Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Flashing A Thigh

Juan Roman Riquelme's agent has confirmed that West Ham United are in 'pole position' to sign the Argentina playmaker. The former Villarreal star has reportedly stalled on an expected move to Brazilian side Flamengo because of a raft of interest from South American and European sides. The mercurial 31-year-old is out of contract at Boca Juniors and is thought ready to return to Europe after three years in his homeland.

Riquelme has no shortage of suitors but his British representative Barry McIntosh told Sky Sports the player would rather join the Hammers than even Manchester United. "In precise words, Riquelme has said that in terms of going to a club like Manchester United, it wouldn't really be an attraction to him because if he goes there they could win the Champions League - they've already done it - or they win the FA Cup - they've already done it," he said. "He wants to go to a club where he's going to make a mark. The location of London, the challenge at West Ham and working beside the likes of Scott Parker and Thomas Hitzlsperger have been very important factors in him considering the move. I think for a foreign player of the magnitude of Riquelme, the lure of London is always going to be a deciding factor over any other club. So unless Arsenal come in then I think the most likely destination and the one Riquelme would be most interested in is West Ham. But I think he'd like to be a part of the project of West Ham, and what David Sullivan and David Gold have got in mind for the future for the club, including the new stadium."

McIntosh revealed the Hammers currently head a queue of four Barclays Premier League clubs, while there is also a lucrative offer on the table from Qatar. Flamengo are understood to have offered him a two-and-a-half year deal worth £45,000 a week, while fellow Brazilian side Cruzeiro, Mexico's Atlas, and Buenos Aires side Racing Club de Avellaneda have also registered their interest. Renewing with his current side is also not out of the question, although the Mail claim Riquelme is seeking to take a better-paid move after three years of letting his heart rule his head on low wages.

Riquelme almost signed for Everton three years ago, while Tottenham have also been linked in the past. "[A move] was unlikely a few weeks ago because Riquelme's No.1 club, where he is an idol, is Boca Juniors," McIntosh added. "He played for them on very small financial terms to satisfy the fans. But it's come to the position now where he feels he may have to look at all the other options that are being offered to him because he doesn't feel like he's getting value for money in terms of staying at Boca."

Riquelme began his career at Boca before leaving for Barcelona in 2002, although he had an unsuccessful year at the Camp Nou. He then joined Villarreal, initially on loan, and helped them reach the Champions League semi-finals on their debut in the competition in 2005/06. Riquelme returned to Boca on loan in 2007 after falling out with then-Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini and led them to the 2007 Copa Libertadores before making a permanent return home in 2008. Despite ruling himself out of contention for this summer's World Cup after declaring he wouldn't play for Argentina while Diego Maradona was in charge, the three-time Argentina Player of the Year has remained in top form in Argentina and feels it is time to again take on the challenge of playing in Europe.

In the equivalent of flashing a tantalising thigh to the fans, the club would only tease that it is 'making progress' on its transfer targets. "It is only right that we keep supporters informed as much as we can of what we are working on, especially as there is so much speculation around this time of year," said chairman Sullivan. "With the World Cup taking place, it is not as easy to conclude deals but I can assure fans we are working 24/7 with the manager to bring new players to the club. We have limited resources, with the £100m debt the club carries, but we are going to make every penny count and we 100% assure you there will be more new arrivals this summer. It is very possible we will have another one in within the next two to three weeks, if not sooner."

If that player is not now Riquelme then it would be a crushing disappointment. That said, another interesting name in the frame could be Julio Baptista. The Beast has not been scaring too many defences in Serie A of late and the Italians are reportedly ready to sacrifice him in a cost-cutting exercise. Old fans Galatasaray have made an offer already and hope to sign him but he has not agreed terms yet. The Mail reveals Avram Grant almost signed the Brazil international last season only for Portsmouth's financial problems to kick in and he is keen to try again.

The 28-year-old can play attacking midfield or as a second striker and will be hoping to catch the eye with Brazil over the next three weeks if given a chance to play. It is possible West Ham would prefer to sign him on loan but Roma want around £4.5m for a player they signed for £7.2m from Real Madrid in 2008. As normal these days, Baptista has also been offered to Tottenham but that position, according to the Mail, is not a priority for Harry Redknapp.

Although it could be if the rumours surrounding Roman Pavlyuchenko have any truth to them. Some media sources claim the player has demanded to leave Spurs after enduring a miserable spell at White Hart Lane since a £13.8million move from Spartak Moscow. The Russian showed glimpses of brilliance last season, scoring 10 goals, but remains unhappy at the lack of first team football and has asked his agent to find him a new club this summer. Today's Mirror states the forward is valued around £10m and would like to remain in England, preferably with West Ham as he could play more regularly and wouldn't have to uproot. It is thought United could be interested but have so far have balked at meeting Pavlyuchenko's salary of £60,000-£70,000-a-week.

How realistic you find this story probably depends on how much faith you place in the Mirror. The same paper also claims West Ham boss Avram Grant has ripped up the club's proposal to Sol Campbell and is targeting Nigerian defender Elderson Echiejile instead. That would be the same Elderson Echiejile who signed a four-year deal with Braga just two weeks ago. The article insists David Sullivan has teed up numerous potential transfer deals for Grant to decide on now he is installed as Gianfranco Zola's replacement. Grant is said to have already knocked back a proposed lucrative two-year deal for centre-back Campbell, 35, who is out of contract at Arsenal.

Meanwhile, Grant is also monitoring contract talks between Fulham and Dickson Etuhu and has expressed an interest in St Etienne striker Gonzalo Bergessio, according to the Mail. Etuhu, 28, who is with Nigeria at the World Cup finals, has one year left and is hoping for a long term deal. Argentinian Bergessio, meanwhile, is also interesting Bolton. The 25-year-old, nicknamed The Bull, is valued at around £4million.

Elsewhere, Zenit St Petersburg striker Sergey Kornilenko insists he would have signed for West Ham in the winter if Gianfranco Zola had the final say. "West Ham changed owners and the plans of David Gold and David Sullivan were to sign more stellar attackers, such as (Ruud) van Nistelrroy, for example," said the Belarus striker, who was on trial with the Hammers. "Zola said that signing a contract for me was just a couple of days away, but the Londoners got new owners."

Finally, United could move for goalkeeper Richard Wright after the 32-year-old was released by Ipswich Town at the end of last season. It is understood the Hammers will offer a contract to the free agent, who made 58 appearances for the Tractor Boys in his latest two-year stint at Portman Road. Wright formally spent six years with Ipswich between 1995 and 2001 before moving to Arsenal, where he made just 12 appearances. He switched to Everton in 2002, where he spent the next five years, before he was eventually released and snapped up by West Ham.

Despite ludicrous reports in the media that Wright would be coming in to replace Robert Green, it is clear the keeper, who failed to make an appearance for West Ham during a season-long spell at Upton Park back in 2007, would be a deputy for next season. Peter Kurucz and Marek Stech are the Hammers' current reserve keepers. David Sullivan believes speculation on Green's future is merely a cheap shot intended to further undermine his confidence. He told Soccernet: "It is just total nonsense that we are now trying to find a replacement for Robert Green. It is just not true. He is our No. 1 'keeper and will remain our No. 1 'keeper next season. He's had a superb season with us and we expect him to be with us for at least the two years left on his current contract."

Monday, 14 June 2010

Expiating The Sins Of Others

I was less the keeper of a soccer goal than the keeper of a secret . . . a fabulous exotic being in an English footballer’s disguise, composing verse in a tongue nobody understood about a remote country nobody knew. Small wonder I was not very popular with my team-mates.

The England goalkeeper occupies the same territory that made a turnip of Graham Taylor and saw an effigy of David Beckham swing from a lamp-post after his sending-off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Their crimes? To err in sport. So one Sunday newspaper bookended its coverage of Robert Green’s blunder with the banner headlines 'Hand of Clod’ on the front page and 'Stars and Tripe’ on the back, notes the Telegraph's Kevin Garside, a double kicking just to make sure the poor sod stayed down. This summary justice takes no account of the devastation it causes over and above the shame and humiliation felt by the player himself. It is the response of the mob mired in a blame culture that seeks to lump the failings of the team on the shoulders of one individual.

Yes Green’s fumble was a monumental howler that gifted the United States their goal, acknowledges Garside, but was he any more culpable than Emile Heskey, who has not scored in any competition since February and who missed in Rustenburg a chance that would have given England the lead with only the goalkeeper to beat? And what about Steven Gerrard, who was turned inside out by Clint Dempsey to create the space to shoot at Green’s goal? Gerrard, whose strike in the fourth minute embellished a fine personal performance, largely escaped censure in the Green calamity. Had he done a better job of screening Dempsey, Green would not have been exposed. That is not to excuse Green’s error but to highlight the difference in the reaction.

Goalkeepers, of course, can only get it wrong since they are expected to save every shot that comes their way. Neither Heskey, who received high praise from Fabio Capello, nor Gerrard, England’s man of the match, was called in by the England management yesterday to have his psychological state assessed. That's just the way it is. It’s all your fault and that is what goalkeeping is all about, observes Simon Barnes in today's Times. As an English spectator, a human being and a paid-up member of the Lapsed Goalkeepers’ Union, he writes, I feel tremendously sorry for Robert Green. Who would not? But I am equally — and rightly — inclined to blame him.

