Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Captives

In the latest show of intent by the beleaguered Hammers board, Scott Parker has been informed he will not be allowed to leave and join Manchester City, even though the midfielder has indicated that he would like the opportunity to speak to the club. Like Miro's Captive, Parker must stay, implacable eyes staring through claret and blue bars. A report in today's Independent says that the combined bid of £15m lodged by City over the weekend for Parker and his West Ham team-mate Craig Bellamy was immediately rejected by the club, who remain determined to hold on to their best players in the January transfer window.

Parker and Bellamy have been targeted by Mark Hughes, who is also said to be keen on signing Chelsea's Wayne Bridge and the Arsenal defender Kolo Touré. No further offer has been made by City for Parker or Bellamy, although there have been indications that they will lodge another within the next few days. The article states that Spurs are also weighing up whether to increase their offer for Bellamy after having an initial £6m rejected by West Ham on Christmas Eve. The north London club yesterday refuted claims they have bid £12m for the Welsh international.

The Independent claims West Ham have also told Matthew Upson that he will not be sold next month and it is understood the central defender has said he is happy to stay, despite interest from a host of clubs, including Newcastle United. Chief executive, Scott Duxbury, is taking a 'tough stance' and refusing to sell any of the club's top players. The club have also assured Gianfranco Zola that he will have the final say on sales and are determined not to break up what they believe is a strong spine to the first team, including goalkeeper Robert Green, Valon Behrami and Mark Noble as well as Bellamy, Parker and Upson. As reported elsewhere, if an offer of £15m was made for any of their prize assets, then it would at least be put to Zola.

The Daily Star take a slightly different stance and think United have privately encouraged Manchester City to come back with £20m to buy Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker. The Hammers are said to value Bellamy at £12m and Parker at £10m but would be willing to reach a compromise deal if much of the transfer fee was paid up front. It is reported that such a figure, along with hard money immediately, would allow for the signing of replacements and stop the need to sell any other key players.

If such an offer was accepted then Zola might not be around long enough to spend the cash. The Mail insist the United boss has told the West Ham board he will leave the club if he is forced to sell his best players next month. With a host of Premier League clubs queueing up to sign Craig Bellamy, Scott Parker, Robert Green and Matthew Upson, Hammers boss Zola wants the club's power brokers to give him assurances - or he's off after less than four months in charge. In particular, Zola prizes Bellamy highly, and has not been impressed by reported bids from Tottenham and Manchester City for the Wales star. He is also backed by James Collins, who has urged the club not to cash in on his compatriot in the transfer window. "You've got to hang on to players like Craig if you want to progress," said Collins. "I am sure everyone at the club will say the same thing because he is a great lad to have around." Of course, Collins might change his tune if a rumoured £3m approach from Fulham materializes next week.

The same paper claims Scott Duxbury held a crisis meeting with the players to reassure them there would not be a January clearout. It also insists that a player exodus still seems highly likely. This, of course, flies in the face of the public protestations of the last few weeks that the club are not in financial meltdown. It also comes on the back of yesterday's news that our Icelandic owners have exploited a legal loop hole (the artificial device of giving notice on 29 December to shorten the financial year by 1 day) to defer the publication of the West Ham accounts this month. Given the May year end, this is when the accounts of West Ham United Football Club plc and immediate holding company West Ham United plc should have entered into the public domain as public limited companies, allowing for the 7 months by law to lodge accounts at Companies House. WH Holding Ltd, the UK acquisition vehicle used by the Icelandic consortium, is a private company and therefore allowed 10 months to file its accounts, although in practice it lodged its 2007 accounts in December 2007, at the same time as the accounts of the two plcs. The new date for publication is set for 29 March 2009, thus extending to the other side of the transfer window and after the expiry of the Hansa moratorium on 6 March.

Whatever reasons for these machinations, the club have acknowledged there is a list of potential departures drawn up by Zola, Duxbury and the technical director, Gianluca Nani, as the club seek to reduce the size of the squad. It includes Julien Faubert, who is attracting interest from Nantes, Calum Davenport, who is believed to be wanted by Bolton Wanderers and fringe players such as Luis Boa Morte, who latest reports are linking with a January move to Cardiff City. A source claiming to have links with the football agent industry, whispered: "Luis is making a career move as he enjoys playing ninety minutes of football each Saturday. He will join Cardiff City in January. Whilst he has not had the best time at West Ham United he wishes to prove his worth and assist Cardiff City to the Premier." Boa Morte has already worked under Dave Jones during his time at Southampton.

Elsewhere defender James Tomkins has returned to United after the end of his loan spell with Derby County. The 19-year-old featured eight times in all competitions including the Carling Cup quarter-final win at Stoke City, only his second game at the club. He impressed with his performances and attitude at the heart of defence and the Rams had hoped to extend his stay. But the Hammers have made the decision to call him back to the Boleyn Ground where he will rejoin Gianfranco Zola's squad. It is the clearest indication yet that at least one of the central defenders will be leaving in the next few weeks, with the obvious departure being Calum Davenport.

Caretaker manager Chris Hutchings said: "It's disappointing to lose James as he has done well for us since he's been here, but it goes without saying we fully respect West Ham's decision to recall him and thank Gianfranco Zola for allowing him to come to Derby in the first place. He is a terrific lad and we all wish him well for the future and thank him for his contribution." In other loan news, winger Kyel Reid has held talks with Zola about extending his loan period at Blackpool.

On a positive note, Gianfranco Zola has confirmed that Kieron Dyer could be back in action as soon as this weekend. The England international who was 30 this week, has been out since breaking his leg in two places in August 2007, but the long road back may finally come to an end in time for the showdown with Barnsley at Upton Park. "He might be involved in the game," said Zola. "It might be difficult for him from the beginning, but he might be involved on the bench and maybe get something to do in the game."

It was the Carling Cup clash at Bristol Rovers 16 months ago when the £6million signing last wore the claret and blue. Since then he has battled setback after setback as well as three operations, before finally declaring himself fit. "I know it has been a big injury for him. He has been working very hard over the last few weeks," said Zola. "I know it is frustrating because he's been training, training, training and he would like to play, but after such a long time out, it is difficult for him to get his condition. But he is focused, he is very excited about playing and we will try to have him back because he is a very important player."

Zola may also give a game to Sunday's match-winner Diego Tristan, who came off the bench to grab the goal that beat Stoke City. Zola believes the striker is getting fitter by the day: "I wouldn't say he is 100 per cent fit, but he is better," said the manager. "Obviously we have got to give him a little more time on the pitch to make him sharper. He scores goals in the box and hopefully he is going to keep on producing them." Eyeing up a first start for the club against Barnsley, Tristan said: "It was fantastic. Now I’ve scored a goal I hope it will give confidence both to myself and to the manager ahead of the next match. I don’t know if I will start a game soon because it is the manager’s decision but I feel really good. I hope with this goal I can give more confidence to the manager in me. Bellamy and Cole are doing fantastically well but I hope that when the manager calls on me I can come in and score some goals."

Zola won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 1997 and 2000, and he knows just how important the competition is. "I've always said that winning my first FA Cup with Chelsea was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So it is important for everybody else to be focused on that," said the boss. "Obviously the league is very important, but I know from experience how important the FA Cup is, for the supporters, the club and the players. We want to do well as well so we will not underestimate it."

Finally, Carlton Cole is telling everyone that he is looking to score even more goals - despite already over-extending himself with two strikes over Christmas. The 25-year-old Cole has been on the receiving end of much criticism from some sections of the Boleyn crowd in recent weeks but silenced his vociferous critics with crucial goals against both Portsmouth and Stoke. "The main thing for me is that we're getting the results now," he said. "It was a great six-point weekend for us and we're up to tenth place now. For me personally, I've had so many chances to score and I've managed to get two in three days. I'm chuffed but against Stoke I think I should have got more. There were a few times when the things I've been practising in training didn't quite come off; I'd have got a couple more if I'd executed them right. Last season I wasn't getting in the right positions. Now, I'm getting into the right positions and trying to execute them. I'm working on it and hopefully I'm going to get there with the help and faith of the manager."

Portrait Of A Champion

I intended to post this a few days ago but it completely slipped my mind. Shame really, with the exception of Wallace & Gromit, it would probably have been the best thing you watched over Christmas. For those who missed it, here is a brilliant 50 minute Trevor Brooking biography courtesy of Factual TV...

Sir Trevor Brooking, newly knighted in the Queen's birthday honours list, epitomises all that is great and good in football.

Born in Barking, Trevor Brooking grew up with a passionate dream: to walk out onto Upton Park wearing the famous claret and blue strip.

Capped as an England schoolboy at 15, his dream came true two years later when he signed up as an apprentice for the Irons - the club he was to represent for 19 years.

After a short spell as a striker, he moved to midfield, a position Trevor excelled in, bringing control and authority to the game.

A superb playmaker, he soon attracted the attention of the England selectors, and went on to win 47 caps, forming a magnificent partnership with Kevin Keegan.

