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 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."


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."

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Asset Stripping

Carlton Cole has become the latest footballer to raise awareness of testicular and prostate cancer for the Everyman campaign. Cole features in Cosmopolitan magazine's annual Naked Centrefold special, available now, to promote the campaign which was launched in the UK by The Institute of Cancer Research in 1997. It seeks to raise awareness of male cancer and to raise funds to research treatments.

Bobby Moore famously received treatment for testicular cancer back in the 1960s, whilst the disease affects up to around 2,000 men in the UK each year. This latest venture coincides with new research showing that testicular cancer survival in England and Wales is increasing as more men with disease get diagnosed early. Overall survival for men is now 97% - up 2% from 1990 - rising to 99% if the cancer is treated in its early stages. In 1960 the survival rate for testicular cancer was less than 50%.

Cole is just one of a number of celebrities posing nude to raise awareness for the campaign and June's Male Cancer Awareness month. Others include England rugby star Will Skinner, actor Jamie Bamber and TV presenter Tony Craig.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Communique From Central Command

Scott Duxbury has steadfastly rejected reports in the morning press that the club was on the brink of administration before the take over by CB Holding, and revealed West Ham are keen to sign at least three players. In an interview conducted twenty-four hours after the arrival of the new owners, the West Ham chief executive dispelled the rumours of impending financial crisis and disclosed that the club were close to capturing new players that would considerably improve the first-team squad.

"We are a self-sufficient well-run football club and clubs or companies that are close to administration can't purchase multi-million pound players," he told Sky Sports News. "We purchased Savio, we have just exercised the option to buy Illunga, we have just extended the contracts of Gianfranco (Zola) and Steve Clarke so it's absolute nonsense. We have never been close to administration and as long as I am here we never will be."

Although Duxbury understandably declined to name any of the proposed targets, for fear of alerting rival clubs, he did state that he hoped at least one of the deals would be completed in the next few weeks. "He (Zola) has identified three positions where he wants to bring players in who he believes will improve the squad and the first-team," he said. "We are close to securing those three players so the team will just improve. Ideally, hopefully one of the players we can conclude in the next couple of weeks. But then the manager has gone on record as saying he wants pre-season to start so he can assess his squad and then further decisions will be made. The three players in question - hopefully in the next few weeks we will be able to announce something - but there is still a little way to go, but talks and discussions have gone well and are ongoing."

Duxbury has also revealed that despite the takeover the club's ethos of bringing youngsters through would remain the same as they look to make a serious bid for trophies in the coming seasons. "The short-term and the long-term goals are the same," he added. "We want to achieve success and it's through progression and progression of the young players. We have a clear vision of how we are going to achieve success. I work very closely with Gianluca (Nani, director of football) and Gianfranco and Gianfranco's ideology is to bring the young players through. You have seen the development on the pitch this season and Gianfranco hasn't even had a pre-season with the team yet. You will see the team improve. So the short and long-term are the same goal, achieve success."

No Sleep Till Beijing

Another plane, another train
Another bottle in the brain
Another girl - another fight
Another drive all night

West Ham United will kick off their Asia Trophy adventure with an enticing clash against Tottenham. The draw sees the London rivals picked to face each other in the semi-final of this year's tournament, which takes place in Beijing between 29th-31st July. The other semi-final will feature local side Beijing Guoan and Hull City.

It has been confirmed the two semi finals will take place on Wednesday, 29th July with the West Ham v Tottenham game kicking off at 11am BST (6pm local time) and Hull v Beijing at 1.30pm BST (8:30pm local time). A third-place play-off for the two losing semi-finalists takes place at 11am BST (6pm local time) on Friday, 31st July with the final commencing at 1.30pm BST (8:30pm local time) that day. An estimated 49,000 tickets are being made available for each game, all of which will take place in Beijing's Worker's Stadium.

