Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Fallen Edifice

I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?
Sam Allardyce could be confirmed as the new manager of West Ham United as early as tonight, reports Jason Burt, as the Hammers board successfully changed the 56-year old's mind about turning his back on English football management. Allardyce had considered either retirement or taking up a lucrative offer to coach in the oil-rich Middle East, after he was sacked by Blackburn's new India-based owners last December. Instead, he has agreed terms to succeed Avram Grant and will earn a £1 million bonus if he returns the club back into the Premier League from the Championship next season.

It is revealed by the Telegraph that two days after Grant was sacked West Ham United contacted Allardyce and told him the job was his if he wanted it. At that time the club also considered other candidates — such as Cardiff City’s Dave Jones and Norwich’s Paul Lambert — because there was a fear that Allardyce would not want to drop down to the Championship. Martin O’Neill has also been contacted and there were rumours last night that he was not completely out of the picture although West Ham sources played this down.

Writing in today's Express, Colin Mafham insists the club's board is in turmoil over the imminent appointment as owners David Sullivan and David Gold and managing director Karren Brady are all believed to be still split over who should get the job. Sullivan is understood to prefer Jones, Gold is strongly backing Allardyce and Ms Brady is understood to favour a second bid to land O’Neill. That said, meetings with Allardyce have progressed positively and he has been confirmed by insiders as their compromise first choice.

West Ham came close to appointing the former Rovers boss in January, when they instead offered the job to O’Neill, and it is understood that he hugely impressed co-chairman David Sullivan at that time and was disappointed not to be their choice. The club’s owners accept that a significant overhaul of the squad is needed and that a strong-minded manager such as Allardyce will be able to make the changes that are needed on and off the pitch. This has over-ridden any concerns over the manager’s style of football and in doing so recalls a classic Mephistophelean morality tale; that sometimes the price of success is one that West Ham fans – the average, the normal, the unchosen – would not wish to pay.

The 'triumph' for West Ham is in persuading him to go back into the Championship but it is believed that Allardyce, who still harbours hopes of one day becoming England manager, thinks that restoring the fortunes of a London club might help his cause. He also accepts he may have to modify his direct style of football, says Burt, as the controversial long-ball tactics are anathema to everything the East Enders are famous for. Even as I type these words there are those with a fundamentalist belief in passing the ball to each other- the vanguard of the 'West Ham way'- conducting a pitchfork vigil outside the Boleyn turrets. They know the Hammers have a proud reputation for doing things in a certain style while producing a constant supply of dazzling young players; they are the votaries carrying the torch for the Church of Greenwood: "The crowds at West Ham have never been rewarded by results but they keep turning up because of the good football they see. Other clubs will suffer from the old bugbear that results count more than anything. This has been the ruination of English soccer."

Greenwood's personal epiphany came on a dank November afternoon at Wembley in 1953 when Hungary's Magnificent Magyars trounced England 6-3 in a display of football the like of which the world had never seen. It changed Greenwood's philosophy of the game. Within a decade West Ham, the club he now managed, were imitating the best bits of Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis, sweeping the ball around in intricate patterns, and winning the FA Cup, European Cup-Winners' Cup and providing the backbone of England's successful World Cup-winning side. That style continued to evolve over the years, and the name of West Ham became synonymous with open, attacking football. It didn't always show itself in results, but it was pretty to watch for those who preferred aesthetics.

Yet there are no heresies in a dead religion. It has been several tawdry years since the Hammers truly produced the kind of football that Greenwood would have recognised. Years of moral and near literal bankruptcy; of failed foreign takeovers, transitory managerial tenures, nefarious transfer dealings and squalid court cases. Years when sensory values have been ablated by pragmatism and greed and burnt at the altar of Premier League survival. Now even that has gone.

A surprising 73 per cent of relegated clubs fail to return to the Premier League at the first attempt, despite the parachute payments that cushion their fall. The reckless buying, the false promises over investment, the crippling liabilities – and also the terrible costs of the Carlos Tévez affair. There are still two instalments outstanding on the £21 million the club were ordered to pay Sheffield United while "exceptional items" – compensation and legal fees – in the past four years have totalled a staggering £51.1 million. Sullivan has spoken of a £20m-£40m loan he and Gold will need to make next year to keep the club going. Despite putting cost-cutting measures in place, which have saved an estimated £25m, the debts still stand at £80m, with Sullivan admitting that "this club is in a worse financial position than any other in the country". As part of the deal to take over the Olympic Stadium, West Ham gave financial guarantees over the £95m conversion costs and the controversial £40m loan from Newham Council. Plans for retractable seating would add another £100m to the costs - with only £35m from the Government for keeping the athletics track, which means the equivalent distance of four double-decker buses between the front row of seats and the pitch. "All the debts are football or bank debts secured on the stadium and training ground so there is no route via administration," Sullivan admitted. "West Ham really is a football club where the football and bank debts exceed the value of the club."

Value of the club. A phrase pregnant with meaning as never before has the discord between the ideal and the practical be so pronounced. What is left in the ruins of the fallen edifice are only vestigial traces of Greenwood's ethos; such as the untarnished Academy which continues to produce young players in the finest club traditions. In the face of the harshest economic realities the consequences of not securing results at all costs could lead to the ruination of the club itself. Although some die-hard fans may be sceptical about Allardyce's tactical approach, states Mafham, his record on a tight budget is second to none. Which is exactly what is needed with the West Ham board having already warned that, given the club’s debts, huge amounts of money cannot be spent to return to the top flight.

What Allardyce offers is a record of delivering success with comparatively limited resources, agrees Burt. As he did when leading former club Bolton back to the top flight in 2001, beating Preston 3-0 in the play-off final at Wembley. The Trotters reached the Carling Cup final in 2004 and finished sixth the following season. After quitting Bolton at the end of the 2006-07 campaign, he was appointed Blackburn manager in December 2008, and took Rovers to a 10th-place finish in his first full season in charge. Allardyce also spent two seasons at Millwall as a player in the early 1980s, recalls Mafham, so is well aware of the Hammers’ history and traditions.

Over the weekend, Allardyce confirmed that he had accepted the job of rebuilding the club after talks on Friday which continued on Saturday and yesterday morning. Lawyers acting for both sides are currently drawing up contracts for a three-year deal and Allardyce told the People: "Everything has been agreed in principle and I look forward to taking charge after I have had a family holiday. It’s always difficult dealing with the aftermath of relegation but I want to get West Ham back into the Premier League as quickly as possible." Allardyce’s decision to accept West Ham’s approach hinged on being able to appoint trusted No.2 Neil McDonald, as well as the backroom staff who will put into place his famed sports science support system that carried Bolton into Europe twice. McDonald, who worked with Big Sam at Bolton and Blackburn – has just turned down the manager’s job at Bury to leave him free to join the Upton Park revolution.

Allardyce's biggest task will be to decide the futures of several high-profile players, thinks Burt, led by Scott Parker, who is expecting to leave in the next few weeks. Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have expressed interest in the midfielder who is desperate to preserve his international career. It seems likely that West Ham would want to sell Carlton Cole, who is wanted by Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Queens Park Rangers, and goalkeeper Robert Green, who has been linked to Aston Villa with Brad Friedel set to join Tottenham.

Meanwhile, Everton boss David Moyes is in the race for West Ham free agent striker Demba Ba - but may be unable to afford his massive financial demands, according to today's Mirror. The hitman can quit the relegated Hammers after his brief stay this season, and Moyes wants to bring him in as one of three or four new captures. However, Ba wants a huge signing-on fee as well as top wages, and the figures involved may be too much for Moyes and his money-men to afford. Ba is also wanted by Newcastle and Sunderland, with his camp looking into what cash is on the table.

So Sam Allardyce is set to become the latest in a series of short-lived managers at Upton Park, following Alan Pardew (2003-06), Alan Curbishley (06-08), Gianfranco Zola (08-10) and Grant (10-11), on the same day that in 1431 Joan of Arc was brought to the old market place of Rouen and burned at the stake for witchcraft and heresy. She remained the religious mystic until she died, claiming to the last her faith in the saintly voices that had directed her most of her life. Chained to the stake, she asked for a cross, which an English soldier made for her out of two small sticks. After all was over, Joan's executioner threw her ashes into the Seine so that no relic might remain. It took twenty-five years for Pope Callixtus III to examine the trial, pronounce her innocent and declare her a martyr. Let's hope the desciples of the Church of Greenwood are a more forgiving bunch. Afterall, heresy, as Graham Greene noted, is but another word for freedom of thought.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Ocean Of Denial

Rumours are circulating this evening that West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan have officially offered the vacant manager’s job to an interested applicant. At a meeting of the club’s ‘Supporter Advisory Board’ tonight, the typically garrulous Sullivan is thought to have revealed to those in attendance that he and Gold made the proposal and expect a definitive answer tomorrow. No name was given by Sullivan as to who the individual may be, but he did hint that it was a name he thought most supporters would approve of. He also disclosed he is British with experience of managing in the Premier League or in the Championship within the last two years.

According to a fan who was present at the meeting which took place in the Legends Lounge inside the Boleyn Ground, Sullivan was said to be pessimistic about the chances of the individual actually accepting the job; stating his ‘gut feeling was that they would turn down the job because of a particular issue’ said to be unrelated to the club. The co-owner also admitted he had offered the job to someone else within the last 48hrs, but they had already declined the opportunity, despite being offered over £1million basic with equivalent promotion bonus to take up the position. Around 100 fans were in attendance and the club were represented by Sullivan, Karren Brady, Ian Tompkins (Olympic Project Director) and Tony Carr; the latter strongly denying he wants the managerial job or that he ever had any interest in the post.