'Portrait of a Champion' traces Trevor's incredible career including 627 appearances for West Ham in which he scored more than 100 goals; two FA cup wins including his rare headed winner against Arsenal and a runners-up medal in the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Some Say No, Some Say Yes

Some say no, some say yes
Less or more or more or less
Leave me alone right now...
Several reports in this morning's papers suggest West Ham United have rejected a second Tottenham approach for Craig Bellamy. According to The Sun, the offer was somewhere in the region of an eye-popping £12 million, double the initial bid tabled on Christmas Eve. Andrew Dillon reports that Harry Redknapp is determined to boost his options in attack, particularly after lowly Spurs failed to score a goal over Christmas against Fulham and West Brom. Bellamy, 29, scored twice in United's 4-1 win at Portsmouth on Boxing Day and the club remain insistent they do not need to sell their best players. This latest move represents a bold attempt by Tottenham to beat competition from Manchester City, also known keen admirers of the Wales striker.

The Telegraph reiterates that City manager Mark Hughes has placed Bellamy on his list of potential January targets. And should City and Spurs become locked in a bidding war, the London club know they cannot hope to win. For their part, City are rumoured to have made an earlier £15 million approach for Bellamy and midfielder Scott Parker, which was rejected by West Ham. However, a fresh approach is likely, with City almost certain to be the Premier League's biggest spenders next month.

If Bellamy is no longer a viable option for Tottenham manager Redknapp, he may turn his attentions to Jermain Defoe. According to the Mail, Defoe has told Portsmouth manager Tony Adams he wants to be allowed to leave Portsmouth to return to White Hart Lane. Defoe, who Redknapp signed for Portsmouth from Tottenham in 2006, was frustrated to be left out of Adams' side to face Arsenal on Sunday. And the Mail says Defoe has since met with Adams to request a transfer back to White Hart Lane. Martin O'Neill, the Aston Villa manager, is also understood to be monitoring the developments with both strikers ahead of the January transfer window.

According to the Mail, Nantes are showing an interest in Julien Faubert, who has struggled to establish himself at West Ham following his £6million transfer from Bordeaux in 2007. The French midfielder struggled with an Achilles tendon injury last season which ruled him out of action until January when he made his belated debut against Fulham, featuring in eight games over the remainder of the campaign. Faubert has struggled to claim a regular place in Gianfranco Zola's side but returned to action at the weekend as a replacement for the injured Lucas Neill - at right-back rather than his usual midfield role. Nantes coach Elie Baup is quoted as saying: "If I had to sign anyone in January, the priority would be Julien Faubert."

Meanwhile, David Di Michele has refuted suggestions that he could be set for a quick-fire return to parent club Torino. The Hammers striker is currently on loan at Upton Park from the Turin club, with that agreement scheduled to run until the end of the season. The 32-year-old had first sought to leave Italy after suffering a fall-out with then Torino manager Gigi De Biasi. But with Walter Novellino having now taken the Stadio Olimpico hot-seat there have been suggestions that Di Michele may welcome the opportunity to head back home.

However, despite struggling to hold down a regular role in England, the experienced front-man insists he is happy to fight for his place with the Hammers. "I have heard news regarding my return to Turin, but I am only thinking about doing well for West Ham," he said. "Anyway, it does not depend on me since I am on loan. Here in England I settled well and although I haven't been playing much recently I want to prove myself."

Elsewhere, Fiorentina striker Giampaolo Pazzini has again been nominated as a possible transfer target for United, this time with the added complication of interest from Everton. The Mirror claims David Moyes is in desperate need of a striker following injuries to Yakubu, Louis Saha, Leon Osman and James Vaughan, while Gianfranco Zola previously knows the 24-year-old in the Italian U-21 set-up.

Pazzini has scored 24 goals in 96 league starts for Fiorentina, but is perhaps most famous for scoring the fastest goal, first official goal and also the first hat-trick at the new Wembley Stadium – all in the same U-21 international against England. You can see all the action from that game as well as other goals from the striker in the following fan compilation video; curiously sound-tracked by Hooverphonic's Human Interest.

Another Italian on Zola's watch list could be Juventus midfielder Sebastian Giovinco. Media speculation has it that any move would likely be a loan deal, with Arsenal also reported to be watching the situation closely.

In separate news, the agent of Inter player Luis Jimenez has sought to end talk the Chile international will leave the San Siro in the upcoming transfer window by discussing all those clubs who have reportedly targeted the player. Rocco Dozzini confirmed he has fielded inquiries about the player from West Ham as well as Italian duo Sampdoria and Lecce. Despite that interest, Dozzini has denied the 24-year-old attacking midfielder is seeking a move away from Inter.

"Everybody is asking about Jimenez. That is quite normal because we are talking about an excellent player," he told El Mercurio newspaper. "But he will stay at Inter because they have decided he will not be transferred. Luis belongs to Inter and there is absolutely no chance he will leave. West Ham, Sampdoria, Lecce call me every day. Regarding Lecce, I like (Mario) Baretta, I am a friend of the sporting director of the club, but there is nothing to talk about."

Finally, the three most reassuring words in the English language "Sky Sports understands"... that United have handed a trial to Brescia midfielder Bartosz Salamon. The 17-year-old Salamon arrived in the country on Boxing Day and is said to be well known to Hammers technical director Gianluca Nani who is aware of him from his time at the Italian club.

The 6 ft 3 in Pole has already broken into the Brescia first team after joining the club from Lech Poznan in 2007. Salamon is highly regarded and the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid have been credited with an interest in his services in the past. He would not be the first young Pole to be courted by the club in recent times. Promising young defender Filip Modelski was procured back in July.

Gianfranco Zola is keen to bolster his squad and he will cast an eye over Salamon in training before deciding whether or not to pursue his interest in the midfielder. Nani will be hoping to use his contacts at Brescia to help West Ham seal a deal for Salamon if Zola does opt to try and bring the Pole to Upton Park.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Circling The Wagons

Manchester City have begun the process of flexing their financial muscle with a combined bid of £15 million for Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker, though Gianfranco Zola remains confident he will be able to hold on to both players, reports Steve Wilson in this morning's Telegraph. The initial approach was dismissed out of hand by United who, despite their widely understood financial problems, have said to have given City no encouragement to return with a higher bid.

The move comes just a week after Tottenham had a reported £6 million offer for Bellamy similarly rebuffed. On that occasion Scott Duxbury exclusively told The Independent that the Welsh international was not for sale. It was also confirmed that if an offer of £15 million was made for the 29-year-old, who has scored three times in his last three matches after a barren spell, then it would be put to Gianfranco Zola.

The West Ham board hope the stance shows the supporters there is an ambition to withstand pressure to sell, reports the Mail. Nevertheless, it will not dissuade Mark Hughes from trying again with an inflated offer as the City manager sets about restructuring his squad with the resources handed to him by the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owners.

United moved to 10th in the Premier League after a 2-1 victory over Stoke City at the weekend, and will fight hard to hold on to their better players, even though they are bracing themselves for interest from a raft of clubs looking to exploit the problems of the club’s Icelandic owners. The article states that City’s interest in Bellamy, who played under Hughes at Blackburn and for Wales, is well known. However, Parker has emerged as a surprise target for the Manchester club who have been linked with a host of big-name international midfield players. Hughes sees Parker as better value than Villarreal’s 32-year-old holding midfielder Marcos Senna, and his Premier League experience would be important in combining City’s short-term need to avoid a relegation fight as well as building for a future with higher aspirations.

The Independent confirms an offer for Bellamy and Parker was made but insists that neither player is for sale. Jason Burt reports the board have also moved to hold talks with Matthew Upson's representatives to spell out their intention to hold on to the England international who is also attracting intense interest with the transfer window set to open. Upson, who was bought from Birmingham City in January 2007 for an initial £6 million, is in demand having impressed for club as well as country after cementing his place in Fabio Capello's England squad and overcoming his own history of injury problems. Newcastle United are the latest believed to have made an initial inquiry of around £8 million. While Manchester City are monitoring the situation Spurs have denied interest in the former Arsenal player although his old club might just be in the hunt, but not at the price likely to convince United to sell.

While clubs assume that West Ham are in a position where they need to sell their most valuable assets, and although a list of potential departures has been drawn up, from one of the bigger squads in the league, it does not include the likes of Parker, Bellamy, Upson, Robert Green, Valon Behrami or any other first-team regular. For the minute at least Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson remains adamant that the club are self-sustaining and can cover all costs. However, the board admit that money will only be made available to Zola in January through the departure of fringe players, or those who have disappointed such as Luis Boa Morte, Julien Faubert or Jonathan Spector.

Faubert has admitted he would be happy to receive offers from either Lyon or Paris Saint Germain during the forthcoming January transfer window. The 25-year-old has spoken about the possibility of returning to France in January, insisting he fully intends to play more regularly in 2009 in order to revive his international status. Faubert told L’Equipe: "I need to play, I’m 25. Even if I’m very good here, I don’t rule out the possibility of coming back to France. Clubs such as Lyon or PSG are very attractive. We will see in January."

