Thursday, 17 July 2008

Economy Class Hammers

There's more than a hint of the Carry On Abroads as West Ham United's 'tour from hell' lurches from one shambolic crisis to the next. The Hammers are due in Canada to play prestigious friendlies against MLS All Stars and Columbus Crew but the players and staff are reportedly fuming after it was revealed the travel travel firm organizing the trip had gone bust. Now the squad is being flown economy class in two separate planes despite being led to believe they would get extra room for the long-haul journey in business class.

An article in today's Sun says United expect to pocket £500,000 from the two games but the players are upset at the new travel arrangements. The MLS told Alan Curbishley they would get business class flights but after the travel firm went under, it all went wrong. After tonight's friendly with non-league Hampton the players will stay overnight at a hotel near Heathrow and tomorrow half the squad fly to Chicago on one scheduled flight, with the remainder flying out hours later. After that nine-hour trip, plus the wait at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, they catch another plane for the three-hour flight to Columbus before facing Crew on Sunday. The following Thursday, the MLS All Star team provide the opposition in Toronto. To add insult to injury, this game will be played on astroturf and many of the players are reluctant to turn out because of injury fears.

There was more unwelcome publicity for the Club when Bobby Zamora unwittingly stoked the rumours of West Ham United's increasingly parlous financial state. Zamora - along with full-back John Paintsil - joined Fulham yesterday in a £6.3million switch from the Hammers. Talking about his move earlier today, he suggested that it was a decision based not upon footballing factors but to ease cash-flow worries within the club. "I got on well with Curbs and I think he liked me as a player. But the clubs agreed a fee and I guess that says something, he said. "Football is a business and selling players is part of that. Will other players also have to leave? Possibly yes. I don’t really know the ins and outs of what the club needs to do but it is a possibility. I understand that they need the money but how much is anyone’s guess. It was a lot of money that Fulham paid. I had a lot of great times at West Ham and I love the club to bits but I have had to turn another page now. West Ham are my club and always will be but they needed the money and that’s part and parcel of football nowadays."

As if to assuage growing fears swirling around Upton Park , a 'senior club source' let it be known to the BBC that there are plans to buy new players this summer despite a desire to trim the 42-man squad to a more manageable 26 or 27 players. "We effectively have four teams on the payroll - that is far too big a squad," stated the insider. "We will be signing players and have specific requirements. We don't have to sell before we buy necessarily." West Ham United have one of the biggest first-team squads in the Premier League and a wage bill approaching £50 million a year. Chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson seems determined to make the club "self sustaining" and has made trimming salaries a key aim for manager Alan Curbishley and chief executive Scott Duxbury this summer.

There has also been a focus on improving training and medical facilities in an attempt to improve the team's record with injuries. Several new appointments have been made to the medical staff and the club is reportedly in the final stages of purchasing land for a new training complex in Romford, Essex. "We are trying to make the best of the know-how and expertise that we have at the club," the source said. "The aim is to have first-class medical and training facilities, to rival those at the biggest European clubs. At best, we managed to field six or seven of our first team at any one time last season. Just imagine how well we could have done had the likes of Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy, Julien Faubert and Dean Ashton available all season. We have to try to keep these players fit. We also have a lot of good young players coming through, such as Freddie Sears and James Tomkins. The optimum squad size is probably about 26 or 27 players. Our squad has become so big for a couple of reasons - the relegation battle we had in 2006/7 and the spate of injuries of 2007/8."

When Gudmundsson bought the Hammers in 2006, he laid out a five-year plan that, he hoped, would ultimately culminate in qualification for the Champions League. United finished 10th last season and the target for the coming season will be to challenge for a UEFA Cup spot.

One new face already signed is promising young Hungarian striker Balint Bajner. Although still no official word on his signature, Bajner expressed delight at winning a move to West Ham United, having impressed during a trial in East London. The teenager claims the Hammers and Romanian second division outfit Liberty Arad have agreed on a deal and he will move to Upton Park following the European Under-19 Championship. If sealed, the deal could prove to be a notable coup for United as Italian giants Inter and Lazio have also been linked to the 17-year-old. "I'm very happy, but I want to focus on the European Championship at the moment," said Bajner. "My dream came true with this transfer. I was on trial at Lazio and Inter Milan, but in May I had the chance to go to West Ham. In my trial we played a friendly game against Preston and we won 5-1. I scored twice and had two assists. After this Liberty and West Ham agreed about my transfer."

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