Friday, 31 August 2007

The Art Of The Lowball

It is almost perverse that having filled this blog with a relentless efflux of sensationalist news stories during the dead days of pre-season, that I should now be scratching around for even the merest hint of a story on what is supposed to be one of the most colourful days in the football calender. So the final 24 hours of this transfer window begins with just one half-story concerning Reading defender Nicky Shorey, and one could-be story concerning Derby County midfielder Giles Barnes. Even more perverse is that the club who stood arraigned of wilfully damaging the football finances in this country this summer, of over-spending and inflating the domestic market, now stands accused in the final hours of making 'derisory' lowball offers for two players who hardly warranted a mention when the names of Bent, Gudjohnson, Anelka and Adriano were being bandied around.

So Reading have confirmed they have rejected a £4million offer from West Ham United for England left-back Nicky Shorey. Royals boss Steve Coppell described the offer as "nigh on derisory" and insisted the 26-year-old was still on course to play against the Hammers on Saturday rather than for them. He said: "I cannot deny there was a written offer made. Given the price of players today we thought it was nigh on a derisory offer. We turned it down immediately and we have had no contact since." Shorey has established himself as a first team regular since moving from Leyton Orient for £25,000 in 2001 and made his England debut against Brazil at Wembley at the end of last season. Although he has also been linked with Newcastle United, The Times state that West Ham remain favourites to sign him after talks on a new Reading contract stalled.

Elsewhere, The Sun think West Ham should seal the signature of Derby's Giles Barnes for around £5million today. It reports: "The clubs were last night thrashing out a fee — around £5million — for the left midfielder, 19, who is on standby to complete talks." This is a story repeated in several different places today and always in the vaguest of terms. Lastly, you can read an interesting overview piece in The Independent about all this summer's transfer activity, where amusingly it cites two recently departed West Ham players among its list of most over-priced acquisitions. Just maybe those market inflating accusations had some truth to them after all.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Adriano, Bresciano, Mancini, Barnes, Shorey And Cole

Despite rumours circulating last night that West Ham United had tabled a £15million bid for Adriano, the majority of this morning's press have concluded that the club's chances of landing the Inter Milan player are slipping away fast. According to the Guardian, Hammers officials have privately conceded that their pursuit of Adriano is proving "complicated" with the player understood to favour a move to Lazio, recently qualified for the Champions League, if he is forced to leave Internazionale. Dominic Fifield states that the club's deputy chief executive, Scott Duxbury, was in Milan on Tuesday to speak to Inter officials in the hope of smoothing a 12-month loan for the 25-year-old forward. Yet, despite agreement in principle between the clubs, Adriano has refused to countenance a loan move abroad and remains in dispute with Inter over his future. Inter would rather loan the player, but the Brazilian is more keen to make a permanent move if he does not feature in the San Siro club's plans, with Lazio his preferred destination.

The Express think West Ham United have made a £10million bid to sign Adriano – but are not confident of netting the Inter Milan striker before the transfer window closes tomorrow. They believe that Duxbury negotiated the fee after it became clear a loan deal was not an option. He then reported back to chairman Eggert Magnusson yesterday, but any transfer could be held up by a dispute between Adriano and Inter. Jason Burt is also convinced that West Ham changed their offer and but he insists a fee closer to £15million was agreed for the services of the Brazil striker. The article in The Independent claims West Ham are also willing to meet Adriano's wage demands but believe their prospects of landing the player have been harmed because of the fractious relationship between Adriano and his club, Internazionale, although it also appears that the player has now rejected the move. It may be a deal that West Ham return to in January as with their continued interest in Eidur Gudjohnsen- a player currently the subject of an audacious bid from Portsmouth according to some reports. There are also suggestions that Inter are less keen to let Adriano go, claims Burt, because Alvaro Recoba, another striker deemed surplus to requirements, is close to agreeing a move to Torino. Inter had tried to do a deal with Arsenal – with the Italian club wanting to take midfielder Mathieu Flamini in return but the proposal was dismissed by Arsène Wenger. Manchester City, however, do remain interested in Adriano.

The same piece has
Alan Curbishley re-doubling his efforts to sign Giles Barnes before tomorrow's transfer window deadline but the club may have to pay more than £5million for the talented 19-year-old midfielder. West Ham officials have contacted Derby County again to inquire about Barnes, despite having at least two previous bids, of £2.5million and £4million, rejected. The player has missed the start of the season through injury but is now believed to be close to fitness. Although the double fracture to Kieron Dyer's right leg, which will see him out of action for at least six months, is said to not have influenced the interest in Barnes, the fact that Julien Faubert, another right-sided player, is also suffering from a long-term injury has somewhat sharpened minds to the situation. The Mirror go one further and claim an improved bid was officially tabled last night.

While Barnes and Palermo's Mark Bresciano remain on the Hammers shopping list, the people over at the Guardian feel the most likely new arrival at Upton Park before tomorrow night's deadline remains Reading's England left-back, Nicky Shorey. Reading have rejected a £5million bid from West Ham, but they suggest an improved offer of some £6million and the utility player Hayden Mullins could do the trick. Given the club's current shortage of midfield players it would seem unlikely that Mullins would be sacrificed. The Independent makes no mention of a player exchange but does state that Shorey has told the Royals he wants to leave and has no intention of signing a new contract.

The Daily Mail also has the Barnes story but have decided to throw Roma's Alessandro Mancini in to the mix as another possible West Ham United target. Mancini's name was briefly linked to the club about a month ago but that talk was quickly dismissed at the time. The same paper has also taken a speculative flier on a story about Joe Cole's supposedly strained relationship with Jose Mourinho. According to Neil Ashton, Cole's long-term future at Chelsea is back in doubt after a fiery exchange with Mourinho following last weekend's 1-0 win over Portsmouth. The pair reportedly clashed following Cole's 15-minute cameo appearance against Pompey and their dispute has left the England midfielder wondering if he is still part of the manager's plans. West Ham, who are aware of Cole's position, have apparently been exploring the possibility of asking to take him on loan before the transfer window closes, but Kenyon will not allow one of their best players to leave. Ashton believes the Hammers, who sold Cole to Chelsea for £6.6million in August 2003, are one of the few teams who could take on the player's £80,000 a week salary.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Adriano Agita

While Alan Curbishley was last night denying any knowledge of a move for Inter Milan striker Adriano, the club decided to release an official statement that confirmed that talks were already taking place. It read: "Following speculation in the press West Ham can confirm we are holding talks with Inter Milan over striker Adriano. The figures that have been quoted in the media are inaccurate as the possible deal is in its early stages and money has not yet been discussed. The club are investigating the possibility of a loan deal at this stage." As confusing as this contradictory stance may be, it is nothing compared to the wildly conflicting reports of the situation in this morning's papers. The Guardian claim West Ham officials were in Milan last night to discuss with their counterparts the possibility of a loan deal, which Inter are known to favour. Adriano is under contract to the Serie A club until 2010 and they are not yet ready to give up on their investment. The player has struggled for the past two seasons, partly because of injuries, and Inter believe that regular football elsewhere would be beneficial in returning him to top form.

