Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Sublittoral Thrum

For West Ham United, severely impeded by the Scylla and Charybdis of a rabid football press and a public financial imperative to balance books, the transfer window cracks and hums, pulsing like the premonitory electricity of death. Transfer rumours in these austere times are as pieces of lint, static-clinging to our collective screen as 24hr rolling media disseminates half-truths and belches effluents, pollutants, contaminants and deliriants into an airborne toxic event...

So we have Sunderland launching a £5million raid for James Collins according to today's Mail. Steve Bruce has already boosted his defence with the capture of out-of-contract Paraguay skipper Paulo da Silva, and has now reportedly turned his attention to the Wales international, who returned to action for West Ham United in October last year after a nine-month absence with severe knee-ligament damage. The paper speculates that Gianfranco Zola may now be tempted to part with Collins to raise funds for his own recruitment plans, especially with Celtic also credited with an interest in the player. The Sardinian has a preference for a smaller squad and with Matthew Upson, James Tomkins and the returning Danny Gabbidon providing adequate depth, could view Collins as expendable.

Fellow Welsh defender Gabbidon was said to be pleased with his 45 minutes on Sunday as he played his first football for 18 months in the victory over Grays Athletic. "It feels really good to be back," Gabbidon told the official site. "It has been quite a long time. I have had a few problems with injuries. It was nice to have a run-out at Grays and we got a good result as well so it was a good start to pre-season."

The defender developed a series of back problems and neck related complications which threatened his career and forced him to miss nearly two seasons of action. "It has just been a bit of wear and tear really from playing so long with a few problems and I just carried on playing," he disclosed. "It kind of got worse. I developed some problems with my back and groin and it just proved quite hard to get rid of the problem. I have had to be patient. I have done a lot of work with the physios at West Ham and finally I have got there and it is nice to be back out on the pitch and performing in a West Ham shirt."

Gabbidon is now eager to improve his fitness as the Hammers squad arrived at their Austrian training camp near Graz yesterday. Zola and his coaching staff are planning to "work the players hard", with double training sessions scheduled for non-match-days throughout their stay. The players will also be able to keep fit by cycling to and from their hotel to the training pitches. The competitive action during the trip will be provided in the shape of four friendlies with Flavia Solva the first opponents in Wagna tomorrow. German Cup holders Werder Bremen follow on Saturday, with Turkish side Bursaspor providing the opposition on Wednesday 22 July. The trip concludes with a game against ND Nura a short hop over the border in Slovenia on Thursday 23 July.

The official site revealed that after an early morning flight from London the players quickly set about making themselves at home in their new surroundings. Bathed in glorious sunshine, the travelling party headed by coach to their picturesque hotel in the rural village of Bad Radkersburg, their base for the next ten days. New arrival Luis Jimenez joined up with his team-mates for the first time and, we are told, pointedly went to every member of the squad to shake hands and introduce himself. Jimenez was joined at the airport by England trio Matthew Upson, Robert Green and Carlton Cole after they were given an extra week's holiday following their international exertions last month.

The majority of the group that featured in the 2-1 friendly win at Grays Athletic are in Austria, along with Luis Boa Morte, Valon Behrami and Scott Parker. Canada Under-20 goalkeeper Adam Street is also in the first-team party, as is reserve team captain Bondz N'Gala, Austria U19 midfielder Georg Grasser and promising youngsters Oliver Lee and Anthony Edgar, who signed their first professional contracts with the club last month. There is no mention of Savio but one assumes he is also present. Dean Ashton and Terry Dixon are named as the only absentees as both have stayed behind in England to work on their own individual training programmes. Or Dixon has at least. For Ashton, who is a reported target for Stoke City, dark rumours concerning medical examinations, first-team assurances, managerial fall-outs and Britannia stadium tours swarm like an incessant sublittoral thrum.

With two of his four striking options still struggling for fitness or personal contentment, it is perhaps not surprising Zola is eager to boost his forward options. "We are trying to spot what our ­weaknesses are," the United manager told Sky Sports. "Certainly we need to improve up front and that is the majority of the job." According to the Express, a possible move for old team-mate Eidur Gudjohnsen is still in the offing. Gudjohnsen has been made available by Barcelona and with funds limited at Upton Park, The Star thinks Zola may have to persuade both player and club that a season-long loan deal is an attractive proposition.

Elsewhere, the Mirror claims Julien Faubert is wanted by Bayer Leverkusen after the former France international spent the end of last season on loan at Real Madrid but barely played. Faubert has endured a miserable time in London since his move from Bordeaux in July 2007. He ruptured his achilles tendon in a pre-season game just weeks into his stay, and did not play for the first team until the following January. When he did return it became apparent that the injury had miraculously robbed FauxPas of some of his pace, most of his crossing ability and all of his first-touch. Subsequently relegated to bit-part status by successive managers, he has regularly voiced his dissatisfaction with the club through the French media. The article states West Ham United do not actually want their £5-6million signing back and are ready to do a cut-price deal, with Leverkusen hoping to land Faubert for as little as £1million.

Julian Faubert- La Nausee (one man, assailed by metaphysical doubts, attempts to cleanse himself of the sin of existing)




Sunday, 12 July 2009

Grays Athletic 1 West Ham United 2

Gianfranco Zola declared himself pleased with the side's 2-1 friendly win over Grays Athletic this afternoon. In the absence of established first-teamers Robert Green, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Luis Boa Morte, Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Dean Ashton, academy products Zavon Hines and Cristian Montano scored the goals in a game that also saw the return to action of Danny Gabbidon. The injury-plagued defender played his first half of football since a reserve outing back in January 2008. There were also encouraging run-outs for Kieron Dyer, the returning Julien Faubert, Anthony Edgar and Junior Stanislas.

Zola used 22 players in all during the game and he saw plenty to be pleased about ahead of the new season, while the game will serve as ideal preparation for the squad's trip to Austria tomorrow. "I was very happy today," he said. "Everyone came through which is good because we have only had one week of hard training and this is still very early in pre-season. I am pleased with how the young players did and they had lots of confidence. It is very encouraging."

While it was a welcome pipe-opener for established names such as Herita Ilunga and Jack Collison, there was also a tantalising glimpse of two players who are set to play a part in Tony Carr's Under-18 set-up this coming season - namely Republic of Ireland Under-17 midfielder Eoin Wearen and England Under-17 forward Robert Hall, who are still only 16 and 15 respectively. As stated on the official site, both may feature again at Cambridge United in a West Ham United XI next Saturday.

Meanwhile Savio travelled with the squad to Grays but was rested as a precaution. He is expected to figure when the team play in Austria, perhaps in the opening match of the ten-day trip against local third-division team SVL Flavia Solva on Wednesday. New recruit Luis Jimenez will also be in Austria after his arrival in London earlier today. Although he was not in time to watch his new team-mates play after sorting out some personal matters back in Chile, Zola was clear about how the man dubbed 'the Wizard' will improve his options. "He will give us something extra especially in the last 30 metres. That is the kind of player we have got."

Valon Behrami and Scott Parker are also expected to make the trip to the training camp in Bad Radkersburg, although only the latter has a chance of playing in any of the four games. After Flavia Solva, the Hammers take on German Cup holders Werder Bremen on Saturday in Bad Waltersdorf (check out possible live internet streams for that one) before meeting Turkish team Bursaspor on Wednesday week and then finishing up against ND Mura 05 across the border in Slovenia a day later.

Finally, England Under-21 duo James Tomkins and Mark Noble will fly out with Jonathan Spector midway through the camp, having had just a fortnight or so off so far after their summer international exertions. According to the official site, it remains to be seen if Dean Ashton and Terry Dixon will be joining them as they continue to work hard on their fitness after lengthy injury lay-offs.

Friday, 10 July 2009

New Home Kit Revealed?

At the risk of upsetting Ray Winstone and the West Ham United commercial department, here is a sneaky pre-launch look at the new "dicky dirt" for next season, as appeared on several Hammers sites this afternoon. I'm not that convinced by it yet but obviously it will look a lot better if worn by Luis Jimenez and Amantino Mancini come Monday's big launch. I would attribute credit for this reveal but, in the circumstances, repectful anonymity is probably the way to go.

Julian Dictates

Below is an exclusive WHO interview with Irons legend Julian Dicks as conducted by Leigh Jim, Julian's agent for the past 10 years...


