Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Watford 0 v 4 West Ham United

We're winning away,
We're winning away,
How shit must you be?
We're winning away!

It may be to damn them with faint praise, but West Ham finally look as though they have arrived in this division. The early-season rust is clearing; new faces are becoming accustomed to their surroundings; disappointment is gradually morphing into determination. Here, they despatched a limited but experienced Watford side despite barely getting out of second gear, emerging with four goals, three points and barely a bubble pricked. Their escape route from the Championship will be paved with games such as these. After this ultimately comfortable victory, Sam Allardyce has achieved within his first three games what West Ham's two previous full-time managers never did: masterminding consecutive away wins. It was the first time they had won successive games on the road for four long years, a shambolic travelling circus stretching back to December 2007. It was also the second clean sheet in a row from a team that leaked goals last season like a sieve.

The visitors pierced Watford's fragile confidence with a goal early in the first half and destroyed it with another at its end, leaving the second period to be little more than a procession, one which they decorated with some excellent football and two further goals. "The quality of all four goals was something to be admired," said Allardyce. "We've got everything right. It's not often you see all your team playing what you think is the best they can play. It's how we defended as well. I wouldn't have thought they can get much better than they were tonight." Asked whether last night's display would go some way to healing the scars of last season, Allardyce added: "When you do what they did against Watford confidence flows back. Winning games the way we did can do a lot to that winning mentality."

No wonder Big Sam milked the applause on the pitch at the end as Hammers fans hailed him. Little by little, West Ham are responding to their manager's ideas. Allardyce is nothing if not a fast learner, and having met a striker shortage by signing John Carew from Aston Villa, he has given his side more attacking impetus by pushing Kevin Nolan further forward, into a role more akin to that he played for Newcastle last season. As against Doncaster on Saturday, Nolan orchestrated affairs and worked harder than anyone else when West Ham lost the ball. And as against Doncaster, West Ham took an early lead. Carlton Cole was fouled as he contested his goalkeeper's clearance, Matt Taylor's subsequent free-kick from 35 yards was tipped round a post and James Tomkins headed in the resulting corner after Watford failed to pick up his run to the far post; rising unchallenged to head back across Scott Loach and into the far corner for his first goal since April 2009. It was four minutes on Saturday; here the clock stopped on barely three.

It is scarcely possible for a goal scored that early to come against the run of play, but the Hornets had at least managed to squeeze in an attack before falling behind, Robert Green gathering John Eustace's shot at the second attempt. Watford contributed fully to a bright opening period. Sean Dyche's team were over-reliant on the tactic of looping balls over the visiting defence for the impressive Marvin Sordell to run on to, and it nearly brought them an equalizing goal in the 15th minute, only for Green to flick out an arm to nudge a curling shot past the post. It was a pivotal moment. Discussing Green's future, Allardyce said: "It's obviously a very delicate situation as we're in the Championship and there's only a certain length we can go."

Another searing Sordell run down the left culminated in a fine cut-back that was only just behind the onrushing Chris Iwelumo. The home side's threat, though, could not be sustained. The teams traded chances thereafter until, in the second of one scheduled minute of injury time, Joey O'Brien advanced from right-back and, as Watford's defenders scattered to cover more obvious attacking threats, found his path largely clear as he continued into the 18-yard box. After his attempted pass to Cole was deflected back to him, he poked a measured shot past Loach for his first goal in over six years. Given his attacking importance in a team not blessed with natural wingers, he should get more chances this season.

West Ham looked a lot happier after that. They were rarely threatened in the second half, and managed to take advantage of a flagging Watford to double their winning margin. Nineteen minutes from time, Nolan released Herita Ilunga on the left byline and his low cross was bundled in by Cole from around 18 inches. The England striker had got the nod ahead of Frédéric Piquionne. Interestingly, Allardyce brought Piquionne on for Cole almost as soon as he had scored. Cole insists he is staying at the club though. Carew – not fit enough yet – is eyeing his place, too.

Meanwhile, the midfield trio of Parker, Noble and Nolan looked less cluttered than in their first outing against Cardiff City, with Parker and Noble sitting slightly deeper. Parker reacted sharply to Craig Forsyth's attempts to snatch the ball from his hands in the first half, then smacked a fierce right-foot shot just over the bar from 25 yards. In the first minute of injury time, he collected a pass from Julien Faubert – making his first appearance since January – to score his first goal of the season, tiptoeing to the edge of the area and placing his left-footed shot low into the corner. Still seeking a move to the Premier League, Parker knows that every game he plays for West Ham now could be his last. The fans knew it too, and chanted his name heartily until the final whistle.

Watford's fans only cheered once in the second half and even then they were being ironic, as the already unpopular summer signing, Iwelumo, was replaced. When Dyche decided to buy a target man, abuse from his own fans was hardly what he had in mind. "For parts of the game, we played very well," said Dyche. "We gave away a set-piece goal which, from our point of view, is disappointing. The second goal is very disappointing from us. It's a very poor goal, especially at that late stage of the half. I'll check the statistics but I'm pretty sure Scott Loach hardly had a save to make in the first half and I thought we'd worked their keeper well. We had one cleared off the line and then we gave away a soft goal. We have been guilty of that and it's something we're addressing. After that they become more clinical. They got the third and then all of a sudden they can look like the team that they probably are, which is full of Premiership-style players. I read the other day that one of their players earns our total wage bill. If you spend that kind of money you're going to get quality, and the defining moments of the game came from that quality."

This was a second successive home defeat for the Hornets - and a second successive game without scoring - to leave them in the early-season bottom three. While West Ham are looking upwards. A beaming Sam Allardyce said: "The pleasing thing for me is how we've won this game. After we withstood the early pressure from Watford, and obviously the early goal helped, it was how we defended as well, how we never let Watford get a sniff tonight. As a manager, you look at both sides of it and two clean sheets on the trot away from home is something I always drive into the players and on the back of that we've gone and then played some great football, particularly in the second half, because we've earned the right to play that type of football. That's the most pleasing thing for me - seeing the opposition's threat off early doors, punishing them to the hilt in the end by picking out the right passes in the right places and what I thought might have been an Achilles heel, we've seen some outstanding and quality finishing tonight."

Watford (4-4-2): Loach; Doyley, Mariappa, Taylor, Dickinson; Yeates (Deeney 74), Jenkins, Eustace, Forsyth; Iwelumo (Massey 56), Sordell.
Subs: Gilmartin, Bennett, Mirfin.
Booked: Eustace, Sordell.

West Ham: (4-5-1): Green; O’Brien, Tomkins (Faye 67), Reid, Ilunga; Noble, Parker; Collison (Faubert 75), Nolan, Taylor; Cole (Piquionne 74).
Subs: Boffin, Barrera.
Booked: Noble.

Referee: D Whitestone (Northamptonshire).

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Doncaster Rovers 0 v 1 West Ham United

Sam Allardyce was blowing bubbles of joy as he celebrated his first victory as West Ham boss, but there was a sense of relief at the final whistle after the Hammers survived a late onslaught from the home side. "Doncaster threw everything at us towards the finish but I was well pleased with the resilience of our defence," admitted Allardyce. "We did the good stuff in the first half, and could have scored more, but the result showed we can dig in and win games." With promotion their stated objective after dropping out of the Premier League, West Ham made a false start when they lost to Cardiff on the opening weekend of the Football League season, but Kevin Nolan's strike at the Keepmoat Stadium secured a vital 1-0 victory in South Yorkshire.

The West Ham manager could take a large slice of the credit for the way his team outplayed the home side before the interval. Doncaster might be one of the more unfashionable clubs in the Championship but they play some of the best football in the division - when they are allowed. Yet Allardyce's side ensured Rovers never had a chance to settle into their slick passing style. They hassled and harried, with midfield stars Nolan and Scott Parker rolling up their sleeves to lead the way. Last season's Footballer of the Year played well but was outshone by former Newcastle captain Nolan, who capped a fine performance with the all-important goal.

Just four minutes had gone when Jack Collison swung over a deep and inviting cross from the right and Nolan ghosted in on the stretch to volley the ball past Gary Woods. It was a typical poacher’s effort and his first goal in West Ham United colours since a £3 million summer move from Newcastle and the surprise decision to drop down a division. Another goal, and a fine example of his shooting repertoire, almost followed when he rifled a 25-yard effort against the woodwork. Woods may have got a faint touch to that, but the Doncaster keeper’s hand was firm in the 66th minute to deny Nolan once more from a clever chip. It was a performance that typified why Allardyce was so keen to be reunited with him again. "Kevin has a good mentality and knows what it takes to get out of this division," said the West Ham manager of Nolan, who scored 18 times when leading Newcastle to promotion in 2010. "It has got to be quality with teamwork and team spirit, and he builds that. He talks to players, demands from players and helps me with my job."