The sticking point for Inter and any interested party, claims the article, is the player's reluctance to go on a temporary transfer. "When I could have left the club, I didn't do it," said the 25-year-old, referring to the moves he turned down, to Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona, when he was in top form three years ago. "Now, if I have to leave, I would only do it on a permanent transfer. But my wish is to remain at Inter. I don't want to go on loan again. I already went once to Parma when it was right for my career. Now, if I must really leave, I'll go and that's it." Speed is of the essence for West Ham and not only because the transfer window closes on Friday night. Manchester City and Lazio are also interested but not Arsenal, whose manager, Arsène Wenger, revealed yesterday that he had turned down the opportunity to take Adriano on loan.

The Mail claim the Premier League's Brazilian recruitment drive stepped up another gear last night as Manchester City were preparing to see off competition from West Ham with a £12million bid for the Inter striker. The paper reveal that City were originally weighing up a loan deal for the 25-year-old powerhouse, and that West Ham yesterday sent a delegation to Milan to discuss a similar package. Now City boss Sven Goran Eriksson, who has already held talks with Adriano's representatives, is aware the player does not want to go on loan and City are trying to stretch their budget to pull off what would be a remarkable coup at wages of around £70,000 a week. Adriano has been at Inter for four seasons and has scored 43 goals in 99 games to add to the 25 goals he has struck for Brazil in just 36 internationals.

Jason Burt, writing in The Independent, has a slightly different take. He insists West Ham officials were in Milan last night but with the intention of negotiating the permanent signing of the Brazilian striker. Although talks initially started over a season-long loan for the 25-year-old, both he and the Italian champions have made it clear they would prefer a permanent transfer and West Ham have been encouraged to push ahead, although they face competition from Lazio. Burt claims Adriano's £80,000-a-week wage demands are not regarded as a problem by West Ham, although they were still trying to agree a fee last night, with Inter hoping to receive more than £15million for a player who has fallen dramatically down the pecking order. "We are not rushing into anything," a club source said. "There are conversations taking place. He is a great player and we would like to sign him." If Adriano signs it will fulfil Eggert Magnusson's ambition of landing a spectacular transfer deal this summer – something he privately promised after the departure of Carlos Tevez. It will also act as a statement of intent for the club.

Adriano, who joined Inter six years ago, has endured a difficult time in recent months with accusations that he enjoys the party life having affected his prospects for club and country. He was dropped from the Brazilian national squad with coach Dunga saying he had to "change his behaviour". West Ham moved for the player, states Burt, after finally dropping their interest in Nicolas Anelka, despite being willing to pay more than £10million for the Bolton Wanderers striker. It appears he will now either move to Portsmouth or remain at the Reebok. West Ham have also accepted defeat, for now, in their hunt for Eidur Gudjohnsen, despite having a bid of £6.76million accepted by Barcelona. Gudjohnsen's knee injury is proving troublesome and he may have to undergo surgery. West Ham are likely to bid again for Gudjohnsen in January with the striker, who has come round to the idea of moving to Upton Park, saying he wants to get himself fully fit before he decides his future.

Bristol Rovers 1 West Ham United 2

Victory Marred As Dyer Joins Hammers' Horror Run Of Injuries by Stuart James
West Ham United could take little consolation from their passage into the third round of the League Cup last night as Kieron Dyer suffered a suspected double fracture of the leg that is likely to rule him out for the rest of the season... The Guardian
Another Cruel Break For Dyer by George Caulkin

With his job on the line and England’s hopes of qualifying for the European Championship finals at stake, Steve McClaren did not require another bad break, but the head coach’s misfortune was meagre in comparison with that of Kieron Dyer last night... The Times
Kieron Dyer Break Hits West Ham by Martin Smith

West Ham, removed from the competition by Chesterfield last season, ensured there was no Carling Cup repeat last night at Bristol Rovers, though at the loss of Kieron Dyer, who may miss the rest of the season... The Telegraph
Curbs Fury At Dyer Despair by Ivan Speck

For once, West Ham made it past lower league opposition, but they will still view the Carling Cup as a cursed competition after Kieron Dyer was carried off in agony with a suspected double fracture of his right leg... Daily Mail

Dyer Injury

The Club confirmed tonight that Kieron Dyer has suffered a double-fracture to his lower leg following the results of a series of x-rays. Following a late challenge by Bristol Rovers defender, Joe Jacobson in tonight's Carling Cup tie, Kieron was stretchered off the pitch and rushed straight to hospital where it was confirmed he had fractured both the tibia and fibula of his right leg. A statement reveals it is too early to say at this stage how long the player will be out for as this will become clearer once the first stage of surgery is completed.

Speaking after the game,
Alan Curbishley said: "We think that Kieron Dyer's broken his leg and we're so devastated for him. I just can't put it into words. The game was just immaterial after that and I think that the Bristol Rovers' player has got to be very disappointed with his tackle because, as far as I could see, he lashed out after losing the ball. The players could see what he did and that's why they were so angry. Obviously, we're delighted that we got through to the next stage of the competition but the game was irrelevant after Kieron's injury. I'm really down because he was looking sharp out there, playing in his favourite position in the middle of the park. Everyone in the dressing room's really flat but we've just got to get over this. After all, that's the reason why we've got a squad and now we've got to push on and look forward to Saturday's game at Reading."

The 2-1 win that was marred by Joe Jacobson's 10th minute challenge on his England midfielder but Curbishley added: "Although you sometimes wonder why you put such a strong team out for these games, it still won't make me think twice about putting out a similar strength side in the future. Here at West Ham United, we see the League Cup as a competition in which we can do well. I said to the players before the game that Middlesbrough, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic have all made the final in recent years, so it's an opportunity for us to get into Europe. That's why we attacked the game against Bristol Rovers but I guess the luck's against us right now. It's delicate and we're treading on eggshells. Things had already conspired against us before the game, when
Dean Ashton's girlfriend went into labour and he had to miss out because he's so desperate for a game. Craig Bellamy had come off with a niggling groin injury against Wigan Athletic on Saturday and we were wondering whether we did the right thing in playing him instead of Deano but, fortunately, he got his first couple of goals for us and he's really pleased with himself. Looking around, though, I've got £20 million-worth of injured players - Julien Faubert, Freddie Ljungberg, Scott Parker and now Kieron Dyer - all on the sidelines."

Hammers captain Lucas Neill, reflecting on the game, stated: "We allowed them back into the game after executing a very good first half of total football, but when you don't score the third goal and you give them a sniff in front of their home crowd, they're going to raise their game. In the end I thought we were quite resilient but it was our mistake that allowed them back into the game and we put ourselves under unnecessary pressure. When you play in the Cup, it's not so much about the performance. It's being in the next round that's important. If you win five games ugly and get to the final, eventually you're going to play really well but no one remembers the performance, just the result up until that point. We're in the next round, we can stay positive and there's an opportunity to get into Europe if we're successful in this tournament so we'll be taking it seriously."