Green’s goalkeeping error wasn’t just one of those things, but rather a fundamental error of technique. Keeping your eye on the ball is the basis of all ball games, notes Barnes. I don’t suppose he would have made such a mistake on any other occasion — apart from his first match at the World Cup. That’s one of the reasons we watch big-time sport: because big occasions reveal, as nothing else, the flaws of those that take part. And that’s why you’re a goalkeeper, because you are prepared to accept blame. A goalkeeper makes a contract with the game. Glory: very, very seldom. Blame: every game.

And that’s why goalkeepers are different, that’s why goalkeepers are crazy, that’s why goalkeepers are singular fellows, states Barnes. Don’t ask me, ask the great goalkeepers of history, people such as Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabokov, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Julio Iglesias, Pope John Paul II, Che Guevara. Singular fellows all. Goalkeeping is not just about a talent for handball, a liking for diving about and a taste for being in a team yet wearing a different outfit. It’s the taste for blame. And the higher you rise, the greater the blame. You will be blamed when it’s your fault, you will be blamed when it isn’t.

Alas, poor Green, he earned every scrap, but what about Paul Robinson? asks Barnes. He was goalkeeper when England lost to Croatia a couple of years ago. He missed a back pass and the resulting blame has affected him since. But the ball hit a bobble and hopped over his foot. It happens to outfielders all the time, and no one blames them. But Robinson’s misfortune led to a goal, for which he was blamed. That’s what goalkeeping means. In another match against Croatia, Scott Carson fumbled a ball to give Croatia the win and end Steve McClaren’s period as England coach. And that really was his fault, though it can be argued that good things came from it. But poor Carson hasn’t been the same since.

David Seaman is blamed for England’s defeat at the World Cup of 2002. He let Ronaldinho’s free kick float over his head as England lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals. Seaman was a safe keeper, one of immense competence. But he was always short on imagination and was beaten by a piece of brilliance he could never have imagined. Not his fault, it’s just that his limitations were exposed. But he will always bear the blame.

Naturally, then, Green's private agonies were not spared in the deeper recesses of the Royal Bafokeng Stadium late on Saturday night. The plasma television screens that the players proceeded past out of the ground had a video of past World Cup goalkeeping bloopers on a loop. As he was offering his mea culpa, England’s blunderer had not even left the scene of the crime but already he was immortalised along with the Peruvian, Ramón “El Loco” Quiroga, (for rugby-tackling an opponent over the halfway line in 1978), René Higuita for trying to dribble round Roger Milla in 1990 and David Seaman in 2002 for stumbling backwards.

Tim Howard, whose commanding performance will have made Green's error all the more unbearable to take, probably found the best advice for him when asked how might Green get over the 40th-minute error which will always live with him. "A lot of alcohol," Howard said. "There is nothing that dulls that pain. All you can do is spend time on the training ground and put in a string of good performances. It is horrible. It sucks. I don't know if there is a psychological effort."

John Terry's account of the scene in England's dressing room at half-time suggests that Fabio Capello did not indulge Green in any way and that his response to the error did not include an arm around the shoulder. "The manager came in and spoke, saying, 'Forget it'," Terry said. "'Pick yourself up, forget it, it's been and gone.' Then the manager left the room." It was left to the players to pick up the confidence of a shattered individual as best they could. Frank Lampard was one of the first to motion "chin up" to him. "Green was mortified and the lads were saying at half-time that the only way he could repay us was to make important saves," Terry said. "He did that in the second half."

Fabio Capello's review of the DVD of the game may persuade him that the save in question – from Jozy Altidore – was not quite as assured as it seemed on first viewing. The striker, who could have put England in serious trouble had he crossed to Clint Dempsey, instead fired straight at Green, who gloved the ball on the post when he might have palmed it around the corner into safety. But in Green's defence was the testimony of several players close to the ball when Dempsey beat Steve Gerrard to fire the fateful shot, who claimed that the adidas Jabulani ball deviated as it has done in training."When I hit the shot I knew it was going on target and at the last second it moved a little bit," Dempsey admitted. "I saw him reaching but I saw it go over the line." The consensus of the US team seemed to be that Dempsey was right. "Coming into the tournament, I knew there was going to be some crazy goals with the ball and I didn't want to be a part of any of them," Howard said. Lampard, too, agreed that "the ball moved about a bit" after Dempsey released his strike.

Capello is undecided about whether Green should be given another start in Cape Town against Algeria on Friday. Though leaving him out would be a vote of no confidence, which effectively means Green's participation in the tournament is over, he may also take into consideration that the player's last competitive match for him was in Ukraine, when he became the first England goalkeeper to be sent off and David James was needed on to replace him, in the 1-0 defeat in Dnipropetrovsk. But there appears to be something Capello is not happy about regarding James' preparations for this tournament.

James certainly looked bemused about Capello's decision to leave him out as he left the stadium late on Saturday. He rejected the England management's suggestions he is injured and asked if he felt he was the England No 1, he joked that, "I am the number one but I just didn't play" – an allusion to his squad number. "I am fit and well," James added. His interpretation of how Green could recover from this was a little less realistic than Howard's. Asked how long it would take, he said: "Two minutes. It should do. Things happen, but he's made a great save, he's back on blob. We'll do our warm-down, chat tomorrow. The spirit is fine." In his heart, Green will beg to differ.

So we are left wondering about the England manager who selected Green after a great deal of shilly shallying. What did he do in his post-match interview? He blamed the goalie, what else? The truth is England did not fail to beat the United States because of Green, but because they were not good enough in other parts of the pitch. Old failings returned; too little conviction, too little flair. For this Capello must share responsibility. The problem with beating up on Green is that it diverts attention from the real issues holding England back; parts that continue to yield less than their sum.

The answer therefore is not to peer into Green’s psyche but the team’s. It could be that we are all deluded in the belief that England are good enough to win the World Cup. A ranking of third favourites looked an impossible position to argue after watching Argentina lay down their intricate patterns against Nigeria at Ellis Park earlier in the day. It is said the Argentina can’t defend. Who cares if they can attack like that?

The hysterical reaction to Green’s mistake inflames the atmosphere in the England camp to such a degree that some commentators are suggesting that Capello has in his hands not only the fate of Green in the next game against Algeria in Cape Town on Friday but his career. One wrong move now, they say, could have fatal consequences for Green’s international future. This is the kind of disproportionate nonsense that did for Paul Robinson after his air shot against Croatia in Zagreb during qualifying for the 2008 European Championship. There was more than one Robinson advocate at the Rustenburg crime scene regretting the lynching of the Blackburn keeper that day.

Steve McClaren eventually settled on Scott Carson and saw the same thing happen after his blooper in the corresponding fixture at Wembley. The precedent for placing goalkeepers in the stocks goes all the way back to 1970, when Peter Bonetti copped the flak for the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Germany after England had led 2-0. Like Bonetti, Carson and Robinson, Green is technically no worse or better a keeper this morning than he was before the United States match. He retains the same qualities and flaws weighed by Capello when deciding on his no.1 for Rustenburg. It is for Capello to wrestle with his conscience before Friday and for the rest of us to take a breath before launching into unnecessary character assassinations that serve the interests of none.

So when you return to your schools and offices this morning remember the anger and rage heaped on Green by friends and colleagues alike expresses the disappointment of hopes dashed. They are essentially the cries of babies not men. The best way to ensure there is no repeat against Algeria is to support not condemn. In the meantime, courtesy of KUMB, via way of Eduardo Galeano, a brief reminder why Robert Green should remain England's number one...

They call him the doorman, goalie, bouncer or tender, but he could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent or punch-bag. They say where he walks, the grass never grows.

He's alone, condemned to watch the game from afar. Never leaving the goal, his only company the three posts, he awaits his own execution by firing squad. He used to dress in black, like the referee. Now the referee doesn't have to dress like a crow and the goalkeeper can populate his solitude with colourful fantasies.

He doesn't score goals, he's there to keep them from being scored. The goal is football's fiesta: the striker sparks delight and the goalkeeper, a wet blanket, snuffs it out.

He wears the number one on his back. The first to be paid? No, the first to pay. It's always the keeper's fault. And if it isn't, he still gets blamed. When any player commits a foul, he's the one who gets punished: they leave him there to face his executioner alone. And when the team has a bad afternoon, he's the one who pays the bill, expiating the sins of others under a rain of flying balls.

The rest of the players can blow it once in a while, or often, then redeem themselves with a spectacular dribble, a masterful pass, a well-placed volley. Not him. The crowd never forgives the keeper. Was he drawn out by a fake? Left looking rediculous? Did the ball skid? Did his fingers of steel turn to silk? With a single slip-up the goalie can ruin a game or lose a championship, and the fans suddenly forget all his fears and condemn him to eternal disgrace. Damnation will follow him to the end of his days.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Popping The Seal

The Hand of Clod, Cock-up Keeper, World Cup Clown, Buffoona Buffoona... the breaking news this morning is that Robert Green will not be the subject of a big money move this summer. That said, I have no desire to spend any more time with the Sunday papers than I have to this morning, so here is a perfunctory, no frills West Ham related round-up...