Q. Did Perry Groves really plead with George Graham to take him off when you kicked his arse years ago ?

A. Yes he did... it was pretty embarrassing to watch actually but it made me laugh at the time. I was smacking him all over the park.

Q. Were you actually serious about the Ray Winstone as chairman thing?

A. Ha Ha – of course not. I get journalists ringing me up all the time. On this occasion, he asked me – ‘in an ideal world, who would you have running West Ham?’. I actually said ‘Me’, but as that wasn’t allowed, I chose Ray.

Q. What do you think was your best performance for us? (IMHO it was the 4-3 win over Spurs when Hartson & Kitson joined.)

A. Well from a fan’s point of view, I would have to agree with the Spurs game but I also really enjoyed the Man Utd 2-2 game as well. We were fantastic that game.

Q. What handicap do you play off these days?

A. I still play off scratch – but I can't play as much as I used to. I can play but it’s the walking that does me. My knees are shot after a 3-day tournament.

Q. Iron Maiden or Guns and Roses?

A. Oh it has to be Guns and Roses. I love a bit of Iron Maiden and get on well with the lads – but it can't compare to Appetite for Destruction!!

Q. Is Graeme Souness as bad a manager as he is TV pundit?

A. Ha Ha – I actually like him as a pundit – he is honest and doesn’t take any crap… much like he was as a manager. I have worked under many managers and I have never heard players slag him off. The only people he upset were the useless ones.

Q. Do you really believe your hair cut stopped you getting picked for England?

A. I believe my image did. I was in Linekers in Tenerife and John Gorman told me that if I grew my hair that they would pick me! I just told him to fuck off. What a stupid thing to say.

At the time the England team had alcoholics in it, gamblers etc... I just couldn’t understand their logic.

Q. Does it annoy you to see the salaries that players are on these days?

A. No why would it? I was always paid well and loved every minute of it. Would I have wanted more? Sure – but then who wouldn’t?

Q. What made you move from striker to left back?

A. John Bond at Birmingham asked someone to volunteer and I put my hand up. I had a blinder and played their ever since! I was too short to play up front!

Q. Have you forgiven David Mellor and Andy Gray for comments they made re John Spencer?

A. Look, I don’t hold grudges but what Andy Gray did, for me, was pathetic. He demanded the FA investigate me and, along with Mellor, started some sort of media vendetta against me. I thought it was all pretty sad. John Spencer agreed to stand up at the tribunal and defend me but Hoddle banned it. Best leave that there...

Q. Who is the hardest player you have played against?

A. No question, Mark Hughes. He was strong and gave as good as he got. If you clattered him, he got up and never moaned. A great player and a good bloke

Q. Do you regret anything you have done in your career injury wise?

A. No. Sure I could have had an operation and come back but that is a major risk – as it was, I had 12 great years and enjoyed every minute of it. How many people get to say that?

Q. What would Harry, Bonzo etc say to you after getting sent off?

A. Billy would never say anything but Harry would have a moan if it was avoidable. To be honest, I can't really remember them ever shouting at me. Me and Harry always got on really.

Q. Why did you leave to join Liverpool and do you regret how it turned out?

A. I didn’t want to leave. My agent tried all she could to stop it happening but Harry wanted a change. I had no choice. After the Derby game, Harry gave me such a roasting in the press that my position became very difficult. I don’t regret going to Liverpool – I just regret the fact that Souness left. I loved it at West Ham. I still do.

Q. Who was the biggest tool you ever played against/with?

A. There are players I didn’t like but genuinely no hatred. Marco Boogers was probably the strangest player I played with. He was literally crazy. It was always fun playing against Man Utd as they were so easy to wind up!

Q. Did you feel that Bonzo/Harry resented your relationship with the fans?

A. I don’t think so, no. Harry might have resented aspects of it but no – I think they appreciated the reasons for the relationship I had with the fans.

Q. Do you still go down TOTs?

A. Ha Ha .. is that still there??? No, I am too bloody old for that now. We used to have some blinding nights out but not anymore!!

Q. Do you ever look at websites such as westhamonline.net?

A. No, I can't say I do to be honest. I might now though.

Q. What was Harry Redknapp like? There are many players who criticised his managerial style during the mid 90's. Did he rub people up the wrong way on a regular basis?

A. Harry is Harry. He does things I don’t agree with but then nobody is perfect. I tell you what though, he knows how to get the best out of people.

Q. What was your favourite goal for the club?

A. The penalties against Spurs and Man Utd will always stand out – but maybe the goal against Forest Away? It's hard to choose just one.

Q. Are there any West Ham players you admire today?

A. From the games I have seen, I would have to say Rob Green is the stand out player for me. Consistent and doesn’t fuck about. A good old fashioned goalie.

Q. Do you remember back in about 1995 in Dukes, Chelmsford, when some bloke helped you and John Moncur get away from John Rollinson by hiding you both in the cloakroom?

A. Who the hell is John Rollinson? Maybe you should ask Moncs that one! It's safe to say if I was in Dukes, then I can't remember this incident!

Q. Who do you consider to be the modern day hardman of the game?

A. In the Premier League now? Nobody – how can there be? The last one was Keane. But since then, nobody. Saying that, Keane was fine dishing it out but never enjoyed taking it back. I remember once I went in two footed on someone (maybe Cantona) and Butt responded by taking me out. Butt got sent off, I squared up to Keane and Cantona tried to swing a punch at me. He missed, and Keane ran off.

Q. How did the players see the Redknapp and Bonds fallout?

A. To be honest we heard what we heard the same as the rest of you. My take on it was that Billy never wanted to be a manager – he was happy just being at home with the kids. Harry, on the other hand, wanted it and was determined to succeed.

Q. Sorry about this, but it's a site tradition - favourite crisps?

A. Worcester Sauce Walkers

Q. What went wrong with your first managerial job at Wivenhoe?

A. Nothing went wrong – I spent 6 months there, kept them up and that was that. The club had no money, the players didn’t get paid, I didn’t get paid ... it was just all a real shame as I loved it and would have stayed. The previous manager there really stitched the club up, and I am not sure there is any way back for them.

Q. Do you still harbour serious ambition to break into management?

A. Absolutely. I love football and I am good at motivating people. My agents are working on trying to get me something so fingers crossed. I want to learn the ropes for 10 years or so and then take over at West Ham! Why not? It would be my dream.

Q. Being the best left back of your era, do you harbour any regrets that you never played for the full England team?

A. Not at all – I am past all that now!

Q. How did you find your time at Liverpool? Was it a culture shock going from being a big fish in a small pond to just another player at a big team?

A. No not really – I just wanted to play football. As I said, I didn’t really want to be there but it was a great opportunity. It was a great day when I came back though.

Q. What are your views on Terry Brown? Do you agree with the fans' opinion that he bled the club for all its worth then sold at a profit; or did you see a different side to him during your years at the club?

A. To be fair I never really got involved in any of that aspect. I had my issues with the Bond Scheme as it seemed to rip off the average fan. It's difficult though, as a player, to get too involved. I had a job to do, and I just got on with it.

Q. Out of all the managers you played under, who stood out as the best? Who would you say was the worst?

A. Worst manager was Lou Macari... ‘Dicksy, win the ball... get it up the field’. That was it. Horrible way to play football.

Best manager was either Ron Saunders at Birmingham or John Lyall. I swear in all the years I knew John, he never once got angry. He just oozed class and was a fantastic man.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Days Of Long Shadow

As inevitable as a bubble bursting, as inextricably cinched as the West Ham United board to pecuniary constipation, Gianfranco Zola is being linked with yet another loan bid for yet another Inter Milan player; this time the dilatory, brooding Mario Balotelli. Several of the morning papers credit the Upton Park chief with trying to secure a loan deal for the 18 year-old striker, who has grown impatient at being continually over-looked by Jose Mourinho. The Mail reports that the gifted Italian under-21 international- who yesterday scored then was sent off in Italy's match with Sweden- has two years left to run on his contract with the Serie A champions but is on the verge of being forced out by his frustrated manager. Mourinho is said to have lost all patience with the promising youngster, having repeatedly expressed his displeasure over his lazy attitude in training which resulted in the pacey attacker's exclusion from his first team in January.