Taking much of the gloss off an important win was the injury sustained by Kieron Dyer after a late tackle six minutes into the match. "It wasn't an overly aggressive challenge or full of malice but it was a foul," said Neill. "Everyone is devastated that it has happened to the poor lad. We really feel for him. We're all going to go and visit him and hope that he as a speedy recovery. It's the scariest time for a footballer and no one likes to see it. He's only been here a couple of weeks and after all the activity that went on trying to get him as well. He was starting to look really good, he was hungry, he was determined to do well and he was looking sharp in training. He has great experience, both internationally and domestically and it's a big lost. But we've got players in the squad who now, through his unfortunate circumstances, will get an opportunity to replace him and hopefully push on."

Lee Bowyer was the first player to tend to Dyer as he went down following a late challenge by Joe Jacobson. "It was a nightmare," he recalls. "I was standing right there. Kieron came straight towards me and I thought he was going to pass me the ball because he took a touch and it came my way. But the fella went in after and it looked like a slash to me. I said that to the referee. I heard a crack but I was hoping it was just his shin pad. Obviously it wasn't and it's a big loss for us. We're just not having much luck at the moment with Julien and his Achilles and Kieron being another new signing with his leg, both on the right side. I've played with him before so I know how he plays and I thought he did well against Birmingham and again on Saturday against Wigan. Hopefully he gets better sooner rather than later."

Monday, 27 August 2007

West Ham United 1 Wigan Athletic 1

West Ham Are Calling On Ashton To Advance by Simon Burnton
This was a three-minute thriller. It was as if, some time deep into the second half, the players had been informed of a contractual obligation to provide Match of the Day with a minimum amount of useable highlights and met the basic obligations... The Guardian
Bowyer Late Show Leaves Wigan Short Of Revenge by Conrad Leach
Given that Wigan were one of the gang of four who had wanted West Ham relegated last season over the Carlos Tevez affair, presumably winning here would at least have come as a decent second prize... The Observer
Hammers Defy Odds by John Aizlewood
A MOST curious encounter: one where West Ham United had most of the possession, yet Wigan Athletic had most of the clear-cut chances. After 90 fascinating minutes, the spoils deserved to be shared but Wigan headed back up the M6 regretting a lapse of concentration... The Times
Curbishley Searches For Elusive Hammers Spirit by Jason Burt
Bust-ups with players have plagued Alan Curbishley's time at West Ham. Some have been real, others down to malicious gossip. The rumour circulating at the moment is that the manager has a problem with Dean Ashton... The Independent
West Ham Left Waiting For Dean Ashton To Fit In by Oliver Brown
As West Ham's supporters grew restive at this static spectacle of a match, a steady chorus of "Deano" began to spread through their ranks. Quite what it is about Dean Ashton that inspires such devotion is difficult to fathom, but with his peroxide blond hair projecting an image more of a surfer than a footballer, he seemed content to ride the swell of expectation... The Telegraph
Wigan Defy Doubters At Upton Park by Andrew Warshaw
Chris Hutchings and his Wigan team may have been everyone's fall-guys when the season started a fortnight ago, but after narrowly avoiding relegation in May the Latics are challenging the assumption that they have little chance of survival this time round... Sunday Telegraph

The History Boy

The History Boy
By Russell Staves

With a cultured swing of his right boot, Jordan Spence made history at the Goyang Stadium on Friday night. With England and Brazil locked at 1-1 in injury-time, the Three Lions skipper cleverly diverted Henri Lansbury's shot past Marcelo's outstretched right hand before embarking on a joyous celebration. Not only did the West Ham's defender's goal ensure his country topped Group B, it meant England beat Brazil for the first time ever at a FIFA Finals.

"It's a blur now," said Spence as he tried to recall his moment of history. "When the ball fell to Henri I was pleased as of all the people it could have landed to, he has scored some great goals from the edge of the area. But he did not seem to catch it right. I managed to stay onside, I just wanted to direct it towards goal. I did not see the ball hit the back of the net. As soon as I made contact I was gone. It was the biggest buzz. Crazy. Just one of those feelings where I wish I could hit a rewind button and go through it all again."

Spence has enjoyed much success since taking the captain's armband at U16 level but, for a pure adrenaline rush, his goal against Brazil takes some beating. "There are a few highlights - The European Championship Final and how we got there, and qualifying in Bosnia, but for a sheer moment of joy, this is up there," he added.

Like the rest of his team-mates, Spence was always confident England would emerge victorious from their meeting with Brazil. While the small contingent of England fans feared the worst when Tales' 40-yard free-kick deceived Alex Smithies in the England goal, Spence remained unruffled. "It was a freak goal," he insisted. "But football can change in a matter of seconds so we never thought it wouldn't be our day just because that went in."

England equalised through Lansbury's penalty at the end of the first half, but there was another twist to the tale when Brazil won an 82nd minute penalty. But Smithies guessed right, diving to his left to parry Lulinha's penalty and keep England in with a chance of victory. "Alex has got a great record at saving penalties," said the captain. "I think he's saved five for England - that's ridiculous. He got us out of trouble. That gave us a big boost. I thought 'let's go and win it now'."

And England did just that, with Spence's instinctive finish the difference between the sides. "Hopefully we have sent a message out to the other teams and to the public who doubted us at the start of the tournament that we are here to win it," said the captain. "We have the capabilities to do so. We will enjoy the moment, but we will push this to one side and concentrate on who we will play in the next round."

Spence was adamant that the bar of expectation has not been raised in light of the win as the team were always aiming to reach the top of the mountain from the moment they left for Korea. "The aim was always to win the World Cup," he said. "If you are not here to win it then there's no point being here. We set the initial objective of winning the group and we have done that. The next objective is to win our game in the last-16. But ultimately the goal is to win the World Cup. If we play to our potential there is no reason why we can't do that."

Taken from The

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Barnes Brewing

Someone over at the Mail got bored and so naturally decided to run yet another Carlos Tevez story. According to Alan Biggs, West Ham United will face at least one new inquiry into the Tevez affair after being told that the FA will conduct their own arbitration hearing into Sheffield United's case. A spokesman at Soho Square confirmed that the Yorkshire club, who claim new evidence in their High Court action for up to £50million in damages, have 'served notice of arbitration' on West Ham. The FA have given the Hammers' board 14 days to respond and to nominate a representative on a three-man panel. FA sources explained that there is an automatic trigger mechanism for such a hearing when one club acts against another. Sheffield United and West Ham will each chose a delegate to answer their case, while the identity of the key independent third member of the panel is to be thrashed out by agreement between the clubs.

The article states Blades chairman Kevin McCabe will push for any panel to be made up of football figures rather than the legally-orientated Premier League tribunal who sat in June. Presumably, this is in the hope that such people might not have such a solid grasp on the points of law that saw the previous tribunal back the League's decision to spare West Ham a points deduction. The Mail claim that Sheffield United have since compiled evidence that Tevez was still owned by Kia Joorabchian's MSI Group when he fired West Ham clear of relegation at the Bramall Lane club's expense. McCabe is also pressing the League to mount a fresh inquiry after sending a letter to chief executive Richard Scudamore expressing the fear that his board wanted the matter 'swept under the carpet'. Copies have been sent to all Premier League clubs.
McCabe believes his latest three-pronged offensive will force a compensation settlement from West Ham.