At a time when English sport revels in centuries and success, Nolan himself wants West Ham to enjoy a record-breaking season and pass their own 'big Test'. He steered Newcastle to the Championship title in 2010, as they bagged 102 points and got within four points of the league record set by Reading. Now he has challenged his promotion-chasing Hammers to emulate the Toon. "We have got the quality to do that," he said. "We just have to make sure we all believe scrapping out games is just as good a win as playing teams off the park. Everyone knows I did it with Newcastle – we romped it really. But for the opening 18 to 20 matches it wasn’t easy. Teams always put us under a lot of pressure because we were the big scalp. It’s going to be the same at West Ham, and the lads have to get used to that. Sam made no secret of the fact that’s why he bought me, to score goals and lead the team. We only lost four games that year with Newcastle and it was a fantastic season. That’s what we at West Ham have to try to do, try to put pressure on ourselves to beat their record. Hopefully that will be a common thing throughout the season. It was good to get the clean sheet too. Doncaster came close and sometimes you have to ride your luck. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal do it. Early in the season they don’t play at their best, but make sure they win. Some of the lads are a bit disappointed because they feel they didn’t perform to their maximum. But it’s a team effort in this league. If we can stick together and play like we did, we will be fine and hopefully achieve the plan of being in the Premier League next season."

It could be a League One return for Rovers unless they improve in their current crisis. West Ham controlled much of the game and understandably so. Not only do they have players of Premier League stature, but Doncaster were missing 10 first-choice players, most notably the striking pair of Billy Sharp and James Hayter. Yet they might have snatched a point. From a corner for the visitors, James Coppinger raced clear but, as Robert Green advanced, the winger decided to slide the ball across for support that was not there. He then glanced a header inches past the post in the 76th minute after running on to a splendid cross from roving full-back Mustapha Dumbuya. Green then had to make a further fine save from Simon Gillett 12 minutes from time.

The late rally could not deny West Ham a first away win since February and Allardyce- who became visably more and more agitated in the closing stages- was delighted to see his side hold on. "It was a little uncomfortable, but I liked the resilience of our defence," he added. "It was important to win, not just because of our poor away record, but losing late against Cardiff when we didn’t deserve to lose." Sean O’Driscoll, the Doncaster manager, had few positive thoughts after a second successive league defeat. "We didn't do the things we practice right and maybe showed them too much respect," he said. "We had a lot of injuries but we can't make than an excuse. You can't afford to switch off like that in this division. Too many people think they can play in this division without doing the basics. It doesn’t disappoint me that we played poorly, what does is not doing the things they are told. There are injuries, but they are no excuse for our performance."

Doncaster (4-5-1): G Woods; Dumbuya, Naylor, Friend, Spurr; Coppinger, Gillett (Hird 82), Oster, Bennett (Baxendale 76), Barnes (Keegan 76); Brown.
Subs: Sullivan, Radford.
Booking: Brown.

West Ham (4-5-1): Green; O’Brien, Tomkins, Reid, Ilunga (Stanislas 86); Collison (Sears 72), Parker, Noble, Nolan, Taylor; Piquionne (Cole 62).
Subs: Boffin, Faye.

Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Head Full Of Dreams

Of all the places in England, Canary Wharf is perhaps the last one you might expect Sam Allardyce, "Big Sam" himself, to have made his home, three months shy of his 57th birthday. He loves it there especially, he says, his apartment, where a straight-talking Black Country lad who made his name in Lancashire lives next door to investment bankers. When he last lived in the south of England he bought a house in Sevenoaks. Back in the early Eighties it cost him £59,000 - all he could afford as a professional at Millwall. But the less said of that the better given Allardyce is now in charge at West Ham United. Now he could stretch to something rather more palatial. The pay-offs alone could probably buy him a multi-million-pound home in one of London's more upmarket areas. But after his most recent experiences in football management, at Blackburn and at Newcastle prior to that, he has chosen to rent for a while.

It still sounds like quite a pad. A state-of-the-art apartment 40-odd floors up in Canary Wharf, complete with a concierge service, a residents-only bar on the roof of the building and a fitness centre. Mrs Allardyce appears to like it too and her husband declares it extremely handy for the daily commute to work as well as the pleasant Italian restaurant he strolled to in the evening sunshine for an interview with assembled journalists. "Once all the bankers have gone home it's actually nice and quiet around here," he says.

It is 10 years since Allardyce first won promotion to the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers. It is 20 years this summer since he launched his management career at Limerick with a priest for a chairman and a transfer kitty raised by shaking a tin around local pubs. It is 30 years since he last decamped to London, as a player signed for £90,000 by Millwall. He got to know Canary Wharf when Wanderers played away at West Ham and Charlton Athletic. When it comes to putting down some permanent roots in London, you can hardly blame him for being a little cautious. He has only just embarked on a new adventure as the manager of West Ham and his last two jobs 'went horribly wrong', a change of ownership leading on both occasions to his sudden, unexpected and, most would agree, thoroughly undeserved dismissal. For all the recent upheaval in his life, Allardyce looks well. He is sporting a golden tan which he says is the product of 'six months off courtesy of Blackburn' and his mood is one of optimism as he discusses the challenge he faces at the 'Boleyn Ground'. "Not Upton Park as I always thought it was," he says with a smile.

As usual the story Allardyce has to tell is full of all the stuff that makes football interesting: transfer coups, billionaire owners, brutal sackings and the whiff of betrayal from those around him. Most of all it is about taking on the challenge of restoring West Ham to the Premier League just two years before they are scheduled to move into the Olympic Stadium with a 60,000-capacity. He takes great pride in having built a Bolton Wanderers team that achieved things the club had never done before (qualify for Europe) and he would like to do the same at West Ham, starting against Cardiff City in the Championship tomorrow. Sacked by Mike Ashley at Newcastle and then again at Blackburn Rovers last year by the Venkys Group when they bought that club, does it depress him, being back in the Championship? "It doesn't depress me, because there are times in life when you take the chance to go and do better," he says. "And it went horribly wrong for me at [Newcastle]. But I sit comfortably with it because it was through no fault of my own."

He even displays a surprising degree of insouciance towards that often hilarious but bogus Twitter page, TheBig_Sam. It is with some trepidation that the subject is broached of his alter ego, a satirical account so popular it has more than 66,000 followers. He did take steps to have not BigSam added to its title, leaving followers in no doubt that it really is the work of an impersonator; something that was perfectly understandable given some of the material. It is popular because it captures a commonly-held view of Allardyce with an absurdist twist. It is near the edge but it can be very funny. Only this week the imposter declared that among the drawbacks of living in London were 'snooty Beefeaters' and the proximity he now enjoys to 'John Barrowman'. Secretly, however, Allardyce is starting to laugh along with the rest of us, recognising that it probably does add to his appeal and gives him an almost cult-like status. "I have no idea about Twitter," Allardyce responds until he is persuaded to see the spoof as a back-handed compliment. "Yeah, you've changed my view, that'll do me. Mrs Allardyce reads it a lot. I suppose one day I'll have a look at it. It's a bit like an impressionist doing an impression of you. He might take the piss out of you, but you're happy he's done it."

He takes a dimmer view of certain people he has worked with these past few years. The real Big Sam has never been one for ducking a question and he responds with searing honesty, particularly when it comes to the man who succeeded him at Ewood Park. Fiercely loyal to his staff, Allardyce has always shared his success with them. He was delighted to see Mike Forde move on from their time together at Bolton to become performance director at Chelsea. He encouraged Bolton to give Sammy Lee a go as manager when he left for Newcastle. He considered Steve Kean to be another such colleague, having taken him on at Blackburn when he was an out-of-work coach. Until, that is, Kean was given the manager's job the day that Allardyce was sacked by Venkys. Venkys were advised by the TV rights group Kentaro, whose affiliate company also happened to have Kean as a client.

Allardyce says he has not heard from Kean since he called the Scot to say that he and his assistant, Neil McDonald, had been sacked. So how will he feel when he next encounters Kean on a touchline? "Since then we have never spoken," says Allardyce. "But I would say the thing is firmly in Steve Kean's court." Does he believe Kean already knew the job was his when he called him that day? "He'd have to have done wouldn't he really," he says. "Only he knows when he wakes up and looks in the mirror. But other influences must have told them to sack me because I never met them (he means the new owners, Venky's). They were sacking Neil at the same time as me and I was saying, "Why? Why are you sacking him? Neil needs to take over. He's been a manager. If you don't like Sam Allardyce's face, fair enough. But here's the man". Pushed on what really happened at Blackburn behind the scenes, he said: "I have to be careful what I say. Confidentiality issues. But you all know the answers to that. I can't repeat it. It was sad."

He was enjoying life at Blackburn. He pays tribute to Kenny Dalglish and the late Jack Walker for what they created but says he, too, made a significant impact at the club. "They [the Walker family trust] were desperate to sell Blackburn for many, many years and my satisfaction comes from the fact that I created so much interest in the club again," he says. "I know it sounds like I'm blowing my own trumpet but I might as well. Mourinho does it all the time and everyone fucking loves him, so why shouldn't I? I created such a vibrant football club that there were four or five [groups] who wanted to buy it having never previously shown any interest. Based on the fact that I was producing profit with results. It wasn't the best – Arsenal's profit ratio is so massive and obviously Manchester United sold [Cristiano] Ronaldo for £80m – but our profit ratio was fantastic. The year we finished 10th [2009-2010, his only full season] we made a profit rather than a deficit having [previously] kept them in the Premier League. We won the Premier League that year. I know that sounds strange. Chelsea won the league that year but we did far better. We sold £33 million worth of players and spent £14 million and still finished 10th." It was the same at Bolton. When I left Bolton I made a net profit after eight years. That was not even including Nicolas [Anelka] because I left before he was sold."