Following the sacking of former boss Avram Grant after relegation to the Championship was confirmed, the owners have said publically they are keen to bring someone in as quickly as possible. The rampant speculation came to ahead yesterday when the whispers concerning Dave Jones caused fevered activity on the betting exchanges. Such was the furore among West Ham fans at the prospect of the Cardiff City manager taking over the Upton park hotseat, David Gold was forced to issue a public statement dismissing the notion that an approach had been made. "Despite what you may have read in the papers, we have not spoken to Dave Jones," Gold posted on Twitter.

Reports suggested the club had moved for the Liverpudlian following the Bluebirds defeat in the npower Championship play-offs. Yet the 54-year-old former Wolves boss appeared equally keen to rule himself out of the running. Quoted in the East London Advertiser, Jones said: "I have not had any contact with them over the job. I am not prepared to say anything about the vacancy. I am still employed by Cardiff City and only thinking of them. I will be sitting down with the board at Cardiff and discussing my future with them soon."

With the Jones train seemingly hitting the buffers, Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies became today's cause célèbre. Trentside tittle-tattle erupted around lunchtime when it was claimed Forest had allowed West Ham permission to speak to their man. By late afternoon some witnesses had Davies variously attending an interview in London, looking around the stadium and visiting the training ground. Unsurprisingly, the money came in and brought the Scot's odds with it; up to third favourite in the current market.

It seems nobody was prepared to throw Iain Dowie's hat into the ring for the vacancy, so he did it himself. The ex-Sky Blues boss admits he would love to replace Avram Grant as the Hammers bid to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. "Anybody would be silly not to be interested in a club like West Ham," Dowie told Sky Sports News. "You never know if you will get that call or not, but I sense they may go for a slightly bigger name and look to make a statement. You would understand that and there is no problem with that." Dowie has been without a club since leaving Hull City in 2010. As one fan comented: "Purely out of respect to the fans, like me, who stood on that crumbling terrace being rained upon as Dowie rose like a gazelle to put a bullet header into the top corner of his own net right in front of the away end, he should not be allowed within a million miles of the job."

Away from the managerial front, and Steve Bruce was today furiously back-peddling after rashly announcing Sunderland's interest in signing £7million striker Demba Ba. Yesterday morning, the Sunderland boss confirmed: "My job is to knock on the owner’s door again and keep improving us – and yes, he’s one that we’re looking at. We’ll see what we’ve got and what we’ve got to spend. Hopefully we will improve the squad which we need to do. And yes, he’s one that we’re looking at." A few hours later came the news West Ham had reported the Black Cats to the Premier League for what they perceive as an illegal approach for the forward. The Hammers insist that Bruce called Ba direct, which is deemed illegal by Premier League rules, while Niall Quinn, the Sunderland chairman, has also been accused of contacting Ba's brother Cire and an unlicensed agent representing him.

A Premier League spokesman confirmed that they have received a complaint from the Hammers' which will now be considered. He said: "We have received a letter from West Ham United. We will look into their complaint to see if there is a case to answer." The regulations are detailed in Section K of the Premier League rulebook and state that a club cannot approach a contracted player at another club either directly or indirectly without prior written consent. Indeed, even a public statement expressing an interest in a player can be construed as an offence. Sunderland have today defended themselves against the claims with Quinn going as far as to deny any interest in the player whatsoever. A spokesman stated: "Sunderland AFC is fully aware of the Premier League regulations pertaining to player recruitment. If we are interested in any player currently under contract with another club, we will speak directly to that club, in line with the regulations."

Sunderland are one of a series of clubs - derby rivals Newcastle are among the others - to have been linked with Ba, who scored seven goals in the Hammers' ultimately vain bid to retain their top-flight status following a January move from German club Hoffenheim. Speaking at the Supporter Advisory Board meeting tonight, Sullivan admitted the player has intimated a desire to leave the club. He also claimed full credit for the signing (as oppose to Benni McCarthy, which was entirely Zola's idea) and acknowledged that Ba's legs are 'not great'.

Elsewhere, the Mirror claims Stoke have moved ahead of West Brom, QPR and Newcastle in the race to sign Carlton Cole. The Potters have already started to follow up their well-documented interest in the £9million-rated England striker with Europa League football a big incentive for Cole to move to the Britannia Stadium. The article claims West Ham are resigned to losing the marksman with joint-owner David Gold admitting even before the season had ended that the England internationals would be allowed to leave.

To that end, the same paper thinks Harry Redknapp wants to fund a move for Scott Parker - by selling Jermaine Jenas to Queens Park Rangers. Spurs boss Redknapp is desperate to snap up the West Ham midfielder and is said to be confident of getting the deal done. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has made it clear that Redknapp must sell before he can buy this summer - and Jenas is wanted by QPR boss Neil Warnock. Redknapp already has a wealth of midfield talent with Tom Huddlestone, Luka Modric, Sandro and Wilson Palacios so Jenas has become surplus to requirements. Spurs believe West Ham may sell for around £5m to help ease their financial problems after relegation and get him off the wage bill. Redknapp has claimed Liverpool and Arsenal are interested in Parker but both clubs generally look at younger players and the Spurs boss is already in the box seat.

Finally, it's back to tonight's meeting and a brief summary of the other points of interest mentioned before Sullivan and Brady departed to 'see a man about a dog':

Sullivan said automatic promotion is their aim for next season as it is always something they have managed to achieve in the past.

The next manager must have a proven track record [in getting automatic promotion] and must have been involved in the game within the recent past.

The board are looking primarily for a British manager but Sullivan mentioned that they would consider a foreign name of the right calibre (Ancelotti was mentioned) and had ruled out Paolo Di Canio because he currently doesn't have enough experience.

The search for a manager may be concluded tomorrow or it may take another 2-3 weeks. However Sullivan reiterated that no stone was being unturned.

Tony Carr distanced himself from the managerial post and explained his true expertise lies in youth development.

Although stressing that patience is required for his job, Carr mentioned some "youth" who he thinks have real potential: Dylan Tombides, Robert Hall, Blair Turgot, Leo Chambers ('a Glen Johnson playalike'), Elliot Lee and Kieran Sadlier. He encouraged supporters to come to Little Heath to watch matches for free on Saturday mornings.

Regarding player appointments, and whether they would move players prior to the appointment of the manager, Sullivan revealed they might renew players but preferably not prior to the appointment of the manager. He said they had made a 'colossal offer' to an existing player to stay with the club.

Sullivan said that after letting 3 or 4 players go they will invest in new players because they know that what will be left won't be strong enough to win promotion.

More money is available for players than was available at QPR or Norwich last

Zavon Hines has turned down what the Board thought was a generous offer and this is now going to a tribunal. Sullivan said he had asked for 'silly money' and we would all be shocked if he told us the figures involved.

Jordan Spence has been offered a new deal and he has accepted in principle. He is also desperate to play though, and is therefore waiting to see whether he will fit into the new manager's plans before committing himself.

The Icelandic banks have always been supportive of the current regime's proposals.

Matthew Upson and Kieron Dyer have already left the club.

The new away kit was revealed; it is sky blue and seemed very popular with everyone in the room.

The SAB will be divided into sub groups with specialist roles, one of which will be a forum relating to the Olympic Stadium move.

Those firms that have been invited to tender for the conversion works have been asked to come up with ideas for retractable seating. They want to have it – it’s just a question of whether a viable and cost-effective solution can be found.

The stadium will be West Ham’s stadium – a 150 year lease is being negotiated –
possibly longer – but the stadium will also be used by other sports other than football and athletics. Essex CCC may play some 20-20 games there which would make it the 4th biggest cricket venue in the world. NFL and baseball are also being considered as well as concerts and tourism, all of which will bring in revenue for the club in terms of spin-off sales.

There will be consultation on the best way to commemorate The Boleyn Ground and what items should be taken to the new stadium (The Lyall gates, memorial bricks etc.) There will be a new, bigger museum on site and an SAB member’s suggestion has already been included in the plans, to allow individual fans to exhibit their own collections of memorabilia.

Season ticket information for 2011-12 will be announced tomorrow and will no doubt
spark its own debate. It is understood there will be a package of measures aimed at placating those fans who feel they miss out on one-off match promotions such as ‘kids for a quid’ because they have committed to a season ticket at the start
of the season. There will be discounts in the club shop etc.

It has been a strange couple of days full of repudiations and gainsaying and after the events of this evening I'm not sure things are becomming any clearer. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, said Mark Twain and he's right. Sometimes, on days like these, it is also an ocean.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Inverted Sandwich

Dave Jones has emerged as West Ham's preferred choice to lead them out of the Championship, writes Sami Mokbel in today's Mail. Jones – whose future as Cardiff manager is under review following the Bluebirds’ failure to win promotion to the Premier League – has been linked with the post in the past and the odds on him taking the job were dramatically slashed last night. The Hammers sacked Israeli Avram Grant following their relegation from the Premier League last week and the board have made it clear they want a British manager next season. Co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold hope to have that appointment in place by the end of the month.

The Liverpudlian moved to the top of the wanted list after he failed for the sixth time to lead Cardiff to top-flight promotion. The 54-year-old is the longest serving manager in the Championship and was due to hold talks with Cardiff’s Malaysian owners- fronted by club chairman Dato Chan Tien Ghee- and chief executive Gethin Jenkins yesterday to discuss his very uncertain future. The Mail insists West Ham would give him an immediate route back into management should he leave his 12-month rolling contract worth £750,000 plus bonuses.

Sullivan and Gold were thought to be monitoring Alex McLeish, but after relegated Birmingham decided to stick with the Scot, they decided Jones was the man to lead them back to the top flight next season, says Mokbel. Whispers emanating from the Cardiff end last night suggested that a compensation deal had already be struck between the two clubs and a basic contract with promotion bonus agreed in principle between Jones and the Hammers hierachy. Although David Sullivan maintains a close relationship with Jones, he was still privately denying to media contacts that a decision on Grant's successor had been agreed.