Robert Pires wants to return to the Premier League – and West Ham are set to swoop for the French World Cup winner, according to today's Mirror. Pires is now a free agent after his contract expired at Spanish club Villarreal and he admitted last night: "I would like the chance to play in England again." Last season West Ham apparently sounded out Pires about coming back to England and although Zola has now left the club could still be keen on the midfield star. At 36, Pires feels he can still play an active role in first team football. "There is no problem with my fitness," he said.

The veteran midfield player spent six years at Arsenal during which time he won two championships and three FA Cups. He was also part of The Invincibles team that went unbeaten in the Premier League in 2004. He now plays a more withdrawn role behind the strikers and was very effective for Villareal last season, albeit from the bench. Although the Hammers had their fingers burned with the similar acquisition of Freddie Ljungberg under the previous regime, the club feel Pires could replicate the service given to them by Teddy Sheringham when he joined the club at the same age.

The News of the World believe United will compete with PSV Eindhoven, Lyon and Wolfsburg to secure Real Madrid youngster Daniel Opare, 19, on loan. Liverpool, who missed out on the Ghanaian full-back in 2008 when he moved from Ashanti Gold, were also interested in the player before Rafa Benitez left the club. Opare is as highly regarded for his talent as he is for versatility. He can play at right-back, central midfield or on both wings.

The article states West Ham will have to abandon any hope of signing the defender on a permanent basis as he is keen to work with new manager Jose Mourinho in the future. The player is quoted as saying: "Our president did a great job in convincing Jose Mourinho to come to Madrid. All the players cannot wait to work with him. He's at a special club now. I may have to wait but I want to work with him also."

The same paper insists Sunderland are said to be preparing a £7 million bid for West Ham and England defender Matthew Upson. Black Cats manager Steve Bruce has identified a commanding centre-back as his main signing target this summer and believes the 31-year-old can help push Sunderland in to the top ten next season. Upson is also believed to be ready to leave Upton Park after owners David Gold and David Sullivan admitted everyone bar Scott Parker was available for transfer this summer. Sunderland have already proved with the signing of Darren Bent last year that they can attract the big players to the Stadium of Light, and the club could also be seen as a new, fresh challenge for Upson. Bruce gave Upson his first chance in the Premier League when he was in charge at Birmingham City in 2003, before he was sold to West Ham in 2007. It is suggested Bruce will offer incoming Upton Park boss Avram Grant former West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand as part of the deal.

Meanwhile, it is claimed West Ham have made a formal approach to Portsmouth about recruiting first-team coach Paul Groves and goalkeeping coach David Coles. Grant is thought to have targeted the duo immediately after his appointment. Groves, who worked as the Israeli's assistant manager at Fratton Park, attempted to play down speculation he could follow him to the Premier League club. Yet the former Grimsby boss has already rejected the opportunity to succeed Grant when he was invited to apply for the manager’s post. "From a timing point of view, I don’t think it is right for me," he said. "I have been on a learning curve and I am still learning, so I will continue to do that. I am sure at some point in the future, I will feel differently. But at the moment, I still feel it’s good to learn under people and gain experience. It’s a good position to learn from. I am learning from different people and I just don’t think the timing is right for me to be a manager."

The People are running with Yakubu story. They claim United are ready to launch a third bid for the Nigerian after Everton rejected a £7million move for the forward last week. The Hammers, it is reported, are desperate to boost their attack in light of last season’s relegation scrap. Everton are holding out for £10m for their 27-year-old striker, but the final offer is expected to be in the region of £9m and West Ham are confident that the Toffees will accept that.

Also in the paper is the news that Kevin-Prince Boateng will enter talks with Grant over a move – after the World Cup. The Ghana winger is available for transfer from Portsmouth and fancies linking up with Grant again at West Ham. The Hammers are not keen to pay more than £3.5m, but Pompey – who are still in administration – are looking for £5m. It is stated one player who will not going to Upton Park is France midfielder Sidney Govou. The player is out of contract at Lyon and West Ham were confident of bringing the talented winger to east London. It is thought Govou does not fancy the move and is now awaiting approaches from Spanish and Italian clubs – while Birmingham and Sunderland have also been keeping tabs.

Finally for this paper, there is confirmation that Alessandro Diamanti is the subject of a loan bid by Italian side Parma. Diamanti, who scored eight goals in his first season at Upton Park following a £7m move from Livorno, has constantly been linked with a move back to Italy. The article states the 27-year-old has struggled to adapt to the physical nature of the English game and was often left on the substitutes' bench during last season's relegation struggle. Avram Grant is keen to give the existing squad the chance to prove itself but could be persuaded to allow Diamanti to make the move back home.

Parma, who just missed out on a place in next season's Europa League, are desperate to add the talented playmaker to their ranks as they look to build on last year's eighth-placed finish. New Parma manager Pasquale Marino, who was unveiled at the start of the month, is a huge admirer of Diamanti and remains hopeful of landing his chief target. It is also disclosed that both Udinese and Palermo have enquired about a potential transfer. With that in mind, Grant will have the last say on all transfer matters and Diamanti's future rests solely in the Israeli's hands.

Elsewhere, West Ham have shown an interest in Rennes winger Sylvain Marveaux according to several sources. Marveaux, who has previously been linked with Chelsea and Manchester United, is one of the hottest young players in French football and has been compared to current Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda. It is thought that Rennes could sell Marveaux for around five million pounds as his contract expires at the end of 2010/2011. The 24-year-old, who plays predominantly on the left wing, scored 10 goals and provided five assists in 35 appearances for Rennes in 2009/2010.

And still we rumble on... this time with the Times who credit United with an approach for Matteo Contini, the Napoli defender. The 30-year-old has been on loan at Real Zaragoza, where he would prefer to play, but his agent has said that he is considering the interest from the London club. Zaragoza have until June 15 to exercise an option on Contini worth about £2 million. Come to think of it, I think I remember this same story from early January and it had no legs even then.

Next, a couple of pearls that will make or break the ITK careers of several forum posters. The runaway train that is Christopher Samba to West Ham picked up more speed yesterday with the claim that he has been seen house-hunting in Loughton. Seriously, if this thing crashes it will be carnage for several 'respected' insiders. Also, it has taken a few weeks but someone has finally popped this transfer window's seal on the perennial Juan Roman Riquelme rumour. We have supposedly spoken to the representatives of un-contracted former Argie great, who is currently recovering from knee surgery.

Finally, and there really is only one way to end on morning like this, West Ham United's academy director Tony Carr has been awarded an MBE for his services to football. Carr has spent 30 years at Upton Park and oversaw the development of seven players - Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry - in the current England squad. Carr, 59, said: "This was so unexpected and my reaction was one of disbelief. I'm very proud and pleased."

Friday, 11 June 2010

A Question of Chemistry

Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.

The owners of West Ham United insist they have not given up hope of bringing Joe Cole and Thierry Henry to the club. The club’s co-chairmen targeted Cole after Chelsea decided not to extend the former United midfielder’s stay. While Arsenal look to be favourites to sign Cole, David Gold stated he would not interrupt Cole’s England preparations. "We, as much as anyone, want England to do well so there’s absolutely no chance of us talking to Joe during the World Cup," he said. "After that, it’s a different matter. When it comes to big transfers we don’t like to leave any stone unturned. The chance of getting Cole is 10-1. We probably won’t get him but the offer is still there."

West Ham are also pursuing Barcelona striker Henry, with Gold adding: "There is the same chance of Henry coming but we will try. We had a chat with him for a bit but it looks like he is going to be offered another contract. The offer is still on the table for him too and it will be there for another two or three weeks." A third high-profile target is Everton centre forward Yakubu. It is thought the Hammers have now made two offers for the Nigerian striker and both have been rejected. After having an initial bid of £4 million turned down, West Ham moved in with a second offer of £7 million, but that too was rejected. David Sullivan remains convinced that Everton will sell, particularly as they now have an overload of forwards, having signed 20-year-old striker Joao Silva from Portuguese second division club Desportivo Das Aves.

Although Yakubu struggled with six goals last term, he was coming back from a serious achilles injury and Avram Grant believes he can recover his sharpness through the World Cup and extra pre-season training. The Mail reports Everton need the funds as they are keen on Manchester City's Craig Bellamy, Nedum Onuoha and Martin Petrov. Manager David Moyes is also said to be keen to bring in a couple of young players and does not want to sell Yakubu unless he has a guaranteed replacement lined up - plus a figure closer to the £11.25m he paid Middlesbrough in 2007.

The same paper also credits United with an interested in Tottenham's Adel Taarabt, 21, who was on loan at QPR last season. Other unsubstantiated names to be belched up from the ITK rumour machine include Chelsea stalwart Paulo Ferreira, Aston Villa defender Curtis Davis, Norwegian international Jarl André Storbæk, Saint-Etienne striker Gonzalo Rubén Bergessio and Blackburn defender Christopher Samba, who some remain convinced is very close to signing. There are also dark intimations of the return of a former player, but as yet no name.