This year's tournament will form part of the 2009 Beijing Football International Festival, for which several events are being staged throughout the summer. The inaugural Asia Trophy was won by Chelsea in Malaysia back in 2003, whilst Bolton won in Thailand two years later. Portsmouth are the current holders of the trophy having beaten Liverpool on penalties in the 2007 final, held in Hong Kong. All of the 2009 tournament's four matches will be broadcast live by Sky Sports.

Elsewhere, a busy summer is fast taking shape for West Ham United with a month to go until the first fixture of the 2009/10 pre-season. According to the official site, Gianfranco Zola will take a strong squad to south Essex to take on Grays Athletic in the opening fixture on Sunday 12 July. Although he may be without some of his internationals due to the extra time being given for some to return to Chadwell Heath, it could be a welcome chance to see some of the manager's fit-again players in action while any new faces at the club may also figure for the first time.

It is the only match the first team are playing in England before a training camp, featuring games, in Austria followed by the high-profile trip to China. With the 2009/10 Barclays Premier League fixtures being confirmed next Wednesday morning, the final warm-up game will be the visit of Zola's former club SSC Napoli on Saturday 8 August.

West Ham United confirmed the club will be taking on the Italian side in the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season at the Boleyn Ground. The match, to be played for the Bobby Moore Cup, was finalised on Wednesday afternoon. It will be a fitting fixture ahead of Gianfranco Zola's first full campaign in charge. It was at Napoli where the manager's playing career took off in the late 1980s. That culminated in Zola playing a part in the Naples club winning only their second Serie A title when a certain Diego Maradona led the way to success in the 1989/90 campaign.

This will be the second visit by an Italian club in three years after Roma's visit in 2007. Coached by former Italy manager and one-time West Ham interviewee Roberto Donadoni, Napoli will provide a similarly strong test for Zola's side before the Barclays Premier League season begins a week later. In a hugely competitive Serie A, Napoli finished the 2008/09 season in 13th place but have already begun strengthening for next season.

Italy forward Fabio Quagliarella has just joined an attack that already boasts Argentina ace Ezequiel Lavezzi and the highly-regarded Slovakia playmaker Marek Hamsik. At the back, there are the likes of Fabiano Santacroce, who played under Zola in the Italy Under-21 set-up and has already figured in the Azzurri's senior squad. Hamsik and Santacroce, along with team-mate Daniele Mannini, are well-known to technical director Gianluca Nani as he spotted them for Brescia before their sales to Napoli.

The prestige pre-season opener at the Boleyn Ground has attracted a host of leading clubs in recent years including PSV Eindhoven (2-1, 2003), Anderlecht (4-4, Anderlecht win 5-4 on penalties, 2004), Osasuna (1-1, 2005), Olympiakos (1-1, 2006), AS Roma (2-1, 2007). Last season, Carlton Cole scored in a 1-1 draw against Villarreal - the first time the pre-season curtain-raiser was played as the Bobby Moore Cup. That match was also notable for being the last time the club legend's famed No6 was worn, with Matthew Upson handing over his shirt to Stephanie Moore at half-time before returning for the second half in the No15.

2009/10 pre-season fixtures

12 JUL - Grays Athletic v West Ham United

18 JUL - Cambridge United v West Ham United XI

24 JUL - Thurrock FC v West Ham United XI

29 JUL - West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur (Barclays Asia Trophy, Beijing)

31 JUL - Kingstonian v West Ham United XI

1 AUG - West Ham United v Hull City/Beijing Guoan (Barclays Asia Trophy, Beijing)

8 AUG - West Ham United v SSC Napoli

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Opening A Door, Closing A Window

West Ham's new owners said yesterday that they had taken control at Upton Park to protect the club from the imminent threat of becoming the first in the Premier League to enter administration. The CB Holding consortium, which comprises the outgoing chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson's creditors, took over on the eve of a court hearing in Iceland today in which Gudmundsson was likely to have been stripped of the protection against bankruptcy that had been in place since March.