Elsewhere, a surprise story broke today that West Ham United had agreed terms with Derby County for midfielder Giles Barnes. It was reported on a local radio station in Derby that the two clubs finally agreed a fee for the 19-year-old nephew of former Hammer Bobby Barnes following several weeks of negotiations. The deal was said to be worth in the region of £7million and sparked several further rumours that the player was locked in negotiations with Eggert Magnusson this afternoon. Some time later, the Derby Evening Telegraph moved to distance itself from the claims that were originally attributed to its chief football reporter Steve Nicholson. "Not only am I annoyed but I'm also disgusted that my name can be used without me knowing anything about it and without me having said anything about Giles Barnes' possible move to West Ham," he said. "I've got absolutely no idea where this has come from. If fans want to keep in touch with the Giles Barnes position with Derby, they should read the Evening Telegraph and This is Derbyshire."

While the Barnes story was catching fire, reports that Stephen Appiah has once again been linked with a move to Upton Park became somewhat lost in the smoke. The Ghana midfielder is in the country today with the national squad as they prepare to face Senegal in a friendly at Millwall's New Den. Despite currently carrying an injury which should rule him out of the game, Appiah has reportedly travelled to London with the team - fuelling rumours that he is set for talks with the Hammers, with whom he was first linked at the start of the transfer window. The link resurfaced in some of this morning's papers after Appiah's proposed move from current club Fenerbahce to German outfit FC Schalke fell through at the weekend. While the Hammers are said to be closely monitoring the situation there has never been any direct confirmation from the club about interest in the player.

Finally, West Ham United defenders Danny Gabbidon and James Collins have both
signed contract extensions. The pair joined from Cardiff two years ago on four-year deals. They have now each signed two-year extensions. Gabbidon missed much of last season due to groin injuries and has only been on the bench for the Hammers this campaign. Collins, who was outstanding in West Ham's relegation battle last term, is currently struggling with a groin injury that has stopped him fighting for his position at Upton Park. Gabbidon said: "I am disappointed not to be in the side, but at least the new contracts show that the club wants both me and James around. We will both now work hard and fight to prove we are worthy of a place in the side."

Monday, 20 August 2007

The Bourne Hammer

I was flicking through the papers this morning and stumbled across this little snippet buried away in The Sun's football gossip section...

Just when you thought megastar Matt Damon couldn’t get any cooler, it turns out that he’s a closet West Ham fan. We caught up with Damon at the premiere for The Bourne Ultimatum earlier this week — and he was only too keen to admit he’s Hollywood’s only Hammer.

The Bourne Ultimatum — which took £70million on its first weekend in the States — looks set to be the smash hit movie of this summer.

"When I was in the UK for Saving Private Ryan, the only team they showed on TV consistently was Manchester United," said Damon. "But everyone on the crew assured me that was just like rooting for the New York Yankees, who I hate because I’m a huge Boston Red Sox fan. I don’t like supporting teams like Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United. There was this one poor, sad bastard on that movie who supported Leeds, so I would watch the Leeds games with him to try and cheer him up. But it didn’t work — they were terrible. I liked West Ham, though. I always try and catch one of their games when I’m over here."...

Of course, Damon isn't the only Hollywood Hammer. In recent years Elijah Wood, Keira Knightley and Nicholas Cage have all sworn allegiance to the colours.

Birmingham City 0 West Ham United 1

Noble Relief For Curbishley by John Ashdown
Today is the beginning of week 37 of Alan Curbishley's reign as West Ham manager
but it must seem an awful lot longer. Last week's home defeat by Manchester City
brought a bout of unwanted headlines... The Guardian

Bruce Fumes As Bellamy Eases Pressure by Duncan Mackay
Few players appear to thrive on conflict and controversy quite like Craig
Bellamy, who started yesterday by making one of his regular appearances on the
back pages of a tabloid and ended it by allegedly getting involved in an
incident in the tunnel... The Observer

Noble Penalty Gives Hammers Result by Kaveh Solhekol
If life was fair, West Ham United supporters would be waking up this morning and
reading about how their team bounced back from losing to Manchester City on the
opening day of the season. Life is not fair and Alan Curbishley knows that
better than most managers... The Times
'Baggage' Won't Weigh Down Alan Curbishley by Martin Smith
Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer come with enough baggage to fill a jumbo jet's
hold. However, where everyone else sees serial recidivists, Alan Curbishley sees
players turning over new leaves and enhancing a team he is trying to build - if
not exactly in his own image, then on his own terms... The

Noble Noble Strike Earns Curbishley Relief by David Instone
So busy is Alan Curbishley with putting out fires these days that it is a wonder
he had time to orchestrate a victory of such calm and conviction as this... The Independent

Birmingham Fall To Noble Effort by David Instone
Suddenly, West Ham United's supposedly troubled world looks a whole lot sunnier.
All it took to start lifting the latest East End storm-clouds was a contested
but justified Mark Noble penalty 22 minutes from time, an enterprising,
committed performance actually warranting a considerably bigger victory... Independent on Sunday

Bellamy The Belligerant In No Mood To Be Tamed by Colin Young
Alan Curbishley spent £7.5million on Craig Bellamy and challenged him to clean
up his act. On the evidence of the season so far, there appears more chance of
hell freezing over... Daily Mail

Saturday, 18 August 2007

A Pitch-Perfect Ending

A pitch-perfect ending to a sadly familiar song
By Russell Brand

Sven-Goran Eriksson's Manchester City commanded play at Upton Park last week with such assurance and grace that far from seeming a hastily assembled squad of mercenaries from around this dirty little circle we call "world", they appeared to be afloat in a transcendental love affair with each other and the randy boffin who compiled them.

Flicks and dummies, winks and one-twos, it had the gleeful complicity of a well-administrated orgy at a hostel for handsome backpackers. What's a bit annoying from the perspective of an Englishman is that now Sven can utter the damnation that secretly we all suspected to be true; he can manage perfectly well once liberated from the tiresome obligation to select only sons of Albion. As he said himself: "There was no Elano to pick for England." Blast.

Rolando Bianchi, who got City's first, ran directly over to the dugout to give Sven a cuddle, publicly consummating the Manchester love right in front of the embarrassed West Ham fans. We didn't know where to look; most people opted to rest their disillusioned peepers 'pon Dean Ashton, warming up on the sidelines for most of the match with a peculiarly erotic, slow-motion, sexy karate-robot dance.

For me the opening day of the season was an oscillating mind waltz of conflicting emotions. The Irons were pretty shoddy, disorganised in midfield, lacking in imagination up front and a nerve-jangling ballet of tipsy confusion is what passed for a defence. Only Robert Green in goal and Mark Noble looked comfortable.

The ignominy was exacerbated by the prior knowledge of an after-match meeting with Noel Gallagher in Christian Dailly's box. Most people are aware that the Gallagher brothers are arrogant as a default setting, a feat they performed whilst supporting an unreliable and often risible football team. Well let me tell you that all the swagger and bluster we endured as discs went platinum and Brits were won were as nought compared to the gloating, showboating, puffed-up rhubarb I had to silently tolerate in a senior player's box after Saturday's misdemeanour.