Now Zola is keen to beat the long queue of interested suitors for the striker's services and has publicly urged Balotelli to quit the San Siro and join his West Ham revolution this summer. "I have done everything I can to sign Mario and it would be in both our interests and his," he told Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport. "There is no place for him at Inter and he is a natural talent. He is very extroverted and he knows his attitude sometimes upsets people, but he is intelligent and is still learning to handle situations. He is bold and brazen and that’s an attribute." Clearly undeterred by the players troublesome reputation, Zola is actively looking to add more firepower to his squad for the forthcoming campaign owed to the uncertainty surrounding injury prone Dean Ashton's long-term fitness and the departures of both David Di Michele and Diego Tristan.

In the same interview, the Hammers boss also confirmed that he is trying to bag Balotelli's Inter team-mate Luis Jimenez. The Chilean attacker is set to join the Hammers on a one-year loan deal with the option to make the transfer permanent. "I hope it is completed soon," Zola admitted. "He is one of those lads who plays the kind of football I like. In England it's not easy to sign non-European players but I think these problems can be solved." Jimenez has reportedly been granted a work permit for a switch to Upton Park, despite not playing the required number of matches in the last two years in Europe. The 25-year-old, who joined Inter in the summer of 2007 on loan from Ternana, was limited to only two Serie A starts last season, as injury prevented him from forcing his way into Mourinho's squad.

It is also understood that the club is making an attempt to sign a third Inter star, 28-year-old winger Mancini. However, this morning's Sun- in lieu of a full-scale retraction of its erroneous story earlier in the week- claims Zola has received a setback in his pursuit of the Brazilian after his head was turned by last-minute offers from rival European clubs offering Champions League football. The paper insists that Hammers chief executive Scott Duxbury flew to Italy to oversee that deal and the one for Jimenez early this week and came away convinced the pair would sign. It is reported that there are only minor details in the Jimenez deal to sort out but Duxbury will not know until next week whether Mancini will be joining him at Upton Park.

Away from the transfer front and rocking the shonkiest photo-shopping skills this side of a pro-Ahmadinejad rally, the same paper reveals Scott Parker took his factor 30 sun cream, swimming trunks, a good book and a West Ham physio on holiday with him this summer. The midfielder missed the final eight games of the last campaign as United's unexpected bid for seventh in the Premier League faded in the last weeks. He is still undergoing rehab on a groin injury and Gianfranco Zola is so determined the Hammer-of-the-Year should regain full fitness in time for the new season he packed one of his medical staff off with Parker and fellow invalid Valon Behrami on their close-season holidays.

West Ham's push for the Europa League wilted under a late wave of injuries to first-teamers such as striker Carlton Cole and winger Behrami. The Swiss international is now back at home but working towards a return for the first game of the season at newly-promoted Wolves after damaging knee ligaments on March 1. "I have to thank West Ham for saying I could go home and someone would come to work with me," said Behrami. "They are a good club and this proves it. Things are going well and I'll be back in mid-August." Zola is anxious for West Ham to keep their sick-list as short as possible but equally he prefers to operate with a relatively small squad of around 21 senior players. That means injuries have an even bigger impact than at rival Premier League clubs. The paper states a recent overhaul of the medical department and plans to move to a new training ground are designed to cut down the injury toll.

In other news, Crystal Palace have, as expected, agreed a deal to take Freddie Sears on a season-long loan deal from West Ham United. Gianfranco Zola is thought to be keen for the teenage striker to gain greater first-team experience next season and a clutch of Championship clubs had shown an interest. Sheffield Wednesday and Championship new boys Peterborough United were among the teams to have made an approach for the 19-year-old. However, Palace have now confirmed that Sears, who failed to score in 22 appearances last term, will spend the campaign on loan at Selhurst Park.

Meanwhile, Luis Boa Morte has pledged to stay at West Ham and continue the fine form he produced at the tail end of last season. The Portugal international has endured taunts from the certain sections of the Upton Park support and was tipped to move on this summer. But with one year left on his deal, Boa Morte has declared war on his critics. He said: "I should stay and fight for my place. I still intend to play three more years away from Portugal. I have one more year at West Ham and then two more after that. Where I play those two years, assuming all goes well, we will see." Boa Morte has admitted than he would seize the chance to end his career in his homeland. "I intend to finish in Portugal," he said. "I would love to play at least one year at Belenenses. I also like Setubal and Guimaraes."

Finally, an unusually loquacious Zola says he is looking forward to seeing Savio take the next step at West Ham United in the coming campaign after a lively introduction to life in England. Speaking at a recent fans forum held at the Boleyn Ground, the United manager was asked his thoughts about the exciting youngster who made eleven appearances for the club in all competitions last season. "Savio is a boy who came from a totally different league with a lower standard so had a few problems at the beginning trying to establish himself," Zola said. "He was used to playing at very low rhythm, so he had time on the ball and would get two or three seconds before someone was going to challenge. In the Premier League it is totally different, you don't have the ball and already someone is challenging you - but he is catching up. He is only 19. He is a player that I believe is going to give satisfaction to the supporters. We need to be patient with him because he needs to adapt. He has got quality and believe me is going to be an important player."

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Beat Goes On

As mentioned yesterday, the struggling investment bank Straumer-Burdaras, which has a 70% stake in the new owners of West Ham United, has been granted a six-month reprieve by a district court in Reykjavik to stave off creditors. CB Holdings, which is made up of creditors owed money by West Ham's former owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and whose majority stakeholder is Straumur, took over at Upton Park last week. The bank had been in danger of being declared insolvent and applied for an extension to an existing three-month moratorium. A judge in the Icelandic capital has now increased that period until 11 December.

This morning's Guardian reports Straumur must still convince its creditors that its plans for West Ham and other managed assets are acceptable. The bank is attempting to transform itself into an asset-management company but will require a "composition agreement" to be granted by creditors, who will be asked to accept a fixed sum for what they are owed. Should they fail to reach an agreement at a meeting scheduled for 6 August, Straumur would face a winding-up order, which could conceivably have serious implications on the stability at Upton Park. That said, even if Straumur is declared insolvent, there are other creditors owed money by Hansa who would likely step in and assume their stake in CB Holding.

Sources at Straumur remained positive last night, insisting the granting of the moratorium "does not change anything for West Ham", with this the latest stage in the bank's attempt to financially restructure itself. Meanwhile, Gianfranco Zola remains hopeful that he can add to his squad in the coming weeks. The Guardian confirms talks are still ongoing with Jose Mourinho's Internazionale over the potential deals of the winger Amantino Mancini and the attacking midfielder Luis Jiménez, both on initial season-long loan arrangements. A third target, as yet unnamed, is also reportedly in the pipeline.

One familiar face who hasn't given up hope of re-signing for West Ham United is Radoslav Kovac. The Czech Republic international spent the second half of last season on loan at Upton Park, making 10 appearances and scoring once in the 3-1 defeat at Everton. The Hammers have so far declined to take up the £4million option to make the transfer from Spartak Moscow permanent. However, the 29-year-old has implored the club to renegotiate the deal. "I hope that West Ham will still be able to come to an agreement with Spartak," Kovac told Russian newspaper Sport Express. "In principle, I wouldn't object to going to Hannover, but I would prefer to stay in England, where there is also interest from another Premier League club (thought to be Sunderland). I'm now on holiday in Prague and my contract with Spartak requires me to return to Moscow at the end of June. Perhaps by this time my future will be more certain."

In other news, it is thought United are one of two Premier League clubs on the trail of Patryk Malecki. The Wisla Krakow youngster has been strongly linked with West Ham in the Polish media but refused to confirm Gianfranco Zola's Hammers are one of the sides interested in buying him. Setanta report that Wisla are in negotiations over a new contract with the right-sided midfielder but there are other options available to the 20-year-old. "I feel very well in Krakow," the Poland Under-21 international informed Interia. "I would like to play as long as possible in Krakow. Wisla know what my conditions are and the club is looking into them in July, and it seems I have to receive the offer. Let's see, it's been less than two weeks. West Ham? No [I can't confirm]. All I know is that Greek and English clubs are interested in me. I was informed that I have two Premier League clubs who would like me in their squad. If West Ham really want me, it would be cool."

Back on the field and Mark Noble is excited by the prospect of meeting favourites Spain in England's second game at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship tonight. The midfielder recalls playing the same opposition at the 2004 UEFA European U17 Championship, when he was harshly sent-off for a foul that led to Cesc Fabregas sending eventual winners Spain through to the final from the penalty spot. Five years later, he is the captain of the U21s and looking to build on a man-of-the-match performance in the tentative 2-1 success against Finland in the opening Group B encounter in Sweden.