Since taking over the club in January, Sullivan and Gold have made it clear they are intent on making a "marquee" signing that would boost the stature and commercial backing of the club. After failing in their quest to sign former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, the duo have turned their attention elsewhere. "We have had it in the past where we have thrown the net out far and we will throw the net out again in the future," Gold said. "When we were the owners of Birmingham City, nobody would have thought that we would have been able to get Christophe Dugarry but we did and he had an amazing half a season and he kept us in the Premier League." That said, the duo are at pains to emphasise they will not jeopardise the club's financial future by needlessly over-spending.

With the talk of big name arrivals it is easy to forget that the club will almost certainly be losing a few more players from the current squad. Playmaker Alessandro Diamanti is apparently very close to moving to Parma, according to Sky Italia. The 27-year-old former Livorno star was put on West Ham's transfer list at the end of last season along with every other member of their squad apart from Scott Parker. As suggested yesterday, Parma President Tommaso Ghirardi hopes to loan Diamanti with an option to sign him outright next summer. The Gialloblu are in a transition phase after Francesco Guidolin left for Udinese last month.

There are also several tabloid reports that Tottenham have contacted the club over the availability of Carlton Cole. The England striker, 26, has already been linked with Liverpool, Arsenal, Stoke and ­Birmingham, and this has supposedly prompted boss Harry Redknapp to make an early approach. Cole made an impressive start to last season, ending up with 10 goals as the ­Hammers just stayed up. Redknapp wants to boost his strike force ahead of Spurs’ Champions League campaign and Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko, Sevilla forward Luis Fabiano and Palermo’s Edinson Cavani also feature on his hitlist.

One person who will not be leaving the club, according to Gold, is England goalkeeper Robert Green. "He has two years left on his contract and we hope he will start the season and be with us for years to come so we are very happy with him," Gold said. "He is a world class goalkeeper and we want him to stay with us."

On a separate note, David Gold insists that Avram Grant was the stand-out candidate to fill the club's vacant managerial position. The likes of Slaven Bilic, Mark Hughes and Sam Allardyce were all linked with the position, but once Gold met with the former Portsmouth boss he knew immediately he was right for the job. "When you're searching for a manager the most important thing you look at is the chemistry," said Gold. "By the time you meet them, you've done all the reading and you know what they look like because you've seen them on television hundreds of times. When you meet with the person, though, you have to have that camaraderie or that instant chemistry that makes you think 'I can work with this person' and that was the case with Avram. He was head and shoulders above everyone else. He was superb in his company, I felt comfortable with him. We talked football and a three-hour meeting with him just flew by and I knew that was our man."

Thursday, 10 June 2010

It Goes On...

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on...

There is an old Jewish proverb that states 'he that can not endure the bad, will not live to see the good.' It would not be surprising if that thought passed through Avram Grant's mind as he
made his first visit to Chadwell Heath since finally being officially confirmed as West Ham United manager. After getting the green light to start work on Tuesday evening, Grant wasted no time in visited the club's training ground where he spoke to staff members about his plans and vision for the future of the club. The Israeli was also taken on a tour of the facilities, where he had the opportunity to view the newly re-laid training pitches, gymnasiums, medical treatment rooms, the canteen, indoor pitch and media centre.

Grant was clearly in good spirits, having had his work permit application rubber-stamped by the Home Office. "I am very happy to be able to start work," said the manager. "Everything is in place now to start work properly and I am looking forward to it. It was good to be at the training ground at last and meet the staff." The 55-year-old will spend the next three weeks preparing for the start of pre-season on Monday 5 July, six days before the World Cup Final in Johannesburg, and by then he will be hopeful of having most of his signings in place. To that end, he was clearly "delighted" to have already added Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger to the squad.

Grant has not been sitting idly since his appointment last week. He was at England's clash with Japan in Austria, played a part in the signing of Hitzlsperger from Lazio, and is now keen for more to arrive sooner rather than later. Predictably, Portsmouth trio Marc Wilson, Tel Ben-Haim and Kevin-Prince Boateng have all been spoken about as potential targets, while there are conflicting reports that the club have already spoken to left back Nadir Belhadj, who could be considering an offer. Grant revealed he has identified the areas in need of strengthening. "I can't wait for July because I like to work on the pitch," he said. "The next two or three weeks is important because we can sign players, take care of the staff and get everything in place for the start of training."

Vastly experienced in European and international football, the manager is well aware of the standing of the club at home and abroad. He has pledged to take the club forward in a respectful way. "This is a club with a lot of history," he added. "It is a big history but our face is now for the future. It is right that we remember and respect the tradition of the club but our target is to move forward. We will play attacking football but attack with intelligence and balance. This is what the fans expect and how we want to develop."

Grant's visit proved propitious, coinciding as it did with the news that former manager Gianfranco Zola has finally reached a satisfactory financial settlement with West Ham United. The League Managers Association confirmed that Zola and the club have settled all issues in relation to his departure in May. A West Ham United statement said: "West Ham United would like to thank Gianfranco Zola for his efforts during his time at the club. We would like to thank both him and the LMA for their professionalism in reaching a satisfactory settlement and we wish Gianfranco well for the future."

It was believed Zola was looking for a year's pay, worth £1.9 million, which West Ham were reluctant to meet. Eventually the two sides reached a compromise. Now the Italian has set his sights on a swift return to management. Zola was sacked after the end of the season despite saving West Ham from relegation. "I thoroughly enjoyed my time at West Ham and I will always be very grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to manage in the Premier League, especially at a club with such a great tradition in positive and attractive football," he said. "I am looking forward to finding a new challenge in the game and returning to management as soon as possible."

The West Ham job was Zola's first managerial post and although he enjoyed a fine first season, guiding the club to a ninth-placed finish and earning a new four-year contract, the Hammers struggled to avoid relegation last term. David Gold and David Sullivan took over the club in January and Zola always appeared to be on borrowed time. A number of negative public comments from Sullivan did not help the Italian's situation and it was no surprise when he was relieved of his post.

The League Managaer Association's chief executive, Richard Bevan, has backed Zola to make a quick return to the dugout. "He is a talented young manager and I am sure he will be back working in the game, passing on his knowledge and sharing his enjoyment of football with a new group of players," Bevan said. "The LMA shares Gianfranco's disappointment at him leaving West Ham but would like to acknowledge the club's assistance in resolving matters quickly and amicably."

United also confirmed that assistant manager Steve Clarke has officially left the club. Clarke's exit had been expected and was pending the compensation package with Gianfranco Zola being finalised. Clarke told the club's official website: "I have enjoyed my time at West Ham. I was looking for a fresh challenge in football before I arrived and I certainly got that. It was a good experience which will help me in the future. I would particularly like to thank the fans for all their support and the players and staff for their efforts. I will follow the club's progress with interest and I am sure, with the new stability off the pitch, that the team will have every opportunity to do well next season."

Despite the changes currently sweeping through the club, West Ham co-owner Sullivan has confessed that the East End club remain "in intensive care" with a debt mountain to manage. For that reason Sullivan and Gold are taking a hands-on approach to the big financial issues, including the buying and selling of players this summer, having now appointed Grant as manager. Sullivan, together with managing director Karren Brady, insists he will run a tight ship regarding the numerous comings and goings expected at Upton Park during the summer transfer window.

A financial report on the Premier League this week detailed how clubs are spending more money on players and much too large a percentage of their income on salaries and transfer fees, but many clubs, notably West Ham, are making huge efforts to cut both areas to make their business far more sustainable. Sullivan told Soccernet: "I am working hard at the moment. You would think I am the unpaid director of football as well and a lot more. Yes, I'm very hands on, involved with the club at all levels. The club is still in intensive care and it needs our maximum care. I'm involved with Karren at every level, from ticket prices, to pre-season friendlies, finding new investors. Nothing of any significance happens at the cub without my input."

Sullivan and Gold inherited debts of £110 million when they took control in January and have been busy slashing those debts to around £95 million. The balancing act for the new owners is to find the right players at the right price, but also to entertain offers for their stars players only if market value can be maximised. The futures of Matthew Upson and Robert Green will both be looked at when they return from World Cup duty with England. Meanwhile a stunning £16.5million price tag has been placed on Carlton Cole. "If Darren Bent is worth £16.5m then so is he," reasoned Sullivan. "Bent has proved he's worth every penny. They are like for like and worth the same."

In other news, Onyekachi Apam has suggested he may shun a move to England to stay in France. West Ham have been linked with a bid for the Nice defender, who can play right-back or centre-half. Apam was named in Nigeria's 30-man preliminary squad for the World Cup, but he failed to make the cut due to injury. Now he is looking to his own future and a number of clubs are understood to be tracking him. Sky are reporting that Rennes, who have sold Petter Hansson to Monaco, are very keen on him and Apam admits he could be tempted. "After four years at the club, I want to leave Nice for the next level in my career," said Apam. "I learned a lot during these four seasons at Nice, but the latter was more difficult with injuries and a whole season to play the continuation. I want to see something else, even progress."

Asked about where he would like to move, he said: "I do not really have a preference, I like both clubs. But Rennes is a team with ambition and I want to stay in France to continue to grow. Also, in Rennes, I know Frederic Antonetti - he was my coach for three seasons at Nice. I have the chance to work with him because he is a coach who made me grow a lot, it gave me confidence in my abilities. I have no priority between Rennes and West Ham, but Rennes is interesting."