That fits in with a report by Harry Harris, a known Sullivan contact, that there is a list of ten names still currently under consideration; of which Jones is not considered to be a priority. The Telegraph states that although the Cardiff manager is much admired, Martin O’Neill and Sam Allardyce — who both held talks about taking over from Grant in January — are the biggest names on the list. West Ham are thought to be waiting for O’Neill to resolve his dispute with Aston Villa, following his departure last August, which has gone to a Premier League tribunal. In contrast, any hopes of attracting Paul Lambert are dimishing with the Scot set to sign a vastly improved deal with newly promoted Norwich City. Also under consideration are former Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, Watford manager Malky Mackay and Swansea City’s Brendan Rodgers.

It is entirely possible the club may be attempting to reach provisional agreements with a number of those parties before finally making their choice; thus avoiding the kind of unseemly public courtship that can alienate potential targets further down the line. Martin O'Neill recently topped a fans' poll to become the 14th full time manager of West Ham United, and Harris 'understands' he remains the board's candidate of choice.

Whilst it is thought unlikely in football circles that the O'Neill will acceed to West Ham's overtures, Sullivan and Gold know there is an art to making such news more palatable. When the name of Dave Jones was leaked last night it was met with jubilation by the Cardiff supporters where his stock is said to be at an all time low. In east London there was begrumpled consternation. When the actual new West Ham manager turns out to be neither, the disappointment of missing the former will be offset by the relief in avoiding the latter. For want of a better name, I will call this trick the Inverted Shit Sandwich. Now the money has run out and Messrs Gold and Sullivan have effectively moved back to Nelson Mandela House, snarks Jason Froggett in this week's Guardian Gallery, we are likely to see more of the same.

Fortunately, even if this time next year we'll be heading back to the Premier League, the Inverted Shit Sandwich is a versatile snack. There is the news in this morning's Telegraph, for example, that Carlton Cole is set to lead the Upton Park exodus as United consider the cost of relegation from the Premier League. Jason Burt reveals that the striker is being courted by several admirers and could be first through the exit door. He leavens the situation by revealing the club are determined to hold on to their promising younger players as they continue the search for a new manager. You might've preferred the club to sell Frederic Piquionne, he is saying, but at least it isn't Demba Ba. Inverted Shit Sandwich.

The article states West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and newly-promoted Queens Park Rangers are all lining up bids for the England striker. West Ham are prepared to sell some of their established stars this summer, reports Burt, as long as the deals are done early. Offers for Cole — who is available for £7 million — are expected within seven days. The club are also braced for Arsenal and Liverpool to make offers for Scott Parker, who could be sold for upwards of £8 million. Tottenham Hotspur are also keen to sign the midfielder but may not be prepared to meet West Ham’s asking price. It is also believed that West Ham would rather not sell to Spurs given the difficult relations between the two clubs in recent times, says Burt, not least over the Olympic Stadium and previous transfer deals. West Ham have insisted that they would like Parker to stay but the chances are slim given the ambitions he still holds to play for England in the Euro 2012 finals. If we have to accept Parker leaving, at least it won't be to put flesh on Twitchy Redknapp's 'bare-boned' squad. Inverted Shit Sandwich.

The third senior departure is expected to be goalkeeper Robert Green, who has just a year on his contract, and is thought to be available for £3 million. Aston Villa, who are expected to release Brad Friedel, have expressed an interest in Green but have not yet submitted a bid. At the same time, Talksport have been informed that the club are poised to make a move for Manchester United reserve keeper Tomasz Kuszczak. The Polish stopper, 29, will be out of contract with the Premier League champions next summer when he will become a free agent. Kuszczak has spent five years at Old Trafford but failed to secure a regular first-team place. The radio station believe the player would be a quality replacement for the departing Green. So we lose our newly recalled international goalkeeper but at least we won't have to rely on inexperienced youngsters or untested loanees next season between the sticks. Inverted Shit Sandwich.

Other significant savings will also be made with high-earning loanees Robbie Keane, Wayne Bridge and Victor Obinna returning to their parent clubs and the likes of Matthew Upson and Danny Gabbidon out of contract. Although the latter, along with Jonathan Spector, is understood to have been offered a new short-term deal as West Ham prepare for life in the Championship. The board are also trying to tie down a number of younger players, such as Jack Collison, to new contracts as they reshape the squad. Burt indicates striker Ba and midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger have already been asked to stay and will get improved deals.

On a seperate note, Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has been shocked at how West Ham and Chelsea sacked their managers within hours of the final whistle in the past week. The West Ham directors met immediately after their loss at Wigan last week and fired Avram Grant before some of the players had even got on the team coach. Carlo Ancelotti was also given his marching orders on Sunday immediately after the Blues were beaten at Everton and Whelan says he cannot understand how clubs can treat their managers with such disrespect.

He said: "Last week’s game against West Ham was a pivotal one, a match we had to win, a match West Ham had to win. I saw one of the greatest football games I have ever seen, either as a fan, player or chairman. I was very sad when the manager was sacked immediately after the game. I didn’t think that was right. But West Ham are West Ham and they have to get on with it." Although getting chided by 'Honest' Dave on matters of integrity somewhat sticks in the craw, at least notes the Independent's James Lawton, the West Ham board showed more class than Abramovich. It says a lot about Chelsea that in a very close run thing they were finally outclassed by the ownership of West Ham United, he notes. For quite a time it was just too hard to call but on the last lap the Hammers had it in a photo-finish.

The Gang of Three (co-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan and the flagrant, sorry, fragrant, chief executive Karren Brady) had achieved the moral high ground over the Gang of One when they asked their hosts for that room in which to fire their manager, thinks Lawton. Roman Abramovich ordered his minions just to go do it in a corridor of Goodison Park and that little bit more quickly demolish any faint speculation that Carlo Ancelotti, a football man of charm and distinction whose brief sojourn at Stamford Bridge was marked by the Double and second place in a league reputed to be the strongest in the world, might be given the extra season which in anywhere but a football madhouse would have been more or less automatic. Less morals than Wigan but still better than Chelsea; the final addition to a platter of Inverted Shit Sandwiches.

Monday, 23 May 2011

That's Why We're Going Down

West Ham United’s dismal season ended in hugely disappointing fashion when the only team already relegated before the final games of the season suffered their 19th defeat of the campaign. Sunderland owed a rare win – only their third in 14 games – to goals from Asamoah Gyan, Stephane Sessegnon and Cristian Riveros. With a planned move to the Polympic Stadium, writes John Ley, this may have been the last top flight game to be witnessed at this famous old arena. Of more immediate concern, points out the Guardian, is that when Carlo Ancelotti states a desire to become your next manager, the last thing you want to do is blow your audition for the post. That, though, is what Kevin Keen may have done here; overseeing a defeat so listless in attack and lacking of defiance in defence, it was as if Avram Grant had never left.

Following the defeat by Wigan Athletic last week, which confirmed the club's relegation and Grant's sacking, Keen, promoted from first-team coach to caretaker manager for the third time, stated his intention to use this final fixture of a demoralising season to offer hope of better times ahead. It was supposed to mark the end of an error at Upton Park, notes Arindam Rej, with no sign of the sacked former "mistake" appointment. Yet, sadly the new dawn heralded the same old gloom: a West Ham defeat and a frustrated home crowd.

The omens had suggested that West Ham would win this. They had triumphed in their last six home games against Sunderland, keeping five clean sheets. Sunderland had lost their last five final-day Premier League fixtures. Trust West Ham to rewrite the form book to their disadvantage, though. On the pitch, there was also a feeling of "out with the old, in with the new" in a relatively youthful line-up. Keen was without Carlton Cole and Demba Ba, with neck and abdomen injuries respectively.Agent Robbie Keane, on loan recently from Tottenham, has returned to base. Matthew Upson, who was fit, was not included at all, a clear indication that the defender, whose contract expires this summer, has played his final game for the club. Wayne Bridge, on loan from Manchester City, did start, as did Danny Gabbidon, another of the seven players at the end of their current deals.

The opening moments of the game provided a host of chances, with Gyan testing Robert Green twice and Nedum Onuoha also thwarted by the former England goalkeeper. At the other end, Frederic Piquionne snatched at a shot and miss-kicked – a metaphor for West Ham’s season – while Freddie Sears was denied by the acrobatics of Simon Mignolet, who leapt to his right to punch a strong shot clear. The Sunderland goalkeeper was not so clinical seconds later when, from Thomas Hitzlsperger’s 30-yard free kick bounced off his chest but, eventually, the ball was cleared for a corner.

Sunderland responded again through Gyan and, again, Green was equal to the effort. Given the number of early chances, the fact that the first goal of the day came at Upton Park came as little surprise. In the 17th minute Ahmed Elmohamady crossed from the right and his delivery was met by a header from Boudewijn Zenden, which looped into the top corner. After the goal the game went flat, though before the interval Jack Collison threatened twice, and then Zavon Hines was denied by Mignolet.

Sadly for West Ham, after half-time, it only took Sunderland six minutes to extend their lead. Stéphane Sessègnon collected the ball in space and darted forward before producing a low, bobbling shot from 25 yards which beat Green via a slight deflection. Keen’s response was to make a double change, with Victor Obinna and Lars Jacobsen introduced, for Hines and James Tomkins. A subdued atmosphere was punctuated occasionally by a group of fans in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand determined to have a disco. A conga also broke out among them following the second goal and another began in the east stand with 20 minutes to go before stewards failed to see the funny side and sent the fans back. The fans booed the front of the PA announcer when, with four minutes to go, he began to name the man of the match. They laid off, though, when he read out the name of popular Jack Collison.

Scott Parker had been introduced after an hour to an emotional ovation. He came on for Luis Boa Morte, for what is in all probability the Footballer of the Year’s final game in a claret and blue shirt. He had spoken to the crowd before kick-off, thanking them for their support this season; his departure will be much lamented. When Sunderland substitute Cristian Riveros converted Jordan Henderson’s last minute cross to make it 3-0 it only served to extend the agony. It capped a seventh defeat in eight games for the Hammers and induced the home supporters to cry: "That's why we're going down." After the season the club have had the players thought better of a lap of honour. Most did stay to applaud the fans that had stuck with them through this troubled season before they disappeared down the tunnel, many of them for pastures new.