Allardyce’s methodology came to fruition with Wanderers where, over an extraordinary period, he took the club from what is now the Championship to regulars in the upper echelons of the Premier League. Consecutive finishes of eighth, sixth, eighth and seventh put into perspective the relative success last season of Owen Coyle, who guided Bolton to 14th. As he explains his philosophy, it quickly becomes obvious that the narrow caricature of ‘Big Sam’, the clogging old-school centre-back who promotes long-ball football and the physical intimidation of opponents, is nonsensical. "It comes by the media putting my photo in the paper with me shouting," he says. "It gives a skin-deep image of what I am. My real ingredient for success was to marry the academic to the practical. We wanted to break new ground in football. We would do it and not tell anyone because they would think they we were all off our heads, arrogant or completely insane.

"I put together heads of staff with the same desire and ambition in their fields that I had. I was the educator of football, coaching and tactics. The head of medicine was the head of his field. The head of sports science and fitness was the head of his field. The doctor was the head of some alternative medicines if possible and, of course, you had the sports psychologist, which was key on every level. All those created what we called the cog. By the end at Bolton, people were listening and saying, ‘how does he do it?’ It was very nice to sit back and manage a club with less worries, less anxieties than before. The last four years it was a well-oiled machine."

The marriage between Bolton and Allardyce seemed rock solid. Upon agreeing a 10-year contract, he even talked about retiring when it expired. Yet having guided the club to third, behind only Manchester United and Chelsea, at the beginning of 2007, he lost faith in the board’s ambition. Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has previously alluded to Allardyce’s desire to spend more time with his family but the new West Ham United manager wants to set the record straight. "Bolton, at the end, had an opportunity to finish in the Champions League but didn’t want to take it, so what’s the point in staying?" Allardyce said. "As much as I loved the club, it was impossible for me to stay. We had 39 points after 21 games. We were ahead of Arsenal, ahead of Liverpool. We needed to spend some money to give us an opportunity to finish in the Champions League and I was turned down flat and told that we don’t want to finish in the Champions League."

Asked what he needed, Allardyce said: "About two players. I said to the chairman, 'If we just put more into our squad now we will get in the Champions League. We’ll finish fourth or third. All we have to do is have a mediocre 17 games and we are going to finish in the Champions League. These players are too fatigued to carry on because we have got a smaller squad than Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.’ Their reaction was: 'Well, we’re safe, we’re happy with that’. That was it. I went home and said to [my wife] Lynne, 'That’s me finished’. She didn’t believe me, nobody believed but, believe you me, when Sam makes his mind up, there is no turning back. I tried to stay loyal. I had to keep it quiet at that particular time because of my love for the club."

Rather more short-term adventures were to follow. He is understandably defensive about his record with both Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers following sackings after seven months and two years respectively. In truth he has had some rotten luck with takeovers. "You always expect change in every business that is bought for millions of pounds," he says. "You become an unfortunate bystander; the product of new owners who didn't quite stick to what they said they were going to do. For that reason it doesn't depress me. There are times in life when you take the chance to go and do better, like I did at Newcastle, and through no fault of my own it went horribly wrong. I'm actually all right with Mike (Ashley). There was no problem. At least he said in the end what he should have said in the beginning: 'I wasn't the one who picked you so I didn't really want you'. I’m only remembered at Newcastle for one fan jumping up in one game that the TV keeps showing, but in the first 10 games I was the best thing since sliced bread. Anyway he settled the contract and I left, bitterly disappointed."

At Blackburn, the challenge was doing a troubleshooting job. "Walk into a football club, in the middle of December, in the hardest period of the season, drag them out of the bottom and get them to survive," he says. "Then take them beyond what they expected. The proof of the pudding is what happens to a football club when you leave. What happened to Limerick when I left? They went down. What happened to Blackpool when I left? They went down. What happened to Notts County? They went down. What happened to Bolton? They nearly got relegated. What happened to Newcastle? They got relegated. What happened to Blackburn? They nearly got relegated."

West Ham were relegated before he arrived and it is his job to do for them what he did for Bolton; not just guide them back into the Premier League but keep them there. So how will he revive the club? "I'm me," he says. "And I run a football club based on my structure, my model. My model has been developed over many years and I know that model works if everyone supports it. I have to get everyone believing in the expertise I own in that particular area. People will always question you in this job but I have the answers to make them understand what I am doing. The most important thing is to make West Ham believe they are winners. The team on the field in particular. They are paid to win, in this case over a marathon season of 46 games. They are not paid to play football and see how it goes. They need to be adaptable. Successful teams are able to change within a game and from game to game. We will give the players the opportunity to win and over the last 10 or 11 years it has worked. I have a huge amount of confidence in the methods I have developed. I'm going to try and get them back in one year. We will try our best. At this stage, a few days before the start of the season, you are always very apprehensive about what you've got. But all the indicators so far are looking OK."

Confidence is not something Allardyce lacks. Not now after the long struggle up through the hierarchy with Blackpool and Notts County to Bolton and certainly not since he established himself over nine years as a Premier League manager. And confidence is exactly what a beleaguered West Ham needed after last season's dismal relegation. "I came here because I want to experience something new, something I've not done for a long time - I am fighting to win this league," he states. "I hope the players have the same determination and desire I do. It is a different challenge but it excites me that the emphasis is on trying to win promotion rather than the lack of ambition in the Premier League of, ‘lets just survive’," he says. "I can’t bear that, it drives me mad. My life has been about winning, not surviving.

Allardyce signed a two-year deal on around £1m a year but admits he is unlikely to see that out if he fails to get Hammers back up this season. "I only think one season, because there's no point in thinking any further," he admits. "In this league you don't get much more than one season. Recent history tells you that. My life expectancy at West Ham United is 1.2 years. If I get past that I’m well above the average. Around 50 per cent of the managers in this league will lose their jobs. It's why you have to look at the first year first. Then if you're successful you can think what you'd do in two to three years, or three to five. But you can't until you get in that position. You can't think beyond one season. That's not depressing. That's an actual fact. Some people want to live in their perceptions. But I live in the real world. Football lives in the world of perception rather than reality. Only those of us who are realists survive."

So it starts again, this time at a club that inspires great loyalty in its support despite the absence of any sustained success since the 1960s and no top-flight league title in their history. West Ham is a club for the incurably romantic and in that sense Allardyce fits right in because, as befits his nickname, he does like to think big. "This team have to be ready to move and create a new history. To remember the past but to have people talking about the current time. Which is what people talked about at Bolton with the new Reebok [Stadium] legacy. It was not just about Nat Lofthouse. Now, the kids will talk about Anelka, Djorkaeff, Hierro, Campo, Okocha, Candela, Speed, Gardner. It's a modern day legacy. No one finished higher on a consistent basis than we did. If you look at the difficulties in our time compared to [the 1950s side], it was a greater achievement. So creating the new modern day history, for me has to go with the new stadium and not forgetting Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. Not forget Alvin Martin or Tony Gale from the time when I played – they might not have won anything but it's the highest they have been since – and look to create a new modern day history."

These are strong opinions, and not everyone will agree with Allardyce but the man is past caring about that. He wants to be successful. He is an old-school manager with a modern twist; someone who has long embraced sports science and all it has to offer in the search for that something extra. While he was delighted with the 'highly qualified and in the right areas staff' he encountered when he arrived at Upton Park, he has brought McDonald with him and there will be further new additions to the backroom team. He feels they will be more crucial than ever in keeping his players strong and focused over a gruelling season. He expects a lot of his staff and they tend to feel loyalty back to him.

Lee Richardson, once a player and then a manager at Chesterfield, is the club's new sports psychologist. "I'm very interested in Lee because he's been a player, a coach and a manager who now has an honours degree in sports psychology," says Allardyce. "So it's the first time I've found a sports psychologist who actually has a proper football background - who has been there and done it all. If he's any good he should be one of the best. I've always felt football in this country doesn't focus enough on the psychological side of the game, when the only reason you play at the highest level is because of what's between your ears."

If you really want to know how much of an impression Allardyce has made at Upton Park though, ask some of the people who see him at work every day at the club's training ground. Ask Shirley, who has been helping to prepare the lunches for the players ever since Trevor Brooking was in his prime. "The other day Sam walked into the restaurant when the young players were queing for their food. He shook their hands, one by one, and talked to them. It reminded me of John Lyall," she says. Ask Jimmy, who has been helping out with the coaching as long as anyone can remember. "Sam reminds me of John," he says. "He's a football person, he has football values and he treats people the right way."

Yes, there are some fans who will still need convincing that Sam's style is the right one for West Ham but, if his team begin the season well and keep winning, their numbers will dwindle. "I treat people like human beings, like the way I would like to be treated," he says. "That's my style. I have no desire to shy away from anything or not answer any of their questions. I believe a good relationship with the players and staff prompts discussion, communication. As a manager you have the knowledge and experience to answer those questions. As a player I asked questions that some of my managers didn't like to be asked. In my younger years some of the questions were daft but I would never have learned if I hadn't asked. That was my learning process."

He also appears to be bonding with two 'British owners' who are also 'fans', the Davids - Sullivan and Gold. Allardyce wants to see a new training ground built; something he considers every bit as important as the planned move to the Olympic Stadium. He credits Sullivan with helping him recruit Kevin Nolan, the new West Ham captain and a player who represents quite a coup for a Championship club and signed in anticipation of Scott Parker's probable departure. "It can sometimes be agony trying to sign a player but David Sullivan moved like the wind to get the deal done," says Allardyce.