Calum Davenport is another such player who looks likely to leave Upton Park during the transfer window. The lanky defender almost joined Watford last season before a serious neck injury ended his season prematurely. He returned to fitness and had played impressively in the club's last three Premier League matches following an injury to James Collins but is reported to have reacted badly to being harshly left out of the win over Stoke yesterday. The former Tottenham player, one of the club's bigger wage earners, joins the list of expendable players Zola could be tempted to sell next month to generate funds. The Sun think Gary Megson is ready to offer Davenport an escape route from West Ham with a £1.5million swoop. The Bolton boss will make his move now the defender has been told he can leave by Gianfranco Zola.

In a further show of solidarity, Robert Green insists he has the word of chief executive Scott Duxbury that no stars will be auctioned off in a January fire sale. "We've been assured as senior players that there won't be a fire sale from the chief executive," said the West Ham keeper. "But it's something which is completely out of our control at the moment. There's not much I can do about it. All I can do is keep playing well for West Ham. I want to play for West Ham and all the lads want to play for West Ham. There are things that are beyond our control and there are things that go on that are not down to us as players."

Several squad players are expected to leave in the coming weeks but Green, who is currently being eyed by several top-flight clubs, insists he is happy to stay in east London - despite the deepening financial problems surrounding the club. He said: "I'm happy playing for West Ham in the most exciting league in the world. What more motivation do you need? You don't want to go out and have a bad game and I love playing for West Ham. You look at the team and everyone who gets out there wants to play well for West Ham. There aren't many unhappy faces, if any, in the camp. The last two wins have been massive and really changed the face of our season. People were dreading what Christmas might bring but we're now just two points off Hull, who have supposedly had a magnificent start to the season. We're looking at ending the year in 10th and starting the New Year on a high. We can now look forward to a cup game following two big wins."

On the gossip front, some European media sources have named United among four clubs said to be showing an interest in Borussia Dortmund right winger Jakub Blaszczykowski. The other parties are believed to be Ajax Amsterdam, Celtic and Villarreal. Despite the attention, the 23 year old Poland international is thought more likely to extend his stay in the Bundesliga club than opt for a move aboard. "It is very important for Borussia that Blaszczykowski signs a new contract as soon as possible," said Sascha Fligge, newspaper journalist for Ruhr Nachrichten.

Other unsubstantiated stories have the Irons watching Lazio striker Makinwa, also a reported target for Charlton and Chievo. Also on the radar is Ipswich midfielder Velice Sumulikoski. The 27 year old Macedonia midfielder is also said to be targeted by Fulham, Middlesbrough and Wigan.

West Ham United 2 Stoke City 1

Pulis Left To Fume After Fuller's Folly by Nick Szczepanik
Someone at Stoke City needs to remind Ricardo Fuller that strikers are supposed to strike the ball past goalkeepers, not strike their own players. The Jamaica forward was sent off yesterday for slapping his own captain, Andy Griffin, in an astonishing example of a self-inflicted wound... Times
West Ham Grab Late Winner by Trevor Haylett
West Ham scraped their way to three precious points with a winner three minutes from time but only after they were given a shove in the right direction by Stoke striker Ricardo Fuller who was shown the red card for lashing out at team-mate Andy Griffin... Telegraph
Full Slap In The Face For Potters by Ian Gibb
Ricardo Fuller was sensationally sent off for slapping his own captain Andy Griffin after 51 minutes - by doing so, he virtually gift-wrapped West Ham's first home win since September. It was an incredible incident as the Hammers had just equalised when Carlton Cole seized on Griffin's attempted clearance to chip the ball into the far right corner of the net... Mail
Fuller Sees Red For Hitting Team-mate by Roy Collins
Diego Tristan's first goal for West Ham, which gave manager Gianfranco Zola only his second home victory since he began his reign against Newcastle in September, should have been the subject of all the post-match conversations. But even Hammers' fans went away laughing not at a fortunate three points but at the most bizarre sending-off of the season... Independent
Tristan's Late Winner Proves A Second Slap In Face For Stoke's Warring Factions by Paul Doyle
Any side that can shoot itself in the foot with a slap to the face has serious problems. Stoke arrived at Upton Park with the worst away record in the league and their condition deteriorated drastically despite a hopeful start. There was no trace of travel sickness when Abdoulaye Faye punished slack West Ham marking by heading a Danny Pugh corner into the net in the fourth minute. A mixture of their own determined defending and wonky finishing by the home side enabled Stoke to cling on to that lead until half-time but their bizarre reaction to the eventual equaliser, scored by Carlton Cole in the 53rd minute, betrayed an alarming fragility... Guardian
West Ham Pile Misery On Stoke by Julia White
Stoke's miserable Christmas continued with a late defeat at West Ham which saw Ricardo Fuller sent off for fighting with team-mate Andy Griffin. Abdoulaye Faye scored an early header to put the visitors ahead at the Boleyn Ground. But Carlton Cole scored his second goal in three days in the 51st minute to equalise, and then had a hand in the winner, his shot going in courtesy of a deflection off Diego Tristan... Express

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Zola And The Dutch Oven

“What occasions the greater part of the world's quarrels? Simply this: Two minds meet and do not understand each other in time enough to prevent any shock of surprise at the conduct of either party”
John Keats
Krzysztof Kieslowski once said that optimism is two lovers walking into the sunset arm in arm. Or maybe into the sunrise- whatever appeals to you. With one round of media interviews yesterday evening, Gianfranco Zola dropped the first metaphoric fart in the marital bed and how the United board now reacts will determine the future of this fumbling, tentative relationship.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Boxing Day fixture against Portsmouth, Zola delivered a Christmas message to his West Ham paymasters which emphasised he would be "very annoyed" if the club renege on their promise not to offload anyone in the January transfer window. With West Ham just a point off the bottom three, changes appear to be needed at Upton Park and reports suggest Zola will have to sell if he wants to buy in January.

However, the Hammers boss insists he has received fresh assurances from the Hammers board he can keep all his star players. "They are very good players and I'm not surprised that big teams want them," said Zola. "As far as I am concerned they are not for sale and I don't want to sell my best players. I want to try to improve the team if I can and that's the target for the January transfer window."

Zola confirmed that the list of those who have had a 'not-for-sale' tag firmly slapped on them includes Craig Bellamy, Matthew Upson, Valon Behrami, Robert Green, Dean Ashton and Scott Parker. He continued: "As far as I'm concerned no, they won't be going. The club have told me I won't be selling those players. I would be very annoyed if we did. They have to give me a very good reason if they do that. The club have been very good to me and I don't think they want to make this team weaker."
Zola is aware that the current board have form for selling players against a manager’s wishes, with the sales of George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland in the summer cited by previous boss Alan Curbishley as the main reason his role became untenable. But while his insistence that he would be “very annoyed” if any of his super six were sold might not exactly sound overtly aggressive, it would be unwise to believe Zola has not received positive noises from the board to back such a stance, given it leaves him with next to no wriggle-room in the event of sales.

Zola refused to elaborate on how he would react if the club went against his wishes, and was keen to reiterate his faith in his employers. "We can't really talk about what could be," he continued. "In football you never know. I won't be pleased because I want to improve the team. I have faith. The club remain positive and want to keep on with this project. If we can't make it with this team then we might make changes. Everyone wants to make this project work. We want to strengthen the squad."

Despite the frenzied activity of agents to place players away from the club – Bellamy is thought keen to rejoin Mark Hughes at Manchester City – there is believed to be some reticence from the board. They are aware of the potential damage to the value of the company in, firstly, selling its best assets and, secondly, further financial damage which would be caused by relegation. So for all the gloomy talk of financial meltdown and the threat of relegation, the club remains positive about their predicament, despite being just a point above the drop zone.

Before the transfer window opens again, West Ham face Portsmouth and Stoke and Zola insists he is just focusing on those at the moment. With only one win in their past 12 league games and having scored only five goals in those matches, the Hammers boss admits the pressure is on. "This is part of the game," added Zola. "The pressure is on everybody. The pressure is on Portsmouth, Chelsea, it's all over. You have to keep confident and keep working. My strikers obviously feel like they want to do more. They have to carry on working and believe in themselves. If they lose that self-belief it makes it very difficult. At the moment we are just focusing on what we have here. If we can't get the team to progress then we might consider getting someone else, until then we've still got a couple of games. Hopefully they can do this and I'll stick with them. We're just focusing on what we have here."

Having witnessed his team go four games unbeaten on the road and more than match the nation's top sides this month, Zola is rightly upbeat about the prospects for the new year to come after his early days at the Boleyn Ground helm. Speaking on the official site, Zola insisted: "As far I am concerned, it's been a great experience. It's a strong challenge and it's pushing me a lot. I'm focused on the next match. We know we've been unlucky. We didn't deserve [to lose to Aston Villa last weekend] but that's football. So being focused and ready for the next match is vital for us. On Wednesday we'll start focusing on what to do to beat Portsmouth. We need to improve certain things and we are going to be working on that. I want to improve as a manager and person. It's a big challenge. I've had so many problems to look after but I like competing. No matter how it goes, I've accepted this job and I feel it is making me better."

