Saturday, 30 January 2010

All's Fair In Love And Football

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
In the end, reflected Martin Luther King, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Gianfranco Zola was pondering such a sentiment yesterday after he discovered that friendship really does mean nothing in football. The West Ham United manager believed that he had captured Eidur Gudjohnsen but was left stunned by his former team-mate’s decision to move on loan to Tottenham Hotspur from Monaco until the end of the season. In Zola's world, a handshake means something, and he thought that taking and passing a medical was enough to signal the player's arrival. "I'm disappointed because we invested a lot in him," admitted Zola. "But our life doesn't depend on Gudjohnsen and we'll get on with it."

Zola, normally so measured in his responses notes Gary Jacob in this morning's Times, was at a loss to explain why Gudjohnsen chose to compete with as many as four other strikers at White Hart Lane. The Iceland forward had completed a medical at Upton Park this week and West Ham had agreed to pay part of his £100,000-a-week wages, an offer that was broadly matched by Tottenham. "We are a little twisted, turned and bitter," Zola said. "I was expecting a different decision. I don’t want to start a war with Eidur but I will be honest in front of him. Our life does not depend on him." Then, with heavy sarcasm, he added: "Tottenham probably need a striker more than us, they think they need another one. But the player... I wasn't expecting that. I'm more disappointed in the player because I was expecting something different."

When asked if Gudjohnsen would still be his friend, he said: "It's very difficult to say right now. I think you are taking advantage of my feelings and I don't want to play that game." Yet the placid Sardinian could not hide his disgust at the actions of a player he lined up alongside at Chelsea between 2000 and 2003. "They keep telling me that football has got like this right now and I keep saying that when I'm dealing with people, I always expect for the people that I have got in front me to behave in a certain way - with respect. Okay, that wasn't the case here. But we move on. We have a lot of things to achieve here this season and we can still achieve them anyway."

Writing in her weekend column, Karren Brady has her own take of things. "West Ham draw 1-1 at Portsmouth and it could be worse," she stated. "We could be Crystal Palace. Free-scoring teams are seldom relegated and that's why we are looking for a striker who can provide a consistent threat alongside Carlton Cole. But this isn't as easy as it seems when your club is at the foot of the table. Palace have serious financial problems and today are forced into administration, losing 10 points in the process. Suddenly for them, outside hopes of promotion become a battle against relegation."

Brady is of the opinion that Jordan, maybe like Zola, has not realised until far too late that all's fair in love and football. She writes: "Take the case of Eidur Gudjohnsen. Yesterday he had a medical, settled terms and we put him up in a hotel before signing him from Monaco today. Then I get a call that he could be going to Spurs instead. So I call their chairman Daniel Levy on instant ring-back. Daniel always does, because we're friends. Except that this time he doesn't and the sound of silence speaks volumes. I then call the Icelander's agent who tells me that if Spurs' offer isn't good enough 'We will call you back'. Very kind of him. Is Daniel my brother any longer? Hello, Daniel, are you there?"

Zola has made the signing of at least one striker his priority as the January transfer window draws to a close. Gudjohnsen has been scrubbed off Zola's wish-list but West Ham are very close to confirming the acquisition of Benni McCarthy from Blackburn. The South Africa international wants more game time ahead of this summer's World Cup and Zola is willing to give it to him. Despite McCarthy's lack of Premier League action - only seven starts all campaign - Zola is convinced he can rouse the forward to a season-saving display for the Hammers. "It shouldn't be a big problem", he insisted. "The quality is there, that's what we are looking for. The rest is down to me and my staff to get the best out of him. I have no worries about that. He is determined to do well, to prove himself, and that is a great assurance for us.'

Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce has been scathing about the player's failure to turn up for training and Zola said: "I understand Benni and Sam have different opinions. I don't know the reasons and I don't want to know. But I think I know Blackburn wanted to sell him - that's the bottom line. If Benni McCarthy is leaving it is probably because he wasn't playing there and didn't feel appreciated. That's probably the reason why he is leaving. It doesn't mean I want to get involved in the row between the two. I will help him very much to get to the World Cup. We are going to give him the chance because if I help him, he will help us. He has the qualities to be a World Cup player and to give West Ham a big boost. So we will co-operate with this.'

Manchester City's Benjani Mwaruwari, Scott McDonald of Celtic and the Egypt striker Mido are among the other names to have cropped up but Zola is remaining tight-lipped. "Mido and others are names that are circulating but as far as I'm concerned, Benni is the only one close to us," he added. "He's the only one I want to talk about. I am sure the club will be linked to many names but Benni is the real target for us." Nonetheless, today's Independent reports United are closing in on Egyptian striker Mido, having missed out on Ruud van Nistelrooy and now Eidur Gudjohnsen. The courting of Mido, who was dropped by Egypt for the Africa Cup of Nations, demonstrates how desperate West Ham have become with only three days left until the transfer window closes, writes Mark Fleming. The 26-year-old had persistent weight problems during his time at Tottenham Hotspur and has only scored one goal in 11 league appearance for Zamalek in the Egyptian league this season.