I'd rather hoped that it would be me bragging and strutting, perhaps whilst chuffing on a cigar, consoling a tearful Noel that the season is yet young and that he'd made some jolly good records. Instead me, my Dad, my mate Jack and Robin the hippy black cab driver (there's an anomaly - if you leap into his carriage unawares it's like a magical mystery tour as he recites poems and demands a more lax immigration policy) moped about, overjoyed to be amongst adored West Ham players (James Collins was also there like a big, twinkly beefcake) but irked by the unanticipated defeat.

Then something magical happened. Dailly, who was about to take his adorable trio of wee Daillys to have a kick-about on the pitch, turned to us and said "Do youse wanna come down an' all?" None of us have ever been on the pitch at Upton Park. I'm not a man who is much at ease in any arena designed for physical activity but to walk on to the turf of the team you've supported all your life, were deigned to support, even before birth, is like climbing into the telly or being given the keys to Wonka's chocolate factory and being told, "Here, just take it, I'm dispensing with all these bonkers tests and riddles - too many children have died. Poor, dear Augustus Gloop."

Although, retrospectively, running a chocolate factory is probably a pain in the arse, whereas strolling on to the eternity lawn at the Boleyn makes my brain stop gurgling and my eyes do crying. On the way we sneakily looked into the away dressing room - which looked like it had played host to a tea party for giant toddlers. There were bottles and grass and fruit scattered about the room like Jackson Pollock working in litter. You could still feel the echo of the departed, triumphant City players, you could envisage them conga-ing out behind Sven, covered in victory and streamers.

Then we were in the tunnel. A mural of West Ham legends adorned the walls; Brooking, Dicks, Moore, Devonshire, lit by the glare from the end of the tunnel, the light reflecting green. A few more tentative steps with the opening notes of Bubbles played by a phantom orchestra (or possibly covers band) and there it was, Upton Park, scene of misery and celebration, venue for rites of passage for hundreds of thousands of men, barely an hour before fizzing with hope, then saturated in defeat, now silent, empty, and Bagpuss was just a soppy ol' stuffed cat . . .

But there amidst the burgeoning nothing, chatting to Dailly, all normal, stood Dean Ashton, radiant with health, which is odd 'cos he's a few weeks off full fitness. My mate Jack stuck out a hand. "All right, Deano." Dean being, in reality, a bloke rather than the subject of an unrelenting sonnet rolling around the mouths of 30,000 even before he'd kicked a ball, simply replied: "All right." I scuttled over like a ninny and accosted Dean. I don't remember what I said but it can't have been great because I felt the necessity to impersonate Dean's warm-up dance routine which, looking back, strikes me as an act of desperation.

Dean laughed. As did the few people remaining in the ground, mostly in the directors' boxes. Then I met Alan Taylor, scorer of two Hammers goals in the 1975 FA Cup final, while my dad, Jack and Robin the hippy cabby kicked a ball around the Bobby Moore Stand end of the pitch with Christian Dailly's kids. "Come on Russell, join in," someone shouted. I declined; I could only have tarnished perfection.

Guardian column

History Repeating

The Premier League are ready to side with West Ham over a key aspect of the claim for substantial damages by Sheffield United against the East London club. Sheffield United suspect West Ham of failing to disclose a "critically important" additional third-party agreement - which was dated Dec 1 2006 - from the Premier League and the original independent disciplinary commission who took the decision to fine the Hammers for breaking League rules. Yet an article in today's Telegraph claims that the League will say they received a copy of the document in January and that it was subsequently available to the disciplinary commission. The Premier League, therefore, are satisfied that the new West Ham board did provide them with the relevant documentation and it is thought their evidence will form a central part of West Ham's defence.

Sheffield United remain confident of their position and are expected to question why the existence of the new third-party agreement publicly came to light during a hearing at the High Court between West Ham and the companies who brought Carlos Tevez to English football. Having followed the original disciplinary commission and then taken the matter to arbitration, they will want to know why they were not previously aware of this agreement. Sheffield United believe they would have a strong case for damages following their relegation even without the Dec 1 document, given West Ham's admission of breaking rules over third-party influence and not acting in good faith. West Ham have made clear their intention to defend themselves and have 14 days to formally respond to the proceedings which were launched against them on Thursday. They say that the Premier League were aware of the Dec 1 document and the disciplinary commission knew of its existence.

Elsewhere, hopeless recidivist Craig Bellamy has had a
'spectacular fall-out' with Alan Curbishley only a month into his West Ham career. It is gleefully reported in the Mail that Bellamy slipped back into his old ways in the wake of West Ham's opening day defeat to Manchester City and exchanged harsh words with his new manager. Curbishley, it is claimed, is said to be infuriated by his £7.5million striker's show of petulance, having earlier insisted the time had come for Bellamy to do his talking on the pitch. There are no further details in what is an empty shell of a story. Bellamy has obviously not infuriated Curbishley enough to be dropped from the side for today's game, while the bigger concern is how these dressing room stories continue to get leaked to the press.

Finally, Jason Burt in The Independent claims West Ham United have
rekindled their interest in Nicolas Anelka and are preparing to submit a bid of around £10m for the Bolton Wanderers striker. The Hammers have turned to Anelka despite having an offer of £6.8million accepted by Barcelona for their No 1 target, Eidur Gudjohnsen. Burt states West Ham first inquired about Anelka last month but, at that time, decided against a bid. They also considered a move for Middlesbrough's Aiyegbeni Yakubu but believe he is worth half the £11million being demanded. Instead Yakubu, who is not expected to feature for Boro today against Fulham following the signing of Mido, is expected to move to Everton. Although Portsmouth remain interested in Anelka, they will not be able to meet the salary that will be offered by West Ham who, claims the article, will pay up to £80,000-a-week. If Anelka is signed it will take West Ham's spending to almost £40million this summer although the club has also recouped £21million in sales. West Ham would also be the 28-year-old's eighth major club and his fifth in English football.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Dyer Signs

West Ham United finally announced the signing of Kieron Dyer yesterday with a sharp one sentence message. It was the minimum fanfare for a transfer that seems to have dragged on weeks. Speaking on the official site, Dyer talked about his delight at having finally put pen to paper on a four-year contract. "A couple of weeks ago I thought it was the end of the move and I was devastated," he said. "But thankfully the two clubs have come to an agreement and I am finally a West Ham player. I think it was well documented that I wanted to be nearer to my family, but I also see West Ham as a Club that is really going places, they have shown great ambition with the other players they have brought in and I just love the clear hunger of the Club to be successful. A lot of the players that have signed have a bit of a point to prove as have the players who came so close to relegation last season so everyone shares that hunger which can only be a good thing. I already know a few of the lads here like Wrighty (Richard Wright) and Bellars (Craig Bellamy) so I obviously did talk to them before I made the decision to join as it was never going to be a decision I was going to take lightly. They all had great things to say about the Club and the manager and all in all once I had spoken to them I made my mind up straight away."