Those same fans had awoken to a story outlining Ancelotti's openness to taking over at Upton Park should Chelsea sack him. Though the Italian heard his fate swiftly last night, it seems unlikely he will be seen here. His dismissal has made it onto the front pages of the Italian press today. The Rome-based Corriere dello Sport welcomed Ancelotti's sacking because they are now linking the coach to Roma; the club where he won the Italian title as a player in 1983. Roma are looking to replace Vincenzo Montella this summer and Ancelotti has made no secret of his desire to manage the club one day.

Similarly, Alex McLeish also appears out of the running for the West Ham job. It was confirmed today he is to remain as Birmingham manager despite their relegation from the Barclays Premier League. Blues acting chairman Peter Pannu told the club's official website that McLeish's job is "safe"; although the Scot has been told the board expect him to lead the team back to the top flight at the first attempt next season. The Independent claims Chris Hughton is still the most realistic candidate to succeed Grant, while Kevin Keen has not given up hope of beating them all to the post. "This club is in my blood and I feel I can take it forward," he reiterated after the game yesterday. "It's a tough ask but I expect to speak to the owners this week and we'll see what happens."

Keen's blueprint for life in the Championship is based on giving youth a chance and in that respect there were positives here, with James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears all impressing in spells. That said, the caretaker manager admitted West Ham must learn to adapt quickly to the rigours of the npower Championship if they are to stand any chance of bouncing back to the Barclays Premier League at the first attempt. "It will be a tough, tough season in the Championship," he warned. "It's more physical than the Premier League - but not as much as it used to be - and there are more games. We have fantastic young players here and if we can keep hold of them, we have a fantastic base to build from and we can play the kind of football our fans believe in."

Keen was realistic about his chances of leading that revival, saying: "If I'm up against Martin O'Neill, Steve McClaren, Sam Allardyce, Neil Warnock, then it's going to be a tough ask. Because those boys have got a lot of experience, they've got a better record than my losses of two and wins of nil in the Premier League. So, it's up to the owners. I'm sure whichever way they go, they'll make the right decision." Despite fluffing his audition for the job, the former West Ham winger insisted he was up to the challenge. "Some people say I'm too nice to manage," he moaned. "Always a nice boy, played football in a nice way." When asked if he could be nasty as well, he added: "Yes, I can be fucking nasty if I have to be. I want the job. My record in two spells as caretaker isn't great - two defeats from two games - but the traditions of this club have slipped away and I can do a good job. Spread the word. I love the club. I played for them for nine years. It's in my blood. I feel I can really take the club on and contribute. If you ask the players if they want me to take the job, I think you'd get an affirmative answer from the majority of the players."

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce knows all about relegation, having suffered it with Birmingham while West Ham's current owners David Gold and David Sullivan were at the helm. His advice to his former bosses was: "You have to have a manager who has been there and done it. And you have to get rid of the players that will not stay. But you have to be careful that you don't strip it - that you have enough to get that balance right."

According to the Evening Standard, goalkeeper Robert Green is expected to be the first player sold by the club following their relegation from the Premier League. The England star will hold talks with Aston Villa this week with a view to a £4million move to the Midlands. Scott Parker will almost certainly follow Green out of the Upton Park exit door, with Tottenham the favourites to sign the Footballer of the Year. West Ham, though, will want at least £10m for the 30-year-old midfielder, who has been linked with several other top clubs, including Arsenal and Liverpool.

Club captain Matthew Upson is at the end of his contract and is expected to go. There also remains uncertainty over the futures of both Demba Ba, who was signed from German Bundesliga club Hoffenheim in January, and Thomas Hitzlsperger, who joined on a free transfer from Lazio last summer. The pair are thought to have escape clauses in their contracts in the event of relegation but the club's hierarchy would like to keep both players. Keen made Hitzlsperger captain for the match against Sunderland and the Germany international is known to feel some loyalty towards the club, particularly after missing the first six months of the season with a thigh injury.

Striker Carlton Cole could be the third player to be sold, with Newcastle manager Alan Pardew keen to take him to Tyneside as a replacement for Andy Carroll. Elsewhere, Victor Obinna is ready to quit Upton Park to join Stoke reports today's Sun. Obinna, 24, was a target for Potters boss Tony Pulis last summer before joining the Hammers on a season's loan from Inter Milan. Facing up to life away from the Premier League, co-owner David Sullivan today insisted there will be no fire sale of players. "We have had no bids yet for any players but we'll probably only sell three and, when they are gone, that's it," he insisted. "If we don't get a realistic price, whoever the player is and if he is under contract, then he'll start next season playing for West Ham."

Meanwhile, the eunuch in the harem insists West Ham are a laughing stock and there are three sets of people to blame for the club's demise this season; the players, the board and of course the management team. "There will be players distraught at relegation like they were last Sunday at Wigan, but there will also be those who are not bothered, because they know they will move on and find another club," Constant Critic Cottee writes in his weekly column. "This has been probably the worst season for West Ham since the Bond-scheme debacle and one we must draw a line under the sand." Ah ha, who's laughing now Mr Idiom Schism? Probably no one who has actually read this far, but who am I to pick stones or throw holes?

"I know we were relegated eight years ago, but at least that side produced some decent results playing decent football and the first four games when we lost every one really set the tone.," continues Cottee. "Sunday’s result and flat performance against Sunderland really summed up West Ham’s campaign. It was a real end of season game and although everyone was trying it was a poor performance and Sunderland were by far the better side. I’m disappointed, but especially for Kevin Keen. I spoke to Kevin before the match and he was so excited about the prospect of taking charge of the game."

Finally, if you're going to be a laughing stock then it would be just West Ham's luck to do it on an international scale. A report on the BBC states Fulham are likely to have to wait until Thursday to find out if they have qualified for the Europa League through the fair play table. The top-ranked team that has not already qualified for Europe gains entry to the competition. Fulham were leaders when the fair play table was last published on 30 April, but Zoltan Gera was sent off in their final game, the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Blackpool were the next highest eligible team, followed by West Ham.

There had been speculation that Blackpool will now take the qualify spot for the Europa League once the reports from Sunday's final round of Premier League matches have been filed and independently audited. However, conflicting reports suggest the Lancashire side do not actually hold a Europa Licence and so would be unable to take up the invitation. The BBC explains that match delegates award points depending on a range of factors, not only the number of yellow and red cards a side receives. They also consider "positive play", respect towards opponents and the behaviour of a club's officials. Fulham boss Mark Hughes remains confident Fulham will qualify for Europe, despite the sending off. "I don't think it will have any bearing on our standing," he said. "We are still hopeful of being in Europe."

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dreams Of Monica

I was in a pub this afternoon and no word of a lie that Monica Bellucci girl was there. She was sat plain as day, leaning back against the wooden settle in a black dress at least two sizes too small for her sadistically oppressed breasts. I could see her bare honeyed legs and the sharp patella that gave a fetching inverted-triangle shape to her knee. She was smoking a cigarette and looking the picture of poised insouciance. I watched her as she moved over to the table football, her slender fingers playfully enveloping the rusty blue knobs. She caught my gaze and with a look of pouting solicitude beckoned me to join her. I stood behind the claret side's goal, trying to hide my fascination by focusing on the ball's movements. When she registered a goal on the metal score-keeper, I looked straight at her and flashed her the most seductive smile I could muster. She responded to this courtesy by advising me to take charge of the rival team's front line. Just as I was about to manoeuvre my players to impress her with the dexterity of my wrists, the girl picked up the ball and placed it between her teeth, where it shone for all it was worth. She pushed out her chest and offered me the ball to pluck from her mouth. At once humiliated and hypnotised, I lifted my right hand, and just as my fingers were about to touch the ball, she moved away, leaving me with nothing but a mocking smile. I stood there, arm suspended in midair as if proposing a rediculous toast without a glass, to a love that would never be consummated.

Monica slunk over to the bar and I followed her footsteps. On the counter was a stack of today's newspapers. The back page of the Mail reported Carlo Ancelotti is prepared to drop out of the top flight and take charge at managerless West Ham when he is jettisoned by Chelsea. The fact the Italian ­won the ­Double in his first ­season at Stamford Bridge – and has ­secured the runners-up slot to Manchester United this season – cuts no ice with trigger-­happy Roman Abramovich. All Ancelotti can do is wait and prepare ­another chapter for his book.

"Another chapter? I will need to write a new book!" he is quoted as saying. "But West Ham? Why not. It has been a good experience and I will have a good memory of this year." The Italian boss is expected to be sacked soon after Sunday's final game of the season at Everton and claims he would have no problem picking up the pieces from Avram Grant's reign and taking a pay-cut. Ancelotti said: "I would coach West Ham. It's a challenge to manage a team in the Championship. The atmosphere at West Ham is amazing. It doesn't matter if you manage a top team or a smaller team. It's more important to work. I was happy to train in the second division when I was learning and I’m ­happy to train now I have the possibility to train a top team."

Ancelotti earns £5million a year at Chelsea and would get a fraction of that at Upton Park, but he said: "When you manage, you don't think about the money. It has never been a motivation for me. You think about working with passion." When asked about staying in England, he said: "Why not? I have respect for every team. The Championship is also fantastic. I have never seen a Championship game live but I’ve seen a lot of games on TV and the atmosphere is fantastic. If you watch a game in Italy in the ­second division there will be, say, 2,000 people. It is totally different here. If a club said to me, ‘You can manage this club without money’ then maybe I’d accept or maybe not. To give a good image of yourself, this is a good motivation. "

Writing in the Independent, Andrew Warshaw stated it is not Ancelotti but Sam Allardyce and Dave Jones who have emerged as front-runners for the West Ham job as the club prepare for life in the second tier of English football. The Hammers hierachy have made no secret of their intention to sign a British manager after Grant's unceremonious dismissal. Both Allardyce and Jones, reveals Warshaw, were in the frame to take over last December before David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady took the fateful decision to stick with the Israeli for the rest of the season.