The Independent states that one company in the new consortium, which will command a seat on the West Ham board – Iceland's MP Bank – was pushing to bankrupt Gudmundsson, a move which, under league rules, would have seen the Hammers deducted nine points and placed at severe risk of relegation to the Championship next spring. But the largest creditor, Straumur-Burdaras Investment Bank – under Icelandic government control having gone into administration itself – has helped broker a transfer of the club to the creditors.

Georg Andersen, head of corporate communications, said Straumur had decided to take the club over "mainly to protect our interests", in a move which had been under preparation for weeks. "The former owners of West Ham were going out of moratorium, which meant it was most likely they would go into bankruptcy, and under league rules the club would be penalised with a points reduction," he said. "The value of the asset would have decreased enormously. As a bank, we would have preferred the owners to keep the club and had success with the whole thing, but that is not the case. We [had] to do something."

Speaking in the Telegraph, Anderson insisted that West Ham United were a 'trophy asset' that had to be protected. "We simply had to do this, we are not taking over a football club to have some fun," he said. "Straumur, as a rule, is not in the business of running football clubs. We had to do this to protect the club from financial problems because of Hansa's problems. We did not have any other option. That being said, if we are going to do it then we are going to do it properly."

Andersen said the "for sale signs" put up by Gudmundsson will come down and he expected Straumur to remain in control for the foreseeable future. "We realised that the way the markets are right now there is no way that the club could be sold for what we believe it is worth," Andersen explained, before admitting there had been "two or three interested parties" in buying the club from Gudmundsson. "Nothing has come of it. We did not have the ownership or control until today [Monday] but as major creditors we have been informed as to what has been going on."

Nevertheless if a buyer does come forward, he will be listened to but only if he offers what the new owners regard as a fair price, thought to be at least £150 million. "We will work with the present management and the plan that has been put in place by [chief executive] Scott Duxbury and Gianfranco Zola for the next two or three years and then try and see if there is an owner who is capable of taking the club forward," Andersen said. "We believe in the plan and we believe that progress will continue to be made. We want to continue along the path that has been started."

Straumur insisted West Ham were not in the de facto ownership of the Icelandic nation, owing to the fact the Reykjavik government had taken control of the bank. "We have not been nationalised. We are preparing a restructuring plan which in three to four months should see us re-emerge as an independent asset management company," Andersson said. It is understood some senior executives at Straumur are disgruntled that MP Bank has, as they see it, used Gudmundsson's financial misfortune to increase its own profile in Iceland by making high profile calls for him to be left high and dry. No one at MP Bank could be reached yesterday.

It is an embarrassing fall from grace for Gudmundsson, who stepped down as chairman yesterday and who has lost an estimated £500 million because of the effects of the credit crunch. He bought the club for £85 million, taking on debt of around £22 million, three years ago but his efforts to sell West Ham have been complicated by the level of debt – currently around £75 million including a minimum of £21 million rising to £27 million after the Carlos Tévez affair. A payment to the Yorkshire club is due on July 1.

Gudmundsson had hoped that his takeover would lift West Ham to Champions League contention, but the club paid a heavy price for overspending on transfers and wages. He was given until today to sell West Ham and other assets to repay money he owed to Straumur — about £80 million — and his other creditors. The club needed to be sold for a price in excess of £100 million to raise enough money to repay the debt, but none of the informal offers he received was high enough.

It left Straumur, a former bank in the process of being restructured to become an asset management company, with no choice but to take control. Straumur holds a 70 per cent stake in CB Holding, with the remainder owned by Byr/MP Banki and Landsbanki, which together are owed about £16 million by Gudmundsson. Straumur has creditors of its own who may also force an early sale of the club. It claims that Gudmundsson will not receive a share of the club’s future sale, a deal that he had tried to negotiate.

When questioned over Gudmundsson's involvement, and whether he would receive any money from the deal, Anderson said: "He has resigned and is no longer connected with the club. We have not released details of the deal but it's kind of obvious. Although it has been very complicated with the documentation we have had to go through, it is also very simple at the end of the day."

