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.

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