Another name to keep an eye on could be Serbian defender Duško Tošić. Certain ITK rumblings have United showing an interest in the former Sochaux and Werder Bremen player who was briefly at Portsmouth last season. The perilous financial situation at Pompey caused the Premier League to withhold Tošić's registration and he was forced to leave within a month of signing despite still being, as of now, under contract. Tosic ended up joining Queens Park Rangers on loan in March and he impressed during his spell at Loftus Road. As he has not been registered at Fratton Park, Tosic can leave on a free transfer and a number of clubs are keeping tabs on the full-back's situation. Sky names Bolton, Celtic, Leeds and Turkish champions Bursaspor as interested parties.

The player's agent, Zoran Krneta of Star Signings, admits a number of clubs are chasing Tosic and that the 25-year-old would prefer to stay in England. "There are a few clubs interested in Dusko but he's taking his time and wants to make the right decision after what happened previously at Portsmouth," Krneta told Sky Sports. "There are a few offers from abroad but at this time he would prefer to stay in England." Finally, it will surprise nobody if Alessandro Diamanti departs the club this summer, with Parma seeming the most likely destination. However, it will raise a few eyebrows if the deal that facilitates the move turns out to be some form of loan arrangement, as seems to be the whisper at the moment.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Avram Granted Permit

West Ham United manager Avram Grant has had his work permit application approved by the Home Office and is now free to start work at the Boleyn Ground. Theresa May was obviously very eager for Grant to concentrate all his energies on preparing the Hammers for the new Premier League season. The vastly-experienced 55-year-old agreed a four-year contract with the club last week and joins shortly after leading Portsmouth to the FA Cup final.

Chairman David Gold expressed his pleasure that the new manager's arrival had been rubber-stamped. "Avram is very charismatic, he has great humour and I believe that he will be, hopefully, one of the great managers that West Ham have had in years," said Mr Gold. "I am absolutely delighted with the choice. I feel we've chosen a very special man." The Israeli, who also took Chelsea to the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final, will now finalise the makeup of his backroom staff. First out of the door could be fitness coach Antonio Pintus, who is set to leave today.

Grant has already spoken of his enthusiasm at taking on the "exciting challenge" of managing West Ham. Having made his first signing of the summer with the capture of midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger on a free transfer at the weekend, the official site states he will spend the next few months working alongside Mr Sullivan and Mr Gold to bring more high-profile signings to the club.

One such target could be Onyekachi Apam. According to today's Times, United have had a £2 million bid for the Nigerian international rejected by Nice, who value the player at twice that amount. The imposing central defender was a key member of the Nigerian side that finished as runner-up at the 2005 World Youth championships and gained a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He was excellent at the African Cup of Nations that same year, but has not always had the recognition he feels he deserves at full international level. Onyekachi has already been linked with moves to Ligue 1 heavyweights Marseille and Lyon but admits he has his heart set on a switch to the English Premier League. "My aim is to play for one of the top-five clubs in the world," he states. "To this end, a good World Cup is a must for me." The Mirror claims Rennes have already offered £3million for the 23-year-old.

The same article confirms United have also been turned down by Sidney Govou, the Lyons and France forward, who feels that he will obtain a better offer after playing in the World Cup finals. He has one year left on his contract and has attracted interest from several other clubs. Another to slip through the net could be Dieumerci Mbokani. It was revealed yesterday that the club have made an inquiry about the Democratic Republic of Congo striker, but Fulham are thought to be closing in on an £8million deal for the 24-year-old. The Cottagers took the opportunity to hold talks with Standard Liege bosses in London on Tuesday over Mbokani, while reports in Belgium suggest Craven Cottage is the player's preferred destination.

Elsewhere, this morning's Sun insists United have 'joined the chase' to land Andrew Driver after Hearts threw out Burnley's £1.5million offer for the winger. Premier League rivals Wigan are also keen but reports yesterday that Chelsea have enquired about the 22-year-old are believed to be wide of the mark. The Sun think Gordon Strachan's Middlesbrough also remain in the hunt but whether they are willing to meet Vladimir Romanov's £4m price tag remains to be seen. They believe Hearts would consider accepting a loan fee with a fixed option for a permanent deal, which could prove attractive to interested clubs. Roman Bednar left Tynecastle in similar circumstances to join up with West Brom three seasons ago before sealing a £2.5m move the next year. Driver, meanwhile, is still awaiting confirmation from FIFA regarding his eligibility to play for Scotland.

The same paper claims David Gold last night opened the door for a bidding war on England keeper Robert Green. The 29-year-old Hammers No 1 has yet to be offered a new deal with just one year left on his contract. Gold, who believes Green will be Fabio Capello's first choice in South Africa, said: "At this stage we are not going to have talks with him about a new deal. World Cups change lives. It's the global shop window and who knows what may happen. We could get amazing offers - offers you can't refuse. What do you do if Manchester United or Real Madrid, for example, come in offering millions of pounds?" Gold added: "We have to see how Robert feels and consider the new manager's view. He will take the squad on a pre-season tour and judge Robert with everybody else."

In other news, Aston Villa are said to be leading the chase for Bulgarian star Martin Petrov. O’Neill hopes to get the international winger on a free transfer after he was released by Roberto Mancini yesterday. According to several sources, he faces competition from Everton, Spurs, Stoke, and Bolton. West Ham are also credited with an interest in the player, who is seeking one final two-year deal.

Finally, the official site have today put up a curious little article concerning Liam Ridgewell's recent appearance at Tony Carr's recent testimonial. The 'versatile' Birmingham City defender has just enjoyed a great season with the Blues, we are told, with the player having 'excelled' ever since a switch three years ago from local rivals Aston Villa. Aged 25, he is one of the Premier League's 'most reliable performers'. Ridgewell is not a Midlands man, we are reminded. He is a Londoner who forged his football career in Tony Carr's Academy and owes much of his success to his early days at Little Heath. Although he ultimately left the Hammers to join the Villa set-up back in 2001, he has never forgotten his original claret and blue roots. I swear there is a subtext here but I can't quite put my finger on it. If only the people who run our club were not so damn subtle.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Blips On The Radar

Thomas Hitzlsperger has spoken of the "destiny" of playing for West Ham United as Der Hammer prepares for life at the Boleyn. The Germany midfielder earned his fitting nickname during his five-season stay at Aston Villa because of his powerful left foot and long-range shooting. The alias stuck during a hugely successful spell over the next five years at VfB Stuttgart, during which time he helped them to the Bundesliga title and two cracks at the UEFA Champions League.

As such, it is apt that 'The Hammer' has signed on with the Hammers, having passed a medical in England on Saturday before concluding the deal and then heading back to his home city of Munich on a high. He will report for pre-season training a month today under new manager Avram Grant - who today received his work permit - ready to live up to his nickname once more.

"It is destiny," he told whufc.com. "I knew that West Ham were called The Hammers and it has actually always been on my mind whether I would play for the club one day. I am really pleased to be a Hammer. It is nice and it suits perfectly to be at West Ham. Hopefully people will be talking about my nickname a lot because that will mean I will be doing my job and scoring some goals as well."

Hitzlsperger - whose signed for Lazio in January of this year, but only played four times - admitted that his time in Serie A had not gone as planned, but hinted that this makes him more determined to succeed in his second spell in the Premier League. "The manager who signed me at Lazio got sacked after a week and the new manager didn't fancy me," he revealed. "They were in a relegation battle and he felt he needed players with experience of the league who spoke the language. I tried my best and worked very hard in training but he didn't pick me. That happens sometimes. It was frustrating but you just have to get on with it. [So] my contract came to an end and I wanted to move on. I have always wanted to come back to the Premier League; I had a really good time when I was in England and I knew this is where I wanted to be."

Having just turned 28, the German is convinced he has his best years still ahead of him. "I want to establish myself very quickly," he said. "I am raring to go with the experience I have had in Italy. I want to prove myself and play week in and week out, but I know I have to show what I can do. We have perfect conditions for a good season and I am really looking forward. The fans are looking forward, they are optimistic and we have to give them reasons to be excited. We will see where that takes us."

Certainly he needed little persuading to head to east London when the opportunity arose - flying to London to get the deal done at the end of last week. "My agent spoke to the club and there was good interest," revealed Hitzlsperger. "The manager was really keen, the chairman was very positive and it felt right. There were plenty of other clubs but it was West Ham that showed the most interest and wanted me. I don't think there will be any shocks for me and I know the league well. I know a few things about the club and I am sure I will learn more when I am there. I will try to integrate into it as quickly as I can. There is no language barrier so it is just about getting there, meeting all my team-mates and working hard. I am looking forward to it. I want to establish myself very quickly."

Elsewhere, West Ham are one of two clubs thought to be holding talks with representatives of striker Dieumerci Mbokani. The Congolese forward currently plays for struggling Standard Liege in Belgium, where he is contracted until until 2014. However the chances of Mbokani remaining with Les Rouches appear slim after it was revealed that his agent is in London this week to hold talks with both United and Fulham over a proposed move.

Liege - who underperformed massively last season, finishing just ninth in the Jupiter Pro League (the top tier in Belgian football) - are understood to be looking to sell the 24-year-old striker for around €12million in order to ease the club's financial worries. It is unclear at this stage whether that would be within the club's budget, with an initial loan deal perhaps the more likely approach.