Although outgoings have been gradually cut over the past 18 months, the club face a more stringent demand to be self-sufficient because of the nature of the new owner. Writing in the Times, Gary Jacob insists CB Holding will want to maintain the value of West Ham and is unlikely to sell too many top players because it could risk relegation and therefore a drop in value. Equally, it is unlikely to invest much money for transfers. Some cash will be raised by the departure of squad players and possibly Matthew Upson this summer.

In today's Sun, the defender is said to have rocked West Ham by admitting he needs European football to achieve his World Cup ambitions. The article claims Upson fears his lack of big-match experience will count against him when it comes to claiming a place in Fabio Capello's starting line-up in South Africa next year. "Every day I'm striving to become a first choice for England," he said. "But I'm coming from a negative position in terms of where Rio and John Terry have been. I would definitely agree that more European experience would help me. It definitely favours them to be playing in the Champions League every year. There is a massive part of me that wants to play in the Champions League. I experienced that competition as a younger player at Arsenal and I'm desperate to play there again. Playing in the Champions League every season definitely puts you in a position where you can compete against the best players in the world. And I am now at the stage of my career where I feel ready to participate in that kind of environment. I am sure I could play at that level."

Ominously for manager Gianfranco Zola's hopes of spending money, reports the Independent's Ian Herbert, the club's new non-executive chairman, 45-year-old Englishman Andrew Bernhardt, is Straumur's head of debt, but Bernhardt said: "I can assure fans we will sanction investment in new players, but all within the parameters of sensible budgeting based on revenues generated by West Ham." Bernhardt, who has no background in football, continued: "I'm delighted an agreement has been reached and look forward to working with [chief executive] Scott Duxbury and his team in the coming years." Bernhardt will not have day-to-day involvement in running the club, that will remain with Duxbury.

The plan is for West Ham, who have a turnover approaching £100 million, to become a "self-financing entity" in which money for player transfers and wages is covered by the business itself – although Straumur has not ruled out adding extra investment and will raise the finances needed to build the new training ground, for example. At the same time Straumur has pledged that it will not take a "dividend" from West Ham and any money generated from player sales will be ploughed back into the club. "We are not here for a short-term game but want the club to do well and progress," Andersen said.

The drive towards self-sufficiency puts the emphasis on Gianluca Nani, the club’s technical director, to find promising players. He is said to have an extensive short-list. "From an economic point of view, there will be more stability," Nani said. "We will not revolutionise the squad. Our intention is to keep our best players and allow those who ask to leave to go." Meanwhile, the Express think Gianfranco Zola will plough on with his plans to buy three new players with the takeover providing the Italian with both transfer funds and the ability to hold on to his best players. Zola, reports the paper, has identified a defender, midfielder and striker to help take the club forward and is close to doing business. He has already been linked with Rennes right-back Rod Fanni and Chilean striker Luis Jimenez, who plays for Inter Milan. The Sun believes the latter will be the subject of a £15 million raid. Speaking in the Mirror, Nani has confirmed the interest. "He is a great player, one that we have always followed," he said. "He is a possibility but nothing is certain. He is also a non-EU player and it is not easy to get a permit for those players in England."

Zola, who has overseen the breakthrough of academy graduates James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears into the first team, wants to create a squad of about 21 players with three goalkeepers. His belief is that a smaller, tightly knit group of players, younger and more experienced, will offer a better chance of progress than accommodating a much larger squad. Trevor Brooking has also welcomed the news. "The priority is to support Gianfranco and give him a bit of money to try and strengthen the squad – certainly from an attacking point of view – and to try and make them a viable Premier League club," he said. "That’s what hopefully will emerge from this deal that looks as if it has been resolved this week. Stability now seems to be the emphasis for the club."

While the Hammers can at least be grateful they have momentarily avoided becoming the most serious Premier League casualty of the credit crunch, the Times declares that West Ham United still faces financial limbo with CB Holding embarking on a three-year plan to run the club while aiming to recoup the money it is owed when the financial climate improves. This despite the presence of at least one active prospective buyer – American, according to some sources – who has been waiting in the wings. Several other bids have reached the due diligence stage since Gudmundsson was hit by the global economic meltdown, but none has come close to his £150m asking price.