The next few days will be a busy period at Chadwell Heath but the manager said he will still find time for festive cheer. "I certainly will enjoy Christmas even though it's a difficult time. Football is like this. Sometimes you get bad moments but you have to remain focused and do the best you can and I'm sure here everyone is doing the best that they can. I remain positive that everything will be good."

In other news, Julien Faubert has threatened to leave West Ham and return to France if Gianfranco Zola does not play him more regularly. The Hammers’ right midfielder Faubert has become frustrated by his lack of action, as he sat on the bench during the clashes with Chelsea and Aston Villa. The 25-year-old’s priority is to revive his international career and he understands that moving back to his homeland would boost his chances. Faubert has hinted he could be interested in moving from London during the January transfer window, while West Ham need to raise some cash to sort their economic crisis.

Faubert told France-Football: “I must speak with the coach, Gianfranco Zola, to see what he wants from me. I must confess how disappointed I have been to remain on the bench for the game against Chelsea that was shown everywhere in Europe and especially in France. I should keep my cool and not act under pressure. There’s nothing concrete (with other clubs). Why not returning (to the French league)? I’m 25 and think about France and the 2010 World Cup every day. I tasted it and I’m missing it. I really want to play for Les Bleus again. And I know that you have to play and be good to make it. This could be with West Ham or elsewhere.”

Experienced goalkeeper legend Jimmy Walker admits he is open to staying at Colchester United permanently. Walker joined Colchester on loan from West Ham United last month and his temporary deal expires in early January. He has made four appearances for the Us and is enjoying the chance to play regular first-team football with the League One club.

The 35-year-old is unsure of his long-term future, but will not rule out agreeing contract to stay with Paul Lambert's side. "I don't know what the future holds for me yet," Walker told the Gazette. "I spoke to the gaffer and we decided on a month's loan to get some games because I haven't played as much as I'd have liked. It was the right decision for me and who knows, at the end of the month we shall see what happens. Colchester have two really good keepers in Dean (Gerken) and Mark Cousins, who have impressed me a lot in training. The future looks good for them and hopefully I can be a part of that but we'll see."

Lastly, Dagenham boss John Still is refusing to rule out a loan swoop for West Ham United's exciting midfielder Tony Stokes cometh the January transfer window, but only if any of his starlets get picked off by bigger clubs. Still has revealed that the promising youngster has been training with the club, with a view to a possible loan move. Despite the 21-year-old having only made one appearance for his parent club, 'Stokesy' has built up some experience with successful loan spells with the likes of Stevenage Borough, Rushden & Diamonds and League One outfit Brighton & Hove Albion.

Still told the Ilford Recorde: "Tony trained with us last week and I've known him since he was a lad. He's got a good attitude so I will be speaking to Tony and West Ham, but nothing can be done until January. There's no urgency, I couldn't just bring him in anyway as I have no facility to do that, but if there is movement in what we do, it's something I could look at."

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Gruellish Transfer Slop

Another cold and drab late December morning, another slew of half-baked transfer stories, mangled quotes, fevered speculation and dark insinuations. It is as inevitable as the relentless march of time, the erosion of the ozone layer, the depletion of North Sea fish stock and festive tabloid stories bemoaning the ill-deserved luxury of prison Christmas dinners. So hold out your bowl for another helping of gruellish transfer slop...

Matthew Upson
says he is in the dark over his future as West Ham United battle for Premier League and financial survival but admits he is flattered by the constant speculation linking him with a move away from Upton Park. The England defender is enjoying a fine run of form which has reportedly alerted the attentions of Newcastle United, Manchester City and Tottenham among others. He is one of several who could leave the club in January with Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola desperate to raise funds.

Upson said: "Speculation can be flattering and is part of what’s happening at the club at the moment. There are rumours every player is for sale. Whether that is true or not only the owners know and can come out and clarify their position, so speculation is what it is. Whether things will happen we shall have to wait and see, but it's definitely a difficult period in terms of the financial situation of the club. How difficult and what lengths they'll go to iron that out we'll soon see but I’m happy playing here at the moment, I am enjoying my football. I am in a good run of form so I'm enjoying it."

West Ham are one place off the drop zone, are up for sale and face a potentially crippling multi-million payout to Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez affair. Upson added: "There's never a dull moment here but that can be a positive thing because it's a big football club. People want to read about it and hear about it and it's a great club to play for but we really need to achieve a couple of results over the Christmas period. We are really down there in the mix at the moment."

The Hammers are just a single point outside the relegation zone and have scored just four goals in their past 12 Premier League games. Upson has urged his team-mates to find their form in front of goal quickly or risk seeing their season descend into the nightmare of a relegation scrap. "Everything which goes on, on the pitch, we have to take a collective responsibility" he acknowledged. "At the moment we're all responsible for scoring goals and conceding goals and we can all contribute more, even if it's in the mentality to be more positive and attack-minded. That will nudge us over the edge to nick a win. We need to improve on that to get three points instead of a draw here and there."

Finding the net has been the problem and Carlton Cole, who signed a new five-year contract earlier this year, has not scored for eight matches and will receive personal coaching from legendary striker Zola this week. After missing several chances against Aston Villa, Cole has become a 'man on a mission' as he begins preparation for the Boxing Day trip to Portsmouth. "If you look at my game, I wasn't even getting into positions to score," he said. "But now I've analysed my game and I'm trying to improve my end product. The Villa game was one of those games where I should have scored at least twice as I should have against Chelsea. I'm getting into the positions but now it's about executing it."

Cole had several chances in the second period to open the scoring but each time found Brad Friedel equal to his and his team-mates' efforts, much to the striker's frustration. He said: "Friedel did well and after the game he said to me that he owed me one because I scored against him last year. Hopefully next time I'll take my chances and it will come. I'm working hard everyday in training and all I need is for it to break for me and go in the net. There were a few when there were ricochets or the keeper made a save and it just dropped two yards away and it would be a tap in, but that's the way it is going."

The former England Under-21 striker knows his misfortune cannot last forever. "I need a lucky goal, any kind of goal," he mused. "I don't care how it goes in. I'm in the box trying to fashion an opportunity and now it's about scoring. It's good to have these games in quick succession and now we've got the chance to get the right result in the next game and hopefully we can use Saturday's game as a boost like we did when we did well against Chelsea."

United are unbeaten in four away from home but have found the going slightly harder at the Boleyn Ground, a fact Cole puts down to opponents' tactics when they visit east London. "We were better second half against Villa and hopefully we can do that again next time. When teams come to Upton Park they sit back and try to hit us on the counterattack. I think we have problems breaking teams down and we have to try and work on fashioning chances. We had a few at the weekend which we should have scored. We just need to keep plugging away and doing our best to get the right results."

Another striker, Diego Tristan, is demanding first-team action from Gianfranco Zola. The 32-year-old Spanish marksman was signed back in October on a free transfer after impressing on a trial. He said: "Scoring goals is important for a striker as it gives us confidence. But to do that I need to play 90 minutes of a game because I need rhythm."

Elsewhere, Nigel Quashie has miraculously impressed at St Andrew's so far this term and has extended his initial one-month contract in October for a further four weeks. His latest agreement fulfils the maximum 93-day emergency loan period that any player can remain at a club, meaning McLeish will have to consider the options available to him when his stay finally comes to an end in January. Quashie, who has stressed his desire to remain at the midlands club for the long-term, will now make the last appearance of his current stay in Blues' Championship fixture against Cardiff on January 17. United have granted the 30-year-old permission to play in Birmingham's FA Cup third-round tie against Wolves on January 3.

West Ham United have slapped a £12 million price-tag on striker Craig Bellamy, according to The Mirror. The paper states the Hammers have quoted the fee to four top clubs, who were hoping to take advantage of their financial problems only to find an auction has started that could see Gianfranco Zola's club making a healthy profit. Tottenham, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Celtic have all made enquiries about Bellamy, who could be one of the hottest tickets in the transfer window - even at his inflated fee. An insider at one of Bellamy's suitors revealed: "The price was starting at around £8m but now it has gone higher and higher - we could all do with Man City dropping out of the race."

The Daily Mail insist Juventus have not given up hope of signing Valon Behrami next month. The Serie A club had hoped to complete a deal for about £6.5million for the Swiss, who has been at Upton Park for only five months following his move from Lazio. While the Hammers are reluctant to part with the player, and told the Italians they would not sell for double the price offered, financial uncertainty surrounding the club means Juve remain quietly confident they can hammer out a deal for the 23-year-old.

In contrast, reports in Italy suggest Roma have made 'significant strides' towards signing Behrami, while Juventus are watching the situation closely. Behrami only left Italy for the Premier League in July but it is claimed Roma sporting director Alessio Secco has already met Upton Park counterpart Gianluca Nani for initial talks. The Gazzetta dello Sport also reports there now appears to be a third club watching the situation in the shape of Chelsea. The article states that Luiz Felipe Scolari won't have much money to spend in the soon-to-open January transfer market, so he's hoping Irons boss Gianfranco Zola holds onto the flexible Swiss defensive midfielder until the summer, in order for them to have a chance of signing the highly-rated 23-year-old come the end of the season.