Mbokani arrived in Europe in 2006 when he joined Anderlecht from the Lubumbashi-based Tout Puissant Mazembe. He arrived in Belgium having scored 67 goals in 72 starts for the Congolese side, but managed only nine starts for RSC, scoring four goals (including a hat-trick against Roeselare in May 2007). After just 12 months at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium he moved to Liege, where he has subsequently bagged 34 goals in 79 appearances. Since making his international debut in 2006 Mbokani - whose forename apparently means 'thank you God' - has notched eight times for his country (in 14 appearances).

The forward is an exciting but unpredictable talent who has developed a reputation for ill discipline on and off the pitch. A fiery temper has landed him in trouble with the football authorities, while poor timekeeping coupled with a fondness for the nightlife has brought him into regular conflict with his various clubs. Should Mbokani sign he would be linking up with compatriot Herita Ilunga.

Meanwhile, Algerian ace Nadir Belhadj is said to be coveted by a host of clubs from around Europe. Sky Sports are reporting that Portsmouth's left-sided star is one of the club's most prized assets and the cash strapped South Coast outfit are ready to cash in. The interest is strong with Premier League clubs West Ham and Bolton amongst those who are vying for his signature. The former Lyon and Lens man also has interest emanating from Italy and Germany. Roman giants Lazio have lodged an interest, with Bundesliga sides Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Stuttgart also monitoring the situation.

Finally, today's Express credits the club with an interest in taking the bin-dwelling Jimmy Bullard on loan from Hull, while several ITKs suggest Djibril Cissé, wife-beating Lord of Frodsham, is blipping on the radar.

Sing When You're Winning

The following post is a 'proper naughty' interview with Danny Dyer. It is the latest in an occasional series about West Ham supporting celebrities, taken from last month's FourFourTwo magazine.

Sing When You're Winning With... Danny Dyer
By Nick Moore

How come you're a West Ham fan?

I was brought up in Custom House, east London, so I was always aware of them. My dad took me to my first match when I was nine. It was against Coventry and we lost 1-0. The thing I loved most was the walk there. It was a joyous two miles- everyone coming out of the houses and heading for the ground. The anticipation, the community. It was a real buzz.

Were you hooked straight away?

Yeah. I used to love watching my dad's face getting so excited. Football was our only real time together. He'd take me to the pub afterwards and talk about Billy Bonds. I didn't understand, but I'd ask a million questions.

What's so special about the club?

Upton Park is an old school ground bang in the middle of a council estate. It's never really changed. Back in the day there was a real edge to the place. I also like that being a West Ham fan isn't about glory hunting. In the 80's there was nobody running round east London in [Man] United tops- they supported the local side. The ticket prices are bollocks, though. I used to pay £2.50, but it's a joke now. They've forgotten about the ordinary man.

Who were your favourite players?

Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie. The great thing for me was doing that Sky One thing where I got to play with them in a West Ham kit. I was so frustrated because I didn't train for it. I could see a run, but my body wouldn't do it. But what a buzz- Cottee laying the ball off... to me! He is a gentleman, too.

Who is West Ham's biggest hardnut?

McAvennie was a wildman. He loves a booze. When I put my shinpads on, he said: "What do you need those for?" He never wore them in 20 years. And Julian Dicks was an animal. I remember him having a go at Vinnie Jones once and Vinnie was shitting himself. His arsehole fell out. Dicks epitomised West Ham. When he kissed that badge, he meant it.

What was the best game you ever saw?

For all the wrong reasons, the FA Cup final in 2006 when we lost to Liverpool. I thought we'd won at 3-2 up. I finally knew what it was like to win! But then the guy on the intercom said, "There will be four minutes of extra-time," and fucking Steven Gerrard hit that shot.

You had a run-in with Liverpool fans...

Jamie Redknapp got me tickets in the hospitality bit of the Liverpool end. We went 2-0 up and I was jumping around like a lunatic. I was getting grief, but what do they expect? Then the Scouse mob started to turn on me. I thought: fuck you, you've won everything. When they equalised, there were fans making their way up 20 rows of steps to call me a wanker. I spewed my ring up afterwards.

You recently did Dead Man Running, a film funded by Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole. What were they like?

They're both great. Ashley gets a bad press. he's probably one of the most hated men in the country. Admittedly that fucking book was badly advised. To moan about being on sixty grand- you can't do that. But the time I've spent with him, he's been a gent. West Ham fans might hate me for saying that, but you've got to take people as you find them.

Did you chat about football with your co-star 50 cent?

Yeah, I didn't know 50 liked football. He was obsessed with the cockney thing, though. Especially jellied eels. He just couldn't get his head round them.

Do you banter with any fellow thesps?

Nick Love is a Millwall nut, but it's hard to banter with their fans though, because they're shit. And what happened at Upton Park with the riot was horrendous. Forty-year-old geezers rushing onto the pitch, calling Millwall players wankers? Embarrassing. Weirdly, it was probably good press for Nick, because it happened two weeks before The Firm was released. It was mad timing.

You've done a lot of 'hardman' programmes. Do you enjoy that tag?

I'm not hard. Yes, I'm from a tough background, I've got a Cockney accent and a bit of a swagger, although fuck knows where that comes from. I'm not a twat and i don't suffer fools, but I've never once claimed to be a hard man. These shows are jobs. I don't swan around like I'm the same as these men. I couldn't stand up and have it- I felt like a child around them. Some people think I'm a cliche, but what can I do?

How do you see West Ham's future?

We're a selling club now and it's not right. i don't know what's happening with us at the minute, I'm finding it hard to read the papers. If we go down, I fear we're fucked. We won't be coming back. but I like Zola and Clark, and I think we're too good to go down. We've been having some bad luck, and hopefully it'll turn around.

Best moment?

Being promoted back to the Premiership with Alan Pardew. A great day, and we got to see West Ham with a cup. We hadn't won one since the FA Cup in 1980!

Worst moment?

The 2006 FA Cup final- I haven't watched it since the day the Scousers were getting in my face. You can buy it in the West Ham shop, it was such a proud performance, but I can't face it. I feel sick thinking about that day.


Bobby Moore. I liked Ian Bishop, Martin Allen, Cottee and Dicks, but as an all-time hero you can't really look beyond Bobby.


Craig Bellamy. He's a fucking snake. He couldn't wait to jump ship. I don't want him at my club, anyway.

Dream Signing?

Kaka would look good in a West Ham shirt. But, fuck it, I'll say Ronaldo- flash twat, but phenomenal too.

Monday, 7 June 2010

In A League Of Her Own

With the start of the World Cup less than a week away, West Ham news is slower than molasses in winter, emptier than a beer closet in a premises where painters have been at work (Twain?) and patchier than 90 minutes of Jonathan Spector at leftback (my mate Ned)...

West Ham are reportedly upping their efforts to sign 40 year old Everton striker Yakubu now Avram Grant has been confirmed as the club's new manager. Grant is set to take charge at Upton Park later this month once he is issued a work permit. The club have already sealed the signing of Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger as Grant looks to revamp a squad that narrowly escaped Premier League relegation last season. According to several news reports, the former Portsmouth and Chelsea boss is keen on a reunion with Yabuku, a player he coached when in charge of Israeli side Maccabi Haifa during Yukubu's spell at the club from 2002-03.

The Mail states Everton could look to off-load the injury-plagued striker after the arrival of Jermain Beckford on a free transfer last week. It is thought Goodison Park boss David Moyes would seek upwards of £6million for the Nigeria international. West Ham are understood to have already had a £5m offer rejected. Yakubu is currently preparing to participate in this summer's World Cup with Nigeria, and netted in a 3-1 friendly win over North Korea. Despite his injury problems Yakubu has an impressive scoring record for the Toffees. He has netted 32 times in 66 appearances since joining from Middlesbrough in 2007.

Other unsubstantiated susurrations from the recondite Cockney deepthroats that haunt the various United forums include a deal agreed for Blackburn Rover's hulking man-giant Christopher Samba; a move for want-away Middlesbrough defender David Wheater; a tentative approach for Tottenham's doggedly mediocre Jermaine Jenas; talks with Lecce's veteran Uruguayan Guillermo Giacomazzi; a cursory interest in Celtic's Aiden McGeady (yes please, but also no fucking chance!) and the sad, imminent departure of Alessandro Diamanti, possibly to Parma, almost certainly for considerably less than the one-paced, one-footed, one-trick maestro is worth. Shine on you crazy diamond.

In other news the salacious details of Benni McCarthy's axe from the South African World Cup squad are slowly coming to light. News reports in Johannesburg say the married Bafana Bafana star was left out of the final selection after he apparently 'entertained women' in the early hours of the morning in his luxury hotel room in Sandton. Frankly, I would've thought Benni doing any form of physical activity should be encouraged at this point but that's just me. This was also the reason why goalkeeper Rowen Fernandes was cut from the team.