"It is obviously a great moment coming to a tournament like this," he said. "Going into the last Under-21 tournament in 2007 I expected to only be a squad player but I worked hard, as some of the players here have done like Kieran Gibbs who's come in and got into the team. To captain a side with some of the players and ability out on that pitch is a pleasure for me. Everyone knows we didn't play as well as we can against Finland but this is tournament football and if we play five games without playing as well as we can well I'd take that now. We've got Spain on Thursday, and will be training and preparing for that knowing we can play a lot better than we did."

England's team leader is quick to pay tribute to the resilience in the ranks following Michael Mancienne's early dismissal against the Finns. "To be fair they surprised us early on and we knew as a team we weren't playing as well as we can but in tournament football you have to grind out results," he added. "We had a bit of misfortune with Michael getting sent off but still as a group of players, and a group of friends, we dug it out and got the result. It's pretty similar to 2007. We have a lot of players who are playing regularly in the Premier League and then you've got those who've come in late to the squad and have added that bit of quality and enthusiasm that you need around the team. We've got a great bunch of lads this year, as we did two years ago, and hopefully we can just go that one step further than we did then and take that trophy back to England. That's why we're here and that's what we want to do."

So England Under 21s can book their place in the semi-finals with victory over their Spanish counterparts this evening. Stuart Pearce is hopeful of having Micah Ricards, who scored the winning goal versus Finland, at his disposal after the Manchester City defender sustained a thigh problem. James Milner (thigh) and Adam Johnson (hip) have minor knocks, while forward Theo Walcott must wait to see if he will start after a quiet first-half performance on Monday.

Spain are seeking their first win of the tournament after they were held to a goalless draw in their first encounter against Germany. The feeder team for the Euro 2008 winners are likely to have goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and winger Diego Capel available despite ankle problems.

Spain U21 v England U21
7.30pm, Thurs, Sky Sports 3

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Inter-Stellar Burst

Several of the morning papers are claiming West Ham United are close to concluding an exciting double signing from Inter Milan, which would see the 28-year-old Brazilian winger Mancini join the attacking midfielder Luis Jimenez in heading for Upton Park. Chief executive, Scott Duxbury, and technical director, Gianluca Nani, have spent an enterprising few days in Milan brokering initial loan deals with an option to buy both players, valued in today's Times at a combined £22million. With the Jimenez deal already well advanced, an article in The Independent states the club remain hopeful that Mancini, who arrived at Inter in a £15million deal last year, will also see his future in east London.

Mancini was once one of the brightest prospects in Serie A thanks to his ability to take defenders on and score goals but has since struggled to make an impact during his time in Milan. He now wants out because of a reported rift with Inter boss Jose Mourinho. Gary Jacob writes that prior to his high profile move to the San Siro last July Mancini is understood to have attracted the interest of several Premier League managers, including Sven Goran Eriksson when he was at Manchester City. The pursuit of the Brazilian is indicative of the way that Gianfranco Zola is using his Italian connections to bring talent to the club, especially as Andrew Dillon credits Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez as also having an interest in the player. It similarly reflects the close links that exist between Mourinho, Zola and Steve Clarke forged through their association with Chelsea.

Dillon, writing in today's Sun, is convinced the double swoop has already been rubber-stamped. He states Mancini, rated at £15million and Jimenez, worth around £10million, are Zola’s first signings after control of West Ham was taken from outgoing chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and passed to Straumur-Burdaras Investment. The Icelandic bank was earlier this week granted an extension to its moratorium until 11 December 2009 by the District Court of Reykjavík. Dillon states Zola now hopes to land at least one of the Inter pair on a permanent deal next summer but will still need to sell to raise cash first.

It is to that end that the club have slapped a £15million price tag on defender Matthew Upson; a player the club appear resigned to losing this summer, with Manchester City favourites to sign him. The Times also credit ambitious City will an interest in the England centre-half, but they insist Everton's Joleon Lescott remains their first option. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail report Sheffield United are set to sign West Ham’s out-of-contract Kyel Reid on a two-year deal and the Blades have also shown an interest in taking Nigel Quashie. The same paper claims Birmingham City are close to wrapping up a permanent deal for midfielder Lee Bowyer. The midfielder has agreed to a significant salary cut in order to conclude the free transfer in the next week. In addition, young Freddie Sears could now be set to join Crystal Palace on loan after reportedly rejecting approaches from both Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday. The 19-year-old had been expected to join Wednesday on a season-long loan (speculated at the time to be part of a deal that would have seen Tommy Spurr and Mark Beevers moving in the opposite direction) but has decided to stay in London - also ending any hopes newly-promoted Championship side Peterborough had.

In other news, United have been credited with an interest in Sweden U21 international Mikael Lustig; currently representing his country in the Under-21 European Championships. Setanta quote reports in the Norwegian press that West Ham are fighting a number of clubs from Denmark and Holland for the young right back, who has emerged as the latest contender to replace unsettled Lucas Neill. Rosenborg have admitted they will struggle to hold onto Lustig if the Hammers come calling but sporting director Erik Hoftun refuses to concede defeat. "We will of course keep him, but when the big clubs start to let hear from them, it can be difficult," said Hoftun. The player has agreed not to comment on his future until the completion of the tournament.

One signature West Ham United have already secured is that of talented young American Sebastian Lletget. The midfield prospect moves to England after he circumvented the rules regarding the signing of non-EU youth players by obtaining an Italian passport last November, for which he qualifies through an Italian grandfather. KUMB reports that the Hammers had been tracking the 16-year-old youth international for more than a year, since he was first spotted playing for his current club Santa Clara Sporting. National youth team coach Wilmer Cabrera describes Lletget "as a very good technical player who reads the game well." Lletget will join up with his team mates in London next month and will spend the next year commuting between the UK and the US in order to continue working with the American youth set-up before hopefully moving to England permanently. Talking about his future recently, Lletget said: "My heart's always going to be with the U.S - it's just that playing for a European team is amazing. It's just a higher level. That's how far I want to push it."

Finally, West Ham United have recruited former Chelsea and Watford Chief of Medical Staff Andy Rolls to the club's backroom team. Rolls spent three years learning his trade in west London before moving to Vicarage Road in the summer of 2005. He left Watford last week and, according to local news reports, has now joined the medical team at Chadwell Heath. His departure was confirmed by the Hornets at the weekend with a statement that acknowledged his vital role in Watford's promotion in his first season. It also referred to the Rolls as "a leader in the industry with many other clubs copying [his] techniques and systems."

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Things I Know About Luis Jimenez

Chief executive Scott Duxbury was last night locked in talks aimed at completing the signing of the Chilean forward Luis Jimenez. Writing in today's Telegraph, Jason Burt insists terms for the deal, which could initially involve a loan with an option to buy, have been agreed and an announcement is expected to be made later this week. If successful, he will be the first of several signings by West Ham United this summer as manager Gianfranco Zola overhauls his squad having released up to 10 players. Despite amassing 20 caps Jimenez has not played the requisite number of international matches recently to automatically qualify for a work permit. But, as revealed yesterday, West Ham have been given assurance that an application would be successful.

Burt states Jimenez has been tracked by West Ham’s technical director Gianluca Nani for some time and claims that Nani and Zola, along with Duxbury, will use their Italian links for further signings. Jimenez was also of interest to Tottenham Hotspur after being told by Inter coach Jose Mourinho that he could seek a move. So what do we know about the mercurial Chilean, known as 'El Mago' ("The Wizard") in his homeland and as 'Jimegol' by the Inter fans?

Born June 17, 1984 in Santiago, Chile, Luis Antonio Jiménez Garces was a largely unheralded talent before moving to Italian Serie B at the age of 18 to further his footballing education at Ternana Calcio, where he played from 2002 to 2005. It did not take long for his abilities to shine in less than salubrious surroundings and several teams, including Juventus, Inter and Arsenal were soon monitoring his progress closely. Despite a prohibitive price-tag on his head, Jiménez finally made the move to Serie A when joining ACF Fiorentina in a joint co-ownership deal in the January 2006 transfer window. He went on to appear 19 times for his new club during that campaign, scoring 3 goals in the process from his adopted position on the right side of midfield. At the end of the season he out-polled David Pizarro to be named Chilean Footballer of the Year.