Sky Sports have decided to reheat the Joe Mattock story from every transfer window of the last two seasons. The much touted Mattock is regarded as one the most promising young British defenders outside the Premier League and is the second youngest player to ever represent England Under 21s. The left-back made his debut for Leicester at the tender age of 16 and continues to earn rave reviews at the Walkers Stadium. Leicester are said to have fielded a number of approaches from clubs for Mattock, with West Ham naturally thought to be among the interested parties.

The likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa, Everton and Sunderland have been credited with an interest in Mattock, but Sky believe West Ham are hoping to steal a march on their rivals with doubts continuing to surround the future of on-loan defender Herita Ilunga. Ilunga is on a season long-loan from Toulouse, but the player has suggested he would be interested in a move to a bigger club if an offer came along (remember that poorly translated article originating from French media sources a while ago?) and Mattock is thought to be on Zola's list of potential signings. Leicester are keen to keep hold of their prize asset as they look to win promotion from League One, but they could face a battle to ward off suitors when the transfer window reopens next month. We all know how that feels.

Finally, QPR boss Paulo Sousa is said to be competing with West Ham for the signature of highly-rated Portuguese teenager Adrien Silva. Sporting Lisbon had hoped to hold on to the 19-year-old attacking midfielder until the end of the season, but a move to England in January now looks on the cards.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Business Is Business

Gianfranco Zola will cash in on one of his big-name players in order to generate enough funds to raid the January transfer market for a striker, according to an article in today's Mail. The West Ham manager knows things must change if the Hammers are to climb away from the relegation places and a meagre total of four goals in 11 matches emphasises the extent of the striking problem and Zola's patience is wearing thin. The club have not secured maximum points at home since the 3-1 victory against Newcastle in September.

Dean Ashton still a long way from fitness following an ankle operation and, with neither Carlton Cole or Craig Bellamy proving prolific scorers, Zola will act as soon as the transfer window opens at the beginning of next month. The Mail claims the Sardinian already intended to trim his squad with some fringe players going but that, in itself, is unlikely to produce enough income to enable Zola to sign a player who, he hopes, will turn West Ham's enterprising approach play into goals. Zola has known from his arrival at Upton Park in September that there would be no money available to him in January so he is prepared to generate his own funds by selling at least one of his major players.

Craig Bellamy, who is now back to full fitness and troubled Aston Villa with his pace, is currently the favourite to go with big-spending Manchester City manager Mark Hughes ready to offer a reported £7million for the Welsh international. Similarly, Martin O'Neill has been credited with an interest in the Wales striker to bolster Aston Villa's push for a Champions League spot. The Mail believe Villa would match the £7million asking price for the 29-year-old, and ex-Hammers striker Marlon Harewood could even return to Upton Park as part of the deal.

The peregrine Bellamy has only been at United for a year but hinted at a willingness to talk to other clubs as recently Friday. "It's that time of year, there's always a lot of speculation," he told Talksport. "I'm very happy at West Ham and I'm never going to go in and ask for move. But you don't know what position the club is in. You don't know if they are going to accept bids or not accept bids." Manchester City previously made a bid for Bellamy in the summer, but the striker is said to prefer a move to the Midlands, according to a story in this morning's Daily Mirror.

Zola, meanwhile, looks more likely to persist with the profligate Cole who, as against Chelsea six days before, missed several good chances to win the game for West Ham. "Carlton needs to be more focused on scoring goals. He knows that and I will be working on him every single day until he gets fed up with it," said Zola. "From what he does on the pitch he has to score more goals because it can change his performance so much."

Cole added: "My confidence is okay. I'm getting in the right positions and now I just have to execute it." In the aftermath of another defeat, Zola looked haggard, as if the reality of Premier League management had suddenly hit him. His players will have to learn to capitalise on periods like the 20 minutes after half-time when they were on top but wasted five chances. "We deserve much better than this," Zola said, but just deserts have never been part of football's package.

Meanwhile, as reports continue to circulate that Manchester City and Newcastle United will fight it out for the £8 million signature of
Matthew Upson, the Hammers defender has issued a rallying cry to his current team-mates ahead of the busy Christmas period. "I can't really explain how disappointing it is but we need to show a bit of resilience and character," he urged. "It's at times like this and tests like this that really show you who you are as a team and as a group of people. So, it's up to us dig deep and the manager to rally and get the approach right. There's no reason why we can't get some good results. We played with a lot of energy against Aston Villa. Perhaps we didn't pass the ball quite as well as we would have liked and I thought we could have created more in the first half. But in the second half we came out and looked the more likely team to win the game. So, to go down to a really fluke goal like that was very disappointing."

Having drawn at Liverpool and Chelsea and also taken on Tottenham Hotspur and Villa in December, West Ham now embark on a run of fixtures against sides in the mid to lower reaches of the Premier League standings. United go to Portsmouth on Boxing Day before taking on Stoke City at the Boleyn Ground on 28 December and travelling to Newcastle United on 10 January next year. However, Upson is adamant that the Hammers cannot afford to take any of their opponents lightly. "Personally, I don't pay any attention to that [the league table]. I prepare for every game the same way. I just think it's all about how you approach any team on any day. You can beat anyone if you're mentally focused and in good physical condition."

With Zola bringing in his players to train on Christmas Day evening, rather than the traditional morning session, Upson and his team-mates will be able to remain with their families for the majority of the day. Meanwhile, the fixture computer has given the Premier League a day off on New Year's Day. Both are decisions welcomed by the player. "There is one less game this year which will be a bit of a lighter load because normally it is a bit ridiculous. It's up to us to prepare and get ready. It will be nice to be able to wake up on Christmas morning and spend some time at home with the family. I've recently become a father so I'm going to do the full Christmas morning thing and enjoy it."

Over at the Times the trenchant Martin Samuel is heartened to see that recent traumas at Upton Park have not dampened that famous East End sense of humour. In a scathing article, he notes
Björgólfur Gudmundsson may be Icelandic by birth, but he has clearly learnt London ways. It has emerged that he is angling for £250 million if he is to sell the club. Cor blimey, guv’nor, you’re a right card, you are. ’Ere, lads, come and ’ave a listen to this...

To justify the fee, however, prospective purchasers may wish to ask a few questions. Such as, under Gudmundsson’s stewardship, have the team improved? No. Have the coaching staff attained new heights? No. Have the club grown in size or stature? No. Are sporting or financial prospects positive? No. At executive level, are the club more efficiently managed? Not particularly. Hey, hey now, gentlemen, don’t all dive for that chequebook at once.

What is remarkable is that Gudmundsson actually bought the club for £108 million, including debt. So with the prospect of relegation and a serious financial downturn under way, in two years — during which West Ham have become embroiled in the most expensive legal battle in football’s history, millions have been frittered away in the transfer market and two managers and one senior executive have been lost — by the calculation of the owners, the worth of the business has risen £142 million. With accounting like that, no wonder they overpaid for Fredrik Ljungberg.
Court papers submitted by Gudmundsson’s lawyers reveal the valuation is linked to a number of factors, mainly the recent purchase price of £230 million obtained for Manchester City when some of the richest men on the planet came calling. 'West Ham is thought a more valuable club looking at its location in London, its loyal fanbase, more chance of linked real estate projects, proximity to the Olympic village and the fact it owns its ground,' the legal statement read. Yet every one of those factors was also in place when Gudmundsson paid £108 million, notes Samuel. He has not bought the ground, relocated the club to the capital or unearthed staunch support that did not previously exist. Real estate potential is the same as it ever was — development on the training ground at Chadwell Heath, a plan frozen in the present climate — while the Olympic link is simply irrelevant. So from where is the extra value of £142 million, or is Gudmundsson claiming that he underpaid?"

It is not football’s bubble that has burst, it is the ownership bubble; the belief that all this new money came from men with infallible business brains, foolproof judges of financial markets. The money that is being demanded by Gudmundsson, by Mike Ashley at Newcastle United and by the American owners of Liverpool suggests only one thing: these guys were not as smart as they thought they were. They believed that they had spotted something that was undervalued when, in fact, it was overvalued. And they won’t admit they were wrong. So they ask these inflated fees to prop up their egos, because if they simply tried to get their money back — and still there was no buyer — what would it say about their acumen? West Ham is a mess that starts at the top and has done for more than a decade. The stewardship of Terence Brown, the former chairman, was calamitous and his successor, Eggert Magnússon, was foolish and wasteful, and any revival under Gudmundsson has been undermined by his parlous financial position after the Icelandic economic crash. What happens at the club now will be considered to have great meaning for all, as if this is a lesson to be learnt throughout football, but in reality it is only one line of a song being sung from 10 Downing Street to the office of the financial advisers in your local high street. There are people whose business is business; and what they knew about business was nobody’s business.

Finally, on a positive note, everyone who has witnessed Josh Payne's recent performances for the Cheltenham Town is tipping the young United midfielder for a very bright future in football. After putting in another fine performance against Walsall on Saturday, Josh has now completed his three-month loan stay with the Robins and returns to the club.

