Saturday, 6 October 2007

Friends Reunited

When Nigel Reo-Coker left West Ham for Aston Villa last season, there was much acrimony. Now he can't wait to clatter a few old team-mates today and upset the fans who berated him. But the truth is that he had to get out of London to rekindle his career — or risk sinking with the temptations around him, according to his former midfield colleague, Hayden Mullins. Mullins could have been on the way out too, as a makeweight to Charlton with striker Darren Bent going to Upton Park, but the move fell through and Mullins' professionalism has led to him re-establishing himself in the team. Reo-Coker and Mullins still socialise and keep in constant touch but once the white line is crossed at Villa Park today, expect the tackles to fly.

"Nigel has already told me that anyone who gets in his way is going to get kicked — and he wants to score," admits Mullins. "I spoke to him on Wednesday and he's up for the game, there's no doubt about that. He'll want to show what he can do and put one over on us, but all the lads are ready for it and we want to put one over on him. It was the usual banter, it's all friendly — but once that whistle goes . . . it's different." Mullins understood Reo-Coker's desire to get away from London, especially after he began to be linked with big moves. The Hammers player said: "It's very easy to get distracted with his profile as a Premier League player. There are distractions like nightclubs and other bits and pieces. Nigel probably felt for his own sake he needed to get out, and it was probably the right choice. He was probably getting pulled here and there by other people so the best thing to do, to concentrate on his career, was to get away from those kind of people."

So why didn't Mullins face similar temptations? He said: "I'm married. So I rarely have the chance to get out. It doesn't really apply to me, it's more the younger lads." West Ham assistant boss Mervyn Day said: "Nigel wanted to leave as soon as me and Alan Curbishley walked in. He and Marlon Harewood (also at Villa) moved on because they wanted to. It was their choice. It was disappointing." Mullins added: "I tried to convince Nigel to stay because if we'd had him in our midfield, with the players we've signed, we'd have an even better squad. " After a season which began with the midfielder being linked to Arsenal and ended with a last-day Houdini act, Reo-Coker chose to swap the Icelandic revolution at Upton Park for the American-financed revival at Villa Park. And so far his new club are two places higher in the table. "Nigel put in everything he had when he played for us and he was a very good captain," Mullins said. "I told him that the club is going in the right direction. We are trying to become a top-half table club and we are pushing for Europe, and the signings prove that. He has his own people talking to him and he had his mind made up. He was very impressed with Martin O'Neill, who sold the club to him."

O'Neill has been very happy with his contribution so far, but has warned his £8.5million signing not to overstep the mark. He said: "I hope he has enough experience to know it does not really matter how the West Ham fans react to him. I'm pretty confident he will concentrate on his game and, if he does that and plays the way he has been doing since he joined us, then I have nothing to worry about." The Villa manager believes Reo-Coker is capable of breaking into the England squad for the Euro 2008 finals as he prepares to face former club for the first time since his £8.5million summer switch. Reo-Coker skippered the England Under-21 side during the European Championship finals in Holland in June before making the move to Villa Park. O'Neill said: "There were other teams very interested in signing him. I was very pleased he decided to come to us. West Ham told us there were other offers and I was very pleased to get him. He has done well for us and is very conscientious. He is still finding his feet here and that is pleasing because there is much more to come from him. I think if England qualify for Euro 2008, which you would expect them to, then Nigel would have time to make a big enough impression to be heading with that squad to Austria and Switzerland in the summer time. That should be a driving ambition of his - and I am sure it is."

Despite being labelled a "bad egg" at West Ham, Reo-Coker's attitude and form so far has delighted Villa boss O'Neill. "Nigel made his point about feeling he was hung out to dry but we have been able to get his services and I have been very pleased with him," O'Neill said. "So far I have found Nigel very conscientious and he wants to improve his game and do very well. He does not want to be a shrinking violet, he is keen to win and get involved. I have been pleased with what he has shown me." O'Neill is particularly happy with the way Reo-Coker and Barry have combined in the centre of the park but is not getting carried away with first impressions. He said: "All those things I thought I saw from a distance, Nigel has shown so far for us. I think his game has helped Gareth although Gareth has been making significant progress for some time and he was a very good player before Nigel arrived at the club. Gareth has done a lot himself but I would accept the fact that there has also been some sort of influence on the side from Nigel. They are doing fine as a pairing, and they are playing strongly together, and I am very pleased for both of them, but it is early yet to make positive assumptions you expect to last for the rest of the season."

Elsewhere, West Ham assistant manager Mervyn Day has revealed that he and Alan Curbishley tried twice unsuccessfully to sign Ashley Young from Watford. Young was on the verge of signing for West Ham in January before moving to Villa Park for £9.65m following a last minute change of heart. The midfielder will be up against West Ham tomorrow and Day, speaking in the absence of Curbishley who is unwell, admitted: "We also tried to sign him when we were at Charlton. We tracked him for some time and I must have seen him a dozen times. He can play anywhere along the front, right or left-side midfield. He has a trick, he crosses with both feet, he's decent in the air and he can score goals." Ashley Young revealed: "West Ham did come in for me and I had talks with them. I chose Villa over West Ham and I believe I made the right choice and I'm happy here. From the time I joined the club I knew it was going places."

Regarding team news ahead of today's clash, West Ham United will be without Anton Ferdinand and Scott Parker. Defender Ferdinand misses the trip to Villa Park with a slight hamstring strain, while Parker, the former Newcastle United midfielder, faces another spell on the sidelines after damaging medial knee ligaments in last weekend's 1-0 home defeat by Arsenal. Alan Curbishley's team need to get back on track in the Barclays Premier League after two successive defeats. But they are without forward Craig Bellamy, who is struggling with a groin injury, and long-term casualties Kieron Dyer, Julien Faubert and Calum Davenport.

Shaun Maloney could come into contention for a rare start for Aston Villa after returning to training following an ankle problem. The former Celtic player, who has netted three goals as a substitute this season, may challenge Luke Moore for a place alongside Gabriel Agbonlahor. Moore has struggled to recapture the form he showed in the early part of last season before undergoing a shoulder operation and is still to score in the league during the current campaign. Patrik Berger (calf) and John Carew (knee) are still ruled out as Villa look to recover from the shock of conceding three goals in the final 21 minutes of the 4-4 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

Aston Villa (from): Carson, Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Bouma, Gardner, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young, Moore, Maloney, Agbonlahor, Petrov, Harewood, Taylor, Davies, Osbourne.

West Ham United (from): Wright, Green, Neill, Upson, Gabbidon, McCartney, Bowyer, Mullins, Noble, Etherington, Ashton, Cole, Pantsil, Collins, Spector, Ljungberg, Boa Morte, Reid.

The game is the only one which kicks-off at the traditional 3pm today and Day said: "I'm a bit of a traditionalist and I find it quite sad although we all take a lot of money from the TV companies."

No comments:


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari