton Park. Alan Curbishley overlooked him until the after the 4-0 loss to Charlton, when a gamble on youthful enthusiasm seemed as reasonable a throw of the dice as any other. Noble came in, scored in March’s bizarre 4-3 defeat by Tottenham, and remained there as West Ham won seven of their last nine fixtures to survive.

The Mark Noble who helped West Ham “do the impossible” and avoid dropping into the Championship was a very different beast from the one who’d contributed to getting them out of it two years previously. "When I originally broke into the first team I was more like a creative player, a tricky player," he said. "Now I know I haven’t got the pace for those kind of skills any more. I changed my game, I played to my strengths and that’s what I'm all about now. It was Alan Pardew, the West Ham manager at the time, who suggested it to me. He said: ‘I think you’re going to end up as a holding midfielder, dictating games because you’ve got the passing ability, the bite and the will to win’. That’s what every team needs. I think I looked at myself and I’m not saying I changed overnight, but it’s just what suited me the most."

Suited Noble and suited England. Buffeted by David Bentley’s infuriatingly late withdrawal from the squad for the finals, Stuart Pearce had been struggling to balance his central midfield. Tom Huddlestone, Ashley Young, James Milner, Kieran Richardson, Reo-Coker and Noble were used in six different permutations of triangular three or flat two in the friendly victory over Slovakia and group-game draw with the Czech Republic. Only when England sat the West Ham pair ahead of the defence against Italy did a chance-laden half-hour emerge during which the team looked capable of challenging to win this tournament.

While part of that early success owed to Leroy Lita’s embarrassing dominion over central defender Marco Andreolli, Noble is entitled to his claim that "England looked sharp, powerful and strong".

"I’m sure if we play like that against other teams we will really cause them problems," he added. "I think it’s been long overdue for us to win one of these. I’ve lost in the final of the under-19s, against France, lost in the semi-finals of the under17s, against Spain. I think it’s about time that we step up to the plate and prove to them that we’re not just a quarter-final, semi-final team; we can go all the way and take the trophy home."

If the 14-year wait since England Under18s were European champions is ended here, there will be significant irony in Noble’s role.

The 20-year-old would have been half the globe away had Bentley, in a move redolent of his on-field decision-making, not placed self-interest over national honours nine days ago.

"I’d booked Mexico and I wanted to go away, lay on the beach and chill out," said Noble. "I was supposed to go the day the squad was announced. But I got the phone call for this and I was delighted. I was in, the suit-case got unpacked and I put the football boots in instead of the flip-flops." Even his sandals, you suspect, are more dangerous than most.

Sunday Times

Saturday, 16 June 2007

The Sound And The Fury

The Sun carries a two-page 'exclusive interview' with Eggert Magnusson that is ostensibly a verbatim reprint of the statement released by the chairman on the official site late last night. In this respect, the piece by Andrew Dillon is neither an exclusive nor an interview but it does at least put some much needed positive quotes from our club into the national press. Magnusson admits that he was left frustrated by the collapse of Darren Bent's proposed signing this week, but insists he has already moved on and is busy working on other plans to strengthen Alan Curbishley's squad this summer.

"The whole situation has left me very frustrated," says Mr Magnusson. "We were so close to signing Darren and thought everything was in place to conclude what would have been the biggest transfer in West Ham United's history for a player. I was really looking forward to making an announcement to our fans as we continue with our plans to take this club forward and to challenge the best teams in England. The deal we put in place seemed to work for everybody concerned. Throughout the negotiations all the signs were positive. Therefore I was surprised when I learned that Darren had decided not to join us. I feel let down and disappointed. But it is time to move on. In the aftermath of this I have been encouraged by the reaction of our supporters." Dillon extrapolates from this that Magnusson is a reader of certain internet chat sites, which is a nice thought. If he is, then it is little surprise that the feedback he received revealed a general consensus among the fans that Bent was grossly over-priced. "They appreciate the efforts we made and some of the feedback suggests they are less disappointed than I thought they might be. The view seems to be that perhaps this wasn't the best deal we could do at this stage. I'd like to think the experience will eventually stand us in good stead and there's no doubt about it, lessons have been learned."