In late June 2006, Ternana re-purchased the rights to the player from Fiorentina. Since the club were set to spend the 2006-07 season in the third tier of Italian football it was only ever likely to be a short-term arrangement. By the following January an accord was reached with Lazio, catapulting Jimenez back into Serie A, with an option to make the deal permanent at the end of the loan. The move was to be worth an eventual 11 million Euros. On January 27 the Chilean played his first Serie A match for Lazio against Palermo and went on to make a big impact. When the time came to make the deal permanent Ternana suddenly changed their demands, levying new terms (which included Lazio paying the salary for four of Ternana's players) which could not be met. A furious Jiménez was returned to his parent club but vowed never to play for them again. He implored FIFA to intervene and annul his contract, citing the team's unfair treatment.

On July 15, 2007, the impasse was breached when Jimenez went back out on loan for a third time, this time with Roberto Mancini's Inter Milan. He scored his first Inter goal in the Champions League against Fenerbache and was rewarded with his first Inter Serie A start in early December against Fiorentina, where he scored the opening goal. It was followed by another start in the subsequent match against Lazio, where he set up Maicon's goal and had a goal disallowed offside, and set up another disallowed goal. Jimenez was now alternating between right wing and a role as a withdrawn striker, the latter arguably his more effective position as it utilizes his innate flair, superior technique and natural attacking instincts.

By the start of the following season, Inter had officially signed him on a co-ownership deal. Under new coach Mourinho, Jimenez played his first game against A.S. Roma coming on as a second half substitute and scoring a penalty in Inter's Italian Supercup win. Jimenez played his first game of the 2008-09 Serie A year against Sampdoria on August 30, 2008, but was unfortunate to pick up an injury in a practice session that curtailed his progress. He later returned from injury on November 30, 2008 when he was subbed in Inter Milan's Serie A game against Napoli. Although Inter won the Scudetto last term, 24-year-old Jimenez was hardly a contributing factor to the team’s success. Persistant niggling injuries and the presence of both Luis Figo and Dejan Stanković had afforded him only fitful opportunities to establish himself. The Chile international played just six games without once completing a full 90 minutes.

A disillusioned Jimenez revealed he had offers to leave Inter Milan in January. "I asked to leave in the winter - I had several offers and big clubs came forward," Jimenez lamented in La Gazzetta dello Sport. "However, Inter said that they needed me and a transfer was out of the question. I was amazed and the situation has deteriorated still further since then. I can't come to terms with what is happening and I can't see a good reason for it. I feel good and I even discussed things with Jose Mourinho recently and that left me optimistic, but I obviously misunderstood what he was saying. I thought I would be brought back into the team, but I wasn't even in the Coppa Italia squad. Sometimes I feel like a ghost in training and I don't want to spend another season like this. I need confidence and I need to play. I can’t allow myself to go through another season like this. I will ponder my choice carefully."

Jimenez made his international debut on April 28, 2004, in a match against Peru. In June the following year, Jiménez assisted Marcelo Salas' historic 35th goal with the national team (with this goal Salas became Chile's exclusive top scorer). The goal came in a qualification match against Bolivia which Chile went on to win 3-1. Four days later, he scored twice against Venezuela in another qualification match. Jiménez became captain of Chile during 2006. However, mainly due to injury, he has seen little subsequent national team activity under the direction of Marcelo Bielsa.

At 6ft and blessed with good pace, unimaginable skill and insightful passing ability, Jimenez has all the salient attributes to play on the biggest stage and yet doubts surrounding his physical frailty, combustible temperament and susceptibility to off-field distractions have left many to question whether that undoubted potential will ever be fulfilled. It is a sad fact that he has failed to play more than 20 matches in any of his last six seasons, while late last year Jimenez hit the headlines for attacking fellow Chilean international Mauricio Pinilla in a Santiago nightclub during their respective Christmas breaks. It was sparked by rumours in the South American press a year earlier that Pinilla had slept with Jimenez’s wife, model Maria Jose Lopez, whilst the Inter midfielder was in Jamaica on international duty. Jimenez reportedly accosted his love rival with a blunt instrument after Pinilla refused to heed warnings to stay away from the venue. After receiving several blows to the head, Pinilla was admitted to hospital with a head trauma and neck injuries.

Local reporters were live on the scene and reported on the incident as the parties exited the nightclub. They chased down Pinilla’s car barking "is it true you got hit?" After finally getting the footballer to acknowledge them, Pinilla responded by simply pointing to his cheek before making the “crazy” sign, turning his finger on his temple. The paparazzi then tracked down the woman at the centre of the fight, Maria Jose Lopez. Running after Lopez as she was trying to speed away in the car, the paparazzi shouted "is it true you cried in the toilet?" With the model not answering the female reporter opened the driver’s door on the moving vehicle, forcing Lopez to slow down and allowing the photographers to get their money shot. So, one thing is for sure. If West Ham United are successful in bringing El Mago to the capital then we will all be in for some fun times ahead.

And that, dear reader, is everything I know about Luis Jimenez.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Zola's Italian Job

We've come here to pay our respects to Great Aunt Nellie. She brought us up properly and taught us loyalty. Now I want you to remember that during these next few days. I also want you to remember that if you don't come back with the goods, Nellie here will turn in her grave, and, likely as not, jump right out of it and kick your teeth in...

West Ham United hope to agree terms in the next 48 hours for the loan signing of the Chile midfielder Luis Jiménez, according to press reports this evening. The Guardian states chief executive Scott Duxbury and technical director Gianluca Nani were dispatched sub rosa to Milan over the weekend with the intention of securing a deal with Internazionale for the 24-year-old. It is reported the pair were last seen gambolling across the Piazza della Scala in matching Mini Coopers. This follows news that the club secured a work permit for Jiménez on Friday, having been urged by Gianfranco Zola to sign the player quickly in an attempt to out-manoeuvre rival bidders. The club hope to agree terms with both Inter and the player's representatives shortly. His medical could even take place before the weekend. Should all go to plan, West Ham will sign Jiménez – who has been capped 19 times by his country – on a season's loan with a view to concluding a permanent deal next summer. The club expect to pay Inter in the region of £7million should they decide to take up that option.

The Guardian suggests that Jiménez could be the first of three attack-minded signings within the next month or so. It is reported Nani will remain in Italy this week in the hope of securing another Serie A player targeted by Zola before linking up with his compatriot to finalise plans for a third capture. It is thought likely that all three moves will be initial 'try-before-you-buy' loan deals. That is partly because Zola deems such deals as risk-free – and, in the case with the defender Herita Ilunga last season, successful – and partly because the club's new owners, CB Holding, are not in a position to dedicate large amounts of money to transfers. Despite these restrictions, the paper insists the club remain committed to significantly strengthening their hand this summer in the hope of improving on last season's ninth-place finish.

In related news, Setanta believe Inter striker Robert Acquafresca is one of those being targeted by the club. The Italy Under-21 international revealed at the weekend that Fulham were weighing up a bid and admitted he was considering a move abroad. When asked if The Hammers were also interested, his agent, Paolo Fabbri, informed Tutto Napoli: "They are one of the clubs involved. The English club already showed strong interest in Robert last summer." Although Juventus were also rumoured to be interested in Acquafresca, Fabbri says he has not had any contact with the club. The article states Genoa, Atalanta, Parma and Napoli have also been linked with the player and his agent claims there have been several firm bids. "The situation is clear – we have seven offers on the table and we are considering them carefully," he said. "Acquafresca wants to think through all the offers calmly."

Still on the transfer front and West Ham United have also reportedly expressed an interest in Manchester City's Ecuador striker Felipe Caicedo. "I received a call from the people at Sporting Lisbon," Caicedo revealed to El Telegrafa. "They told me they have already spoken to the officials at City. There are several offers - not just Sporting Lisbon. There's a number of clubs in Portugal, Spain and also England. The only English club I can name is West Ham United." The 20-year-old was a signing for Sven Goran Eriksson at Eastlands, and towards the end of last season he showed glimpses of the talent which persuaded the Swede to pay Basle £5million for his services.

In other news, it is believed Lucas Neill will make a decision on his future this week. The Australian defender is currently out of contract having rejected West Ham United's initial offer of a one-year extension on reduced terms. However he is expected to re-enter negotiations with the club after he revealed at the weekend that he is still contemplating a return to London. According to KUMB, the Hammers are monitoring a number of potential replacements, including South African full-back Bryce Moon - currently featuring in the Confederations Cup - and Dinamo Bucharest's Radiu Homei, both of whom were heavily linked with West Ham during the last transfer window. Other names recently linked in the media are Matthew Bates, Rod Fanni of Stade Rennais and latterly Manchester City's unsettled Micah Richards.

Finally, Mark Noble was named man of the match by uefa.com for his influential performance in this evening's 2-1 win against Finland. Although Lee Cattermole and Micah Richards scored the goals, skipper Noble stood out to the UEFA observers for his industrious work-rate, neat passing and positive play - especially when his team were down to ten men and struggling against a lively Finnish side. The West Ham United youngster admitted England were caught out early on in Halmstad. "The conditions made it hard," he said. "We have been playing on wet pitches for the last two weeks and zinging the ball around for fun. Today we got here and the pitch was dry and it was really hot. I think it suited them better than us.

"We are delighted to get the win," Noble added, fully aware that even stiffer challenges lie ahead in the tough Group B. "We go back to the hotel and prepare for Thursday [against Spain]. No matter how we did it, no one will care that we weren't playing Barcelona football. We won the game and that's all that matters. We have put some work in today. We have grafted for the last two weeks as well and we deserved that. It doesn't matter how you win, that's tournament football. You get the three points on the board and let the other game pan out. We have got a tough game against Spain on Thursday."

Oh, hang on, lads; I've got a great idea... ever wondered how you might solve the problem of your gold-laden bus teetering over the edge of an Alpine road? The answer comes courtesy of John Godwin:

-Break the windows at the back to reduce weight.

-Break two windows at the front, hold one gang member upside down out of the window to deflate the front tires and stabilize the vehicle.

-Drain the rear fuel tank through an access panel at the bottom of the bus.

-Gang members leave one by one from the front, collecting stones to replace their weight.

-Keep adding stones until someone can safely go to the rear to retrieve the gold.

-Hope the Carabinieri don't show up!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Truth And A Pinch Of Salt

It is dreadful to die of thirst in the sea. Do you have to salt your truth so much that it can no longer even quench thirst?
As usual an inchoate mass of contradictory reports, conflicting rumours and desultory conjecture makes for a tempting but ultimately disorientating Sunday gossip round-up. The Independent has concocted a fairly exhaustive list of potential West Ham United transfer targets beginning with a possible £4 million raid for Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor, also said to be interesting Tottenham. For what it is worth, the Star believes Zola is more interested in the Toon's England Under-19 striker Andy Carroll. They report that Gianfranco Zola has been promised funds to spend this summer – and is looking to build with solid young English players. With other clubs also interested, the Geordies may be forced to consider an offer of around £3million.

Next in the Independent is old favourite Matthew Bates. The 22-year-old is out of contract and is eager for an immediate return to the Premier League and Lucas Neill's refusal to sign a new contract at Upton Park has sparked the Hammers into action to find a replacement. Another option for that slot is Rod Fanni of Stade Rennais. The French international defender's representative, admitted: "We have been in talks with several clubs including West Ham, which is an interesting option to Rod." The 27-year-old is also being tracked by Everton and would reportedly cost in the region of £6million.

The Independent insists former Chelsea midfielder Sam Dalla Bona is back on the radar having had an unsuccessful trial with West Ham earlier this year. Dalla Bona, who played with Zola during the West Ham manager's playing days is keen on a re-union. "I would love to come back to the Premier League - that can motivate any player," said the 28-year-old. A more high profile midfield target is Luis Jimenez. It was reported earlier this week that West Ham had opened talks with Inter Milan for the Chilean, who is valued here at £3.5million. The News of the World is in agreement with the price and states the Hammers are confident of clinching the signing after club officials met with the FA on Friday to lobby for a 'special case' work permit for the attacking midfielder.

An unlikely name on the article's list is Yossi Benayoun. The former Hammer has been linked with a return to Upton Park but reported interest from Barcelona suggests the Israeli may be out of West Ham's league. The Independent claims the 29-year-old was a big favourite at Upton Park and his return would be welcomed but considering the Hammers financial plight, re-signing him looks like a long shot.

A trendy rumour this week has been Daniel Sturridge. The Manchester City striker has been tagged with an exit from Eastlands after rejecting a new contract. Although initially linked with a switch to Chelsea, some reports suggest he would be happier to move to West Ham where he would be likely to gain more first-team football. The paper suggests the 19-year-old could expect to earn £75,000 a week at Chelsea, a wage demand that West Ham may not be able to give in to. Writing in the News of the World, Rob Shepherd states Sturridge is a free agent but, under Premier League rules protecting clubs who lose Academy graduates, City can claim compensation. Should that be close to the £10million boss Hughes feels they deserve, that could be a further hurdle for the Hammers.

The first of three possible forward options is said to be Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli. He is reportedly open to the possibility of a loan move, with West Ham said to be leading the chase should he become available. Zola worked with the 18-year-old when with the Italian under-21 side and knows what a capable player he is. Carlos Vela is the second potential loan move. The Mexican finally made his debut for Arsenal this season after protracted work permit issues, making a total of 13 league appearances. Arsene Wenger reportedly thinks Vela has a future at Arsenal but may be open to the idea of a loan move to build up the 20-year-old's experience in the Premier League. Finally in the Independent, Italian striker Sergio Floccari has reportedly been ear-marked as the man to lead the line for the Hammers. The 27-year-old reached double figures for Atalanta this season and is on the fringes of the national side. The main sticking point will be the fee, with West Ham probably needing to break their own transfer record fee that they paid for Savio Nsereko if they want to bring in the forward.

Whether successful or not in securing any of these players, Rob Shepherd insists Zola will have to sell to finance significant signings and it looks as though England defender Matthew Upson could be tempted by Manchester City - though he is still reportedly waiting to see if Arsenal will come in for him. The People has a slightly different take and suggests Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill is lining up a move for Upson- with West Ham's new owners prepared to sell the England defender. The story reports that the defender has also been a long-term target for Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp but O'Neill has already expressed an interest in a player who used to play for Villa's arch-rivals Birmingham City. On a positive note, keeper Robert Green is said to be ready to stay at the club, saying: "I have a good rapport with the fans and I love playing for the manager."

The Mirror comes out of left-field with a story linking West Ham with Juventus midfielder Tiago. The former Chelsea player has been linked with the Tottenham (naturally) West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers in the last week. Tiago said: "French football does not receive much publicity, but I was happy there. Obviously the Premier League is right up there, but Italian football is very tactical and does not suit my characteristics. A return to Portugal would also be a nice option, as I have never won the title in my homeland and given the opportunity I’d like to achieve that dream."

Finally, the Sunday Express proves itself to be heroically out-of-step with its contemporaries with the claim West Ham’s new Icelandic owners have 'set their sights on the world as well as Europe'. Colin Mafham writes that after agreeing a £100million deal to rescue the Hammers from the threat of administration, they are considering reopening talks about moving into London’s Olympic Stadium after the Games finish in 2012. The move comes after the company set up by four Icelandic banks to buy the club, gave the go-ahead for a new training complex near their training ground at Chadwell Heath.

And CB Holdings are also set to give manager Gianfranco Zola the cash to make a bid for Manchester City striker Sturridge and Inter Milan’s Jimenez. Zola is anxious to boost his strike force and is particularly keen to end Sturridge’s stay at Eastlands for around £3million. Cheerily, the new owners have also promised Zola up to £20million to strengthen a squad which just missed out on a place in Europe last season. And it is here that I choose to set sail. For when driven to vertiginous delirium by innumerable conflicting truths, I say surrender yourself to the triumph of hope over experience and fix your eyes towards the Fata Morgana on your claret and blue horizon.


"Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink."

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Empty Vessel Makes The Loudest Sound

"West Ham's new owners plan to take a profit and be off," screams an hysterical headline in today's Guardian. Suddenly startled by the notion that CB Holding (a specially set-up asset-management company) might actually have taken over the club with the intention of recouping losses from former owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, Sachin Nakrani has delivered a rather curious rehash of the same reflexive article he wrote a few days ago in which doubt is cast on the benefits to West Ham of the recent takeover.