But how did he persuade Nolan to even consider dropping down a division? "I think it's past history," he says. "Kevin was bitterly disappointed that I didn't take him to Newcastle. It was virtually impossible at the time because of the animosity between me and Phil Gartside (Bolton chairman). If I'd tried to buy him the price would have been £12million, simply because it was me. I thought I only had an outside chance of getting him here but I was aware there was a bit of discontent because of what appeared, from a distance, to be Newcastle's lack of appreciation towards him. Kevin felt no loyalty to Newcastle United for what he had done there. We are a people business."

Allardyce thinks their past relationship counted for a lot. "I was the manager, at Bolton who really started him off, brought him through," he says. "So there's some mutual respect there, built over those years. Our understanding is something we built because he was a young lad when I came in to Bolton. I was a younger manager totally obsessed with making Bolton Wanderers a successful club. All those values he has taken away with him, but when he sought some loyalty back [at Newcastle United] it wasn't there. If you take a footballer for granted you will find that he will not be very happy and he will do one of two things. He will either leave or he just won't be as committed as he was before."

At the same time Nolan liked the idea of a new challenge. "It's a different challenge," thinks Allardyce. "There was a tremendous commitment from him. That's the element that's most exciting for me. It is what he is going to demand from the players and making sure we get out the division at the first time of asking. He has just experienced it at Newcastle. They got 102 points and he scored 17 goals [in their Championship winning season, 2009-2010]. So when he's telling [West Ham team-mates] what it takes to get promoted, how are they going to argue with him? Carlton Cole can't argue with him. Scott Parker can't argue with him. Robert Green can't argue with him. Kevin can say to them, 'To get out of this league we are going to have to do this and if you don't do it you're going to get a shock. You will find out it ain't so easy'. That's one of the big pluses for me."

Despite the financial problems and the psychological difficulty of rebounding instantly from relegation, Allardyce accepts West Ham's status in the division. "We are the favourites, the big boys in this league and I have told the players that," he said. "Everyone wants your scalp, you are going to have to live up to your reputation from day one because they are going to want to turn you over. They are all going to play better, they are all going to play their best and try their hardest when they play against us." Allardyce believes his new-look West Ham cannot afford to lose more than eight league games all season. Any more and instant promotion back to the Premier League will be gone.

Allardyce has moved into Upton Park determined to toughen up the feeble Hammers who lost a staggering 19 matches under Avram Grant last season to finish rock-bottom of the Premier League. They did not manage to win a match until the end of September. He raised alarms at fitness levels of the players he inherited when he took over on June 1 and now he is determined to forge a ruthless streak in the dressing room to add mental toughness to physical strength. "If I have a concern, it is about growing a winning mentality," he says. "They've not had one at this club over the past couple of years because they've lost more games than they've won. If we are to be successful and go back up then we can't afford to lose more than eight matches out of 46. If you lose 10 or 12 then you're unlikely to go up automatically. Teams have got away with it in the past but it would take a really low points total for it to happen."

The first thing Allardyce wants to do is focus on making Upton Park a place where people come and have fear when they walk out of that tunnel. "If we can do that then the fans will take it on because they get excited and create an atmosphere that intimidates teams when they come here," he insists. "When that happens you get on a roll. But once you achieve that then you have to have to make sure you're not a soft touch away from home. You can't just go away, lose, and talk about how well you played or how unlucky you were. If you end up saying you were unlucky too many times, you're not unlucky... you're just bad!

"We have to have a more determined, resilient structure away from home and that should then grow into better performances and another fear factor into the opposition manager and team. Maybe that needs us to win three on the spin at the start of the season, winning games we don't deserve to win. Winning breeds that confidence. We have to manage any complacency, as well. Players can't think it's easy because they won the last game. The team conceded 26 goals from set-pieces last season. That's too many. The first thing is to avoid giving teams those opportunities, so we have to be more disciplined and organised. It's a big pressure in terms of expectation of results but all I ever heard in the Premier League was 'we can't afford to lose £40million' 10 or 20 times a season or 'it's £800,000 per place'. It's become more about money than entertainment and results. I've told the players 'everybody wants your scalp, everybody wants to turn you over'. We have to be have controlled aggression. On the first day of the season the temptation is to chase around like headless chickens but you have to be calm and controlled, play as a team from the start."

Allardyce says that the club had been 'bleeding' following relegation but, in the form of new captain Nolan, set-piece specialist Matthew Taylor, Joey O’Brien and Abdoulaye Faye, he has attracted four considerable sticking plasters. Free-agent striker John Carew was at Upton Park for talks yesterday and is mulling over a one-year deal. Allardyce said: "We've offered him our terms; he's a quality pro with vast experience, so now it's up to him." There has also been the inevitable link this week to Joey Barton, a player he signed for Newcastle in 2007. "It didn’t work for me and it didn’t work for him because of his unfortunate off-field activities," he says. "He did put those behind him apart from obviously a few silly tweets. It’s a bizarre situation. There are not many players around with that amount of talent available for nothing. But I think it would be impossible from a wages point of view. We are a Championship and not a Premier League club."

You would hardly know that, however, if you looked at the team sheet to face Cardiff City on Sunday. As well as Taylor and Nolan, the midfield is likely to include Scott Parker, Mark Noble and Freddie Sears. They still have Carlton Cole in attack and Robert Green in goal. Allardyce, though, knows that he has players who yearn for a move to the top flight. And, as he surveys the situation at clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham, who are facing disruptive interest in their best players at this most sensitive stage of the season, he is scathing about the transfer window. "Before a club will contact us with an offer, the player will already know," he says. "It is the worst transfer system ever. We are dicing with people’s careers, people’s livelihoods. The panic causes mayhem between the day you come back for training and Aug 31 arrives."

That said, the club insists it will not hold a fire sale despite Parker, Cole and Green, their highest earners, still being at Upton Park, and David Sullivan and David Gold, the co-owners, having to inject £18m of their own money before the transfer window closes to keep the club running. Although there are more than three weeks until the window closes, if any or all of those three players still remain as 1September nears, the club will not allow them to leave under-price. Parker is West Ham's highest earner, having signed a new contract last September that earns him £70,000 a week until 2014, while Green earns around £30,000 a week.

Cole's proposed £4.5m move, plus £1.5m of add-ons, to Stoke City last month was agreed by both clubs but the striker's demand for £40,000 a week, plus appearance money, caused the deal to falter. The wage sought by the 27-year-old is more than he presently earns at West Ham. Aston Villa had a formal £7.5m bid for Parker rejected earlier in the summer and Chelsea's hopes of a loan fell down on the proposed terms. Each retains an interest in the midfielder, as do Stoke, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. West Ham are yet to receive a concrete offer for Green.

Sam Allardyce's says of the trio: "They are West Ham players and they are contracted to West Ham. Their commitment has to be to the West Ham shirt because that is where their contract lies. Of course, like everybody at this stage of the season, the madhouse is in full flow. Speculation is all over the place on a constant basis which is why this is one of the most difficult periods for a manager in an entire season. All we can do is try and focus on what is the most important thing and that is the Cardiff game on Sunday and for us to try and go out and set a marker on how we want to be by trying to win the game.

"Pre-season before the window shuts is an absolute disaster frankly. It's one long grind, in terms of what you have to try and achieve in a short time," he says. "From the moment you wake up, to the time you go home after a full day here at the training ground, it's always on your mind. You think 'I wonder what's going to happen tomorrow?' Some of my old managers would be absolutely distraught if, on July 1, they didn't have all the players they needed for the start of the season. A total of 16 players have left this club. We need a minimum of 18 outfield players, possibly 20 so we really need to add at least another two players.

"Then, suddenly, there's an offer for one of our players, we don't accept it because it's not enough, the player's upset because he wants to go the club, another offer comes in, we do accept it this time, we think the player's gone but then it doesn't happen - we have all this trauma on a day-to-day basis. For me, when we changed the transfer system it was by far the biggest mistake we've made. If they suggested going back to the old system of signing players throughout the season, I would say yes in the blink of an eye.

"We haven't sold anyone yet for big numbers. That could still happen but it's more difficult, the closer we get to the August 31 because we have to then get someone in quickly. Out of Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Rob Green, Cole is probably the least likely to go because he's had the opportunity and turned it down. People are aware now that neither David Sullivan nor David Gold are soft touches. There is no fire sale here - yes, they will allow Scott and Rob to go but at the right valuation. The more desperate clubs become though, the more likely it is we will lose them. The window is narrowing all the time now. It's not long until it slams shut for the Premier League clubs."

Then, as Allardyce cheerfully acknowledges a few supporters and wanders past pictures of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Paolo di Canio, he is distracted by the television debate into whether England are the best cricket nation on earth. "Ahh, the cricket," says Allardyce, pausing for only the briefest of introductions. "Brilliant wasn’t it? And shows what can be achieved if you get the structure right." He then delivers an unprompted critique of the wider failings of British sport and specifically what can be done to improve the fortunes of the England football team. It is fascinating. The central thesis is that we do not value coaching highly enough to make it professional for the many volunteers who teach lower age groups around the country. And, for that reason, young footballers in this country simply do not receive enough quality time with a football at their feet.