Allardyce has been out of work since being sacked by Blackburn but has huge experience of turning round under-achieving clubs and a reputation for motivating players. While he would doubtless instill the kind of fighting spirit West Ham have been lacking, Jones has an impressive track record in terms of team building and talent-spotting. The longest-serving manager in the Championship, Jones has transformed Cardiff without managing to achieve top-flight football. Warshaw understands that Sullivan and Brady are keen for one or the other to take over at Upton Park but that Gold has not yet made up his mind.

He could be waiting for Alex McLeish thought the Star. If the Birmingham boss is relegated at Tottenham today it would put his position under considerable threat – despite qualifying for the Europa League through winning the Carling Cup. 'Big Eck', 52, could bounce back at West Ham, whose owners Sullivan and Gold appointed him at Birmingham four years ago when they were in charge at St Andrew’s. The former Motherwell, Hibernian, Rangers and Scotland chief McLeish remains a highly respected boss, despite Birmingham’s slide. West Ham are planning a quick appointment after going down and want their squad reshaped for an immediate promotion challenge next season.

The paper insisted decisions will have to be made soon on high-profile players including Footballer of the Year Scott Parker, who is expected to move to one of the Premier League elite. According to the People, that could be Liverpool. The Merseysiders have their eye on the influential midfielder, but could to lose out to Tottenham in the race to sign the Hammers vice-captain. The England ace, 30, commands a £10m fee and wages of £80,000 a week. The same paper believed Carlton Cole is being targeted for a move as West Ham’s player exodus begins. It is reported Roy Hodgson wants to take the striker to West Brom – and the Hammers are willing to sell for around £4million. Hodgson tried to sign Cole last August at Liverpool and remains keen on the front man, as his style of play fits perfectly with the system he is introducing at the Hawthorns.

Elsewhere, the Mirror decided West Ham are expecting to receive a number of offers for their England keeper Robert Green ­despite a nightmare season for club and country. Few could forget his blunder in the World Cup last summer when he ­allowed a Clint Dempsey shot to slip through his hands and cost England an opening game victory. Green did get his form back – and was even voted runner-up, to Parker, as Hammers’ player of the year – but he failed to help his side avoid relegation. Caretaker boss Kevin Keen said: "I would be very surprised if there isn’t a team in the Premier League that wouldn’t want his services." In addition, West Ham stars Demba Ba and Thomas ­Hitzlsperger will join the exodus from Upton Park this summer without the club receiving a fee for the duo. According to the article, both players have agreements with West Ham stating that in the event of relegation they could move on as free agents.

With that, I looked up from the papers to see Monica disappearing through the door, the hem of her skirt fluttering for a second as she ghosted down the step onto the cobbles. She had been replaced at the bar by a big-boned northern lass with agressive eyebrows, a sour-faced Scouse girl with mournful eyes and a gangly ginger hen with a permanent grimace. Apparently, it is true no man will be found in whose mind airy notions do not sometimes tyrannize, and force him to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability. In the meantime, let us drink down all unkindness.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

He Does Not Play Dice

I am convinced that He does not play dice...

David Gold has insisted no stone will be left unturned as West Ham strive to ensure they appoint the right manager as Avram Grant's successor. Gold and co-owner David Sullivan are looking to bring in a replacement as quickly as possible so that the new man has time to start preparing for next season. That said, both have promised a methodical approach in their determination to hand the reins to a manager who can revive West Ham's fortunes. "We want to do it as fast as we can but we must do it in a sensible way so that we are absolutely sure that we haven't missed an opportunity," Gold told Sky Sports News. "We will be looking at CVs and we will be talking to people. We want to make sure there is no stone that hasn't been turned. We have to take every possible opportunity to make sure we pick the right person because this is a very important appointment."

One of those stones is the escalating situation at Birmingham where Alex McLeish will consider his future after Sunday’s relegation tussle against Tottenham. The Express reports that the uncertainty surrounding McLeish is being watched carefully by West Ham as they continue to weigh up potential successors to Grant. Despite winning their first trophy in 48 years by lifting the Carling Cup in February, Birmingham could be relegated in this Sunday’s five-way showdown. McLeish fears he may be sacked if Birmingham go down to the Championship, but he could decide it is time to walk away even if the club hold on to their Premier League status.

The paper understands McLeish has already been made aware he will have to operate on a shoestring budget again this summer and could be forced to sell one of the club’s star names, goalkeeper Ben Foster or central defender Roger Johnson. West Ham have been made aware of the problems at St Andrew’s, but would face competition for the services of McLeish if he leaves Birmingham. The Hammers co-owners were responsible for appointing McLeish as Birmingham’s manager in 2007. Despite the fact he clashed with the former Blues owners over their involvement in transfers, the Scot maintains a good relationship with them. Earlier this season Gold said: "I have always felt he is one of the best managers I have ever worked with. Alex has impressed me and I pay tribute to what he has done for Birmingham."

The West Ham board fear former Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill will turn them down a second time, according to the Express, while Norwich manager Paul Lambert is also being eyed by Premier League clubs. Sam Allardyce is still assessing his options, although reports suggest his representative has already held initial discussions about the possibility of him becoming the club's next manager. Former West Ham player Chris Hughton remains a strong candidate and wants the job, while Dave Jones’s position at Cardiff is also being monitored. The latter's chances cannot be helped by Karren Brady's comments in her regular Sun column. "Our frustrations at Upton Park find an echo in Cardiff," she writes, "where the home team lose in the play-off semi-final to Reading. Dave Jones has been manager-in-waiting for the Premier League for two consecutive seasons and those sad eyes of his tell more of a story than words ever could. He's considering his future. But not really. At his age, successful managers don't quit although they do fade away. I hope Dave will have another go with Cardiff next season."

Brady goes onto recount her experience of last Sunday, on the day 'God has something better to do than save West Ham'. "David Sullivan and David Gold leave their seats to go and tell Avram that we'll sadly have to find someone else to lead us out of the wilderness," she records. "I wish Avram well for the future, as I have always said he is a good man and he departed the club on amicable terms. Not the best day out my family is having, either. Each time Wigan score, a gentleman close by my young son throws a huge V-sign in his direction and swears violently. At the final whistle, I tell Dave Whelan and he gets the offender to apologise. Dave Whelan is a great footballing man, a real gentleman and I am a great admirer of his. I hope their result today counts for something next week, otherwise we'll have to drown our sorrows together in the Championship."

Then again, maybe God didn't have something better to do than save West Ham; maybe he was just intent on sticking two fingers up at the West Ham board. Writing in this morning's Mail, Des Kelly insists that backing Avram Grant was the West Ham board's big mistake. They gave him a brand new office you know. It had a desk, a chair, some different coloured biros and a fancy laptop gizmo that worked out how far his players had run and how much Kentucky Fried Chicken Benni McCarthy had eaten. Even then, Avram Grant couldn’t hack it. West Ham handed him all the paper clips his heart desired, yet he was still unable to save the club. Relegation was his fault entirely. That’s the line chief executive Karren Brady was peddling in her unique take on events this week, argues Kelly. Her verdict could essentially be summed up as one long denial. Of everything.

Having read her account Kelly could only feel relieved Brady’s attempt to write history is confined to West Ham. If she had been asked to review something more significant, he reasons, like the assassination of John F Kennedy for instance, she may have blamed JFK for putting his head in the way of the bullet. Stung by accusations that the Hammers were ‘the worst-run club’, Brady declared everyone in a position of authority at the Boleyn Ground should be exonerated from blame, except the hapless Grant. "Avram’s personal needs were met: a driver, a new office and an upgraded, expensive analysis system," she said. "He was given every chance, but was sadly unable to deliver."

Let us leave aside the rather unsettling reference to Grant’s ‘personal needs’, pleads Kelly, since past reports suggest they might involve a good rub-down at a massage parlour and that is not an image to dwell upon unless you intend to keep the lights on for the rest of your life. I know what he means. When it was mentioned the other day that the Israeli had alluded to several "red lights" that had warned him of how difficult his job would be due to a lack of money to buy new players; it reduced this puerile mind to a snickering schoolboy who had just discovered there's a city in France named Brest.

Instead, we should concentrate on the merits of the blame-shifting exercise currently underway, thinks Kelly. For although managers are often cast as the patsy, sometimes it is the people that put them there who should be called to account. Without straying too far into territory more familiar to David Gold and David Sullivan, the Hammers board is currently in more denial than a teenage boy caught by their mother with a top-shelf magazine. Seriously, who cares whether Brady and Co gave Grant an office? The fundamental problem was they gave him a job!

Three supposedly streetwise business operators handed the club they had poured their money into over to a gloomy Gollum of a boss who was always likely to guide them down the plughole, insists Kelly. In August, when most were sure they had a squad more than capable of staying up, he had warned: 'West Ham will suffer the consequences of appointing a manager who bows to the bungling interference of the owners.' So it came to pass. This is a club hierarchy that loves to say who should and shouldn’t be bought, allowing their favourite agent to pull the strings, only to squeal to the Press when the whole enterprise goes tits up.

Kelly heard tales of one boardroom figure entering the dressing room to tell players how to defeat Stoke; and there are reports of how a busy agent boasts he has effectively replaced the sacked chief scout. West Ham’s triumvirate handed Grant the manager’s job because he was malleable. He didn’t mind agents going direct to members of the board, notes Kelly, he kept quiet when know-it-alls stuck an oar in on tactics.

