Saturday, 6 February 2010

Any Old Irons In the Fire

Gianfranco Zola faces a selection headache ahead of today's Barclays Premier League match with Burnley. The United manager has gone from having limited attacking options to a choice of six strikers following the club's transfer dealings in the January window. Newly acquired forwards Benni McCarthy, Mido and Ilan are all expected to feature at some point, alongside fit-again Carlton Cole. Now Zola has so many attacking options he warned: "Nobody will get anything here unless they deserve it. There are six or seven, but the best two will play, but it is very important players understand football is competitive and you have to produce. I hope they enjoy the challenge as much as I do."

The Hammers have suffered with massive problems up front this season, but Zola is hoping West Ham’s new heavyweight strike force can lead the club to safety after the boss beefed up his attack. Cole looks set to get his first start in more than two months alongside McCarthy at Turf Moor, while Mido will be named in the squad. Ironically the England striker’s last start came against the Clarets in the Hammers thrilling 5-3 victory at Upton Park on November 28 last year. Cole suffered a knee injury in that game, but returned to action last month and has made two substitute appearances. McCarthy has been branded fat and lazy recently while Mido has battled weight problems all his career. But Zola believes they have the ability to fire the Hammers up the table. "Mido doesn’t look fat or over-weight," said the Italian. "He’s not played many games so he’s not at his best, but he can only get to that point by playing games. What has impressed me in the first few days of training sessions is his touch under pressure. He’s not afraid of physical contact and he doesn’t lose the ball easily, and so that’s a very good thing for us."

Zola has clearly been impressed with what he has seen from the new boys in their first week of training. "Ilan has trained only twice but he looks a very good player," said Zola. "Mido and Benni – we know Benni he is a goalscorer and looking forward to seeing him scoring. Mido is a surprise. He is working very hard and wants to improve himself. He has started with a brilliant attitude. He knows his standing and everything he is going to achieve at this club he has. He has had problems off the pitch, but he is player who has great potential and he wants to prove himself and get better and better. If he does well he will be in the team."

Writing in her Saturday Sun football diary, Karren Brady describes her dealings with Mido on transfer deadline day. "I am with Mido talking about a loan move to West Ham from Middlesbrough by way of El Zamalek, Egypt," she writes. "I first met him in my previous job, when we were negotiating a transfer to Birmingham City. He accused me of being aggressive, and I of him being expensive. But he has now chosen to forgo £49,000 a week to sign for West Ham on loan for £1,000 a week. He said: 'Last time you were very aggressive, telling me I could take it or leave it so, in your column this time, you write nice things about me?' Mido is a real character and I'll certainly be cheering him on."

Meanwhile, Brian Laws insists he would not want the Egypt striker anywhere near his side as he fights to keep Burnley in the Premier League. Mido signed for West Ham on Monday and should make his debut against Laws's Burnley side this afternoon. It's the third time in 12 months the forward has been sent on loan from Middlesbrough, following spells at Wigan and Zamalek, and Laws thinks Mido lacks the hunger he needs to save the club from relegation. He said: "No disrespect, but is a Mido going to come here and work as hard as these players? That is the mentality we have. We may not have the class of the top teams, but if we haven't got that, we have got to work hard - harder than the opposition. There is a merry-go-round of transfers in these windows, but you see a lot of them where they have happily gone wherever but they don't have that commitment to be there. They are just being shoved around all over the place. I have got to have players here who are committed to the cause. They know exactly what is at stake and exactly what is needed. And I make sure they know about that before they come. If it frightens them off, good luck."

With West Ham currently 15th but only a point better off than Burnley, today's encounter is vital for both clubs in the fight for survival. "The Burnley game is massive, a game against a team in more or less in the same situation so it will be vital not to give them anything and psychologically it could prove a boost," said Zola. "If we want to produce a good result we need to perform. It is against a team who are in a similar position to us so it is vital not to give them anything. Psychologically it would be good to get a result against them. It is a massive match. I would take a 5-3 win again."

That was the result of the reverse fixture at Upton Park earlier in the season, which saw the Clarets go 5-0 down before rallying with three goals of their own. The Hammers have drawn their last three games and kept two clean sheets, and Laws is expecting a tighter match at Turf Moor. "I looked at the DVD of the last game and it was played very open, both clubs played very open football and hence the score 5-3," added Laws. "But things have changed around and over the last few games in particular, West Ham have tightened up a wee bit and not been as open as they have been. I don’t know how they are going to look at this game, but I think from the outside looking in, I’d say West Ham will be coming here not to get beat. But we know what’s at stake. If we beat West Ham, we are out of the bottom three for sure and that will give everybody a lift. Three points are precious in this division. Now the transfer window has shut, hopefully we can kick on now and start producing the football to get us the wins because we desperately need one."

Away from the field West Ham have announced plans to raise £20-40million from investors in a bid to solve the club's financial problems. The Hammers were bought by former Birmingham owners David Sullivan and David Gold last month with reported debts of around £100m. The duo have now approached Shore Capital and Corporate to conduct the fundraising, which is initially aimed at professional investors but may be opened up to fans at a later date. Vice-chairman Brady said: "Although this fundraising is initially aimed at professional investors, I would love to be able to bring in our loyal and fantastic fan base as investors further down the line so that they can share in the club's great future, on and off the pitch. This is an option which we have seriously under review."

