Monday, 26 January 2009

Football's New Morality

Hayden Mullins has joined the growing list of transfer window departures, with Portsmouth completing the signing of the combative United midfielder for an undisclosed fee (thought to be in the region of £2million) this morning. Pompey boss Tony Adams has been looking to bolster his midfield all month after losing Lassana Diarra to Real Madrid and Papa Bouba Diop to a long-term injury, while West Ham have decided to let Mullins move on as Gianfranco Zola looks to trim his squad and balance the books at Upton Park.

Mullins has agreed terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal and passed a medical to join Pompey. The midfielder could make his debut in tomorrow's Premier League clash with Aston Villa, live on Sky Sports 1. "Hayden has been on our radar for some time," said Portsmouth executive chairman Peter Storrie. "He will add strength to our midfield. Central midfield is an area we have needed to strengthen - that's why we brought in two players."

Mullins' move comes just two days after his final appearance for the Hammers, as a substitute in the 2-0 FA Cup win over Hartlepool. The 29-year-old has spent the past five years at Upton Park having become Alan Pardew's first signing back in October 2003, when he joined from Crystal Palace. He went on to make over 200 appearances for the Hammers but sadly missed out on the 2006 FA Cup Final having been sent off the week before.

Mullins told the club's website: "It was a little bit of a shock. I trained on Sunday with West Ham after the game on Saturday and then it all happened very quickly, but I'm very pleased to have joined. It was a great experience to have worked under Gianfranco Zola but it's a great challenge here to come and work with some really talented players. I enjoyed my time at West Ham but I was there for five years and thought that maybe it was time for a change. Portsmouth are a club with a lot of history. They won the FA Cup last year, so I'm very excited to be here."

Gianfranco Zola revealed that he allowed Hayden Mullins to leave as he could no longer guarantee him first team football. Zola, speaking on the official site this morning, stated that Mullins had asked to join Portsmouth having started in just eight of his 21 appearances for the Hammers this season. "I did not want to lose him but at this point in his career he wanted to play regularly and I respect his wishes," said Zola. "He asked me if he could talk to Portsmouth and I could have said 'no' but he is a man that has shown this club a lot of respect. He has been loyal and it would not have been fair to stand in his way."

Exodus: who's left West Ham since the end of last season (courtesy of KUMB)

Sold: John Paintsil (Fulham, £1m); Bobby Zamora (Fulham, £5.3m); Anton Ferdinand (Sunderland, £8m); George McCartney (Sunderland, £6m); Matthew Etherington (Stoke, £3m); Craig Bellamy (Man City £14m), Hayden Mullins (£2m). Total £39.3m.

Released: Freddie Ljungberg; Richard Wright; Nobby Solano.

Currently on loan: Jimmy Walker (Colchester Utd); Kyel Reid (Wolves); Lee Bowyer (Birmingham); Nigel Quashie (Wolves); Joe Widdowson (Grimsby Town).

Meanwhile, Scott Parker insists he sees his long-term future at Upton Park. The midfielder has been linked with a January move away from the Hammers, with Manchester City having already failed with a bid. With Craig Bellamy having already joined City, Parker was keen to reiterate he has no plans to follow his former team-mate out of the club, amid reports he will be offered a new contract by West Ham. The England international admits he has no control over the speculation, but says he is happy to be playing for Gianfranco Zola's side.

"Do I see my long-term future at West Ham? Yes," Parker said in the Daily Telegraph. "The team are playing well under the new management and with the lads here, we've got something that's really good. I'm happy, I'm enjoying myself and I feel I'm playing some good stuff. I'm owned by West Ham and I get paid by West Ham. I want to play football and that's it, everything else is out of my hands. If someone rings me tomorrow and says, 'We're selling you', I can't do anything about that. But I'm a West Ham player and until anyone tells me any different that's the way it is."

Meanwhile, Mark Noble feels the Hammers would struggle to cope without the influence of Parker, if he moved on. Noble said: "Bellamy is going to be a great miss for us. He was a good lad and great in the changing room, but we've proved we can live without him. But Scott Parker? No, I don't think we could. He's such a great player for us. He just sits there, gets the play going, makes great tackles and takes responsibility all the time. Playing in midfield with him is great. He's a fantastic player and always has been. He's very important to us and hopefully we will keep him. I'll be happy if this transfer window closes and we've still got him."

On the transfer front, several media outlets are expecting West Ham to confirm today the signing of striker Savio Nsereko from Brescia. The Mail are reporting a deal worth £9million and say Gianfranco Zola has seen enough of Nsereko to be suitably impressed. The youngster could even play in Wednesday's clash with Hull City. The signing would be a boost for the club following the loss of Craig Bellamy to Manchester City earlier this month.