Celtic are willing to accept £3.5 million from West Ham United if Scott McDonald, decides, as seems likely, that he wishes to follow Danny Fox and Stephen McManus out of the Celtic Park door before the January transfer window closes on Monday. The Mail confirms the Hammers are back in for the striker, capped 15 caps for his country, after the Australian’s talks with Middlesbrough fell through on Thursday. Writing in this morning's Times, Graham Spiers reports that when questioned about McDonald’s place at his club, Tony Mowbray was forced to deny that a rift had developed between himself and the Australia striker. Yet the Celtic manager did concede that McDonald could leave. "Do I want Scott McDonald here? Yes, because he is our top goalscorer," Mowbray said. "There have never been cross words between me and Scott. I don’t think he has ever felt unappreciated here with me. He is a very likeable lad, a sensible boy who is very aware of what his strengths and weaknesses are as a player. Scott and I get on fine, but he understands what my job is — it is to try to build a squad."

Selling your leading goalscorer is not the most obvious part of a masterplan designed to take your club back to the summit of Scottish football, suggests Stephen Halliday in the Scotsman. But as Tony Mowbray's reconstruction of his Celtic squad continued apace yesterday, it became clear that Scott McDonald could be the next player to join the exodus. The Australian international, who is closing in on a return to action following hernia surgery earlier this month, is understood to be the subject of interest from West Ham, Middlesbrough and Wigan Athletic. The 26-year-old, who joined Celtic from Motherwell for £700,000 in the summer of 2007, is valued at around £4million by the Parkhead club.

McDonald has scored 14 goals for Celtic this season and Mowbray insisted he would be content to retain his services beyond the closure of the current transfer window on Monday night. But with another striker high on Mowbray's shopping list over the next three days, he also accepted circumstances could transpire which see McDonald move on. "There is some interest in Scott, I think that's widely known," said Mowbray. "Has he got a future at Celtic? Yeah, if things come together, that's what happens. Scott has been running around at Lennoxtown this morning trying to get himself fit to play for us at Kilmarnock on Tuesday night. If he is here to play for us on Tuesday, I'll be delighted. If he's not, then there will have been reasons behind that which I would hope would become evident. I won't deny there have been conversations with Scott and they have been interesting chats. But at the moment, there is nothing to say either way. Scott is looking for assurances, he wants to play and be on that field every minute of every game scoring goals. He does understand that I have a squad of players but he wants to play. I can't assure him he will be on the field for 90 minutes of every game, because I've got respect for the other players and that's why you have a squad."

Elsewhere, Newcastle are ready to offer Victor Moses £20,000 a week in a bid to win a wages war with promotion rivals Nottingham Forest and West Brom. According to various reports, Chris Hughton has made a £2m bid for the Crystal Palace winger and is confident of completing a deal, despite late Premier League interest from Fulham, Wigan and West Ham. Forest and West Brom have also tabled bids for the 19-year-old but Newcastle can offer a far greater salary than their Championship rivals.

In other news, Zola revealed his regret at the departure of chief executive Scott Duxbury, who brought the little Italian to Upton Park in September 2008 as the replacement for Alan Curbishley. Zola said: "We were expecting changes. I'm more sad than surprised." Though Zola has lost an ally, he insisted that his passion for the club and the players remains strong, saying: "As for my own position I want to assure the supporters that I have no intention of following him out of West Ham. I have a commitment here and I'll do my best to get the team safe. That is my target and my priority." That said, Zola plans to meet David Gold and David Sullivan, the joint chairmen, in the next month to suggest changes to and seek assurances on his backroom staff.

Sullivan has earmarked several areas to cut costs, including the medical team. Scott Duxbury resigned as chief executive yesterday and Nick Igoe, the finance director, and Gianluca Nani, the technical director, are expected to depart. According to the Mail, the changes may leave Zola exposed because the officials have been his allies. "Hopefully there won’t be too many cutbacks as the system is working well. They [the chairmen] know that the players, management and people concerned with the team are the main asset for a club. There are things I want to change but we are talking about people still working here and I don’t want to put them in a difficult position."

The Mirror reveal that United captain Matt Upson has already been told to sign a new deal - or be sold. Upson, 30, has just 18 months left on his £60,000-a-week contract and West Ham’s new owners do not want him running down his contract and leaving on a free transfer. England defender Upson has insisted he is committed to West Ham despite interest from Manchester City and Tottenham but Gold and Sullivan are anxious to discover his intentions in case any last minute offers come in.

