With 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...
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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."