Treating week old news as astounding revelation, Nakrani blusters that the stricken Icelandic investment bank Straumur, which has a 70% stake in CB Holding, is itself in danger of being declared insolvent. The bank has applied to the district court of Reykjavik for a six-month extension to its existing three-month moratorium, with a decision to be announced by the judge on Tuesday. A failure to get an extension could see the bank declared insolvent and asset-stripped in order to cover debts to creditors, a meeting of whom is scheduled for 6 August. This, he drools, could have ramifications for West Ham who, under Premier League rules regarding ownership, could potentially then face sanctions. Yet "Straumur is confident it will be granted the extension," claims an unnamed source in the article. "West Ham supporters should not worry. Even if Straumur is declared insolvent, there are other creditors owed money by Hansa who will step in and take over their stake in CB Holding."

Ah, but I can 'exclusively reveal' that the consortium's purchase of West Ham is seen purely as a short-term venture, says Nakrani, to be moved on when the economic climate is more temperate. "Well, it makes business sense for CB Holding to hang on to the club for no longer than two or three years and, hopefully, make some profit from the investment," counters the source. "The people responsible for CB Holding do not have any great knowledge of footballing matters. They will leave that to the current management team, who they have great confidence in. They just hope their association with West Ham will prove to have been a wise one." The source adds that CB Holding had no desire to asset-strip the club as this would lead only to a "short-term gain" and perhaps damage its investment should a sale of key players lead to poor results on the pitch. And the point of your story, Mr Nakrani, was what?

Elsewhere, The Times states West Ham United hope to sign Luis Jiménez, probably on loan, if they beat off competition from Parma and they can obtain a work permit for a forward who has not played the required 75 per cent of matches for Chile in the past two years. The Mail claims Wolves could move for Calum Davenport after Coventry City captain Scott Dann rejected them in favour of joining Birmingham City for £3.5million. Also, Manchester City are ready to offer Micah Richards as bait for West Ham defender Matthew Upson according to the Star.

Finally, the England senior team have just about done their job, writes John Ley in this morning's Telegraph. Now it is the turn of the under-21s and, for Mark Noble, the forthcoming European Championship in Sweden offers the opportunity to expunge the misery of a penalty shoot-out defeat and the embarrassment of the tears that followed. The livid memories of that disappointment refuse to abate, particularly as they are repeatedly shown on television in the build-up to the tournament, which kicks off with England against Finland in Halmstad on Monday night. Noble scored both his penalties but England lost 13-12. "I've got caned for that over the past few days," he admits. "It seems every time we go for dinner there is a big telly up and homing in on my face crying. I was devastated. It was the emotion of thinking we were going to lose it, then they missed, then we're going to win it and we miss."

Now Noble prepares to bid farewell to under-21 action, possibly as captain, after leading the team to a 7-0 win over Azerbaijan in Milton Keynes on Monday night. While most thoughts are on South Africa, Noble warns against belittling the under-21 tournament, which England last won 25 years ago. "What I experienced there last time, and the amount of coverage it got, I was amazed. I'd only just broken into the West Ham team, and I would get noticed every now and then, but after that trip I went away on holiday with my girlfriend, to Cyprus, and everyone was saying 'unlucky Mark'. It was unbelievable."

Noble has good reason to want to avoid penalties this time around. As any West Ham fan would tell you, his last two at club level for were saved, against Hull and Chelsea. Yet, notes Ley, the youngster has a refreshing perspective when he considers spot-kicks. "I always think that I am privileged to be taking a penalty for West Ham," he said. "You go home and I've missed and I'm gutted, but you turn the news on and someone's just been shot in Iraq. I'm a West Ham fan and I know how important it is to West Ham fans but when you sit down and think about it, to miss a penalty is bad for me – I'm my worst critic – but there's a lot worse things going on in the world."

Given that Stuart Pearce, who missed a penalty against Germany in the World Cup in 1990, is England manager, penalties are understandably high on the agenda. As for this tournament, England have difficult games; after Finland they face Spain and then Germany, but the aim is understandable. "The only step for me now is to win it," added Noble. "I've been to the semi-final. I don't want to get to the final and lose, I want to get to the final and win it."

Friday, 12 June 2009

Look Into My Eyes

Look into my eyes...

Andrew Bernhardt
has spoken positively about the future after his first week with West Ham United. In a statement on the official site, the club's new Non-Executive Chairman insists he is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead and believes the club can build on last season's successes.

"I have been so impressed with what has been achieved here in the last 12 months with a proper strategy that everyone has bought into. Gianfranco Zola has not even been at the club a year, yet he has put his indelible mark on a young, skillful, vibrant team.

"The club has a buzz about it, from the people you meet at reception to those involved in the first team. I have complete faith in how CEO Scott Duxbury and Gianfranco work together in improving the squad without external investment.

"Scott's self-sufficient business model is sensible and prudent in theses challenging times and will deliver success. I am confident there are strong foundations we can all build on."

Bernhardt also dismissed reports that the club would be forced to sell players to balance the books.

"That is absolutely untrue. No business likes to have debts, but with a £100m turnover, increased TV revenues and a focused commercial operation, the club is on sound financial footing. The wage bill has been reduced and the settlement agreed with Sheffield United is budgeted for.

"I can assure fans that Gianfranco absolutely does not have to sell any players for financial reasons and new players will be arriving in the summer to augment what is already a strong playing staff. We totally support his philosophy of following the West Ham tradition of bringing young players through, as well as investing in new talent where appropriate.

"But we also believe the club should not spend more than it earns and thus increase the debt. It simply isn't necessary when you have such a talented management team and pool of up-and-coming young players. It seems pointless to invest in West Ham United's world famous academy if you are then not going to use the players you have nurtured and developed."
Straumur Bank - the majority shareholder in CB Holdings who took control of the club this week - is going through a restructuring process following the recent global financial downturn. Bernhardt reiterated: "Our creditors and the Icelandic Financial Services Authority are fully aware of our plans and are completely supportive. But that situation will take a few months to resolve and will not impact on West Ham United."

3,2,1 and you're back in the room...

In other news, the Sun thinks Gianfranco Zola wants Robert Green to add to the three years left on his West Ham deal. Negotiations over a pay rise for the England keeper stalled in January - but managing director Scott Duxbury said: "I anticipate new contract talks will start again."

Green may not have had the busiest of evenings against Andorra but that certainly did not detract from the pride at making his home debut for England. It was the West Ham No1's second start in the space of five days for his country after another clean sheet against Kazakhstan in Almaty on Saturday. "It's a proud moment coming out and singing the national anthem," Green said on the official site. "It was a bit of a strange one on Saturday in Kazakhstan, but that's what international football is about. To be at Wembley and play was a really special moment. We knew what the game was going to be like. We knew what was going to happen when we came into it and it was just a case of working the chances, and when they came along, taking them, and we did that comprehensively."

Such was England's superiority that Green did not touch the ball until the 26th minute and then his every touch for the rest of the game was cheered by the home supporters. The 29-year-old admitted he was slightly worried he may not touch the ball at all! "Yes I was aware, maybe at Upton Park it would have been a bit more relaxed and I would have acknowledged it but on my full debut at Wembley it's one to play down a bit," he said. "I was counting the minutes as well don't worry. After about 20 minutes I thought I could have been the only keeper to have made his full debut at Wembley and never touch the ball but thankfully that didn't happen."

One of the hardest tests for Green would have been keeping his concentration with such large gaps between his involvements in the match. But he demonstrated that he was 100 per cent focused when he was called into action for midway through the second half. "I just knew that something somewhere down the line was going to happen and it did," admiited Green. "So in that respect I was there when I was needed and that's international football. In that respect it was a job done by everyone in the team. I was not at all frustrated at not having to do more. Two clean sheets is two clean sheets and I'm happy with that."

Finally, various news outlets are running with the Luis Jimenez story again. According to Sky Sports, West Ham United have confirmed the Inter Milan midfielder is one of the club's primary transfer targets over the summer, while Setanta go one step further and insist talks have been opened. Hammers technical director Gianluca Nani admits Chile international Jimenez is in his thoughts. The 24-year-old has long-since been linked with a switch to the Hammers and Nani, who moved to East London from Brescia last year, is of the opinion the player could be a good acquisition to Gianfranco Zola's squad. "We have a coach who likes to play football on the ground and Jimenez is a great player," Nani told FC Inter News. "He is currently an Inter player, but we still have two months left in the market. I like him very much - I wanted him to come to Brescia years ago."

Building For The Future

As news today is slower than a white man in slippers I thought I would feature a little interview with Trevor Brooking. I stumbled across it yesterday on Wharf.