The same paper suggests it is not Upson, but rather central defensive partner James Tomkins who could be the subject of last minute interest. Rafa Benitez in particular has been monitoring the progress of the highly-rated 20-year-old, who was drafted into the Hammers youth academy after being spotted playing for his local Sunday League side. The 6ft 3in central defender made his debut two years ago in the club's 1-1 draw with Everton. Although his mistake in that game allowed Yakubu to score, injuries in the team allowed him to get a run in the side and Tomkins eventually claimed the Young Hammer of the Year award. He was recalled from a loan spell last season at Derby and handed a long-term contract extension after managing to claim a regular first-team place in the West Ham side.

In the meantime, as part of the new era of fiscal stringency, United plan to hit Tottenham with a £5,000 bill as the war over Eidur Gudjohnsen rages on. According to today's Sun, the furious Hammers want their money back for putting up the 31-year-old striker in a plush London hotel and paying for a medical before he snubbed them for a last-minute move to Spurs. West Ham's new co-owner David Sullivan said: "We didn't just put the player up in a hotel, it was his whole entourage. It's an issue of morality. I suppose Tottenham have not broken any rules but to kick a team when it is down is not sporting in my mind. We're fed up of being pushed around and paying for everything, so we're sending them a bill."

Talking of paying for everything, seven clubs have reportedly asked businessman Tony Fernandes to consider a takeover after he failed to seize control at West Ham. Three Premier League sides are among those to have contacted the Malaysian millionaire after he lost out to David Gold and David Sullivan at Upton Park but Fernandes is unlikely to invest in any club, including the Hammers. "I love West Ham but there's clearly got to be one boss and I am not considering being a minor partner," the Lotus F1 team boss told BBC Sport. Fernandes, a supporter for 35 years, said he would find it difficult to own another club after Gold and Sullivan took charge on 19 January. "It's hard. I kind of love West Ham very much and I can't imagine supporting anyone else," he said. "I've been approached in the past anyway, but the West Ham news has probably pushed me to the front in terms of ownership."

Along with the two Davids, finance firm Intermarket and Italian Massimo Cellini, the 45-year-old Fernandes was one of four parties interested in owning West Ham. He said he offered fresh ideas and complete backing for manager Gianfranco Zola and assistant Steve Clarke. "I don't want to say too much right now as I still may use those ideas at another club," said Fernandes. "I've been offered many clubs in the last week." One of these is thought to be cash-strapped Portsmouth, although he declined to give identities. Fernandes thought he was on the brink of sealing a deal for West Ham and flew his business partner in from Kuala Lumpur as negotiations continued late into the night of Monday, 18 January. "We were looking to take Zola out on the Tuesday and they suddenly called us and said 'we've sold'," he said. "My partner, poor guy, got off a 13-hour flight and did a turnaround. He was in the UK for an hour."

The stumbling block appeared to be that Fernandes was seeking 100% ownership, while Gold and Sullivan offered a controlling 50%. "I think we just ran out of time. I wanted to be in total control of the club," said Fernandes, who is based in Malaysia but makes regular trips to Lotus HQ in Norfolk. "I think they were just unsure whether I would complete in the expected time. We were in a bit of shock, to be honest. We thought we had it. I was pretty confident they would go with us."

After taking over, Sullivan revealed West Ham had run up debts of £110m. Cost-cutting is expected at the east London club and chief executive Scott Duxbury announced his resignation on Friday. "We would have removed a lot of the debt and given the club a new lease of life," said Fernandes, who said he had been boosted by an estimated 10,000 messages of support from West Ham fans. "I talked to Scott about that already and to Nick (Igoe), the financial director, and certainly savings were on the cards."

Fernandes also said he had been relishing the prospect of working with Zola, who guided West Ham to ninth in the Premier League in his first season but sees his side flirting with the relegation zone this campaign. "I've got very close with the management, the players and the coaching staff over the last year, and I'm a big believer in Zola and I'm a big believer in giving people a chance," he said.

Sullivan and Gold have a four-year option to buy the remaining 50% from Icelandic bank Straumur, although they have urged Fernandes to invest in the club. While not ruling out being involved at some stage, Fernandes said it was unlikely in the short-term. "We've talked on the phone and SMS'd (sent text messages) a few times, but it hasn't really progressed from there. I think it would be a long shot to be honest but let's see - never say never," he said. "You've got to be totally aligned with someone to be a partner. Of course, it would be a fantastic thing to be involved with West Ham, and I never close any doors."

Fernandes said he would have developed West Ham gradually, altered admission prices, investigated the benefits of moving from Upton Park to the new Olympic Stadium and introduced global marketing and cross-promotion of the West Ham and Lotus brands. After what he called "phenomenal diligence", he admitted to being surprised at the extent of the club's financial turmoil. "It's very typical of current financial excesses. There were some player transactions that looked very odd to me," he said.

In recent years, he has been to an average of about 10 West Ham games a season, but admitted he will find it difficult to attend his next match. "It would feel a bit odd going there at the moment, when you come so close to owning a club," he said. "I came there to see a club which was not in a great position. My expertise is to take an asset which is not being treated very well, to give it some love and care, and move it on." Under the new owners, Fernandes believes the club he calls an "unpolished diamond" can still sparkle. "The squad needs strengthening up front, but has a fantastic midfield," he said. "It's a good squad. The new owners must believe in the squad, and it will perform. There's no need to chop and change too many things and to start panicking." And he expects the days of Premier League big spending to be curtailed in the near future. "Like Formula One, there needs to be a reality check, eventually even the billionaires need a reality check," he added.

Life could not be any more real for Sullivan and Gold as they take the journey from Birmingham City to make West Ham their proud cause. Julian Dicks took the same trip in 1988, became an Iron-hard idol of the Boleyn Ground and once was fined two weeks’ wages for publicly lashing the directors for trying to fleece the fans. As Upton Park prepares for the first home match since the takeover against Blackburn today, Dicks is scathing about the Icelandic bankers who took the Hammers close to ruin and tells the Express that the people have their club back.

"Sullivan and Gold are real West Ham supporters and we know that because they have been saying it for years, not just recently for public consumption. What did we have when the Icelandics were in charge? Some bloke who came in and made a lot of noise, told everyone he was a West Ham supporter and delivered nothing but trouble. I spent 11 years with West Ham, the best part of my life. But last season I went back and they wouldn’t even let me in. It didn’t feel like my club any more.

Yet the supporters are fantastic. They are what West Ham are really about, and I’m sure those fans are delighted that they’ve got their club back from the brink in this way. They are not daft there. They realise they’re probably never going to win the Premier League title, but they love a good cup run and they love the club and that is very important. It was always a fantastic place to play, even when I was with Birmingham. And the fans were so good to me I get goosebumps just talking about it now.

I have to say, though, that Upton Park has lost a bit of its atmosphere, which I guess is a sign of the times. And I don’t like the idea of any move to the Olympic stadium, either. It just doesn’t feel right."

In charge of Grays Athletic, the struggling Blue Square Conference South team, Dicks has former Hammer Kenny Brown as his assistant, John Moncur as the chairman and even this week handed a debut on loan to Andrea Zola, son of West Ham manager Gianfranco. The vice-chairman is renowned claret-and-blue blood Andy Swallow. Surprisingly, Zola junior is a 19-year-old left-back rather than an attacking sorcerer in the style of his brilliant father, but Dicks says: "He has a great football brain and you can’t teach that. It’s in the genes. And he can get stuck in and put himself about a bit, too. He was in the reserves at West Ham but he wants to play every week so he has come to us for a while and looks impressive."

There is an irony in all these old Hammers being gathered together at Grays to fight for survival on the pitch while the wider football community of east London and Essex is breathing a big sigh of relief, writes John Dillon. Sullivan and Gold are sure to get a fabulous welcome after their purchase of 50 per cent of West Ham rescued the club from the anxious limbo-land of being held in stock by a crumbling finance house in Reykjavik. Dicks, who played 262 times in two spells as the most fearsome left-back in the game, is similarly delighted that after all the trouble, the boardroom has ended up in the hands of two shrewd businessmen who support the club, bucking all the trends of the modern Premier League.

What has happened at West Ham is important, says Dillon, at a time when the supporters of the biggest clubs in the land – Manchester United and Liverpool – are in rebellion against their absent foreign ownerships. Today’s match could be seen as a celebration merely of the fact that a Premier League club has been returned to the hands of Englishmen. There will be changes but the hope is that there will be care for the soul of the club, too. Dicks has his own special place in that folk history after famously speaking out against the Bond Scheme the club attempted to introduce to finance a new stand. It prompted protests and pitch invasions and was an early warning of the trouble to come for fans everywhere, but it failed. "Basically, they were asking people to pay £975 on top of ticket prices to watch rubbish football," recalls Dicks. "I thought it was wrong and I said so."

And the last word for today goes to Karren Brady, where yesterday's diary entry reads: "I'm beginning to feel there's something special about my new club and the staff who work there. West Ham people are family in a know-what-I-mean way that has to be unique. This is London's working class club. I'm not a good sleeper and sometimes get up in the night and send emails to staff. At 4am on Sunday morning I was surprised to have one back. I ask him why he isn't asleep. "I live at the club," he said. I've met that sort of dedication before so I'm very positive about the future at Upton Park." As Marlene Dietrich once remarked, it's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that truly matter.

1 comment:

TBI said...

Learning curve for Brady. She now realises the hate between the clubs and they will do ANYTHING to get one over us.
Even her 'friend' aint interested now she is with us.


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