The 18-year-old has enjoyed his initial taste of senior first team football, which was handed to him by Robins boss Martin Allen. He scored on his debut in the 2-2 draw with Stockport County and went on to feature in 13 first team games for Cheltenham Town. Fellow loanee Ian Westlake has been impressed with the teenager and told readers of the Gloucestershire Echo newspaper ahead of the Walsall clash about his thoughts on the West Ham youngster.

"Josh has done brilliantly and there is no better experience like Football League games." Westlake said. "His quality is superb and he shows it all the time in training but has to learn when to use it. He can go on to be a really good player, he just needs to know when you use magic and when to give it simple."

Following Saturday's 0-0 draw with Walsall Josh received a great send off from the Cheltenham Town fans and then went on to receive a standing ovation from his colleagues in the dressing room. Martin Allen told Echo readers, "I love the boy and I can't heap enough praise on him." He went on to say, "We all appreciate what he has done and he has come out of the comfort life of Premiership surroundings."

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Limp And Wilted Transfer Rumours

Here is the latest selection of transfer gossip and speculation; freshly seasoned and lightly tossed for your delectation but probably already limp and wilted by the time you hit the final paragraph...

Gianfranco Zola is certain his side's football will soon be rewarded, despite losing against Aston Villa on Saturday. Lucas Neill's own goal condemned the Hammers to a ninth defeat of the season, with the club just a point above the relegation places. Zola lamented the manner of Villa's winning goal while he praised his players for matching their opponents for much of the game.

"It's very hard," he said. "It's difficult to leave the pitch with nothing when you play like that. We had so many chances against a team fourth in the table. We are one place away from the relegation zone but that didn't show on the pitch. I'm upset and frustrated for my players because they deserve more. It won't carry on like this. That would be impossible. I'm not going to give up on this, we have to be strong and make our own luck. If we play like that it will not go on forever."

Elsewhere, it is claimed that Zola knew that he would have no cash to spend in the January transfer window when he took the West Ham job in September, according to the Icelandic owners of the club. Zola hinted last week he might quit if promises made to him on his arrival were not fulfilled. The club's owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has been hit by the global financial crisis and his chief advisor, West Ham vice-chairman Asgeir Fridgeirsson, said: 'There is no money coming into the operation from the owner. This was crystal clear from the beginning. Zola was always happy with that arrangement.' The corollary of this, reports the Mail, is the likely exit of strikers Craig Bellamy and Dean Ashton to be replaced next month by Fiorentina's Gianpaolo Pazzini.

The same paper believes the club could also be forced to sell Matthew Upson as he is the only player we've had a firm enquiry for. The article sates that Manchester City boss Mark Hughes has asked about the £8million defender after concerns over the form of club captain Richard Dunne. Upson is not the only central defender City are looking at but with West Ham's precarious financial situation, Hughes knows he can get the player after difficulties in landing his main January targets. Ideally, West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola wants to keep Upson but West Ham will have to sell unless they get offers for other players. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is also an admirer of Upson but with Stewart Downing and Robbie Keane also on his shopping list, Redknapp has to sell before he can enter the transfer market

Craig Bellamy, insists the News of the World, is destined for a £7million switch to Manchester City. The Star agrees but thinks the fee is more likely to be around £6million. Of course, if that turns out to be true, then it would have taken taken a spectacular kind of ineptitude to actually negotiate down the asking price when dealing with the newly minted richest club in the world. Especially, if Tottenham are also interested in the Wales striker, as is suggested by the Sunday People.

The People content themselves with a little cut and shut quote mangling to suggest Bellamy is critical of the foreign players at the club and how they have affected the mood of the dressing-room. Diego Tristan, Valon Behrami, David Di Michele and Herita Ilunga have signed since the arrival of sporting director Gianluca Nani in March Bellamy is quoted as saying: "They are nice lads but they don't speak English. We lost one or two Brits during the summer like Anton Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora, who were very vocal, and replaced them with players who are very quiet. It's difficult and took us back. The changing room was affected by this at the start."

In other news, the Mirror speculates that Claudio Ranieri is planning a double raid on the Premier League to bolster his squad for his return to Stamford Bridge. The Former Chelsea boss Ranieri heads to London for the first time since owner Roman Abramovich dismissed him when his Juventus face the Blues in the Champions League. The Tinkerman is desperate to inject some Premier League experience into his side and is planning to offer Harry Redknapp a cash-plus-player deal involving Vincenzo Iaquinta in a bid to land Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric. Joining Modric in Turin could be United's own Valon Behrami.

This is a rehash of the story that most recently surfaced Friday, which linked the Swiss midfielder to a £7 million switch to the Bianconeri. The 23-year-old wide man joined the club from Lazio this summer, but there were rumours earlier this month that a host of Italian sides were looking to bring him back to the peninsula, namely Roma and Fiorentina. Gianluca Nani has previously attempted to quash the rumours that the versatile midfield ace will depart England next month.

Next there is an unconvincing report that former Liverpool midfielder Luis Garcia is on the verge of making an 'emotional' return to the Premier League, with the Hammers fingered as an interested party. The 30-year-old Spanish international has been given permission by current club Atletico Madrid to sign for an English club and is close to completing a loan deal, with the option to make it permanent in the summer. The £2million-rated Garcia spent three seasons with Liverpool between 2004 and 2007 and is best remembered for scoring the Champions League semi-final winner against Chelsea in 2005. He got a standing ovation at Anfield when he returned their with Atletico in the Champions League earlier this season. Newcastle United are the other club said to be an admirer of the Spanish wide-man.

Lastly, you know things at the club have degenerated to an alarming degree when Billy Bonds publicly admits he would rather be watching American Football. Bonzo - who spent almost 27 years with the Hammers and captained us to FA Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1980, admits the only person he now knows at the club is Shirley, who serves the food at the club's Chadwell Heath training ground. He hasn't even bothered taking in a game this season and admits he'd rather be at home with his grandchildren over Christmas than pay a visit to Upton Park. He said: "I've always liked my racing and have watched the NFL for many years. My favourite team is the Chicago Bears and my all-time best player has to be Walter Payton."

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Controlling The Uncontrollable

Enough organization, enough lists and we think we can control the uncontrollable-
John Mankiewicz
Over at the Times there is an interesting Top 50 British footballers of 2008 list (concentrating on players who have enhanced their reputations this year) that proudly features two Hammers in the top ten: Matthew Upson and Robert Green are numbers four and six respectively. Unfortunately, today's visitors to Upton Park boast four entries in the top ten; namely Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner. Carlton Cole (36) and Freddie Sears (47) also make the list but there is no place for Nigel Reo-Coker though. Shame.

The Mail have a Christmas list of their own in the form of The 50 greatest foreign players to play in England. No surprise to find Paolo Di Canio (11) as the club's highest placed representative, although Marc-Vivien Foe (34) deserves honourable mention.

Reports in London's Evening Standard suggest that Craig Bellamy, who joined West Ham for a fee of £7.5 million from Liverpool in July 2007, could leave Upton Park if the right bid was made. The Wales striker said: "It's that time of year, there's always a lot of speculation. I'm very happy at West Ham and I'm never going to go in and ask for move. But you don't know what position the club are in. You don't know if they are going to accept bids or not accept bids. Look what happened to Anton [Ferdinand]. As far as we knew he wasn't going and then he was gone [to Sunderland]. My situation was that Manchester City put a bid in [last summer] and West Ham turned it down so if that happens again . . . maybe a club will be interested. I'm not saying that's going to happen. But if a club does [come in] and West Ham turn it down I'm still a West Ham player."

The club's Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has confirmed that he is ready to sell West Ham after suffering huge personal financial losses following the collapse of Landsbanki, and Bellamy's departure could be a way to raise funds. But the Welshman is enjoying life in east London, working under former Chelsea midfielder Gianfranco Zola.

"It's a good training ground," Bellamy told talkSPORT. "Zola's brought in a lot of foreign players as that's the route he's going to go, that's what he knows." However Zola has been showing up a few of the players during practice. Bellamy said: "It was getting embarrassing. I had to say 'look gaffer, we're trying to go in to a game on Saturday and a lot of the players are losing confidence when you're turning them on a sixpence.' Robert Green's confidence is going down because he [Zola] keeps lobbing him."

According to the Mail, Manchester City currently have the £7million-rated striker on their shopping list. City boss Mark Hughes, who managed Bellamy with Blackburn and Wales, believes the hitman can spark a revival at Eastlands. Much-travelled Bellamy, 29, has played for seven clubs, and five in the past four years. He was a success with Blackburn but Hughes was forced to sell him to Liverpool in July 2006 after just one season at Ewood Park when a clause in Bellamy's contract allowing him to join Champions League bidders was activated.