"We don’t hide our success as businessmen, or that we came from humble beginnings," said Brady, with a distinct lack of anything that could be described as humble. But they seem to have been doing a good job of hiding that success as businessmen of late. Brady took particular exception to descriptions of the Hammers’ £275-a-head, end-of-season bash. She insisted it was "certainly not a party" at all, but a "Gala Evening", which sounded very highfalutin, la-de-dah Gunner Graham. If you look up the definition of the word gala, notes Kelly, it says: ‘A festive occasion, especially a lavish social event or celebration. Characterised by sumptuous social pleasure, as in "the gala life of the very rich".’ So I think we can say it was a party then, albeit an ill-timed and miserable one.

Brady was not the only boardroom figure talking, however. Gold was interviewed as soon as Sky could dispatch a camera to his house and claimed he always found everything was ‘very professional’ at the training ground. This contrasted somewhat with the view of Lee Dixon, a fine player and a pundit who knows what he’s talking about, says Kelly. When he visited training he used a different word. 'Shambles'.

There may have been more of the customary stuff from Gold about those ‘humble beginnings’, but Kelly confesses he wasn’t listening because he was too busy wondering why the West Ham owner's helicopter wasn’t in the back of the shot like it usually is. Sullivan, the last of the three amigos, offered his alibis to another tabloid and, to be fair, he did say Grant’s appointment was "a bad selection by the board". But then he added: "I confidently predict that this time next year, we’ll all be millionaires!"

Apologies, offers Kelly, what he actually said was: "I confidently predict that this time next year, we’ll be back in the Premier League," but for some reason it's very difficult to get Del Boy’s version out of your head. There is little evidence, he thinks, to suggest West Ham’s hope of making an immediate return to the top flight is any more likely to succeed than one of the Trotters’ money-making schemes. A surprising 73 per cent of relegated clubs fail to return to the Premier League at the first attempt, despite the parachute payments that cushion their fall.

At least whoever takes on the job knows what to expect: meddling, muddling and moaning from a hierarchy very keen to maintain their profile, whatever happens. That was how news that Martin O’Neill had been offered and eventually rejected the job at the turn of the year became public knowledge, reveals Kelly. From then on, Grant was dead in the water (or perhaps ‘more dead’, baring in mind his usual demeanour). He became so detached he left the coaching staff to run the show, ignored the details and merely waited for the sack. By the end, that brand new office Grant had been given became a handy sanctuary for an occasional nap. Or worse. With so much rancour swirling around West Ham's Boleyn Ground, despite the talk of red lights it was always too much to hope for a happy ending.

Also piling on is Radoslav Kovac, who has criticised Avram Grant for his poor management of the club that saw them relegated from the Premier League. The former Czech international Kovac joined the club in January 2009 whilst Gianfranco Zola was manager, but saw his chances become more limited under Grant. He lambasts the decisions to sign top quality players but not use them, feeling Grant's running of the team had been poor and, in consequence, there was a 'horrific atmosphere' created in the dressing room. "It's a catastrophe and a disgrace that we have been relegated. We had a team capable of finishing in the top ten," he told Pravo. "Obinna, Piquionne, Carlton Cole, Robbie Keane, Demba Ba - all absolutely top-class players, aces. Avram Grant is the man to blame. People will think that we are just throwing responsibility and all the dirt on him, but nobody understands why the club didn't sack him already in the winter."

The 31-year-old looks certain to quit the club this summer, with the player citing that he did not want to stay on due to a lack of first-team opportunities. "Even so (by sacking Grant now) everyone has been relieved. Our fans hated him and there was a horrific atmosphere within the dressing room. He spent £40million on players who should have fitted into his ideas. But then they were not playing anyway. He was not honest. Before the season I had a great offer from Stoke City and he told me he would not release me as he counted on my services. But I wasn't playing often. The same scenario happened again in the winter. Not to mention his tactical decisions. The score was even in some games or we were leading by an odd goal and he replaced a forward with another one. He was not able to react precisely to how a game developed. At the moment I am very disappointed and frustrated. It has been the worst season in my career. Had I played regularly, I would have stayed to fight for back-to-back promotion. But this way, I'm not the main man to be blamed, that's why I don't want to stay on."

Also unlikely to stay is Scott Parker. Predictably, Harry Redknapp has begun the public wooing by telling his media contacts he wants the Footballer of the Year to 'boss Tottenham's midfield'. Redknapp admits he is facing fierce competition from Liverpool and Arsenal for the West Ham star. As he prepares to sit down with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy next week to look at transfer targets, the England midfielder is reportedly high on his list. Having had a £6million offer turned down in January, Redknapp is determined to get his man this summer. "Yes, he is a good player, a top player - but there is a lot of interest," he twitched. "We'll wait and see. I hear that Arsenal and Liverpool are in for him. They are top clubs so it will be hard."

Redknapp knows that players with Parker's strength of character are hard to find. The midfielder has been outstanding for the relegated Hammers despite their woeful season and put in a star-man performance against Spurs just hours after his father died. Redknapp added: "I think he is a quiet boy but on the pitch he leads by example. We lack one or two strong characters and experienced leaders that will make us better. I'm not just saying necessarily Scott but we need to find one or two that are that type. It's not easy to find them, though. Those players aren't around any more. They are a dying breed, the likes of Jamie Carragher and John Terry."

Through it all caretaker manager Kevin Keen, who will take charge for the final game of the Premier League campaign against Sunderland, has reiterated his desire to land the role on a permanent basis. "I'm West Ham through and through," said Keen. "I was here nine years as a player and this is my ninth season back coaching. Anyone who has that connection with the club would love to be given the opportunity. It would be a great honour and I would love to do it. If you had said to me three or four weeks ago that I was an obvious candidate, I think people would have laughed at you. But after the way I have conducted myself over the last week, hopefully people have said: 'Actually, he knows what he is doing and what he is talking about, he loves the football club, he has got a vision of the future. Yes, he is a candidate'."

Speaking in today's Sun, Keen declares West Ham have been 'shit' this season and has warned the club's flops they face a hostile reception from their own fans tomorrow. "I think there may be a small element of the crowd who might want to vent their anger," he admitted, eyes darting skywards. "But God knows we've had a shit season, haven't we? If you can't go to West Ham, pay your money and shout, as they used to in my day, 'Keen, why don't you try harder you effing little whatever', then something's wrong. It's part of football and we must be big enough and strong enough to deal with it. I'm sure the majority of fans, with the side I'm picking, will get right behind us and help us win."

The Mirror reveals that the club will treat Sunday's match with Sunderland as "the first game of next season" - and send out players who will be available in the Championship. Some players who are set to leave the club in the summer have privately indicated they do not want to play in the last game of the season, but Keen said: "It's a myth that people don't care. Foreign players get tainted with that mainly, it's totally untrue." Although there has been criticism of the attitude of some of the players, Keen says relegation has hit the whole squad hard. "The scenes in the dressing room [at the DW Stadium] were as fans would hope, especially with the way that we lost the game, being 2-0 [ahead], 2-2 and then losing," he added. "There was genuine disappointment. You come back into the dressing room and academy manager Tony Carr has his head on the floor as he has worked so hard to bring players through and promote."

Player of the Season Parker, who is among those set to lead the exodus this summer, is struggling to be fit; while Mark Noble (hernia) and Gary O'Neil (ankle) are confirmed absentees. Keen hinted England defender Matthew Upson, who is out of contract, will not make his farewell appearance at Upton Park and he must also decide whether to play his three on-loan stars - Wayne Bridge, Robbie Keane and Victor Obinna. Otherwise, the team will include a strong home-grown contingent. Zavon Hines, Jordan Spence, Freddie Sears, Junior Stanislas, James Tomkins and Jack Collison are all likely to feature for the relegated Hammers.

The club will begin their rebuilding plans by also handing hot prospect Dylan Tombides his first taste of first-team football. The 17-year-old - dubbed the new Harry Kewell in his native Australia - is set to be handed a place on the bench for tomorrow's visit of the Black Cats. Tombides, who is a left-footed forward, has made a major impression for the Hammers reserve side this season, which helped him win the club's Academy Player of the Year award.

The acting West Ham boss said: "There is no denying that we're bottom of the league and we've underperformed. But as far as I'm concerned the first game of next season is on Sunday. It will be a West Ham side. That's what I want. Players going out there who will play for the claret and blue shirt, show real desire to play for that shirt and hopefully show flair and ability that this club deserves. I've seen this week that those with a great chance of being here next season have perhaps trained a little bit more enthusiastically than those who have a chance of not being here. The majority of the team will be those appearing next year for us."

Sunderland are set to have a striker available after Asamoah Gyan returned to training. The Ghana international is battling back after a hamstring problem, while defender Anton Ferdinand is also back in training and both could make the squad to face the already-relegated Hammers. Craig Gordon, Titus Bramble, Michael Turner, David Meyler, Fraizer Campbell and Marcos Angeleri are all out with knee injuries, while Kieran Richardson (fractured fibula), Lee Cattermole (back) and Danny Welbeck (hamstring) remain on the sidelines.

West Ham provisional squad: Green, Jacobsen, Tomkins, Upson, Hitzlsperger, Piquionne, Spector, Ba, Cole, Boffin, Reid, Da Costa, Boa Morte, Collison, Keane, Spence, Bridge, Parker, Stanislas, Hines, Sears.

Sunderland provisional squad: Mignolet, Carson, Onuoha, Mensah, Ferdinand, Bardsley, Riveros, Henderson, Malbranque, Elmohamady, Sessegnon, Zenden, Colback, Gyan, Noble, Knott, Adams, Lynch, Laing.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Grow Box Of Goodness

Neil Warnock has said he has the backing of Queens Park Rangers to "plan for next season" after a meeting with the board. According to today's Guardian, their support appears to rule him out of the running to replace Avram Grant as West Ham United's manager, a possibility that was understood to have appealed to co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan. Warnock told the QPR website: "We had a meeting and they reiterated their pleasure at the job I've done. They said they're happy with how I've gone about my business in my time here and we're all planning for next season now. I'm just concentrating on our return to the Premier League and I'm so excited about next season."

