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.

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