Allardyce is also blunt about some of the practices at the top level, especially the reluctance to embrace new technology and ideas. "What I don’t like about football is its ignorance," he says. "It is very loath to want to change. One of the good things Richard Scudamore came up with is the 39th game. I hear rugby is playing the Challenge Cup in another country, American footballers keep coming to Wembley and we are still sat there on our big fat perches thinking, ‘we don’t have to do any of that because we are the best’. We will have a big shock if we don’t catch up. The Premier League is the richest brand in the world and we are still not doing live data; still not putting a chip in the ball, in the lad’s shirt, in the referee and linesman’s shirt and not measuring what they are doing. Australian rules have had it for years."

Allardyce, who refers to himself as 'a teacher', then explains in great detail how different people learn in different ways, whether through listening, watching, participating or reading. His own experience at school, where his dyslexia was not recognised, clearly shapes his philosophy. "I think most of our education system focuses on what people are not good at," he says, "but if you focus on what you are good at, that’s what gives you a particular area to make a living in this country. If you become the best footballer at two or three specific things, you are going to be a good footballer all your life."

Allardyce thinks his modern-day style and modern day outlook on life will suit this club. "Now it's about the psychological more than the physical. If you don't have your mind right, your ability will never shine through. But if your mind is strong you will maximise that ability. I know I don't speak in an East End way but I've always fancied myself and it won't take me long to pick up a few sayings and join in with the rest. I know it's a great football area. I've been spending time talking to people about football here and what a big catchment area it is. But we have to drag the whole place up into the modern era, to move into the new stadium and training ground. We have to be thinking about what type of model we want to be." With that, he gets up, begins attending to the two mobiles that have been regularly flashing - but ignored - during the hour he has been holding court. As his alter ego @TheBig_Sam recently tweeted to an aspiring manager seeking advice for his first game: "Suit, ear-piece, head full of dreams. Sorted". For the real thing, one imagines tomorrow afternoon will be much the same.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Any Given Saturday

A good speech is a wonderful thing. It has the capacity to inspire, to lift your spirits, to make your soul soar above the mundane minutae that obfuscates everyday existence. Unfortunately, noted Churchill, there are only two things more difficult than making an effective one: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you. If Sam Allardyce's media asault over the last few days has shown anything, it is that he understands the power of the spoken word. He may also have unhealthy obsession with Tony D'Amato. The latter was revealed in a radio interview with BBC London yesterday evening, when a tired sounding Allardyce suddenly referenced the film Any Given Sunday in a conversation about personal standards and collective responsibility.

Oliver Stone's meathead burlesque critique of American sports culture has multifarious faults but is partially saved by the now famous "Inch by Inch" panegyric as delivered by a coruscating Al Pacino. D'Amato's paean to the importance of making incremental improvements towards achieving a greater goal is one of the great sports sermons committed to film; a perfectly pitched oratory with a symbiotic alignment of the three persuasive appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos. It starts with the coach admitting he is almost overwhelmed by the situation...

"I don’t know what to say really.
Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives.
It all comes down to today.
Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch, play by play until we’re finished..."

It reflects in his person the feelings of his players, the embodiment of aptum/decorum. He appears like a "broken warrior", similar to his audience. His voice is mannered and low, his body language slow and not overly expressive. He avoids eye contact as much as possible. Compare it to the image of Allardyce in Sunday's Observer, head bowed, eyes closed and rubbing his forehead as if fighting against a headache-inducing memory. "No one else can put any more expectations and pressure on than me," Allardyce revealed to the Independent the same day, before declaring he will be sacked if he does not guide West Ham United into the Premier League. It is a massive burden on my shoulders, he states, before admitting he (and by extension the team) have "been hung out to dry" by the need to seek an instant top flight return. He repeatedly acknowledges that the need to gain promotion is intensified by the club's financial position; that the club carry debts of £80m and David Sullivan, the co-owner, has said that life in the Championship will "blow a £40m hole" in the business plan. Then there is the move to the Olympic Stadium in 2014 and the imperative to take Premier League football with them.

"We are in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me.
We can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us
or we can fight our way back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time..."

D'Amato begins to move from demoralization to a more rational appraisal of the situation and Allardyce does the same. "The club was is in despair really," he states. "Relegation leaves a club traumatised, from the owners to the fans, the players to the tea lady. You've got to get over the trauma and back to positive thinking. You win a game of football as much with your mind as with your ability." We are in Championship hell, Allardyce is saying, and we won't get out if we are feeling sorry for ourselves or take anything for granted. "It will be a tough division. It's going to be damned hard work over a marathon season of 46 games." There are recurring textual patterns; repeated reference to terms like 'consistancy' and 'winning frame of mind'; to 'graft as well as guile'.

"There's a lot of really experienced managers in this division who are wanting to do the same as me," Allardyce told the Independent, but there are also "young up-and-coming guys who want to make their names." It is the first oblique reference to the next part of D'Amato's speech; the confession of the 'broken warrior' who begins the process of conferring responsibility onto his young charges. It is here we see the "emotional structuring" of the life to game analogy. D'Amato begins his lament about the wrong decisions and actions he has taken in his life. He takes the strong emotions of personal failure and lets them converge into the game. Hence, there is not only a comparison of game and life on a logical level but also with an emotional background.

"Now I can’t do it for you. I’m too old.
I look around and I see these young faces and I think.
I mean I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I pissed away all my money believe it or not.
I chased off anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror..."

Reflecting on his evolution as a football manager, Allardyce bemoans: "I was a raging bull, an angry man, worrying, demanding." He would lie awake at night frightened by what the fans or the papers or the owners would say. "I used to be a terrible, terrible worrier, a pessimist," he says. "It's probably because I was a defender. One mistake and the manager will shout at you. I couldn't remember playing well. I could only remember mistakes. I used to worry like mad. But as I got older and established myself, that diminished and as a manager, it's the same. My style now compared to back then, it was just a part of the process. I don't think you can do it any other way, because you are too inexperienced to do it any other way. But if you don't learn from your experiences, then you don't last in this game."

"You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.
That’s part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small.
I mean one half step too late or too early you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second..."

Allardyce has lasted. He recalls again that he once said that he would like to see through his 10-year contract at Bolton and retire at 56. "By the time that birthday comes along, I would think I would be looking at other things in my life." Yet, he's now 57 and still consumed and driven by the challenge in front of him. Yes you lose things in life, he means to say, but you also gain things like a toughening of the skin and the self-belief engendered by survival. Insecurity has given way to conviction. Man-management remains Allardyce's greatest strength and he maintains that he could win trophies at the very biggest clubs, such as Real Madrid and Internazionale, if he was given the opportunity. "I still feel like I can walk into any club, anywhere, any time and deliver," he told the Telegraph. "It's a bit like a CEO, isn't it? You can take up a position in any industry and if you're a good CEO, you can make that company profitable. You put me in a football environment anywhere in the world and I can deliver the module. I can modify the module for the particular culture and the way of playing. I turn dreams into reality and that is my job".

Thus begins the tonal shift, just as D'Amato changes gradually form the "broken warrior" to an "old wise warrior" (who knows how to overcome any situation) with a strong spirit and experience. There is an increase in energy; his voice, body language, movements, content. He engages in strong eye contact with the audience. Finally, he offers the solution to winning in life/game by expressing that it is achieved by taking small steps (logos); while at the same time pushing his character (ethos) and creating emotional resonance (pathos) where the former is a pre-requisite for the function of the latter.

On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.
We claw with our finger nails for that inch.
Because we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the fucking difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.

It is about standards Allardyce reiterated to BBC London. "If they are not met then I'm not very happy," he said. "As a manager you should always set higher standards than everybody else and you strive and push for those standards and drive and push your staff forward and constantly remind them what their responsibilities are; that they're paid to deliver, paid to entertain, paid to send a group of people home as happy as they can." If you want to succeed, Allardyce tells his players, you must dedicate yourselves to producing your very best every time you run out onto that field with a West Ham shirt on. "That's my values and standards and I hope some of that will rub off and we'll hve a successful season," he stated. "At times it will be difficult, at times it will be a long haul against lots of very good teams with some very good managers in this league, but I think it can be very exciting."

I’ll tell you this.
In any fight it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.
And I know if I am going to have any life any more, it is because
I am still willing to fight and die for that inch.
Because that is what living is.
The six inches in front of your face.

Now to that personal Allardyce missive that dropped onto the doormats of season-tickets holders across the country this week. The one that talks of the "great thrill" of being Hammers manager, and the "special feeling" you get at the start of a new football season. "A lot has gone into our preparations," states Allardyce. "We began at the end of June, have been to Switzerland and Denmark since then and even had the lads running in Hainault Forest. It has not just been about form and fitness but also about changing the mentality of the football club and creating a more positive environment at the training ground." It talks of the positivity of the new signings he has made and how the youngsters have been given a chance to prove themselves. He speaks of how every effort has been made to ensure "no one has been allowed to feel sorry for themselves after last season."

The intent of the message is clear; living is to keep fighting. Allardyce wants to show he is motivated and energised; that he has done everything in his power to give his players the chance to succeed. "I said when I arrived that I was joining a fantastic club with a strong tradition and loyal supporters who deserve to be in the Premier League," he continues. "I wasn’t wrong. Everywhere I go there are Hammers fans and we have had a great following. Talking to fans long into the night in the car park at Dagenham & Redbridge last Tuesday, I could feel the passion and pride. My staff and I are determined to bring success but we also have a responsibility to bring on those players coming through the Academy and development squad. We also owe it to the owners to repay their faith."