Magnusson, 60, is eager to put behind him one of his most challenging periods at the helm of the Hammers and continue with his mission. "Our interest in Darren Bent is over," he admits. "It is time for West Ham to move on. We have been considering other options and will be looking at those over the next few weeks. This summer period is an important one for the club. Working very closely with Alan Curbishley, the board of directors want to get the best possible squad for next season. We ended last season in great form and want to build on that. I’m very excited about the potential at this club." Boss Alan Curbishley hoped England rookies Bent, 23, and Hammers striker Dean Ashton, 23, would spearhead his front line next season. But now the search moves on to new targets, with Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips once again linked with a move across London. Magnusson has successfully rubber-stamped the signing of seven players by West Ham at a cost of around £25million and says he is fiercely committed to transforming West Ham into a team capable of sustaining a serious challenge for the Champions League. At the same time, he has also expressed his dismay at some of the media speculation surrounding player wages, and has moved to reassure supporters that all transfer negotiations are carried out with the best interests of West Ham United at heart.

"West Ham United is very much in the spotlight at the moment," he says. "I totally accept that as chairman of a Club with ambition and drive. However, I am disappointed that there is a widespread belief that the Club has a bottomless pit of money to spend on transfer fees and player wages. This is a great football Club which will be run on sensible business lines to build a secure, long-term future. That includes our policy on players wages, set at a ceiling of £55,000 a week. Despite figures being circulated in the game, no player at West Ham United earns more than that at present. Of course, as an ambitious club we will react to the marketplace, in common with most other football clubs. If the right player comes along at the right price, then we will look at that, but we want players who want to play for West Ham United."

Alan Curbishley has until the first Premiership match of the season at home to Manchester City on August 11 to get his plans in place. According to Dillon, there are ambitious long-term plans to move to a new stadium at a defunct ParcelForce site in Canning Town, West Ham’s original home in the East End. The club are also considering moving their training ground lock, stock and barrel to a new hi-tech sports complex in Barking. Curbishley even took a tour of Ford United’s old ground as a possible location. What is apparent, is ingredients on the pitch must be right to complement those off it. After beating relegation on the last day of last season, drama is never far away. With Bent thought to have been lured by a move to either Liverpool or Tottenham, there is also continuing uncertainty over midfielder Yossi Benayoun’s future after Liverpool lodged a £3m bid, which was rebuffed. Magnusson added: "I believe we are bringing together a team on and off the pitch which will bring success to West Ham United. It’s been a tough week but you don’t get involved with a Premier League football club in order to have a quiet life."

The Shaun Wright-Phillips story is featured in greatar detail elsewhere in the paper. In a separate article, it is claimed the player has been told he can leave the club this summer as part of Chelsea's cost-cutting plans. It is said West Ham agreed a fee of £10.8million for Wright-Phillips in January and that we remain
one of the only clubs who can match his salary and allow him to stay in London. On the Benayoun front, The Guardian state the Israel midfielder has indicated to the West Ham that he wishes to leave the club, having been unsettled by confirmation that Liverpool have made a bid of around £3million for him. Rafael Benítez hopes to add Benayoun, whom he has tracked since his days at Racing Santander, to his ranks as he seeks further midfield options with Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, confirming that a formal approach was made to West Ham last week. That offer was immediately rejected, claims the paper, as the Londoners value the 27-year-old at nearer £5m. It has also been mentioned in certain circles that a swap deal involving troubled striker Craig Bellamy has been mooted.

Finally, the Mail are sustaining their rabid ant-West Ham stance by featuring a sycophantic interview with 'Honest' Dave Whelan in which he professes: "Football needs justice, it must change or die." To paraphrase Macbeth, it is a piece (like most journalism in this paper) that walks like a shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing. I'm not going to give it any more space than it deserves on this blog but it is there if you want it.

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