The club will be forced to balance their books in the meantime even though CB’s representatives have held talks with interested parties in the past week and a takeover could still conceivably occur sooner rather than later. "We don't see anyone out there willing to buy at our price," said Straumur's Andersen. "We live in a world where if anyone came in with a ridiculous sum of money it would be looked at. We don’t see anybody doing that and we will hold on to the club for the next two or three years at least."

Although, there appears to be no concerns at West Ham that Straumur's own financial plight will see it fail the Premier League's fit and proper person test, the Guardian are not so convinced. That test may rule out an individual who has presided over the collapse of a football club but not necessarily the collapse of another business, such as a bank. The league said it had asked West Ham to provide details of the change of ownership. "Once we have that information we shall assess and, if needs be, act accordingly," a spokesman said.

What is clear is that the parent company of CB Holding faces a hearing on Thursday to determine whether it can have a six-month extension to a standstill with creditors. According to Matt Scott, the club's new owners could be forced into bankruptcy proceedings within 72 hours, casting doubt on assurances that it has brought stability to Upton Park. Straumur, which is effectively bust, has a moratorium over its own liabilities and must apply on this week to the District Court of Reykjavik for a six-month extension to that agreement.

The paper reveals that in a presentation made to creditors last Friday, Straumur executives said: "The moratorium provides a 'standstill' period during which Straumur can pursue a restructuring of its financial position. Unless Straumur successfully petitions the court for an extension, the moratorium will end on 11 June 2009. As stated above, Straumur intends to apply for a six-month extension of its moratorium." Even if the Reykjavik court is persuaded the moratorium should be extended, Straumur must convince creditors its plans for West Ham and its other managed assets are acceptable. The transformation of the collapsed investment bank into an asset-management company is said to be a fait accompli by Straumur's spin doctors in Iceland and London. But it depends on a "composition agreement" under which creditors accept a fixed sum.

Scott insists a meeting at which creditors may present their claims against Straumur is set for 6 August. If agreement cannot be reached, the outlook for West Ham's new owner is stark – a winding-up committee, made up of three attorneys of Iceland's supreme court and independent of the Straumur executive, would be called into action. "If composition proceedings are rejected, or the attempt to seek a composition is unsuccessful, the winding-up committee will request that the district court place Straumur's estate in bankruptcy proceedings," said the presentation to creditors. "A liquidator would then be appointed by the district court."

Straumur's confidential statements to its creditors on Friday would seem to be at odds with claims it made in public yesterday. "CB Holding fully supports the executive management of the club and acknowledges the considerable progress achieved this season both by Scott Duxbury, chief executive of West Ham, and the club's manager, Gianfranco Zola," said a statement. "CB Holding has no intention of changing the executive management or direction of the club."

Yet, if Straumur fails to reach agreement with creditors or to persuade the courts to extend the moratorium, it will present a severe test for the Premier League's rules governing fit and proper persons. Under those regulations directors and significant shareholders cannot have been made bankrupt. They are currently designed for individuals but, in the event that a club's controlling shareholder is a bankrupt company, the league's board would examine it. The league have already confirmed it has asked West Ham to provide documentation.

Even if Straumur's plans pass muster with the courts, creditors and league, writes Scott, there will be no return to the liberal spending of Gudmundsson. According to its presentation to creditors Straumur will now rely on "the establishment of a new and simplified business model appropriate to the reduced activities and scale of Straumur's operations as an asset management business".

Monday, 8 June 2009

Taken Over By Default

West Ham have been taken over by asset management company, CB Holdings, a subsidiary of its main creditor, the stricken investment bank Straumur-Burdaras, after Björgólfur Gudmundsson failed to find a buyer willing to meet the asking price required to satisfy his debts. CB Holdings — the CB standing for 'Claret and Blue' — is a special purpose vehicle, created specifically to take over the running of the club. It was set up by the creditors last week and is 70% owned by Straumur and 30% owned by three other Icelandic banks — NP, Byr and Landsbanki.