Dyer will train with the team tomorrow then be included in the squad to travel to Birmingham for Saturday's match, but potentially being thrown straight into the team is not something that phases the 28-year-old midfielder and he adds he would be happy to play in whatever position is chosen for him. "It is probably one of my strengths - my ability to hit the ground running, so even though I have had a bit of a stop start pre-season if the manager asks me to play at Birmingham on Saturday I would be totally up for the challenge. I think the gaffer sees me as quite a versatile player who can play through the centre whether that be off the strikers or as a central-midfielder that is obviously up to him but if I am required to step in to cover for any of the wide players that would be okay because I am comfortable on the left or the right and I am happy at full-back as well."

Keiron Dyer has won 32 full senior caps, making his debut for England against Luxembourg at Wembley, September 4, 1999. He was considered one of England's brightest young stars when he joined Newcastle United from Ipswich Town in July 1999 and quickly demonstrated the talent which made him such hot property. Although only 20 at the time Dyer quickly added full England caps to the collection of youth, U-21 and B caps he had built up at Ipswich and only narrowly missed out on Kevin Keegan's final squad for Euro 2000. Dyer was part of Sven-Goran Eriksson's 2002 World Cup squad and made three substitute appearances during the tournament. He was made captain of Newcastle for the first time in a competitive game, and scored twice, against Everton in the Worthington Cup on November 6, 2002 and was named in the PFA Premiership team of the season in 2002/03. Kieron also played a part in the England squad for Euro 2004, making a substitute appearance against Switzerland. The midfielder scored seven goals for Newcastle last season.

Alan Curbishley proclaimed his club "delighted" to have secured the 28-year-old. The player's arrival takes his summer spending to over £30million and reunites the England international with his former Newcastle team-mates Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and, most intriguingly, Lee Bowyer. During Newcastle's 3-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa in April 2005, Dyer and Bowyer were involved in one of English football's most notorious brawls. "I've spoken to both players on that and I've been assured it was a one-off and that they both speak regularly to each other anyway, so I don't think there'll be a problem," said Curbishley. "It was an incident that happened between two players that were desperate to do well, not lose the match and their frustration boiled over." Speaking about the protracted negotiations, Curbishley added: "Common sense has prevailed, and Kieron is looking forward to joining us. If you look at his history over the last couple of years he missed a lot of games with his hamstring – but once he got it sorted, he played 33 games and scored eight goals."

Joining Dyer at Birmingham could be club captain
Lucas Neill. The 29-year-old full-back sustained a knee injury during training on 6th August and was expected to be out until early September. But according to the player himself, he is ready for a return to action - and could be named in the squad tomorrow. "I'm almost fit," Neill told Skysports. "The manager's got a tough decision now whether to possibly risk me at 95% fit. Maybe if I got injured again I could be out for a month, or does he wait until I've got a full week of training in so I can be 100% fit for Wigan? I'll leave that down to him, but either way I won't be disappointed." Neill also expressed his delight over the capture of Kieron Dyer. "The guy's got great attributes, he's pacy and very skillful - but more importantly, he'll have a point to prove and that'll only benefit West Ham," he said. "He's had a frustrating period in his career where he's probably been on the sidelines more than he's played. Some people have questioned his ability, some people have doubted him. But for us to have him, and for him wanting to put the record straight and get his career back on track can only be a good thing for West Ham - and I'm looking forward to it."

Thursday, 16 August 2007

They Pull Me Back In

Kieron Dyer was said to be optimistic last night that his £6million transfer to West Ham United will be resurrected after officials from the London club held discussions with their counterparts at Newcastle United. The England international wants to leave Tyneside to be nearer to his partner and two children in Suffolk, and finally appears close to securing a move to West Ham. Dyer has already had a medical at Upton Park and agreed personal terms almost two weeks ago only for the deal to fall apart at the last moment, when Newcastle, to West Ham's anger, hiked up the fee by £2million. Eggert Magnusson, the West Ham chairman, went public with his disgust, claiming he had never seen business conducted in such a fashion but Newcastle's stance is reported to have been motivated by "West Ham bragging about signing Dyer on the cheap". A stand-off ensued but conciliation is now in the air.

The Guardian claim Newcastle are now resigned to cutting their losses on Dyer, who has been undermined by a succession of injuries, and in the absence of further offers from elsewhere, have opted to go back to West Ham. According to the David Hytner, the Londoners believe that they will be able to conclude the deal at the original £6million fee. Indeed they now hope to spread the payments over the term of the midfielder's contract, with Dyer's personal terms heavily based on incentives. The Sun think that after two days of continued negotiations both clubs are closer to agreement, and yet still remain £800,000 apart in their valuations. The Telegraph take a slightly different view of the financial package, with Jeremy Wilson insisting the compromise will involve an initial fee of £6 million with the final £1 million dependent on appearances. That is also the picture over at The Independent with Michael Walker predicting a deal will be finalised within the next 48 hours.

Dyer was reportedly due to be on his way to London last night, even though yesterday morning the 28-year-old midfielder featured in a behind-closed-doors game at Newcastle's training ground against Gretna that was arranged to aid Michael Owen's return to full fitness. According to reports, Dyer also looked sharp and enthusiastic during Newcastle's friendly against Blue Star on Monday night and, as he passed a West Ham medical last week, which included a blood test because of Dyer's medical history, he could be thrust into the West Ham midfield for their game at Birmingham City on Saturday. Walker states that Dyer's match fitness will also be of interest to the England manager, Steve McClaren. The player is expected to be named in the squad for next week's friendly against Germany and is considered by McClaren to be one of the players who can play behind a main striker in a role comparable to Wayne Rooney.

Just When I Thought I Was Out...

Sheffield United have announced they plan to sue West Ham for the cost of their relegation from the Premier League. The Blades failed last month in their high court bid to force new Premier League disciplinary action against West Ham over the Carlos Tevez affair; they had hoped to pave the way for a retrospective points deduction that would send West Ham down while keeping United in the top flight. Once that avenue of attack was cut off, they revealed they would consider suing West Ham for compensation of between £30milion and £50million, the equivalent of the club's estimated share of the Premier League television rights money. Paul Stothard, Sheffield United’s solicitor, had said at the time: "You can be fairly confident that the issue won’t rest here. Sheffield United are not precluded from taking further action against the Premier League or West Ham. The compensation would be top of the agenda because there are significant consequences financially for being relegated wrongfully, as we believe we have been."

It is reported in The Times that Sheffield United are expected to argue that each club enters into an agreement to act in good faith with other clubs and that agreement was broken when West Ham admitted breaching the rules in the transfer of Tevez and Javier Mascherano. They may also argue that West Ham breached their contract with the Premier League. The BBC think the Yorkshire club will claim West Ham gained an unfair advantage by signing an illicit player and also that they may possess new evidence concerning West Ham's termination of Tevez's third-party ownership. In reports emerging this morning, a member of the Sheffield United legal team is quoted as saying: "After consideration and discussion with our legal advisers Sheffield United are today initiating legal proceedings against West Ham United as we seek substantial compensation for our relegation from the Premier League."