The final line is the kicker; the moment when Allardyce reclaims his energy to underline he not the player/team ("warrior") but the coach ("wise warrior"). "We will need every single one of you right behind us," he insists, and with it completes the final transference.

Now I can’t make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.
That’s a team, gentlemen and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.

That’s football guys. That’s all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?

"If we all work together and pull together in the same direction inside and outside the football club if we all try and improve by a small percent and add it all together it will be good enough," concluded Allardyce in his interview on the BBC. As in football so in life, like climbing that wall or kissing the girl, you'll get where you want to go an inch at a time.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dreams Into Reality

Big Sam strolled to the dug-out for West Ham's pre-season friendly at Dagenham & Redbridge last week like Dean Martin walking on to a stage in Las Vegas – only with a better suit. He acknowledged the cheers with a breezy wave, joked with his coaching staff and was happy to pose for pictures with supporters and sign autographs after a 1-0 win. But David Sullivan and David Gold, the owners, did not hire Sam Allardyce to beat League Two clubs, writes Nick Szczepanik in today's Independent. Taking West Ham back to the Premier League at the first attempt is his task, and once the Championship campaign starts, the relaxed figure of a summer evening has to deliver the intensity that was missing last season as West Ham sleepwalked to relegation under Avram Grant.

Allardyce accepts the challenge, and there is no hedging of bets with talk of stabilisation and regrouping, which is just as well. He knows that the size of his new club – not to mention the new manager – means that expectations are inevitable. "No one else can put any more expectations and pressure on than me," he said. "Because I haven't come down here to spend a long time down in the Championship. I've come to win the club promotion and get myself where I've been for the last 10 years, and that's managing in the top league in the world."

It may come as no surprise to some that the man charged with restoring West Ham United to the Premier League expects to return as a champion. Allardyce has always defied the critics and will attempt to do so again as he sets about transforming the club's fortunes, writes the Telegraph's Alex Shaw. He insists it is guile allied to graft that has brought him success in the past and in his blueprint for his side’s return to the top flight, Allardyce wants to set the record straight. He wants to remind those who have mocked his lofty dreams there’s nothing wrong with being sure of your strengths.

To those who continue to cast aspersions over Allardyce’s style of play, he asks them to view the bigger picture in his bid to manage where he believes he should. But most of all, you get the impression the one-time England candidate feels he has something to prove to himself. With that he bows his head, closes his eyes and rubs his forehead for a good 10 seconds. The memory alone is headache-inducing. "I was a raging bull, an angry man, worrying, demanding," he says, as he reflects on his evolution as a football manager. Arsène Wenger or Rafael Benítez might like to add to the description, ponders Guardian's David Hytner, but Allardyce is not talking about the halcyon days at Bolton Wanderers, when he would routinely upset the establishment, rather his formative years at Limerick, Blackpool and Notts County. "My style now compared to back then, it was just a part of the process," he says. "I don't think you can do it any other way, because you are too inexperienced to do it any other way. But if you don't learn from your experiences, then you don't last in this game."

Allardyce has lasted. He once said that he would like to see through his 10-year contract at Bolton and retire at 56. "By the time that birthday comes along, I would think I would be looking at other things in my life." Allardyce will turn 57 in October. At the start of last month, he signed a two-year deal at the Boleyn. He is now consumed and driven by the challenge in front of him – to restore the club's morale, which was battered during their relegation from the Premier League, and to lift them to an immediate return. It will not be easy, and not only because this season's Championship contains plenty of intriguing contenders. West Ham have parted company with 12 senior players from last season's squad and the number could yet swell. Scott Parker is keen to remain in the Premier League and will be sold if his valuation is met. "Scott's position is delicate," Allardyce says, "because if someone hits the numbers that we would value him at and it's the Premier League, where he wants to be, he will be gone."

Allardyce has named Kevin Nolan, the £4m signing from Newcastle United, as club captain, rather than Parker, although it ought to be noted that Parker was not the captain last season. Matthew Upson, who was released on the expiry of his contract, had the armband. "The misconception that Scott was captain was born out of the rousing half-time speech that he gave at West Brom [in February]," Allardyce says of the midfielder's address that inspired the team from 3-0 down to 3-3. "I'd like to hear the transcript of that. I might use it myself. It would be wrong of me to plan [with Parker]. Kevin is here because he thinks his future lies here and he wants to get us back in the Premier League. Like me, he doesn't want to drop out of the Premier League for more than one season."

To that end, Nolan insists there will be no hiding place for West Ham this season and the minimum requirement is an immediate return to the Premier League. Speaking in the Mirror just seven days before the ­Hammers begin their Championship ­campaign against perennial play-off sufferers Cardiff at Upton Park, he said: "We have to come out all guns blazing. We have to hit the ground running, there is no hiding place for us. The stakes are high and there is immense pressure on us. But the time for feeling sorry for yourselves following relegation from the Premier League has long since passed. The least we should expect is promotion. Anything else will merely be an unmitigated disaster for this club. This club doesn’t ­belong in the Championship and we have to make damn sure we don’t stay here either."

Nolan experienced the trauma of relegation with Newcastle two ­seasons ago and he is the first to admit the Championship is not an easy league to escape. "There are striking ­similarities between West Ham and Newcastle," he states. "The pressure and expectations are exactly the same. When Newcastle went down some people expected us to ­struggle but we re-grouped and had a right go. We knew we had to either get out of the Championship straight away or face being stuck there for years to come. It was a make-or-break situation for us in much the same way it is for West Ham. You don’t have a divine right to win promotion no matter how big the club are. You have to earn the right. No-one is going to do you any favours. Everyone will want to beat us. This will be their biggest game of the campaign. Opposing teams will come to Upton Park looking for a major scalp. You’re a team to be shot at but if we apply ourselves on the pitch and get the supporters right behind us I see no reason why we shouldn’t be celebrating come April/May."

Nolan admits he was pleasantly surprised when he turned up at West Ham, and insists the players have been first class and are ­determined to put things right. "You expect to come into a ­dressing room that is on the floor and in complete disarray," he ­explained. "There are normally three or four bad eggs, a few egos and players desperate to quit. I can honestly say I saw none of that. There is a refreshing unity about this squad and single-minded ­determination to put things right."

Some people are still surprised that Nolan was prepared to trade top-flight football with Newcastle for the ­Championship. He claims it was a no-brainer explaining: "Naturally the opportunity to work with Sam Allardyce again helped, but the club made such an enormous effort to get me that I felt I would have let them down if I said no. It’s nice to be ­wanted, that’s for sure. And after everything that happened at Newcastle it was important for me to hear that. More importantly when I met David Sullivan he did such a great job selling the club it didn’t take long to make up my mind. To fair he could have sold me some unwanted double glazing windows. He was that good. I won’t lie though, he wouldn’t let me leave the room until I agreed to sign after they had their bid ­accepted for me. It was refreshing to listen to David Sullivan. His enthusiasm, ambition and plans for the club were very ­impressive. He’s a supporter first and foremost and like the co-owner David Gold I don’t think anyone was ­hurting more than them when the club went down."

The signing of his former Bolton regulars Nolan and Matthew Taylor have signalled the manager's intent. There is also the free transfers Joey O'Brien, also from Bolton, and Abdoulaye Faye from Stoke City. Further signings are afoot, with the priorities being a left-back and a striker. The England internationals Robert Green and Carlton Cole appear more likely to stay than go. "You're happy that that type of talent is moving a step down to try to get itself back up," said Allardyce. "Kevin and Matt have the same ambition as me: to spend as little time as possible in the Championship. But we're not taking it for granted that we're going to get promoted. There's a lot of really experienced managers in this division who are wanting to do the same as me, and young up-and-coming guys who want to make their names. And a lot of money spent."

Allardyce admits he and his new recruits have hung themselves "out to dry" by pledging to seek an instant return. He also accepts that the need to gain promotion is intensified by the club's financial position. West Ham carry debts of £80m and Sullivan, the co-owner, has said that life in the Championship will "blow a £40m hole" in the business plan. Then there is the move to the Olympic Stadium in 2014 and the imperative to take Premier League football with them.

"We're reducing our costs and overheads where a lot are adding on to what they had last year, so it will be a tougher division," says Allardyce. "It's going to be damned hard work over a marathon season of 46 games. We have to perform at a consistent level and make sure we're always in a winning frame of mind." That, he admits, required altering the prevailing mood. "The club was in despair really. Relegation leaves a club traumatised, from the owners to the fans, the players to the tea lady. And you've got to get them over the trauma and back to positive thinking. You win a game of football as much with your mind as with your ability."

Allardyce radiates optimism. "We want to go up automatically," he says. "And if we don't quite achieve that goal, then we are going to be left in the play-offs, at the very least, unless I become the worst manager ever overnight and the players become the worst there has ever been." His style these days is characterised by such thick-skinned self-belief and searing ambition. Where once he would lie awake at night "frightened by what the fans or the papers or the owners would say", he now feels able to blot out the background noise, which is perhaps just as well at a noisy club like West Ham. "I used to be a terrible, terrible worrier, a pessimist," he says. "It's probably because I was a defender. One mistake and the manager will shout at you. I couldn't remember playing well. I could only remember mistakes. I used to worry like mad. But as I got older and established myself, that diminished and as a manager, it's the same."