The Mirror insist Manchester City have more interest in Matthew Upson. An article in this morning's edition suggests Mark Hughes is making an £8million move for West Ham's England centre-half. City hope to agree a fee with the hard-up Hammers for their defender - and can also match or improve his £75,000-a-week salary at Upton Park. According to the report, Hughes has been frustrated in many of his transfer searches recently, but Upson is within his range in terms of the fee and his pay package. City hope West Ham will accept their offer, which should also see off rival bidders Tottenham, and want the 29- year-old to be given permission to speak to them in time for a quick deal to go through when the window opens next month. The move will upset Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola, but he will have little option but to accept the inevitable sale. Hughes is also keen on Everton's Joleon Lescott, but Upson is his first-choice target as City try to spend their way out of trouble.

As City shamelessly attempt to buy their way into the prestigious Times Top 50 British footballers list, Gianfranco Zola's biggest problem this season will be keeping his best players on the West Ham squad list. Former England manager and telly pundit Graham Taylor reckons the new Hammers boss is beginning to get it right on the pitch, but with the club in financial meltdown, Taylor feels Zola could see some of his star names sold next month. He said: “Everybody was saying Zola was a rookie manager — and he’s certainly rookier than Paul Ince. But I’ve seen West Ham play and their performances do not reflect that the club is in crisis. It seems to me their problems are all off the pitch rather than on it. But if they have to sell off players, the problems could find their way on to the pitch.” Aston Villa, one of Taylor’s former clubs, visit Upton Park today and he added: “I have to go with Villa.”

Steve Clarke has an end to the Hammers' recent poor home form on his wish list. United's last win at Upton Park came three months ago - against Newcastle - and defeats to Tottenham, Everton, Bolton and Arsenal have ensued. In contrast, they have picked up points on the road at Chelsea and Liverpool and three more at Sunderland, and Clarke has warned his charges to stop the rot sooner rather than later - starting at home to Aston Villa.

He said: "I don't understand why teams are struggling more at home than away. There's no real reason for it or logic behind it. I wouldn't say it's grating at the moment but it'd be nice to win a couple of home games. If I could work out why it was I'd have put it right a few weeks ago. I suppose it's different circumstances, a few mistakes, maybe a little bit of anxiety playing at home. But these are things we've been trying to address and hopefully you'll see in the weekend's game we've put them right. It seems to be this year teams are finding it easier to play away from the added pressure I suppose, away from their own supporters who demand a performance."

Clarke refused to blame the fans, however, adding: "The supporters have been great. They're very vociferous at home and want to get behind the team. The only time they maybe weren't behind the team was against Tottenham and we were very poor. If we give a good performance they'll get behind us, we know that."

With only one win in their last 11 league games, West Ham have slid to 16th in the table, a position Clarke describes as a slap in the face. Only one point separates them from the relegation zone, but Clarke is refusing to panic. He has warned, though, that beating Villa will be no easy feat. "When you look at the table and see you're fifth-bottom, one point off the relegation zone, that's the obvious thing you look at," he continued. "It hits you in the face. But we have to look beyond that and see that there are other teams not so far away from the mix as well. I think the players we have here can get us away from this position in the league as quickly as possible and make sure we're not down there come the last six or seven games of the season. It's very, very close. One win can put you up five or six places. Martin O'Neill has put together a good collection of players in a very effective way at Villa and they're getting good results. They can definitely challenge the top four this season. He has some good young players. In any country when you get young players coming through it's important."

Finally, the Mail's Hatchet Man has set his sights on Eggert Magnusson in his Saturday column, placing the former United chairman firmly on his black list. Magnusson is suing Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson for £1.1million which he claims he is owed after his Upton Park departure a year ago. Apparently he has only received £100,000 so far - but even that seems too much. The Hatchet Man has no idea of what the former West Ham chairman's contract entitled him to but he concludes that if it was based on performance, he would surely owe the club money rather than the other way around. West Ham sources insist Magnusson has received everything entitled to him from them and the other claim is a personal matter.

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Waters Lapping

But they couldn't stop Jack, 'or the waters lapping,
And they couldn't prevent Jack from being happy.
A rare piece of good news today as Jack Collison penned a glistening new five-year deal with United that keeps him tied to Upton Park until 2013. The 20-year-old Welsh international midfielder has made just five appearances for the Hammers thus far this season but has impressed both the club and supporters with his cultured displays. He opened his goalscoring account for the club in the 3-1 home defeat against Everton last month.

Talking to tonight, a happy Collison said:

"It has been a really good year for me. It is a nice Christmas present and a good way to end the year after making my debut for the senior team at Arsenal at the beginning of the year. I now want to claim a regular place in the starting eleven if I can and really push on now.

"I am delighted that the club wants me here for a long time. It gives you security and now it is sorted, I can just concentrate on my football. I have worked my way through from the youth team to the first and want to be a regular part of it all.

"The new manager has come in and given me the confidence to show what I can do - and now I am aiming to make the most of all my opportunities on the pitch."

West Ham United CEO Scott Duxbury added: "I am delighted that Jack has signed a new long-term deal and followed Freddie Sears and Carlton Cole in committing his long-term future to West Ham United. I know Gianfranco Zola and his staff have been very impressed with him and this is just reward for all his hard work. As his performance at Chelsea showed last week, Jack is an exciting young player and one the Academy can be proud of producing. We are fully committed to giving our young players a chance to shine in the first team."

Collison's rapid emergence from Tony Carr's youth team set-up saw the Watford-born number 31 make his international debut in the 1-0 victory in Denmark last month - a game won by a goal from Collison's West Ham United team mate Craig Bellamy.

Elsewhere, there is a nice interview with Mark Noble in today's Mail...

Sometimes it's tough to be a local hero. The pressure, the emotion. Just ask Mark Noble. No sooner had he established himself in the West Ham team than his nerves were being tested by a fierce relegation fight. His tearful trudge from the Upton Park pitch after a defeat to Tottenham remains one of the defining images of a tumultuous season for the Hammers.

On the flip-side, no one savoured the euphoria of their eventual escape like the teenager who walked back after his first-team debut in 2004 to a home where his bedroom walls were still plastered with claret and blue posters.

Almost two years on from that last-gasp defeat to Spurs and Noble is the first to admit he has changed. He has developed into a more mature professional. He talks with authority, aware of his responsibilities, and has been spied sharing advice with young team-mates Jack Collison and Freddie Sears.

'I'm only 21 but it feels like I've been around for ages,' he says, smiling.

'The boys can't believe it either. It seems like I'm so much older. That's just my personality and the fact I've managed to become a first team regular.'

The club is in his heart but his transition from regular fan to key player is illustrated by the team's dip in form during his time out with a calf injury. Perhaps these are early stages of his transformation into West Ham's answer to Steven Gerrard or John Terry.

He started his first game in almost two months in the draw at Chelsea last week and will be in the midfield against Aston Villa today.

'I'm always going to be a West Ham fan, but it's strange,' Noble admits as he reflects on life since West Ham escaped the drop in 2007.

'You can say you're a fan but this is my job. I work for West Ham. I live football 24 hours a day. Even when I'm sitting at home, I'm thinking about football, what can happen, this and that.

'My friends and family have learned to leave me alone - otherwise I'll just give them the cold shoulder. They've got their opinions but I know the players well and I know what's happening at the club.

'I think they've slowly moved away from asking me what's going on, who's this, who's that, what happened Saturday, why didn't we do this, why didn't we do that because, after two years of it, it drives you mad.

'West Ham fans are so proud of their club and what it stands for. I fully understand that. I've been brought up around it all my life. But when I finish training, I want to get away from that, otherwise I'm a bear with a sore head around my girlfriend and I don't want that.'

Hammers fans have endured more than their share of anxiety in the past two years. First, the great escape, then the legal battle surrounding Carlos Tevez and Sheffield United, relegated when the Hammers survived.

The club's future is again uncertain because of the financial issues of chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and his decision to invite offers from potential buyers but Noble insists the Hammers are heading in the right direction under Gianfranco Zola.

'Two years ago was the low of all lows,' says Noble.

'Ninety per cent of the football population in this country thought West Ham had gone down. Then we went and beat Arsenal away and Man United away.

'I've always been positive. I think a club like this, with its traditions of bringing through young talent and with a manager like Zola, who is young and enthusiastic, can only look forward positively.'

Noble has other things to look forward to, including parenthood. He and girlfriend Carly - the couple have been together since they were 14 - are expecting a daughter in early March.

Then there are the European Championships in Sweden with England Under 21s and the chance to improve on their gallant efforts in Holland two years ago. After writing off his money on a summer holiday to Mexico, Noble forced his way into Stuart Pearce's squad and then broke into the midfield during the tournament, scoring two penalties in the epic 13-12 penalty shoot-out defeat to the hosts in the semi-final.

'When you score your first one, you think, "Yes, that's out of the way",' he recalls.

'Then James Milner's going, "I've got to take another one". I thought, "That means I've got to take another one as well then". It was a mad old trip.'

It was a mad season for Noble. It started on loan at Ipswich. Then he was recalled and Alan Curbishley's decision to fast-track him into the first team paid off. He scored his first Premier League goal against Tottenham in March but the game ended painfully when two late goals condemned the Hammers to a 4-3 defeat.

'I thought we'd won it with Bobby Zamora's header and, five minutes later, we'd lost it,' says Noble, who left the pitch in tears.