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Irascible Rams

Derby County are considering reporting West Ham United to the Premier League following the east London club's attempt to sign Giles Barnes. Peter Gadsby, Derby's chairman, revealed yesterday that they are in the process of gathering evidence after West Ham submitted an unsolicited £3.5million bid for the England under-19 international. "We're watching the Barnes situation very closely," said Gadsby. "If we have any evidence that things are going on, we'll look at it. We have formed an opinion and we'll wait a little while to confirm that opinion. We're waiting for some facts before we decide where to go with this. We had an approach that was followed by an unacceptable bid, a derisory offer, which can mean one or two things: one, there's some business we don't know about; two, it's an unrealistic bid, with the level it came in at, that might have been made to pacify the manager."

Barnes is Derby's most valuable asset and Gadsby insists that the club will not easily sanction his departure. "There is a history of this club being pillaged," he added. "With the Barnes situation, we've got a particular club that has been very busy - his father's very influential in his life - but they'd be mistaken if they thought Derby County were a soft touch. We are interested in Derby County first and Giles Barnes second. The lad must be unsettled. Because he's not playing, you can see he's frustrated." According to The Guardian, Derby manager Billy Davies held talks with the player yesterday morning during which he sought to explain to the teenager that he can play a key role this season. "Although we've had several inquiries or offers, we've told him we want him to stay at Derby County and to continue his development here," said Davies.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph claims West Ham and Newcastle were last night poised to agree a compromise deal to bring Kieron Dyer to Upton Park for £7 million. The on-off transfer appeared to have collapsed almost two weeks ago when Newcastle upped their asking price from £6 million to £8 million at the 11th hour after Dyer had a medical. The article states that the new deal, which West Ham hope to conclude today, will involve an initial fee of £6 million with the final £1 million dependent on appearances. It is reported the player will receive wages of £60,000 a week. In the same piece, it is also mentioned that West Ham and Barcelona have agreed on a price of £7 million for Eidur Gudjohnsen, although the Iceland striker is believed to be holding out for a salary of close to £100,000 a week. According to the Mail, West Ham are prepared to offer £80,000 but are demanding a quick answer. It is stated that if no deal can be agreed then Alan Curbishley may step up his interest in Middlesbrough's Yakubu as another option.

Finally, Anton Ferdinand has offered his services to Steve McClaren. Speaking in The Sun, Ferdinand said: "It’s always been my dream to play for England. I can’t play for the Under-21s any more because I am too old and the next step is the senior squad. It’s down to me and my performances on the pitch. I would like to think I’ve done well at U-21 level. I’ve shown that I can play at international standard and I hope the England manager has been looking at that. One of my dad’s biggest dreams was to see both of us make it. He saw Rio make it and was not going to stop until he saw me do the same. It is also a big dream that Rio and all my family are hoping for — that we can one day play together for England. We would probably need a section of the ground for friends and family if that was to happen."

Sunday, 12 August 2007

West Ham United 0 Manchester City 2

Take A Bow, Sven The Revolutionary by Martin Samuel
There was only one certainty about Sven-Göran Eriksson’s revolutionised Manchester City. Four. Four. Two. It was his touchstone in more than five years as England head coach. Great players, such as Paul Scholes, were sacrificed to it; tournament campaigns drifted listlessly, lost in his thrall to it... The Times
Sven's Foreign Legion Shine by Brian Glanville
Fresh from their recent tribulations, a mischievous computer decreed that West Ham should play Manchester City on this opening Premier League day. And City won at a canter... Sunday Times
Eriksson Follows Gambler's Instincts by James Lawton
The verdict on Sven Goran Eriksson as coach of England has been in for some time – but what about the resurrected, big-league club manager, the winner of Italy's scudetto and the new messiah of Manchester City?... The Independent
Eriksson Purrs As City Slickers Click Instantly by Nick Townsend
In those words we came to love, and expect, from Sven-Goran Eriksson in his England days, it was a case of: first half good; second half not so good. But no matter. It was a convincing enough victory on his debut as an England club manager and will have swiftly assuaged doubts, both over the Swede's appointment and over his wholesale import of foreign talent on judgement apparently made largely on the basis of videos... Independent on Sunday
Eriksson's Man City Give West Ham Run- Around by David Miller
That renowned brand of West Ham football was alive and well at Upton Park: the anguish for home supporters was that it was being played exclusively by Manchester City, to the unrestrained delight of their travelling band... The Telegraph
Fantasy Football From Eriksson's New Man City by Patrick Barclay
Strange things happen when Sven-Goran Eriksson comes here. Franny Jeffers scores for England (albeit in a 3-1 defeat by Australia) and Manchester City achieve instant success with a scratch team... Sunday Telegraph
Eriksson's New Look City Deal Hammers Early Blow by Jamie Jackson
'Hello everybody.' With a couple of words, a laidback - even by his standard - Sven-Goran Eriksson announced his second act in the sharp end of English football to a packed Upton Park press room. Most of the nation's top sporting scribes were here to witness the return of the man from Torsby. Well, neither he nor his football team disappointed... The Observer

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Riding The Snake

This year I'll ride the snake like a soccer shaman
By Russell Brand

Today I am going to watch West Ham v Man City for the first game of the new calendar. The season's commencement feels all fresh, lovely and new. We've rinsed away the horror and regret of last season; I suppose that's another of the sublime delights entailed within the game - a terminable, manageable existence within defined parameters. Regardless of how spectacular or drab your term has been it'll all begin again next August. That's comforting. Better than actual life where if you hijack a bus and drive it into old folks home yawping slogans and hurling fireworks the consequences will haunt you to your grave.

I shall make my way to Upton Park all virginal and brimming with innocent expectation with a couple of chums, perhaps singing "three little maids from school are we" from the Mikado. Noel Gallagher will be there in his capacity as a City fan elevating further the jeopardy for this already thrilling encounter as football kindly provides a context for good-natured banter and playful threats - again within defined parameters.

The close season, or anti-season - a kind of negative un-time that exists only in relation to the Platonic, pure season - has been a fiscal torrent with cash flooding the Premiership and now buoyant corpses bloated with expectation bob towards the first whistle.

There has been much condemnation of the way in which the influx of money has poisoned the game and it's difficult to dispute that recent events have tarnished football's romance. But the effects of rampant capitalism are not confined to peculiar transfers and boardroom espionage - it's ballsing up the entire planet. I saw in a red top that cocaine was found in the lavvies at 25% of Premiership grounds, implying that the clubs are somehow culpable. People take cocaine; people go to football, that is all that's been proven in that barmy cistern survey. Similarly the whole world is governed by an ideology that demands that the acquisition of money must subjugate all else: morality, spirituality and good old-fashioned sexiness are secondary to commerce, and this cannot be blamed on Carlos Tevez, Malcolm Glazer or even Thaksin Shinawatra, although he might've been closer to the nub of the problem in his last job.

When caught up in the magic of live football it's easy to believe that the power of the crowd is what ultimately matters; the inherent unity feels like socialism but each of the screaming 34,000 has been taxed on entry and however loud they may sound their voices are seldom heard. It is apparently futile to resist progress although tiny victories are occasionally achieved: disenchanted Manchester United fans have established FC United, a collectively financed club that truly belongs to its supporters. Presumably, though, were the club to clamber through the multitude of leagues to penetrate the national consciousness and challenge for trinkets the inevitable tide would also consume this idealistic vessel.