Insecurity has given way to conviction. Spectacularly so. Despite his sackings at Newcastle and, more recently, Blackburn Rovers when, in both cases, the ownership changed and his face no longer fitted, he can be fiercely proud of his cv. With man-management his greatest strength he maintains that he could win trophies at the very biggest clubs, such as Real Madrid and Internazionale, if he was given the opportunity. "I've said a lot of things over the years that people laugh at and I find them very insulting for making a joke about it or laughing at how I could be a manager of any club, anywhere and deal with it. I still feel like I can walk into any club, anywhere, any time and deliver. It's a bit like a CEO, isn't it? You can take up a position in any industry and if you're a good CEO, you can make that company profitable. You put me in a football environment anywhere in the world and I can deliver the module. I can modify the module for the particular culture and the way of playing."

It remains easy to touch a nerve with Allardyce. Just tell him his teams have been long-ball bully boys or that he jars with the "West Ham way". "People had to make an excuse, at the time, for little old Bolton beating Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United," he says. "Little old Bolton used to beat Rafa Benítez [and Liverpool] every time he came to the Reebok Stadium. And they couldn't cope with it." Allardyce's West Ham will look to entertain but, above all, to win. He made the point that Manchester United and Chelsea were not only the best creative teams but the most destructive ones, too. "There is an adaptability," he says. "They never play the same way. Arsenal probably do and that's probably why they've won nothing for six years."

So while many still see Allardyce as a slave to Prozone statistics, long balls and blood and thunder, he sees it differently, calling on his adventures in Europe managing Bolton and the flair of World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, along with Champions League conquerors Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro as a case for the defence. Allardyce reiterates graft as well as guile is necessary if West Ham want to return to the top flight and, remembering his time as a Bolton player under Ian Greaves, he reflects on two failed promotion attempts before abandoning brains for brawn and earning promotion back to Division One in 1978. "We were known as one of the teams for the purists," Allardyce explains. "Then, with about seven games to go, Ian told us to forget about the football that we had tried for two years. He told us to get the ball in the channels and squeeze it up there. It’s a lesson you have to learn. Great teams always know how to play any way."

Allardyce has won plenty of games with his own sharp mind – his instant exploitation of the new offside rules bordered on genius, and his application of sports science at Bolton was well ahead of its time – but he is still perceived as a typical northern former muck 'n' nettles centre-half. Many of the perceptions are wrong – he is not a northerner, for example, having been born and brought up in the West Midlands – and the one that rankles most is his reputation as a long-ball coach, at odds with the West Ham way. "It bores me to tears, to be honest. It will be answered by our performances this year," he said.

The harshest judges will be West Ham's supporters, but though Allardyce admits it will be a while before he feels like a Londoner again – he played for Millwall for two seasons in the early 1980s – he appreciates the club's traditions, hopes to promote young players from their vaunted academy, and relishes the responsibility of entertaining a demanding fanbase. "They're like Newcastle fans. They live and breathe the club and work hard for the money to come and watch them, so we have got to reward them for turning up in their thousands, as they have done for many, many years. Even though, realistically, over the last few years it has been a bit of a yo-yo time for them. It's the Championship now and for me it's a big change from the past 10 years of success."

That analysis of his decade in the Premier League defies, rather than ignores, the fact that he was sacked at his previous two clubs, and West Ham will surely settle for a repeat of his effect on his previous clubs. "Everywhere I've been there has been progression, even Newcastle," he said. "Even though we were six months into a complete overhaul of the club, we were 11th when I left and they'd finished 14th the year before. At Blackburn we completely turned that around, and everyone knows what we did at Bolton because we were top eight, top six and looking like a Champions' League-threatening side. West Ham is a different type of challenge, trying to win promotion and experience the joy of that."

The country's elite will have to wait. Allardyce must first ensure that the step down a division serves as a springboard. But he has it mapped out and the goal is to challenge for European places and cup finals. "How far can we go? That depends on how much the owners want to back the dream to turn it into reality," he says. "That's what I've done and that's what I do. I turn dreams into reality." And what about London and his new surroundings? "I would like to take in the sights and have a look around Big Ben,” he adds. "I haven’t seen Buckingham Palace yet and I’d like to do that - on an open top bus as long as the weather is nice." If Sam Allardyce has his way, he’ll be sitting on that bus parading the Championship trophy come May.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Switzerland- Day Four

There is something almost Riefenstahlian about the official site's daily descriptions of the squad's pre-season fitness regime; the luxuriating in the mundane minutiae of each training drill and the fetishistic depictions of lythe young bodies in the throws of physical exertion. So it is we learn that it was a mixture of work and play for West Ham United's players as the squad continued their pre-season training camp in Switzerland. Having arrived back at the team hotel late on Monday evening following the 2-1 Uhren Cup defeat by BSC Young Boys in Grenchen, manager Sam Allardyce afforded his players and staff a rare lie-in on Tuesday. The players were still up for breakfast at 8am and heading to their respective training areas a little more than an hour later.

Meanwhile, we are told, Allardyce and his backroom staff headed for a nearby lake for a welcome early-morning swim. The majority of the squad remained at the hotel to take part in a recovery session in the swimming pool, loosening up any muscles that may have tightened following the previous night's game. A small number of players cycled the two miles to the main training complex, where they were put through a series of technical drills by assistant manager Neil McDonald and first-team coach Wally Downes.

After a 'hearty' lunch, the squad and management boarded the team coach for a short drive to a nearby ten-pin bowling alley for a team-bonding exercise. There, goalkeepers Robert Green, Ruud Boffin and Marek Stech were the stars, with all three stoppers recording scores of over 200 - the Belgian taking the plaudits with a high of 215. Following dinner, the players got together for a team presentation before heading for bed ahead of a day of double-training and Wednesday evening's Uhren Cup meeting with Swiss Super League champions FC Basel.

Reflecting on the last few days, Sam Allardyce declared himself a contented man. The West Ham United manager has been happy with the way his players have given their all during the club's pre-season training camp in Switzerland, including their committed performance in Monday's 2-1 friendly defeat by BSC Young Boys - his first match in charge. However, Allardyce has told West Ham TV that there is still plenty of work to be done in all areas before the Hammers take to the pitch against Cardiff City on 7 August, both in terms of supplementing the playing squad and improving the form and fitness of the players already at the club.

"I think in terms of a pre-season training camp it's been an outstanding venue from many different aspects," said Allardyce, speaking from the team's hotel in the central Swiss canton of Bern. "We're in a beautiful place, have a fantastic hotel who are attending to our needs and I think we're virtually the only people in the hotel at this time of year and that's a big help. Down in the valley here, there is a 50-metre pool which has been very good for the morning starts. One or two of the lads are a bit miserable when they're getting up at 6.30 in the morning, but after the pool sessions they've been invigorated for their football training. Later in the evenings we've been moving on with the strength and conditioning and sport science lads, so it's been a good exercise up to now. There are a lot of young players who have travelled with us who want to make their mark and I think it's very important to get to know them as soon as possible and the senior players a little bit better not just as footballers but as people. Hopefully we can pull all that together and by the time this pre-season has finished, I'll have a better overall view of the squad."

Allardyce got his first view of that squad in a competitive environment on Monday, when a young side were narrowly beaten by Swiss Super League side and UEFA Europa League qualifiers Young Boys. The players gave their all during the Uhren Cup tie in Grenchen, despite having got up for a swimming session at 7am and a full training session in the mid-morning. The boss singled out England Under-18 international Robert Hall and England Under-21 defender Jordan Spence for particular praise, with the former rattling the upright with a rasping 25-yard shot late on. "First and foremost, just for everybody concerned, we've been training every day since we've been here from 6.30am. We even trained on the day we played. It's not the normal preparation for a game but we felt the lads needed to go into the game slightly fatigued and we weren't going to play all of the players for the whole game - particularly the senior players who were given 45 minutes each. It was effectively a training session rather than us going for the result. It was a competitive match against a very good side who had beaten Hertha Berlin 4-2 prior to playing ourselves, so the whole exercise was good from my learning curve point of view."

Cristian Montano also featured prominantly against Young Boys and is aiming to catch the eye of his manager after signing a new professional contract with West Ham United. The talented forward endured a difficult 2010/11 season after signing his first professional deal a year ago, suffering a succession of niggling injury as he looked to build on the Doris Bell Award he won at the end of the previous campaign. Now he is fully fit and raring to go, the Colombia-born 19-year-old is hoping to earn a regular place in the first-team squad for 2011/12 by impressing Allardyce during pre-season. "I'm very proud of this contract and I'm happy with myself as well," he told West Ham TV. "I have got my second contract which is the most important thing. Hopefully I can keep going from here and make the next step, which is to make my first-team debut and hopefully become established. I want to prove myself."

Montano is also eager to impress the same supporters he wowed by scoring two goals during Academy Director Tony Carr's Testimonial match in May 2010. The teenager travelled to Austria with the first-team squad for their pre-season tour in July last year, only for injuries to ravage his first campaign as a professional. "As a second-year scholar, I managed to do really well and win the Doris Bell Award, which I was really happy with and which, at the time, was a bit unexpected," he added. "As a first-year pro I just wanted to carry on from where I'd left off, which I did, but when we got back from the tour the injuries started kicking-off and it was a bit stop-start for me. Obviously I managed to get fit again and here I am. I've got my next professional contract and I want to carry on from there."