Warnock had previously admitted that he was unsure whether his services would be retained and said after promotion was confirmed: "I'm not totally confident – it's one of those things. I don't want to leave London and I will be disappointed. I'm sure my stock has not gone down – but anything is possible. I spoke to my two leaders Flavio [Briatore, the former chairman who is a shareholder] and Bernie [Ecclestone] this morning and both wished me all the best. I hope my contract is watertight."

Elsewhere, former West Ham striker Paulo Di Canio has been confirmed as the new Swindon Town manager. The 42-year-old Italian, whose brilliance during his playing days walked hand in hand with controversy, takes the reins from Paul Bodin, who was only briefly placed in caretaker charge after the club parted ways with Paul Hart three weeks ago. Di Canio will make his managerial bow in League Two after Hart, who only took over himself from Danny Wilson in early March, failed to save the Wiltshire club from relegation this season.

The appointment marks a sensational return to England for Di Canio in what is the bottom tier of the Football League. It simultaneously rules him out of the race to fill the vacancy at West Ham, whilst providing the first step to him doing exactly that sometime in the future. Di Canio, who holds a coaching licence, will wrap up his work as a pundit in his native Italy this weekend. He has been keen to move into the dugout for some time although many anticipated his managerial bow to possibly be made higher up the football pyramid.

Di Canio started his career in his homeland with Lazio, Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan - during which time he won the Serie A title and European Super Cup and claimed runners-up medals in both the Uefa Cup and European Cup among other achivements. He completed a move to Celtic in 1996, where he spent a single season before a two-year spell at Sheffield Wednesday followed. It was at Hillsborough where he famously pushed referee Paul Alcock to the ground after being sent off and was banned for 11 matches. He switched to West Ham in 1999 where he enjoyed huge success and lit up the Premier League with his flair and skill, remaining idolised by the Upton Park faithful to this day. He swapped the Hammers for a brief spell with Charlton in 2003 before returning to Rome and spells with Lazio - where off-field troubles continued to follow him, most notably after his fascist salutes to a section of the club's fans - and Cisco Roma. His retirement from professional football finally came in 2008.

Away from the search for a new manager and Tony Pulis is lining up a £9million summer bid for Carlton Cole as he prepares Stoke for Europe. A report in today's Sun states Cole looks certain to leave the relegated Hammers and will not be short of offers, with Newcastle also ready to make a substantial bid. The 27-year-old England striker has been on the Potters' radar ever since they were promoted to the Premier League in 2008.

Stoke want to increase their options up front after Achilles injuries to Ricardo Fuller and Mama Sidibe left them short of firepower in the final months of the season. Pulis said: "We need to bring in more quality over the summer because we want to give it our best shot in Europe. The chairman will make sure everything is sensible but we want to bring in better players. Our aim is to keep progressing. Hopefully, we can add to what we've already got." The Potters chief is also thought to be a fan of West Ham midfield duo Mark Noble and Jack Collison. There is no truth to the rumour he wishes to purchase the entire Hammers squad on the basis he only has to be better than Avram Grant to secure a team better than he already has.

Finally, on a quiet day for Hammers news, Harry Pearson wants to know whether the wisest people on the planet – Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady – can safeguard the future of football? A decade or so ago Sepp Blatter told his newspaper that "Football is the most powerful force in the world." Since the previous most powerful force in the world was the atomic bomb (which superseded God in June 1961) some security analysts – well, Pearson, anyway – expressed fears about what could happen if football fell into the wrong hands, positing a scenario in which a terrorist cell got hold of some dirty football, possibly from the former Soviet Union, and detonated it in a major city, causing destruction and mayhem, and leaving generations of children born hideously deformed by tattoos and overelaborate hair.

Many experts dismissed this possibility as totally unbelievable, says Pearson, but since highly respected professionals express that view on television every week about Carlos Tevez's ability to run 15 yards without falling over the phrase is not so entirely negative as you might think. Admittedly the idea seemed highly unlikely, not least because football is guarded by some of the wisest and bravest people on the planet: President Blatter himself, Jack Warner, the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, not to mention Britain's very own Holy Trinity of Gold, Sullivan and Brady.

Pearson observes that on the latter subject some uneducated commentators have remarked that allowing somebody who hired Avram Grant and paid Wayne Bridge £90,000 a week to appear on TV doling out advice to the young entrepreneurs of Britain is akin to hiring Richard Keys to present Woman's Hour. What ignorance, he says, convinced as he is that time will utterly vindicate this brilliant business strategist and the doubters will come to see what an absolute masterstroke offering a new contract to Luis Boa Morte actually was. Television, after all, is not a medium that promotes the careers of charlatans, nitwits and mountebanks, as he was remarking to Piers Morgan only the other day.

Anyroad, the belief that the security of football was safeguarded has plainly been unfounded. Despite the best efforts of the great and the good and Diego Maradona in the past few weeks the back pages have been filled with alarming headlines says Pearson: Football now viewed as a low-risk alternative to drugs by organised crime, blared one above a story so obviously incendiary you could use it to light the fire without reading it first. The notion of the world market being flooded with black market football is indeed an unsettling one. The drug addict is not the type to ask if his or her purchase is fairtrade, as the collapse of Pearson's single estate, organic methamphetamine business last year testifies, and the football addict is no different. They will take whatever junk they can get.

The headlines might have been viewed as mere hysteria were it not for the fact that, within a few days, officers of HM Revenue and Customs boarded a freighter bound for Tilbury and seized six tons of raw Colombian soccer with an estimated TV value of £75m. "Football is imported in an unrefined state from South America," the head of Scotland Yard's menacing foreign geezer-groups with media-friendly names investigations unit, Dave Triad, explained, "and once it reaches the UK is cut with cheaper substances such as cola adverts, slow-motion replays and Jake Humphrey, resulting in a huge profit for the soccer pushers."

Or at least it does for those fortunate few able to peddle their wares on the profitable corners. As David Lacey points out, the forfeiting of millions through relegation can have a devastating effect, preying on teams' thinking. It used to be an inconvenience, he says. Now it is a financial disaster that can threaten a club's existence or at least raise the spectre of administration. Every season the price of relegation gets higher. Parachute payments of £48m over four years may ease the burden of going down, but they hardly compensate for the loss of up to £40m a season that membership of the Premier League promises. In any case some clubs have already mortgaged future income in a desperate bid to stay up.

The English leagues are not leagues in the mutual sense but a collection of fiefdoms, each one jealous of its preserves. The plutocratic nature of the Premier League means that at least two-thirds of its members enter a season thinking not so much about what they could win as what they may lose. There are in effect two relegation struggles, states Lacey, one to stay out of the bottom three and avoid dropping into the Championship and the other to stay in the top four and ensure a continued interest in the Champions League. In each case fear of forfeiting millions is the motivating factor.

Even now, losing Premier League status need not be a mortal financial blow. Yet no amount of fiscal nous will save clubs with a death wish. Blackburn plunged into the relegation struggle after their new owners sacked Sam Allardyce, a manager likely to keep them up, while West Ham's demise appeared inevitable once they decided to retain Avram Grant, one likely to take them down. The most urgent problem for a relegated club is holding on to enough of their better players to stand a good chance of a quick return. A team used to be able to retain what was good and dispense with some of the lesser talents, but with Premier League wages ludicrously inflated by whichever club happens to attract the eye of a passing sheikh or oligarch, the pressure to let the high earners go is enormous. And players want to stay where the big money is anyway, says Lacey.

Sixteen left Upton Park the last time West Ham were relegated, in 2003, and Scott Parker is expected to lead a similar exodus now as the club strive to reduce their debts. The underlying fear of those relegated will be finding themselves still stuck in the Championship after the parachute payments run dry. It is all too easy to tumble through the divisions like a man falling down several flights of stairs. Bradford City, promoted to the Premier League in 1999 and relegated in 2001, have just finished in the lower half of League Two, which used to be called the Fourth Division. Next season the Sheffields, Wednesday and United, will be meeting in the old Third.

Good job then that Britain's own Holy Trinity are able to harvest their home-grown product, as propagated in Tony Carr's mullti-shelfed, natrium lamped, thermo-controlled, hygro-regulated grow box of goodness. The ten newest cultivars were welcomed as scholars at a special induction evening at the Boleyn Ground. The new arrivals have all successfully come through the Academy as schoolboys and will embark on full-time careers at Little Heath from July. Academy Director Carr and his coaching staff have identified all ten as potential first-team players of the future, provided they show the hard-work, attitude, talent and commitment required to reach the very highest level. Cheye Alexander, Samuel Baxter, Leo Chambers, Dymon Labonne, Elliot Lee, Taylor Miles, Kieran Sadlier, Nigel Seidu, Frazer Shaw and Joshua Siafa will all hope to follow in the footsteps of the dozens of players who have gone on to successful careers.

"Leo Chambers is the captain of England U16s, Kieran Sadlier is a Republic of Ireland U17 international and Elliot Lee has come into the U18s already on various occasions and done very well in the last half-dozen games of the season, scoring regularly including a hat-trick at Chelsea on the final day of the season," explained Carr. "We have got high hopes for those three players and there are two or three slightly less mature players who are very good footballers. We hope with full-time training that they can turn into good players. "As we always say, we're not trying to build teams. That's not what we're here for. We try to identify individuals. We put them into teams for them to showcase their skills and the conveyor belt is still moving and we certainly feel there is talent coming through for West Ham United."