Sources in the camp told City Press that McCarthy and Fernandes were apparently entertaining women at 04:00 on Thursday morning at their hotel. Coach Carlos Parreira was furious and immediately decided to cut the two from the team after security showed him CCTV tapes of McCarthy and Fernandes taking the women up to the room. The incident took place shortly after the South African team’s pen-ultimate practice match (before the final team was announced) against Colombia. It had been believed until now that McCarthy had been left out of the team because he was overweight and unfit. Several sources, including a top soccer official and a hotel staff member who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed the events.

Fernandes initially denied the report and McCarthy would say only that "the final squad is a tough call for any coach to make and I am sure it was not made without heartache." Benni then thanked the team's technical staff for helping him with his physical shape after recovering from a niggling knee injury. His exclusion did not come as a surprise. "No one's place in the final squad is a given," he said, before insisting he pushed himself to the limits to make the cut. "I am proud to have been given the privilege to have been capped in the South African national squad, unfortunately this time it was not to be."

Finally, the following article appeared in yesterday's Observer and I'm putting it here for want of knowing what else to do with it. It is a profile of Karren Brady (who I shall henceforth call 'Kaen' to compensate for the excessive use of R's in her name)...

Businesswoman Karren Brady seems to operate best in the world of male mavericks, of outsider, outspoken, I-did-it-my-way entrepreneurs.

Her main patrons have been the former publishers of the Sport newspapers and sometime porn barons Davids Sullivan and Gold; Alan Sugar hired her to replace Margaret Mountford on The Apprentice.

Now Philip Green has appointed her as the first female board member of his Arcadia retail group. There's not a MBA between them.

Looking at that line-up of employers, you might be forgiven for concluding that her success must be due to her being one of the boys, someone you can curse in front of and she's not going to report you to HR, that she's a barrow boy's idea of a businesswoman.

Some of this might be true. Successive interviewers have noted Brady's no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to business, even calling her "bossy" – well, she is the boss, that's what she's good at – but if that was where Brady's qualities ended she'd never have got so far.

To take Birmingham City FC from administration into profit as a 23-year-old managing director, one would expect her skills and talents to be something altogether more sophisticated, more strategic than the approving description David Sullivan gave her – "a sacker".

Brady is one of the handful of British businesswomen whose names spring easily to mind, a reminder of the obstacles women have to deal with when trying to get ahead in business. But what is curious about Brady is that if business is still a man's world, she always seems to find herself in the most manly bit of it. And thrives there. She is often described as the "first woman of football", but you could equally call her the first woman in football or, indeed, the only woman in football. This woman-in-a-macho-world factor helps explain our fascination with her. Indeed, you could argue that it's put her on the women-in-the-workplace front line.

Brady's motivation to make money was fixed early. She was born in Edmonton, north London, in 1969. Her father was a self-made millionaire who made his fortune, complete with swimming pool, holidays in Barbados and Rolls-Royce, from his printing business while she was growing up.

Not surprisingly, money was a driver in the Brady household. When hockey-loving Brady was selected to play for her country, rather than saying: "Well done", her father remarked that there was no money to be made from hockey. As Brady recalls: "It put me off for ever." She spent her secondary years at a convent boarding school and her ease with male environments is probably explained by her choice of sixth form, another boarding school where she was one of six girls to 600 boys. As she said recently: "You had to learn to adapt… you develop your own integrity, your control of your own space. It grows you a thicker skin."

She didn't let boys distract her from studies; she got four A-levels, but wasn't interested in taking a gap year and doing a degree: "I wanted to earn my own money."

After working at Saatchi & Saatchi, she moved on to LBC where she sold advertising airtime to, among others, the then owner of the Sport, David Sullivan. He soon spent £2m with her and she found her commission outstripping the rest of her team's combined.

Impressed with her forceful sales technique, or possibly just to save himself some money, Sullivan offered Brady a directorship which she accepted. Then, after spotting a for-sale ad in the Financial Times, she convinced Sullivan to buy Birmingham City which was in administration. He made the 23-year-old managing director. Sometimes, she'd say she was 25 because she thought people would take her more seriously. A sex-change might have been more helpful; it took football a while to adjust to a young, single, glamorous women being in charge. At her first press conference, she was questioned about her "vital statistics" rather than the ones on the balance sheet.

When she met the squad, one Birmingham player quipped: "I can see your tits in that shirt", to which Brady replied: "Well, don't worry, when I sell you to Crewe, you won't be able to see them from there, will you?" He was transferred soon after.

She was banned from the men-only Notts County boardroom and when visiting other opponents' grounds would often find herself being led to the wives' seating rather than the directors' box. Birmingham manager Barry Fry reveals in his autobiography: "We initially dismissed her as a 'bimbo', but soon realised she was 'one hard bastard'" – probably when she sacked him.

So you could say she's had to deal with a certain amount of sexism in the workplace. But she was unbothered by it: "I was very confident of my own ability, who I was, what I was planning to do, and what other people thought of me was utterly irrelevant."

By the time she left Birmingham in October 2009, she had floated the club on the stock market, becoming the youngest MD of a PLC and the club was in the Premiership. And she'd taken the business from being in administration to being valued at £82m in a takeover by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung.

Her exit from Birmingham was preceded by the only blemish on her CV: being arrested during an investigation into the corruption of football transfers; she denied any wrongdoing and no charges were brought. At the time, Arsenal were interviewing for a new managing director and it was reported that lifelong Arsenal fan Brady was cut from their shortlist because of this unwelcome attention.

However, most of the time, attention is something she seems to embrace – from the time she flashed a bit of thigh for the photographers in a Birmingham football kit. Early on, she probably realised she didn't have much choice and, being the only single woman in football, her love life was scrutinised by the tabloids.

They didn't have long to wait. In 1995 she married Canadian centre-forward Paul Peschisolido. Professionally, they'd had an on-off relationship on account of her selling him on from Birmingham, yet the romance is more stable and they have two children. She received some flak for returning to work three days after the birth of her first-born, Sophia, and now claims to "regret that deeply" – she took six weeks off after the birth of Paolo.

Later, in 2006, she was informed by doctors that surviving these births was a minor miracle. They discovered she had a brain aneurysm that could have easily burst under the strain of childbirth. In true Brady style, she had neurosurgery to remove it and was sending emails two days later.

A month on, she captained a team to victory on the celebrity version of The Apprentice for Comic Relief, which led to a move on to the regular series and helping Sugar interrogate the final five contestants. Now with Margaret Mountford leaving the show, Brady is one of Sugar's lieutenants; she's currently on Junior Apprentice, putting precocious teens though their entrepreneurial paces. However, Sugar is still doing the sacking.

Meanwhile, Gold and Sullivan bought another football club, West Ham, and installed Brady as vice-president. The day after the final game of the season, they left Brady to sack the club's well-liked but hapless manager, Gianfranco Zola. He is now in dispute with the club over his severance package; the club say he is due niente.

So with the "sacker" being installed on the board, should Arcadia employees be checking the terms of their employment contracts? Well, in order to take the role, Brady has had to step down from her non-executive position at Mothercare and it appears her seven years there were relatively stable. She also holds non-executive directorships at Channel 4 and Kerrang! with little controversy.

But you have to wonder why, after turning round Birmingham City, she wasn't snapped up by a household name to transform their fortunes. Instead, she's teamed up again with Sullivan and Gold in the gaudy world of football. One could speculate that the business world is wary of the unreal world of football finance or that she's not considered a member of the corporate establishment, like Brahmin-type females such as Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino.

But then again, maybe that's just how she likes it.


Born 4 April 1969 to an Italian mother and an Irish father. Attended a convent school in Hertfordshire and a boarding school in Elstree. Married to former Birmingham striker Paul Peschisolido, the couple have two children, Sophia and Paolo.

Best of times Brady was made managing director of Birmingham City in 1993 aged 23. Within a year, she had taken the club from administration to a trading profit. In 2007, she was voted Businesswoman of the Year. The next year, she received the Spirit of Everywoman award, acknowledging her achievements for women in business.

Worst of times Though no charges were brought, Brady's arrest during an investigation into corruption in football transfers reportedly cost her the job of managing director at Arsenal. The discovery of a brain aneurysm in 2006 led to an emergency operation.

They say "We initially dismissed her as a bimbo, but soon realised she was one hard bastard.'' – Barry Fry, former manager of Birmingham City

She says "I always laugh when I read about sexism cases. Somebody referred to [a woman's] bottom as an apple or something. Then I remember what I had to go through. I think – really? That upset you? I don't think it bothered me. I was very confident of my own ability."

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Der Hammer Time

West Ham have announced the signing of the Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger on a three-year deal. The 28-year-old will join the club on a free transfer on 1 July following the expiry of his contract at the Italian side Lazio. Hitzlsperger becomes the first new arrival at Upton Park this summer as the club aim to rebuild after narrowly avoiding relegation last season.

It is understood David Sullivan pulled off the signing after meeting the player on Friday, with the capture described as a “big-money deal” as far as Hitzlsperger’s personal terms go. The experienced midfielder reportedly had five ­offers on the table from Premier League clubs. ­According to several newspaper reports, Tottenham’s pursuit ­began in February when they ­discovered the German was out of contract in the summer. Everton, Birmingham and Stoke all made tempting offers to the ­player and his representative. His original desire was to join a side playing in ­Europe, but he refused to rule out making a move to a club with ambitions that met his own.