In other related news, the debt-ridden club have been told their decision to withhold Calum Davenport's wages may be illegal. The Hammers have ceased paying the defender's £20,000-a-week at Upton Park as the star has been charged with assaulting his sister. Davenport has had to go to court to defend the allegations after he was stabbed in a violent family bust-up last August. West Ham have reportedly got tough with Davenport following the takeover last month. The player, 27, received a communication from the Hammers' HR department alleging that he may have been in breach of his contract and that the club have no intention of giving him his backdated pay unless he is found not guilty.

Now the defender, who has taken legal advice and brought in the PFA, has told his solicitor to fight his case. The PFA have written to West Ham contesting the decision to withhold Davenport's wages, and the Premier League have also sent a letter to the Hammers asking for an explanation. They are reportedly waiting for a reply from the Hammers' hierarchy but the PFA believe West Ham may have behaved illegally. West Ham's joint chairmen insist the club intend to stand by firm however, while the PFA believe West Ham's actions could set a worrying precedent for future players involved in scrapes with the law. If the Hammers are forced to back-down it would be a huge blow to their drastic cost-cutting programme, states the Mirror. They are already trying to persuade injury-jinxed midfielder Kieron Dyer, who earns £60,000-a-week, to take retirement.

Gold and Sullivan breezed into West Ham with a few lectures on how football clubs should and shouldn't be run, states John Cross in the Mirror. They blamed the previous regime for wasting money on big signings, crazy contracts and nearly making the club bankrupt. Gianfranco Zola was assured his job was safe because they stuck with managers at Birmingham. All very good and promising, thinks Cross. I'll even accept their bold predictions that West Ham can make it into the Champions League within seven years as a bit of early enthusiasm gone crazy. Then, two days later, Gold says they have tried to sign a big, big, big player on wages of £100,000-a-week. Er, thought the Icelanders got it wrong with contracts?

Then, this week, they sign Benni McCarthy, 32 - and trouble with a capital T at Blackburn - on a two-and-a-half year contract, he states. Two-and-a-half years! That's madness, according to Cross, as he'll be 34 by the time that ends, and for a striker that's knocking on a bit. West Ham did some mad last-minute dealing in the window and suddenly their patronising comments towards the Icelanders seem a little hypocritical, he argues. Before noting, at least now Karren Brady has got all the staff turning the lights off, turning down the heating and shutting doors then West Ham will be able to pay Benni's wages for a while.

In the same paper, Steve Stammers says in the end the two Daves were as good as their word. Only time will tell if the choices were the right ones for West Ham, but at least Sullivan and Gold have provided much-needed re-inforcements for their beleaguered manager, he writes. Benni McCarthy? An obvious and proven talent who has the incentive of proving he is worth a place in the South African World Cup squad this summer. That should ensure total commitment, thinks Stammers, before cautioning that players who miss training at one club because they have got the hump tend to make that a trend. If Zola has cause to leave him out, the reaction will be interesting.

As for Ilan, who knows? A Brazilian who has an Italian passport and played for St Etienne in France. Turf Moor on a Saturday in February will tell us a lot, states Stammers, as it will about Mido. West Ham fans and the Egyptian striker have history from his time at Tottenham. Suffice to say there was a mutual antipathy. The jury is still out on that one... it will be an interesting relationship to say the least.

But credit to Sullivan and Gold. They have acted where others before them have just talked. By all accounts, a substantial amount of financial excesses have been identified and eroded. About time. They promised players and they brought in players - three of them to bolster a front line that badly needed strengthening. So far, so good, writes Stammers, but it might just be worth someone who has the confidence - or bottle as they say in those parts - to mention it to the new owners that West Ham fans don't do gimmicks.

Ten minutes before last Saturday's dire 0-0 draw with Blackburn, a medley of songs associated with the East End were played over the PA system. They included Run Rabbit Run, Any Old Iron, Roll out the Barrel and Knees Up Mother Brown. Presumably, the idea was to assure the 30,000 West Ham supporters that the two Daves really do have their roots in the club's heartland. Bad idea. No-one has doubted their allegiance. And the club's fans do not need to be reminded of the songs that helped the morale of their grandparents during the Blitz to lift their own spirits and heighten the atmosphere.

Next, the stewards will be telling everyone they have got a kind face as they come in and the half-time entertainment will be My Old Man's A Dustman played on a Joanna on the halfway line. All unnecessary. What West Ham fans want is a team that plays in the way to which they have been accustomed over the years, a brand of football that can prompt a chorus of Bubbles.

In Zola they have a man who adheres to that principle, insists Stammers. What they want is quality players that are easy on the eye and give them belief that the club is owned by people who will be true to its heritage - not be encouraged to join in a pre-match singsong so cliched that it wouldn't even be tolerated on the Christmas Eve episode of EastEnders. What they want is good football played by a decent team in entertaining fashion. They are realistic enough to know West Ham won't win the league - they just want to be in a position to play Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal twice a season and to have the occasional run in a cup. That is not pessimism - it is realism. The recruitment of new players by Messrs Sullivan and Gold is a start, concludes Stammers. Hopefully they are up to scratch - and not just any old Iron.

1 comment:

TBI said...

...and still only one goal.


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari