Thursday, 9 August 2007

Season Preview- About A Ball

The Road To Redemption Starts Here
By Walter Townsend

In: Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal), Richard Wright (Everton), Julien Faubert (Bordeaux), Scott Parker (Newcastle United), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool)
Out: Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa), Paul Konchesky (Fulham), Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool), Roy Carroll (Rangers), Shaun Newton (Leicester City), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa), Teddy Sheringham (Colchester), Tyrone Mears (Derby County)

After avoiding relegation on the final day of the season West Ham have lived to fight another day in the Premiership but after all the shenanigans and fuss over whether they should even be taking part in this seasons Premiership they have a lot of bridges to build. West Ham were once many of the neutrals favourites and even as recently as 2005/06 when they got to the final of the FA Cup final and played their part in easily the best final in the last 15 years winning over many more fans with their exciting style their reputation has been tarnished by their part in misleading the authorities. Consequently they have a lot of unhappy football fans to win over.

West Ham looked to be headed towards the Championship by Christmas last season and those observers uncertain of their fate made up their minds after the 3-4 defeat to Spurs, certain that The Hammers were headed for the trapdoor. Curbishley though miraculously turned the situation round aided and abetted in no small part by the very player at the centre of all the controversy; Tevez.

Whatever your opinion of the punishment meted out to West Ham by the Premier League for their complicity in the decidedly dubious transfer of Tevez most couldn’t help but be impressed by the way that United clawed their way from a seemingly hopeless position. Despite the major overhaul of the squad that has taken place this summer Curbishley will be hoping to maintain the momentum that saw West Win 7 of their final 10 league matches last season.

The arrivals this season at West Ham are all direct replacements for departed players and despite the fact that some transfer fees haven’t been disclosed I wouldn’t be at all surprised if West Ham have made a profit in their dealings this summer. In to replace Sheringham, who amazingly continues his career at Colchester, is Ljungberg, who will be under pressure to show that the reason Arsenal released him was wrong. Benayoun’s departure will be compensated for by Faubert, although the unlucky Frenchman has been ruled out for the first half of the season after suffering a severe injury in training. Bellamy will be replacing the departed Marlon Harewood and finally for £7 million Scott Parker will come in for Reo-Coker who joins Harewood at Aston Villa. The only player who hasn’t been directly replaced is Konchesky who made the trip across London to Fulham but Matthew Upson comes into the squad after being injured for nearly the full 8 months he has been with West Ham.

Another new arrival of sorts will be Dean Ashton who after a whole season out after arriving from Norwich City for £8.5 is fit and ready to go. Having Ashton in the team will give West Ham a physical presence in the team and the pace of Craig Bellamy should compliment Ashton’s quality.

The truth is last season the squad should never have been dragged into such a relegation scrap but presumably unsettled because of the arrivals and then later by the furore that surrounded them none of the players achieved the sort of form they had the season before. The puzzling thing about West Ham’s season last year was that they were capable of beating top 4 teams, Arsenal and Manchester United both lost at Upton Park yet they were also thrashed 6-0 by Reading. Rumours that several of the players had got a little to big for their station were underlined by such topsy-turvy results and Curbishley will have to dispel that notion and quickly . A good start will be crucial and the fixture list has been kind to West Ham with games against Manchester City, Birmingham, Wigan and Reading to start off with, although Curbishley will have to make sure that his team starts picking up results against the teams they will be competing. They don’t play a top 4 team until the end of September, which depending on the success of Curbishley on stamping out such high self-opinions of the players may be a good thing or it may not be.

The squad now bears the hallmark of Curbishley on it and he will be looking for an improved performance collectively. After such a traumatic season it is difficult to set exact expectations although one feels that given the quality in the squad West Ham should be at least capable of achieving a top half finish. However, first priority has to be to gain the mythical 40 points total before looking to kick on and improve from there. The team still posses the sort of quality to produce a good cup run and a UEFA Cup spot may not be entirely out of the question.

Taken from About a Ball

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