Myself, I get all caught up in the rhubarb, I'm intrigued by escalating transfer fees and bonkers wages, I enjoy the soap opera. How can United fail to win the title this year? They've assembled a terrifying gang of world-class players, and quaint idealism aside I'm tantalised by the prospect of seeing Tevez hook up with Rooney. Chelsea's current injury problems may impair them early on but that Malouda bloke looked good in the Community Shield and they know how to scrap. I'd like Liverpool to do well - Torres is a handsome devil and I'm sure he'll cause all sorts of bother. Arsenal have a stability which oughtn't to be underestimated and were coping without Henry for the majority of last season. And I suppose we'll all be interested to see what Spurs do with their panoply of strikers.

There's been more diverse transfer activity than in recent memory but I'll still be surprised if the top four in May ain't the typical blend of red and blue. Newcastle, Villa, Pompey, Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland will be shuffling around the Uefa places and I think Reading, Bolton and Wigan might be auditioning for the fizzy pop league.

Apart from the obvious top four element I'll be interested to see how those predictions pan out because I have an unscientific mind fuelled chiefly by emotion and whimsy. I shall be utterly agog if come next August the above paragraph doesn't appear to be the result of a drunken, myopic pianist being deceived that my keyboard is a futuristic Steinway and told to "just go nuts".

I shall enjoy this year's football; I'll ride the snake, like Jim Morrisson as a soccer-ball shaman. I'm not going to focus on the incremental erosion of the essence of the beautiful game because it is symptomatic of a much larger problem. I'd like to suggest that we enjoy the football then come late May, in the un-season, instead of watching the to-ing and fro-ing and the "I'd rather not go-ing" we unite under one glorious banner march down Whitehall and kick off a proper revolution.

Guardian column

Friday, 10 August 2007

Steely Determination

Magnusson faces life after the storm with steely determination
By Martin Samuel

In the post Carlos Tévez era, West Ham United will not be garnering much sympathy from neutrals this season. Eggert Magnússon, the club’s chairman, chose the eve of the new campaign, however, to offer an insight into how modern football works and a tale to suggest that his was not the only club to lose their moral compass last time around.

Luis Boa Morte joined West Ham from Fulham for £5.5 million on January 5. Yet when the teams played each other in the league on January 13, Magnússon said that West Ham were under pressure not to select the new signing. Fulham demanded that Boa Morte did not play against them, but they could not make this a written condition of the deal because it would have broken Premier League rules on third-party interference. Instead, it was to be framed as a gentlemen’s agreement, the same form of private understanding that kept Tim Howard out of the Everton team against Manchester United and stopped Steve Kabba playing for Wat-ford against Sheffield United. Fulham were not happy that West Ham reneged on the arrangement and Mo-hamed Al Fayed, the club’s chairman, joined a legal campaign against West Ham led by Sheffield United, who were relegated. That campaign was for fairness.

So what does this say about Magnússon? First, that behind the elf-like exterior he is capable of playing hard-ball. Secondly, that anyone who thinks that only one top-flight club failed to act in good faith last season is probably the sort who falls for that line about gullible not being in the dictionary. After a season of confrontation, Magnússon is doing his best to be diplomatic, with varying levels of success. "It seems to me that things have happened to suggest we were not the only club that was wrong," he said. "Yes, Fulham asked us not to play Luis Boa Morte against them and we played him, of course. How can you sign a player for £5.5 million and not play him? Come on, it’s crazy. I cannot comment on why other clubs accepted those arrangements, but the Premier League will deal with these things now because it has been brought into the daylight. Fulham attempted an outside influence on our team, of course they did." January 12, 2008, is their next meeting, if you are interested.

Before that, Magnússon will welcome Dave Whelan, the equally vocal Wigan Athletic chairman, to Upton Park, on August 25. "Some of my colleagues have been trying to damage the image of my club," Magnússon said. "But they were not there when I attended the Premier League AGM this summer. Not Dave Whelan, not Steve Gibson, of Middlesbrough, the critics did not show, I was surprised. So I did not feel that West Ham were not welcome, not at all. And Al Fayed was not there. But I got a letter from him that said it all anyway. He didn’t need to be there." There will inevitably be a hangover of ill will, but Magnússon is hoping to draw a line under the Tévez affair before tomorrow’s match against Manchester City.

Terence Brown, the former West Ham chairman who entered into the infamous third-party agreements, is no longer welcome at Upton Park and Magnússon will not rule out legal action against him. The £2 million bona fide litigation settlement paid by Media Sports Investments, the owners of Tévez’s economic rights, went through on Wednesday and, having settled all legal bills from a variety of claimants, the club intend to place the remaining £500,000 with the Football Foundation, ring-fenced for the development of mini-pitches in the London Borough of Newham. Some will say that it is the least they can do, others that they did not have to do anything. Either way, inner-city children get football pitches. Make of it what you will.

What concerns Magnússon more is the accusation that West Ham have interfered with football’s financial bio-rhythms with their forays into the transfer market. There was an outcry last season when Lucas Neill, the Blackburn Rovers full back, chose Upton Park ahead of Anfield and while this summer has been marked as much by high-profiles failures, Darren Bent and Kieron Dyer, as successes, the club were still accused by Niall Quinn, the Sunderland chairman, of recklessly inflating wages and fees. This was before he paid £9 million for a Scottish goalkeeper, naturally. "It is very easy to blame foreign owners for all that is wrong with English football," Magnússon said. "But I think it is strange when people say we are spending a lot of money and then they complain there are the same four clubs in the top places all the time. How will that change unless a club has ambition? Everybody should be pleased that somebody is trying to stop it because this is not a healthy situation for the Premier League.

"It would be good if you could just get up there with effort, but that is not possible. It costs money because the teams that are already there receive money each year from Uefa for playing in the Champions League. We will run the club in a healthy way, combining business and ambition, but you have to invest. It will take time, but I think it is possible to challenge the top four. You need a big stadium, though, because maybe in ten years it will even be difficult to be in the Premier League if you do not have a ground for at least 50,000.”

What remains to be seen is whether Alan Curbishley, the manager, getting his first opportunity at a club with financial clout, has the presence to match Magnússon’s ambitions. Masterminding the great escape has bought him at least one season, but the underlying message is that the manager has to adapt quickly to a financial change of circumstances, too. "Alan has to show he has got what it takes to go the next step," Magnússon said. "I think he has. At Charlton Athletic he did not have the money, so he has to prove a lot of new things with us. But there must have been a reason he was in the reckoning to be the England manager, a lot of qualities that I hope will come through with West Ham. Tomorrow is the first time we can say we are putting our team out. It was no secret there was a lot going on in the dressing-room last year, players we needed to get rid of. Whether it was down to individuals or the group as a whole, changes had to be made. There was unrest and things that should not have happened, and that was not good for team spirit. It is a happy dressing-room now."

A happier boardroom, too? "I feel very healthy," Magnússon said. "But when I go back to Iceland for a day, people come up to me and say, 'Eggert, you look very tired, you should get some holiday.' "No time for that now. Maybe a weekend away later in the year. January 12 looks nice.


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