At the very least, West Ham United director of football Gianluca Nani has confirmed the club's interest in the Brescia striker. "We are working on Savio of Brescia, and we are well advanced," confirmed Nani to Mediaset. Savio's agent Patrick Bastianelli also expects the deal to West Ham to go through soon. "The player is very close to West Ham," he admitted to the Italian press over the weekend. "Savio will go away soon, and the boy is happy to find Zola, a great coach and with him he will only embrace an important technical programme from which he will only grow and improve. West Ham have accelerated the negotiations."

The Hammers have also been linked with Mario Balotelli, the young and wayward Inter striker. However a circumspect Gianluca Nani denied reports that a deal was likely to be struck soon. "We have never talked to anyone about Balotelli," he said, "but if we have Savio in place then that could be us done in January." United are thought to have been monitoring Balotelli closely, and despite Nani's denials are rumoured to have made enquiries into his availability. The club have also intimated that the capture of Nsereko may not necessarily be the last bit of business done during this transfer window. For the moment, at least, the brother and agent of Mario Balotelli is saying there's been no contact with West Ham for the Milanese striker. Corrado Balotelli said: "He was calm after meeting with the club and I think he is prepared to accept any decision from (coach) Jose Mourinho."

In another strange twist, Sky Sports sources 'understand' Juventus have made an approach to sign West Ham United striker Carlton Cole. They report that the former England Under 21 international has been in sparkling form for the Hammers of late after scoring five goals in six games, and is now wanted in Italy, with Juventus understood to have made an approach for the 25-year-old. Juve coach Claudio Ranieri gave Cole his professional debut at Chelsea in 2002 and still appears to be a fan of the powerful front man. The striker was recently linked with a move to Tottenham after Spurs boss Harry Redknapp missed out on a deal for former Hammers team-mate Craig Bellamy. Cole also undertook loan spells at Wolves, Charlton and Aston Villa before leaving Chelsea on a permanent basis for West Ham in the summer of 2006. During his time at Upton Park, Cole has scored 18 goals in 80 appearances and is a key part of Gianfranco Zola's plans.

Thankfully (before my head explodes from the insanity), reports have subsequently emerged that have cast doubts on the veracity of the rumour. Juventus sporting director Alessio Secco told PA Sport today: "We are not interested in Carlton Cole. We are very happy with the players we have in the team and we will not make any moves in the January transfer market." Juventus, who are second in Serie A following a run of six wins in their last seven games, have recently seen veteran striker David Trezeguet return from a lengthy injury lay-off.

Finally, Martin Samuel has taken another judicious swipe at the vagaries of third party interference in football, especially as it pertains to Sheffield United. West Ham are not mentioned directly in what is an excellent piece, but the implication is readily discernible.

Some brief extracts...

The Football Association will this morning begin an investigation into the circumstances around the transfer of Matthew Spring from Luton Town to Charlton Athletic, on the basis of possible third party interference from Sheffield United.

Don't hold your breath.

It has long been Sheffield United's lot to be painted as victims of grave injustice, so do not expect this latest twist to make a ripple in that smug little pond, or to appear anywhere beyond these pages. Even so, this is important; or it would be if football cared for anything more than grand gestures to the gallery.

Followed by:

The Football League, despite Lord Mawhinney's (right) regular land-grabs for the high moral ground, do not have rules governing third party interference, and a spokesman yesterday presented this issue as a hospital pass to the Football Association, who have been so anxious for involvement in third party rulings in the past.

Now they have the chance. Rule C1 (b), clause 3 states: 'No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence the club's policies or performance of its teams in matches and/or competition.'

In English? For Spring to join Charlton, his registration would have to be held at that moment by Luton, not Sheffield United. And once this document was restored to Luton, Sheffield United became a third party and any involvement in his career should cease.

For Sheffield to then influence whether a permanent Charlton signing plays against them is therefore third party interference; just as it was when Sheffield and Watford publicly announced the gentlemen's agreement that kept Steve Kabba out of the Watford line-up against his former club in 2007, the year Sheffield went down.

In conclusion:

Chances are that Sheffield United will get away with it again. Despite all that has happened these last two seasons, the rules seem either vague, easily circumvented or non-existent.

Many pontificate, but few seem moved to act. We have, however, cornered the market in hypocrisy.

For clearly, it is unthinkable that a man as publicly committed to fair play as Kevin McCabe, chairman of Sheffield United, would not have checked the regulations first and ensured that everything about Spring's transfer was above board and not at all wonky or open to abuse.

And what a good thing that is, really, for otherwise a fellow could get quite confused by football's new morality.

Football is a funny old game. Not really.

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