'It was too much emotion for me.'

He describes that season as a 'freak of nature' and is confident West Ham's recent slide down the congested Premier League does not mean another relegation battle is looming.

'Once we play how we can do, we'll pick up points,' he says.

'We've got to stay out of that fight this year and when the gaffer gets his foot firmly in the door, maybe next year, we can push on. In a couple of years, we want to be doing what Aston Villa are doing now.'

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ten Count Draculas

West Ham United were already a questionable purchase in the short term, but the chances of concluding a takeover appeared more unlikely after their Icelandic owners formally valued the club at £250 million last night. It is more than double what they paid two years ago, writes Gary Jacobs in The Times. The owners, who put the value in papers lodged at the Reykjavik Municipal Court, appointed a bank several months ago to determine the extent of interest in the club, but their difficulty in attracting serious buyers was highlighted yesterday by their attempts to stoke up interest.

"The recent sale of Manchester City Football Club for £230 million could give reason to expect a higher price," Gudmundsson's lawyers said in court papers. "West Ham is thought to be a more valuable club when looking at its location in London, loyal fan base, more chance of linked real estate projects, proximity to the Olympic Village and the fact that West Ham owns its ground, which is not the case with Manchester City. The City sale therefore gives cause to expect that West Ham could be valued at more that £250 million."

Owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has not yet made a final decision about selling up, but he has given permission for non-disclosure agreements to be signed with between "five and 10 parties" interested in buying the club. The agreements allow the interested parties to look at confidential financial information about West Ham on the condition they do not disclose it. However, the agreements fall short of due diligence – which would grant the potential buyers access to the club's books – but interested parties will be given detailed information on West Ham's finances, debts (around £40m) and liabilities, which are expected to include a commitment by Gudmundsson to cover the cost of the Tevez case. Several of those interested are understood to have put in opening (indicative) bids that have fallen short of what Gudmundsson would want, as revealed in the court documents filed by his holding company, Hansa, now known to be £250m. Market analysts suggest a more realistic figure to be £150m.

The 67-year-old Gudmundsson is now in talks with the Icelandic government and banks about how he can restructure his assets, including West Ham United, of which he is the sole owner. There have been suggestions he has been told to sell the club by March, but these have been denied by his advisers, who maintain he cannot be forced into such a move. Hansa, the holding company which has gone into voluntary liquidation and begun the process of administration and Gudmundsson, who has been affected by the Icelandic economic crisis, is reviewing his assets, including West Ham. However, Fridgeirsson admitted that the figure of £250 million was not necessarily an asking price.

"We are reviewing the asset, looking at what might be the value of the club," said Fridgeirsson. "Following such a review we will take a decision whether to sell or not. We don't have to sell. We are gathering options and information to see what is out there in terms of demand. We have signed confidentiality agreements with several parties, which means that we will provide them with financial information and they undertake not to divulge any of this information to a third party. So far we haven't received any concrete offers. There is nothing that says that the current market is willing to pay £250 million, nor that this is the figure we are looking for."

West Ham's ownership is somewhat complicated but, though Hansa are the holding company, there are also West Ham United Holdings Ltd and West Ham United plc within the structure. West Ham United plc are regarded as the member organisation by the Premier League and Fridgeirsson has described West Ham as "fire-walled".

Björgólfur Gudmundsson’s valuation of his club would even have been excessive eight months ago, before the full effects of the global economic crisis were known. But potential buyers are also concerned by the chance that the club could be relegated, debts approaching £50 million and unknown liabilities that may need to be paid to Sheffield United for the Carlos Tévez affair. Similar concerns have impacted on other owners trying to sell Barclays Premier League clubs. Newcastle United, Portsmouth and Everton have effectively been up for sale for some time, but none are close to a takeover. Global financial turmoil has made a dent in the pockets of potential investors, who fear that clubs are overvalued, even without the potential for reduced future income from sponsorship, advertising and ticketing revenue.

According to Jason Burt in The Independent, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson is attempting to push ahead with the sale of the club after being advised that the compensation to be paid to Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez affair is unlikely to be more than £10m – a fifth of the total which was, at one time, demanded. The Hammers are facing the prospect of paying heavy compensation for fielding Tevez during the 2006-07 season and later admitting that there were "irregularities" in the striker's ownership by private investors. Although fined £5.5m by the Premier League in 2007, the club has since had to fight potentially more damaging action from Sheffield United over the cost of the Yorkshire club being relegated. Both parties are due to meet an arbitration panel in March next year but it now appears that, with discussions already under way on the amount of compensation, they are moving towards an out-of-court settlement.

Sheffield United originally claimed £30m, then increased that figure to £42m, then £50m, but are understood to have since revised it down to £25m. West Ham, meanwhile, have maintained that the relegated club have failed to factor in the costs of being a Premier League club and that they were simply calculating on the basis of banking the full amount of television and other revenues for being in the top flight. The true value of losses suffered by Sheffield United is somewhere between £5m and £10m, West Ham say. If that proves accurate it would ease the pressure somewhat on a sale and make potential owners far less nervous about the future of the club, although West Ham could also benefit from pulling further away from the relegation places.

Gudmundsson's business empire has been devastated by recent events. Landsbanki, the Icelandic bank in which he was the biggest shareholder, went into receivership in October. Then Samson Holdings, the holding company for shares in Landsbanki, filed for bankruptcy last month. West Ham's then shirt sponsor, the travel company XL, had gone bust a month earlier and it later emerged that Gudmundsson had been the guarantor of a £163m loan given to the company.

Elsewhere, West Ham's former chairman Eggert Magnusson is reportedly suing club owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson for not honouring the terms and conditions of his contract when he left the club. Magnusson was relieved of his duties at Upton Park last year and according to his contract should have received three months pay, €1 million plus £200,000 - he claims he only saw £100,000 of this money. The Guardian states that the legal documents filed yesterday outline Magnusson's compensatory demands for 200 million krona (£1.1 million).

While Asgeir Fridgeirsson, the club’s vice-chairman, admitted for the first time that the club are seeking a buyer (“there is a great interest in the club and many interested parties are calling to show interest”) The Sun claimed blood curdling screams could be heard all over East London yesterday at the news. It insists the claret and blue hordes have good reason to be afraid — a takeover was largely responsible for getting them into this awful mess in the first place and unlike most horror tales, the mayhem has not been caused by just one dark, scary figure lurking in the shadows. Helpfully, the paper identifies the "ten Count Draculas who have each, in one way or another, driven a stake through West Ham’s once-vibrant heart". It proclaims: "Terry Brown, Eggert Magnusson, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, Scott Duxbury, Alan Curbishley, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Freddie Ljungberg, Kia Joorabchian and XL — your West Ham have taken one hell of a beating!"

In reality, West Ham need to be sold by early January to ensure that transfer funds can be made available to Gianfranco Zola, to ensure their survival in the top flight this season. The club are only a point above the relegation zone, despite a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Chelsea on Sunday. There is also much interest in several of the team's better players, with clubs circling like vultures for a prospective bargain.

Robert Green, Dean Ashton, Valon Behrami, Scott Parker, Matthew Upson and Craig Bellamy are all reportedly targets for other clubs, but Lucas Neill has said that he wants to sign a new contract before his deal expires this summer. The defender, 30, who earns £70,000 a week, asked for a rise last summer but he is likely to be offered less than half that sum. He turns 31 in March. “I want to finish my career here,” he said. “I know the [financial] situation at the club and the way things have gone. I love the club and the role they have for me. The players aren’t worried [about relegation]. No one is thinking or talking about leaving. I have had assurances from the manager that he wants me to stay. He likes what he has here and wants to build on that. He doesn’t want to remove the quality he has because it will affect his plans massively and what we are trying to achieve.” For his part, the ever self-aware Bellamy said there is little chance of Celtic signing him in January because they simply cannot match his £100,000-a-week wages. "When was the last time Celtic paid £7million for a player?" the 29-year-old said. "When was the last time Celtic went to the wages I am earning at West Ham?"

Despite it all, assistant manager Steve Clarke insists the Hammers are not a club in crisis. Clarke was adamant matters off the pitch would not impact on the squad's preparation for their fixture at home to Aston Villa on Saturday. He said: 'If you allow yourself to be distracted by other things that are going on that you can't control then you lose focus on what you're trying to do. I come into the club every day, my job is to work with the players, try and improve the team.'

Clarke said West Ham were not the only club facing financial uncertainties at the moment. 'I think in any football club there's uncertainty, especially in the current climate,' he noted. 'West Ham keep getting put forward as a club that's in crisis, but that's not the case. I think you'll find that there are a lot of football clubs that maybe have similar problems.'

Clarke would not be drawn on Zola's plans for the January transfer window but said West Ham's first team squad is 'too big'. The Hammers have 27 outfield players and three goalkeepers on their books, a number that could be cut down in January. Clarke admitted: 'If there's an opportunity to let one or two of the squad players go who want to go and play somewhere else, then we can do that.' But Clarke said the West Ham management team were not under pressure to sell, despite the club being up for sale.

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