Interview: West Ham legend Trevor Brooking
By Simon Hayes

West Ham legend Sir Trevor Brooking is urging the club's new owners to build for the future following this week's takeover.

The club changed hands on Monday when chairman Bjorgolfor Gudmundsson relinquished control to CB Holdings, in a deal believed to be worth around £100million.

CB Holdings, a company owned by Icelandic bank Straumur-Burdaras, one of Gudmundsson's major creditors, have pledged to make funds available to manager Gianfranco Zola and Sir Trevor thinks it is essential to build on last season's promising start under the Italian.

He said: "Obviously there's a bit of concern with the takeover by the new banking group but I think they have to understand, yes, they have liabilities but the side also needs to stay in the Premier League for the next few years. That's how they will get their return back.

"Hopefully Gianfranco and Steve Clarke can get on and strengthen the job that they have started very well for nine months this season."

Investment is key, according to Sir Trevor, if the Irons are to kick on and avoid the fate that befell Newcastle, who were relegated after off-the-field turmoil and on-pitch frailty. The Hammers' forward line, in particular, needs bolstering.

He said: "It's frustrating big clubs like Newcastle going down. We've all been there and done it. In December we slipped into the bottom three and everyone was worried.

"But then we had a really good run either side of Christmas, winning at Portsmouth seemed to kick-start it all, and we suddenly found ourselves in the top half, so credit to Gianfranco.

"But we probably need, even if Dean Ashton's fit, a couple of attackers, and certainly a good attacking wide player. Considering the injuries to people like Dean and then having to sell Craig Bellamy, we are a little bit lightweight from an attacking point of view.

"We struggled a little bit scoring goals late on. Everyone can see what's needed and we've just got to try and make sure the people we do bring in are the right ones. But it's easier said than done."

The Academy

One area where the Hammers are more than holding their own is producing good young players. Sir Trevor, 60, is not only pleased as a West Ham fan but also in his role as director of youth development at the FA. He singled out a couple of players who have caught his eye this season.

He said: "James Tomkins, who is away with the under-21s in the European championships in Sweden, has done really well in central defence.

"Junior Stanislas did well late in the season. We've got an eye on him for the under-20s, although we probably won't get him released early next season. He gave the side a bit of width and scored a couple of goals.

"Freddie Sears has obviously been around as a striker for a year or two, while Jordan Spence is another one. He's been with our under-19s this week and will go out to Ukraine next month for the European Championships.

"It's all a testament to the work being done by Tony Carr and his staff at the Academy and it can only be good for the club and for England."

And with three current Hammers, Rob Green, Matty Upson and Carlton Cole, in Fabio Capello's full squad the east London influence is very strong at national level.

"West Ham are obviously important for England," said Sir Trevor. "If you look throughout the team you have Rob Green, Glenn Johnson, Rio Ferdinand. John Terry was at West Ham as a youngster before he went to Chelsea. There's Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick, while Frank Lampard is another one.

"Wherever you look they have sampled the West Ham experience so it's great credit to everyone here over the last 20 or 30 years."

The captaincy

Sir Trevor is backing Matthew Upson to be West Ham's new captain if Lucas Neill leaves Upton Park this summer.

The Irons' legend believes Upson, who was on England duty this week, has all the right leadership qualities to take over should current skipper Neill, who last week rejected a new one year deal, quit the club.

He said: "Matty Upson is a great lad. He's got a good attitude, is a reliable defender and more than anything his character is fantastic. You can see his good attitude in the England set up where he trains well and is a really committed lad. He's the sort of lad you want to do well."

And Sir Trevor also thinks Scott Parker, who wore the armband for the Hammers' FA Cup trip to Hartlepool in January, should be in the frame to be skipper.

He said: "Scott Parker has had a good season and has been captain before, so him and Matty Upson are probably the two initial ones who spring to mind."

Memories

Zola has brought the style back to West Ham's football and Sir Trevor believes the Italian is a worthy successor to legendary Irons' managers Ron Greenwood and John Lyall.

Sir Trevor, who played under both Greenwood and Lyall, thinks the football played under Zola is exactly what supporters want to see.

He said: "Gianfranco Zola has got the side passing quite well this year, which is good. We've always had that style of football and you've got to give a lot of credit for that to Ron Greenwood and John Lyall.

"For the last 40 years West Ham have been known as a good footballing team and Gianfranco has kept that philosophy.

"They can beat anyone on their day but they can lose to anyone as well, which makes the experience of being a West Ham fan a little bit harder."

Sir Trevor was full of praise for those fans.

"They are demanding at times but they are also very protective if anyone criticises their team," he said. "They've had a pretty traumatic time with all the Tevez and the Icelandic bank stuff, so the support this year, 34,000 turning up for home games, has been great.

"It is unique but you mustn't take it for granted. You've got to give them the football they deserve, but it's a very strong, loyal, passionate support."

Sir Trevor played over 600 games for the Irons and has plenty of fond memories of the Boleyn.

He said: "We had some great occasions. We beat Man United 4-2 in the last game of the season in 1977 to keep us up. That was a fantastic game.

"We played a European semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt, which we won 3-1, which got us to the final in 1976. I scored and that was one of the most memorable games because it was so dramatic. Tommy Taylor kicked the ball off the line in the last minute when 3-2 would have put us out on away goals.

"Then playing with Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, then people like Bonzo and Pop Robson and Alan Devonshire.

"Over 19 years you got some really fantastic memories and I'm very lucky."

Community club

Sir Trevor spoke to The Wharf at the One Ball, One Game, One Community event at the Boleyn Ground on Monday, which brought children from all ethnic backgrounds and faiths together to enhance community cohesion. It was co-organised by Canary Wharf Group.

As someone born and brought up in the East End Sir Trevor is a strong supporter of using football as a way of bringing together the different social and ethnic groups in the area.

He said: "It's been a really great day for the kids. They've all learned a lot and I think they've also had a really fun time."

"I think the main thing is seeing all the girls playing because girls football now is escalating massively.

"What was interesting to see was the different community groups, particularly religious-wise. Moslem girls are starting to play and three or four years ago their families, even if the girls had wanted to play, would not have allowed them to play.

"The important thing now is that the mums and dads understand the youngsters can make a lot of friends and break down a lot of the barriers that were there before.

"And also physical activity is a big agenda with the health problems with obesity and the lack of activity. If football, the national sport, can play its part in that it would be great."

Grassroots football

With huge riches on offer for any player who makes it in the Premier League the pressure is often on players from a very young age. Sir Trevor feels it means the fun factor often disappears in youth football.

He said: "There are a lot of aspirations and dreams for youngsters to get spotted by a Premier League club or even play for the national team.

"But if you want to get to that level the bar is going up all the time. Lots of teams are bringing in lots of youngsters from overseas now because they want that technical quality and we've just got to make sure youngsters understand why just playing a couple of games a week is not going to be enough.

"You've got to really practice, try to work on your skills, you've got to come out of the tv channels, and dvds and gameboy - whatever's keeping them sitting around too much - because the skill factor is something that does need hours and hours of practice.

"If you are going to get a youngster to give that sort of commitment you've got to make it fun and enjoyable. We've tried to make some of that early experience of football a different one now.

"It used to happen in my generation you'd come home from school, go round the corner for two or three hours and then wander home. That was what we would term informal play.

"But mums and dads want to know where the youngsters are these days so most of it's becoming what we term structured, so there's an adult or coach or teacher there.

"What we've got to do is make sure that person understands it mustn't become too intense. It's not about winning too early, you've got to develop the youngsters. They are going to make mistakes, they've got to try things.

"When it was informal nobody was shouting and hollering and putting them under pressure. So the fun factor sometimes comes out of it too early and we've got to try and put that back in so the youngsters want to go out and practice.

"They get a lot of praise for getting a little bit better and suddenly they are turning or twisting, passing with their bad foot. Little things, which to the youngster if they get a bit of praise and a 'well done' means a lot, and that encourages them to go out and practice even more.

"If they get shouted at and criticised for doing something or trying something different then they are reluctant to do it and they start to kick the ball aimlessly up the field, get a 'well done' for that because the parent on the sideline wants them to win something.

"But early on you want them to really try to pass the ball. They will make mistakes but it's putting little seeds of understanding there for the youngster and also the coach or adult who's running the team, who might be trying to get them to do things too early and make sure they retain that fun factor."
 

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