Jason Burt, writing in the Telegraph, insists the deal brings to an end the ill-fated ownership of Gudmundsson who has seen his fortune wiped out by the global recession. As Straumur has effectively been owning West Ham for the past year anyway, the change should bring much needed stability and secure the club’s financial future which has been the subject of much debate. Burt reports Straumur are planning a period of continuity during which West Ham will become a self-financing entity. The club will hope it also ends speculation over other owners being sought, for now.

A few months ago Straumur was itself declared "effectively insolvent" by the UK's Financial Services Authority as it took steps to protect the deposits of investors at its branch in London. Twenty-four hours later it was nationalised by the Icelandic government. Straumur provided the bulk of the finance for Gudmundsson when he bought the club in 2006 from its shareholders, led by the then chairman, Terry Brown, in an £85million deal. But since the collapse in the Icelandic economy and the meltdown of his investment vehicle, Hansa, last year, Gudmundsson's ability to maintain ownership had long been in serious doubt. In March Gudmundsson successfully secured a final moratorium on his debts that was due to expire tomorrow but during that time failed to find a buyer willing to pay a price that was acceptable to Straumur. Gudmundsson, who has lost around £500million in the global financial crisis, has therefore stepped down with Straumur's banking creditors seemingly taking advantage of covenants on the debt to allow for the club to be taken over.

As quoted in the Associated Press, Georg Andersen, Straumur’s head of corporate communications, insists West Ham would have gone into bankruptcy in the next 24 hours if the takeover had collapsed, confirming it was a 'complicated transaction' that didn't involve cash. "We decided to take over the club mainly to protect our interests and do the best thing for the club," he said. "The former owners of West Ham were going out of moratorium, which meant it was most likely they would go into bankruptcy, and under league rules the club would either be penalized with a points reduction or relegation. The value of the asset would have decreased enormously. As a bank, we would have preferred the owners to keep the club and had success with the whole thing, but that is not the case. We (had) to do something."

Andersen said that Straumur had much larger assets than West Ham and said finding a buyer for the club was not an option. "We don't believe it is advisable to sell the club in the current markets," he said. "So we decided to hold on and support them for the next two years at least and maybe longer depending how things develop. Speaking in the Mail, Anderson declared: "I am not going to bullshit anyone and say we are going to own the club forever. We honestly believe there is no buyer out there willing to pay the true value of the club at the moment. We are realistic enough to know that we will have to hold to the club for some time — a couple of years, maybe even more — to do so." Amazingly, two days ago the same paper was suggesting the chaos surrounding the club's ownership would be solved by a £70million American buyout brokered by football’s most prominent banker, Keith Harris, to be completed before the start of the season.

The Guardian reiterates that the club had been up for sale but had been unable to find a buyer and the move to Straumur, which was reported to have been owed £100m by the West Ham owner, should safeguard their near future. The new regime have moved swiftly to assure the Hammers manager Gianfranco Zola and his assistant Steve Clarke that their jobs are safe and that some funds will be made available for transfers. The chief executive Scott Duxbury will also remain at the club. The new owners have also appointed one of their senior directors Andrew Bernhardt as the new non-executive chairman. More directors will be named in the near future.

"I am delighted that an agreement has been reached and look forward to working with Scott Duxbury and his team in the coming years," Bernhardt said in a statement. "We have one of the best young management partnerships in Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke and the team has evolved with a great mix of experience and young players coming through from the academy. I can assure fans we will sanction investment in new players, but all within the parameters of sensible budgeting based on revenues generated by West Ham United. It will be my job to help facilitate this continued progress on the pitch, while ensuring the club's success is built on a strong financial footing. We have an initial two-year plan which includes improving the infrastructure at the club and we will be getting to work on this as soon as the new board is appointed. CB Holding has no intention of changing the executive management or direction of the club."

Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson bought the club for £85million, taking on the debt of around £22million, three years ago. Asgeir Fridgeirsson, the vice-chairman, has also left the club. "I want to thank everybody at Upton Park for unforgettable years," Gudmundsson said. "The players, fans, management and staff have all contributed immensely to a period of progress, a period where the club has sharpened its vision, strengthened the first team with young homegrown talents and laid a solid foundation for self-sustainable operations of West Ham as a strong Premier League club. As my fortunes have changed I now have to withdraw from the board of directors. I do that with a great regret but I am convinced that this change of ownership and control of West Ham United will advance the club in the present circumstances. I wish the new chairman and all involved at Upton Park all good fortunes and great success in future. I will remain forever a West Ham fan and hope I will have many returns to Upton Park."

Duxbury, the club’s chief executive, said that the transfer will bring stability to the club, which now has reported debts of around £45million. "I am delighted to say that West Ham United has been sold in an agreement that will secure the long-term future of this football club," he said. "Change is always unsettling, but I believe the new owners led by Andrew Bernhardt will bring stability to West Ham United and I hope all our staff and fans will join me in welcoming them to our club. At the same time, my best wishes and thanks go to Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and Asgeir Fridgeirsson. This will allow us all to concentrate on next season and beyond, with Gianfranco Zola, technical director Gianluca Nani and I working to build on what we have achieved. We are all committed to a long-term vision. We are playing great football, have our academy at the heart of the club and are looking to the past to move forward in the right way. I can assure all fans that I will never lose sight of this. I am determined to bring success to West Ham United."

Writing in today's Times, Gary Jacob compares these developments to losing your home. The bank is going to sell the house, but they are not going to run it down, because it is in their interests to keep the value of the asset as high as they can. That is the situation West Ham are in with their creditors. They have said in the past they might look to sell the club after two years, he states, but if they got a good offer now they might take the money and run. We can go back to the mortgage comparison. If a bank repossesses your home, they can either keep it and rent it out, or wait and try to sell it on. These are the new owners' options. A lot of clubs are up for sale at the moment and everyone is struggling to find a buyer, reports Jacob. There has been some interest in West Ham, but the stumbling block is that the price offered didn't cover the sum that Gudmundsson owed. In the past, Straumur would have been told about interest from prospective buyers, but now it will be involved in the actual negotiations. Whether that will make a sale more likely remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the club will want to reduce the wage bill and that could make them more likely to accept offers for the highest earners at the club, players such as Dean Ashton and Matthew Upson thinks Jacob. He expects fringe players such as Luis Boa Morte, Julien Faubert and Calum Davenport to be allowed to move on, too, while funds around £10million could be available for team strengthening. Zola has picked out a young Chilean midfielder called Luis Jiménez at Inter Milan and is reportedly looking to bring in two strikers, one of whom could play in the hole, a right back and a reserve left back. Ultimately, West Ham want to move towards the Arsenal model over the next season or two whereby the club runs on a self-sufficient basis, states Jacob. That will entail them doing more to develop their own players rather than paying big transfer fees.

For his part, Upson has described the takeover of West Ham as a "positive sign". The England defender, speaking ahead of England's World Cup qualifying match with Andorra at Wembley, said: "I think it's a positive thing, from what I can gather. Any kind of financial investment into the team or club is great. We are at a really crucial period in terms of developing the team and I think it's a positive sign that the manager can maybe go out and strengthen the squad." Upson has been linked with a possible big-money move away from Upton Park, but the defender insisted he was happy where he was. "I wouldn't know about my future (following the takeover)," he added. "All I know is I'm very positive in that the club's got some good financial investment. As a player I want to improve and develop, so at the moment my future is there, I'm very happy and I'm enjoying my football. I'm enjoying working under Gianfranco Zola, so I think times are good. It's the most games I have ever played and it's the best season of my career to date. I feel I've improved and developed well, so I am very positive about next season."

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