With Avram Grant due to be installed as manager later this month – subject to a successful work-permit application – the West Ham co-owner expressed his satisfaction with the direction the club is taking. "I am delighted to welcome Thomas to the club," Sullivan told the West Ham official club website. "We had to move quickly to secure his services when he became available, especially as there was understandably so much interest in him from around Europe and back in Germany. I am especially pleased that he is excited by what we are trying to achieve here at West Ham. He is the first of many signings this summer. We are going to sign a mixture of exciting young talent as well as the very best senior pros who can add real strength to the squad, like Thomas. He is still a young man but has massive experience."

Nicknamed "The Hammer" because of his powerful left foot, Hitzlsperger should find favour among the West Ham fans, and Sullivan expects great things from the former Bayern Munich youth player. "Thomas is a top-quality player who I know the fans will love – and not just because of his nickname," Sullivan added. "He is a wholehearted midfielder with an eye for a goal who gives everything in every match."

Hitzlsperger has previous experience of Premier League football, having spent several seasons at Aston Villa between 2000 and 2005. He began his career at Bayern before joining Villa at the age of 18, making his debut for the club in 2001 and going on to make 114 appearances, scoring 12 goals. He returned to Germany with Stuttgart in the summer of 2005, and went on to lift the Bundesliga title with them two years later. He joined Lazio in January this year but made only five appearances before his short-term deal expired. Hitzlsperger has won over 50 caps for the German national side but missed out on a place in Joachim Löw's World Cup squad this summer.

Is There Balm In Gilead?

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Avram Grant's appointment as West Ham manager by David Gold and David Sullivan appears a bespoke fit for club and manager, writes Jamie Jackson in the Guardian. The Israeli can silence the two Davids and bring stability to West Ham; whilst the appointment offers Grant the chance he has always craved: to build a successful team over a number of years. If he is to realise that ambition, notes Jackson, he will first have to convince the hard-to-please constituency found among all football fans, a challenge the Israeli coasted through in his previous two appointments in England.

By taking Chelsea to within a John Terry penalty miss of claiming the 2008 Champions League, then following this up with the small miracle of leading Portsmouth to this season's FA Cup final while the club imploded around him, Grant shrugged off the arriviste label unfairly stuck on him when succeeding José Mourinho at Stamford Bridge in September 2007. Grant had only got that gig, the prevailing logic went, because he was big friends with Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's billionaire owner, writes Jackson. The English section of Grant's CV now features trips to the FA Cup and Champions League finals, further runners-up spots in the 2008 Carling Cup and 2007-08 Premier League (both with Chelsea), plus evidence of sizeable reserves of tenacity and dignity displayed while steering Portsmouth through their annus horribilis.

Gold and Sullivan will have noted how four owners, a transfer embargo, the nine-point penalty for entering administration, subsequent relegation to the Championship and his players' knowledge that most would not be performing at Fratton Park next season did not stop Grant from coming within another missed spot-kick (by Kevin-Prince Boateng) of giving Chelsea a major scare at Wembley in the Cup final. Once the full extent of how he had been misled by the Portsmouth hierarchy became clear Grant's mantra was that he could not care less if there had been £100 or £10m to spend. All that mattered was to be told the budget by his bosses, then know that this sum would not change each time he arrived for training.

Grant stated when deliberating over his Portsmouth future that his preference was for long-term residency at a club, so that he could have the opportunity to do what the 55-year-old craves: to build a successful team over a number of years. All of this will be sweet-sounding to Sullivan and Gold, notes Jackson. On taking over West Ham in January they declared that mammoth cuts were required to clear the mess left by the regime of Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the Icelandic owner whose gift to the club was a £100m hole in the finances.

So, will Grant's appointment have the Boleyn Ground unconditionally swooning? It seems doubtful concludes Jackson. A quick sample of West Ham supporters and neutrals suggests the naysayers feel a younger, more dynamic figure than Grant should be the man to push the club on. Or that the jury remains out regarding the true measure of his managerial smarts, despite his achievements at Portsmouth and Chelsea.

What all Hammers enthusiasts are certainly getting, though, is a man who is unfazed by Gold and Sullivan's insistence so far in managing the team from the directors' box, as Gianfranco Zola, Grant's predecessor, endured. Who knows: the man known as "The Magician" in Israel could be the manager to silence the two Davids, while bringing stability and glory to a club whose last taste came 30 years ago, courtesy of Trevor Brooking's header against Arsenal in the 1980 FA Cup final.

There are, as ever, mixed opinions regarding Grant in his native Israeli. The last 7-8 months of his time at Portsmouth have earned him a lot of credit within the Israeli sports media, yet Haim Baram, a well-respected Israeli football pundit and keen West Ham fan, expresses a different voice...

46 years ago I shared the ultimate English experience with tens of thousands of new East End companions at Wembley stadium. West Ham United won its first FA Cup Final, 41 years after a 2-0 defeat in its last final against Bolton. That 1923 final inaugurated the national stadium and according to reliable sources was watched by a quarter-of-a-million people, who broke the barriers, crowded across the touchlines and behaved in exemplary order to allow the match to go on. The legend tells that a single officer on his white horse calmly managed the thousands of spectators just like a colonial governor in a tribal assembly in Kenya or Uganda.

Only a few supporters from that magical era between two world wars, when no one in Europe expected another one, were left to witness the final vs Preston North End, from the second division. However, there was no difference in 1964, as the majority of the West Ham faithful wore ties on their white shirts, with only Claret and Blue scarves to imply their lengthily association to East London's representative of England's top division.

Manager Ron Greenwood was interviewed by the Evening standard prior to the match, and admitted his sole message to the players was "play our beautiful football, and try to win fairly". During the slowly passing minutes before kickoff, all of Wembley's capacity sung 'Abide With Me', and for a moment I thought my heart would miss a beat. The song united the 100,000 fans and created a passing, yet moving moment for a community that has uniqueness and character, in spite of colliding interests by definition of a cup final.

Then, our fans stated chanting 'Bubbles', which stands alone in its sweet melancholy, that prepares West Ham's fans not only for victory celebrations but also for the sorrow of loss. The bubbles we're about to blow into the air will eventually fade ad die, just like our dreams. I came to London from Hapoel Jerusalem, and carried the collective spirit of YMCA stadium and Katamon, so the colourful celebration at Wembley was truly exciting. It did not end in tears: in the end of a dramatic game, we won 3-2 by a Ronnie Boyce goal in the dying minutes, so Bobby Moore could step up the lift the cup.

So that's how my affair with Moore, who was a month older than me, and sadly passed away 18 years ago due to Cancer, started. I was lucky enough to watch him for 3 straight years, climbing the Wembley staircase to accept three luxurious cups as a captain: the FA Cup in 1964, European Cup Winners cup in 1965 and the World Cup in 1966. Most Englishmen do not believe me. In 1996 I was commentator for Channel One and had a chat with one of the stewards about the game. When I told him about my experience in 1966, he was very doubtful, up until I pulled out my original match ticket, which was in my wallet for 30 years. He apologised and got the ticket as a souvenir.

There's no need to mention that every true Eastender considers England's win in the final as one of West Ham's titles, and I advise Avram Grant to remember that well. In the past, I was delighted that two of my favourite Israeli players, Eyal Berkovich and Yossi Benayoun, played for us and thanks to them I had the chance to watch many of West Ham's games live. Grant's appointment however, is an emotional barrier that's hard to stomach.

I was very fearful of this move, but somehow realised it's unavoidable, and that his career-characterising meddling hands would eventually penetrate to my God's little acre, the team I loved in good and bad times for years. I told my friend Eliezer Lehana live on his radio show that I feel like an uninvited guest has invaded my living room, and stays there regardless of the owner's feelings.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky translated Edgar Allan Poe's immortal piece, "The Raven" with great inspiration to Hebrew. The bird that delivers bad news invades the poet's property, and declines all his protests. Eventually the poet gives up, while the Raven stays.

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Nice? Address your compliments to Poe and Jabotinsky. I have no choice but to hope that clever Grant will realise that West Ham has a tradition, that prefers beautiful football rather than his cynical style. If he will realize the holiness of the temple he was invited to and doesn't destroy it disgracefully, he might positively surprise us. In terms of spirit, he was successful at Portsmouth, and he is lucky enough to walk into the small shoes left by former manager Gianfranco Zola, a great player, who wasn't as successful as a manager, yet still remains a loved and admired figure by all.

When I sat at Wembley in 1964 and the tears in my eyes almost blurred the heart warming sight of West Ham's players running wild in celebration on the pitch, Grant was a young man in Petach Tikva, and his best of days would be a visit to Tel Aviv cinema at Pinsker Street. Now he's at Upton Park, and I will serve the heaviest of punishments, I will have to pray for his success every Saturday.

That’s the answer I gave the many people who recently asked me if I will stay a West Ham fan even under Grant. They don't realise that Upton Park is like a home, that I travel to it like a pilgrim at every opportunity. I carry Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Geoff Hurst and Alan Devonshire to the stand with me. I hope that this time, just like in Genesis, Avram will not lay his hand upon the lad, and will fulfil with new openness the dreams of the many West Ham fans of brilliant attacking football, alongside sportsmanship, and will preserve the festiveness of the Upton Park experience.

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