With Demba Ba, Victor Obinna and Robbie Keane having departed the Bolyen Ground this summer, Montano is preparing to impress Allardyce between now and the opening npower Championship fixture against Cardiff City on 7 August. "It's not impossible," he said. "I'm going to keep working hard and hopefully show the new manager that I can play and do well. We're all in the same boat - a new manager and new staff - so we've all got to prove ourselves again, which is not an easy thing to do because we've all got to start from scratch. I've come back in good shape and hopefully I can get a bit stronger, too."

Also keen to impress is Frank Nouble, who is hoping his goal against Young Boys is the first of many this season. The 19-year-old striker bagged the first strike of Sam Allardyce's reign with a well-taken header in West Ham United's 2-1 Uhren Cup defeat in Switzerland on Monday. Having caught the eye no only with his goal, but also with his pace and power, Nouble is hoping he can convince the new manager that he does not need to delve into the transfer market to sign a new centre forward. The youngster told West Ham TV he is 'eager' to force his way into the first-team picture and boost the club's 2011/12 Championship promotion challenge.

"It was a good game to play in," he said. "I think everyone tried their best. Most people played a half each and obviously it's pre-season so everyone wants to get around and get fit and impress the new gaffer and his staff. I enjoyed it. I knew I was only playing one half, so I got in my mind that I had to give everything. They are at a better stage than us because they've been out training for a few more weeks, but I'm hoping that I showed a little bit of what I can do, even when I'm not fully fit. When I'm fitter, hopefully I'll be able to do that for longer periods of the game. My goal came from a short corner. Luis Boa Morte crossed it in and I knew I had the run on my defender, so I went in and it was a good goal. I think if you're not hungry then you're not going to succeed in life and I'm definitely hungry this season to stamp a mark and stake a claim for playing."

Nouble admitted he had found things difficult at times last season and has come back to the club reinvigorated and rejuvenated ahead of the new campaign. "The first year I came here it was good and I got a few opportunities. Last season I went away on loan quite a lot, which was good for my experience, but going away for one month at a time wasn't really too great. This year hopefully I can come back and give everything. I'm 19, going on 20, now and I'm ready to make the next step. Some players have gone but you've just got to deal with it. Even if another player comes in, it's just an opportunity for me to showcase what I can do whenever I get the chance. There are still some strikers here so I've got to keep battling it out and show the manager that he doesn't need to put his hand in his pocket."

Meanwhile, Allardyce is keen to bring his former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Joey O’Brien to Upton Park – if he can prove his fitness. The 25-year-old played 45 minutes in Monday’s opening pre-season friendly against Young Boys and Allardyce is convinced that he can be a useful player in their Championship campaign. "He is an outstanding player," the West Ham boss told the Recorder from Switzerland this week. "For someone to play 28 times in the Premier League at the age of 19 shows that he has a lot of talent and if he is fit then he could be a very good player for us."

Fitness is the key for O’Brien, who has three international caps for the Republic of Ireland. His recent career has been plagued by injury and he ended last season on loan at League One outfit Sheffield Wednesday. Allardyce is well aware of the risks. "He has to prove his fitness," he said. "He has had a very frustrating time with injuries over the last two and a half years because he was misdiagnosed and then didn’t receive the right treatment. But it was good to see him come through 45 minutes on Monday without any reaction and now we will just have to see how it goes with him. We have him until the end of pre-season before we have to make a decision."

Allardyce has spoken to the England internationals in the squad and he revealed that at least one of them could be persuaded to stay for the new season. Scott Parker, Robert Green and Carlton Cole are all on the tour of Switzerland, but are interesting a host of Premier League clubs. "We sat down and chatted and they said they were happy to do their pre-season training with us and see what happened," said the manager. "Obviously we are a business as well as a football club and if the right sort of bid comes in for a player then we would have to look at it and we would certainly keep the player aware of what is going on, but I am hopeful that they won’t all be leaving."

Allardyce also confirmed that the club are talking to another of his Bolton old boys in Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen. "We are certainly interested in bringing him to West Ham," said the boss. "But negotiations on this one are at a very early stage." The Mail disagree and report discussions on a one-year deal are in the advanced stages, with a medical planned for the player on Thursday. The Iceland international, who spent the second half of last season on loan with Fulham, is a free agent after his one-year deal with Stoke expired. The former Bolton, Chelsea and Barcelona player struggled to make any impact at the Britannia Stadium and failed to find the net during 10 appearances with the Cottagers. Gudjohnsen came close to joining the East London club in January last year, but instead elected to spend a spell on loan with Tottenham from Monaco.

The same paper also claims West Ham have opened talks with Blackpool striker DJ Campbell. Campbell’s contract has a clause allowing him to leave for £1.25m. The striker was reported to have agreed to join QPR, but West Ham and two unnamed Premier League clubs are also said to be in the race to land the 29-year-old, who scored 13 Premier League goals for relegated Blackpool last season. Campbell, who joined the Seasiders from Leicester City last summer, has no secret of his preference to remain in the Premier League.

Allardyce is clearly looking for options after Stoke City agreed terms with West Ham United for striker Carlton Cole. The England forward, 27, is currently in Switzerland with West Ham but is reportedly due to hold talks with Stoke City manager Tony Pulis upon his return. Stoke chairman Peter Coates told Sky Sports: "We have agreed terms with West Ham, that's done. Now it's a case of can we agree terms with Carlton?" Cole joined West Ham from London rivals Chelsea in July 2006 and scored 42 goals in 165 appearances. But he managed just five league goals last season and according to media reports is now set to leave Upton Park. The fee has been reported to be an initial £4 million with a possible £2 million in add-ons.

Coates said Stoke had tried to sign Cole on previous occasions but was optimistic that this time the forward would make his way to the Midlands club, who lost in last season's FA Cup final to Manchester City. "We come from two different places. He has got an injury problem (Cole has had knee trouble) - he has always had that - and that is a risk you take so we have to factor that in," he said. "But he is a good player and Tony has always liked him. Manager's like different players but Tony has always liked him. I think we've tried to sign him around three times over the past few years without succeeding so maybe we will get somewhere this year. Now we've done a deal with the club it really needs his input with the player because he likes to talk to them and make sure they are on board, and he is on board and everything is ok from his point of view. But we see that work in progress and hope that something can be done."

According to today's Mirror, Cole's proposed move to Stoke is already in serious doubt after the striker's wage demands reportedly stunned his suitors. The paper claims Stoke were given permission to speak to Cole after offering £6million for the England international and the 27-year-old was expected to fly to Austria to join the Stoke squad. City’s director of football John Rudge even remained behind to accompany him. The Potters do pay big wages but Cole wants mega-bucks to uproot from his native London and instead joined the Hammers on their pre-season trip to Switzerland. Cole’s stance could now let Premier League new boys QPR back into the race to sign him.

The Mirror also claims Scott Parker is under consideration for a dramatic return to Chelsea, it emerged last night. The Blues are in sudden need of a midfielder after discovering Michael Essien could miss six months following surgery on a knee injury suffered in training last week. Hammers joint-owner David Sullivan last night refused to confirm whether the club had already been approached by Chelsea over the transfer of Upton Park talisman Parker. He is already known to Villas-Boas from his time at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho in 2004-2005.

Chelsea’s young coach was impressed by Parker’s conduct during his spell in west London, despite being frustrated by a lack of regular first-team football. The midfielder also stood out during the ritual, under Mourinho, which saw players deliver pre-match team talks. Parker went on to prove his leadership qualities last season when delivering a similar oration to inspire his West Ham team-mates from 3-0 down at West Brom to grab a point. Signing Parker would also help boost the club’s English contingent. Chelsea currently have only six domestic players in their squad and one of those, striker Daniel Sturridge, is expected to either be sold or go out on loan in search of regular action.

Finally, the Minister for Sport has 'advised' Tottenham Hotspur to ditch plans to challenge the decision to award preferred bidder status to West Ham. Despite having admitted corporate subterfuge in their attempts to undermine both the OPLC voting committee and members of West Ham United's staff, Tottenham have maintained that they will seek legal recourse - despite having lost the vote to win tenancy of the £500million stadium by 14-0.

However that could be set to change after the Conservative Minister Hugh Robertson warned the north London club that their plans to press on with legal action could destroy the capital's bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Speaking to the media yesterday, Robertson insisted that Tottenham should think very carefully before proceeding. "I would hope Tottenham would see the greater good to London; maybe it's a fond hope," he said. "The initial economic planning tells us it will be a £100million boost from hosting a World Athletics Championship. I hope anyone involved in sport would see the greater good, whatever their feelings about the stadium process. I find it frustrating that having been through the process we are now being dragged through the High Court, having won the first round we have the appeal to come. If we win that we will bid [to host the Championships], but I will not let the country bid if we have not got a locked-down secure venue, given the backdrop of previous bids."

Tottenham recently announced that they were seeking public funding after revealing plans to build a new stadium within their current borough of Haringey. Mr Robertson's warning could be seen as the first indication that should they refuse to play ball and back down over the Olympic Stadium issue, any such funding could be extremely unlikely to follow.

*West Ham play their final match on the tour tomorrow (Wednesday) against Basel with a 7.30pm kick-off.

*While this Saturday a Hammers XI will travel for a friendly at Bishop’s Stortford.

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