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Restoring The Spirit

"They have no idea who's doing what and when," moaned Karren Brady on The Apprentice. While clearly putting her West Ham experience to good use on the show last night, the Hammers vice-chairman seems to be warming to her theme. Brady has hit back at claims Avram Grant was undermined throughout the season, insisting the Israeli was given everything possible to keep West Ham in the Premier League. Speaking in her Sun column this morning, she said: "Avram was given the best possible conditions to do the job. There were no silly targets set, no talk of Europe. We just said: 'Keep us up'. He was given extra training-ground staff and his personal needs met - including a driver, a new office and an upgraded expensive football analysis system. When things got tough, we backed him again. January signings like Wayne Bridge, Robbie Keane and Demba Ba saw us put our money where our mouth is. Again, no big names left the Boleyn. A good man, Avram was given every chance but he was sadly unable to deliver."

While the self-titled 'First Lady of Football' is kicking ass in the morning, and taking names in the evening there are a few other things she wants to get straight. "We are hurting over relegation but now it is all about promotion," she states. "Not just because of our league position but also in terms of pushing forward the reality of a proud club with solid finances, proper fans and a strong tradition. Like our sold-out end-of-season dinner this week, we stand up and face difficult times head on. Sure other clubs might have cancelled but we had a duty to 800 fans that had paid good money to attend a long-planned event. The night raised more than £150,000 for the academy."

In defence of the end-of-season bash that was overshadowed by a brawl involving disgruntled fans, Brady insists the players' behaviour at the event was without fault. "What you haven't read is that, to a man, the players were exemplary. Led by Scott Parker, they stayed for more than five hours. There was no roped-off VIP area, no rushing the players in and then out the back door. No hiding. The squad listened to what fans had to say and shared their own frustrations. Even when one guest went too far for a mindless minute or two, the players remained and kept cool. They played their part in a successful evening."

Comparing the club's column inches to that of another end-of-season dinner on the same night where Birmingham players - still with a big game to play - were out until 4am drinking, Brady reasoned: "We'd have had Royal Wedding-sized coverage had that been us. Ours was not a celebration and certainly not a party, as some wrongly claimed, but it was right to have a night where fans could respect the academy and their Hammer of the Year. Everyone has had their say and there is nothing wrong with fair comment. But hyped accounts of trouble are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing a season where fact has been replaced by fiction. One paper used two different writers, who barely go the Boleyn, to claim we're the worst-run club. Maybe they think saying it twice makes it more believable. You can kick us when we're down - but we'll always get up again."

Brady states that the club losing its Premier League status was not for the want of trying. "Last summer we signed eight players, including a top German international and three of the star young players from the World Cup. Not one key player left despite other clubs wanting Rob Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. When the time to part came after the last game, it was done privately and amicably. Avram asked the club to delay the announcement or tell staff for 30 minutes until all the post-match duties had been carried out and the squad had left. That wish was respected. We gave him the option of a car to take him home but he chose to travel with the team."

The vice chairman vowed that the club will bounce back and target immediate promotion from the Championship next season. "As owners, we are also not shy in having our say - but we have a commitment to be open and honest with fans," she states. "We don't hide our success as businessmen or that we came from humble beginnings. We won't apologise for who we are or that we have spoken out at times during two seasons of struggles on the pitch but far more has been said and written by those with no clue about the club. Unlike them, we have the best interests at heart. Ask us a question and we will answer. But that also means we are listening. We act on constructive criticism. Fans are entitled to say what they like. They support the club. Everyone else can have their view but we'll only listen to the 35,000 who watch us every home game."

West Ham were in a critical condition when the current regime came in 18 months ago, reiterates Brady. "You all know the story but that fact remains. We put our own money in, steadied the ship. We took difficult decisions and made the Olympic Stadium a priority." Where would we be now if we had stood idly by after arriving? she asks. "That focus on Stratford was vital. We recognised how crucial it was to the club's future and for the Borough of Newham. It is a partnership plan that has had its legacy vision endorsed, with understanding that short-term league position has no bearing. What counts is ambition, energy and determination along with a very good business plan. When we were made preferred bidder in March, it was a momentous decision that galvanised the club. We were also careful to largely keep it separate from the first team. Avram was free to focus on his work - he never visited the stadium - and not asked to promote it in the Press."

Brady continues: "The Olympic Stadium will be superb for everyone and is a true positive. We know that won't mean much now to fans upset about our relegation but they know what it'll do long-term at every level of the club. To lead us there, we need a strong manager and we will make the right appointment. We'll continue to put our world-class academy first and do our job off the field, but the priority is getting straight back to the Premier League. It is interesting to see people ruling themselves out in the media without so much as an approach or a phone call from the club. We'll get the right man and when all is said and done next season, we will hold another gala dinner to celebrate all that is great about West Ham."

Still hoping to be that man is Kevin Keen. He continues to tell anyone who will listen that he would love the chance to restore West Ham's spirit. The caretaker manager has been boss of West Ham twice before, once for three days, the other time for a week. He's back in temporary charge again, as the club look for a manager to replace Avram Grant, and this time he wants the job permanently, writes Ken Dyer in the London Evening Standard. Keen has spent 18 years at Upton Park, nine as a player and the other nine as a coach. This season, he admits, has been the most difficult of the lot. "I think my wife would tell you it's been the most frustrating time in my 28 years in football," he said. "It has been really tough. I like Avram as a person but we had different ideas at times. That's just how football is."

West Ham co-owner David Sullivan has said there are 12 possible candidates for the manager's job and Keen hopes his name is on that list. Brian McDermott's success at Reading couldn't be better timed for Keen. The Championship club decided on continuity and went for him rather than a bigger name and now they are one match away from a return to the Premier League. "Of course I want to stay but circumstances will dictate what happens," added the 44-year-old. "I'd love to be given the chance if it was offered. It would be fantastic. I know the club inside out - I've worked with the first team under Alan Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant. I've seen the way they work, the things they've done well and the things I would have perhaps done a little differently."

Apart from Alan Curbishley, the other three didn't have a West Ham background, says Keen, that upbringing, the influence of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall. "There was someone at the dinner the other night - he was a West Ham fanatic who was in the building trade and he asked me who were the best players I played with. I'm asked the same question quite often and my answer is always Alan Devonshire and Billy Bonds, for different reasons. Alan was a joy, he skipped past defenders, created chances out of nothing and could run all day while Billy had that West Ham spirit, you always wanted to be on his side."

Keen believes that is the sort of spirit the club need if they are to make a quick return to the Premier League and he thinks there are other lessons they can learn from the Hammers' heritage. "That, in a nutshell, is the West Ham philosophy and something we need to get back to if we are to take the club forward again," he said. "My vision for this club is to get back to that style of football that the supporters want to see - passing, movement but at the same time, spirit, hard work and above all, people who want to play for West Ham United."

The temporary manager reveals he has told Karren Brady that he would like to be considered for the role and believes his grounding with the Hammers would hold him in good stead. "He is a man schooled as a player under the great John Lyall, who began his coaching work at the club under Tony Carr," the vice chairman said today. "He knows the club inside out and the talented youngsters we have coming through. He speaks his mind with passion and commitment." Brady believes you only have to listen to him to understand the club can come back stronger.

"They have promised me they will seek my opinion," Keen said. "I feel really strongly that the next manager should be someone with a West Ham background. I feel we need to get back to the values that are so vital to this club. Whether it is me or someone else, I feel the new man should have an understanding of the way this club works and what the supporters appreciate, what they expect. We used to be a lot of peoples' second or third favourite team but that doesn't seem to be the case now. Let's get back to doing things the right way."

Keen's last match as a player was in 1993 when he helped West Ham clinch promotion to the Premier League and he will now be in charge against Sunderland on Sunday, their final match in the top-flight this season. "There will be a look of the future," he said. "I will be picking players who will run their socks off for this club." Former Newcastle manager Chris Hughton remains the bookies' favourite to take the West Ham hotseat, with QPR boss Neil Warnock, Martin O'Neill and Sam Allardyce also mooted as potential candidates. Keen is considered somewhat of an outside to get the job but now has a chance to prove his credentials.

"I'd love to be given the job," he said. "I'd love to be given that sort of opportunity. At the same time the owners are experienced and they know what they want for next season. They've been chairmen in the Championship before with Birmingham and they'll have a vision of how they want to take the club forward. I feel I've served my apprenticeship. I've worked with Tony Carr at the academy, I spent four years with the young lads and then I spent a couple of years in the reserves until Alan Pardew made me first-team coach. I look at what Brian McDermott has done with Reading this year, someone who's very loyal, very hardworking, very humble and maybe it's time for West Ham to go for someone like that."

Meanwhile, here's something to amuse Sullivan and interest Brady... former England manager Glenn Hoddle has ruled himself out of the running for the job of West Ham manager, insisting the timing is not right for a move back into club football. Hoddle, who now runs an academy aimed at giving young players released by their clubs a second chance, has seen his name crop up on some betting markets but the former Chelsea and Tottenham manager insists it is merely speculation. "I've never said that I have finished with football management at any level," he said. "That is something that might be for the future and I didn't replace that with my football academy, I just felt football needed something like that. The guys needed something of second a chance to get back into the game and we're proving we are doing that quite reasonably well."

When asked to clarify whether he would be interested in the post, he responded: "At the moment I don't think the timing is right, put it that way. In the future, I've always said international football would be interesting for me after doing it with England. And who is to say that at some stage in some way, shape or form in the future going back into mainstream management is not something I am saying no to. But at this moment of time I am quite happy with the development of the academy and I need to sort of push that through over the next season."

Quite why anybody would want the Hammers job at the moment is a mystery to Tony Cottee. Although the striker who scored 116 goals in two spells for the club believes Martin O’Neill is the right man to succeed Avram Grant, he also feels the task is a poisoned chalice. "There is only one choice and that is Martin O’Neill," Cottee said. "I played under him for three years at Leicester and I would love to see him in charge. He is a great tactician and is excellent at motivating players."

Cottee is however negative about the chances of it happening and believes the conduct of the current owners could put off potential managers. "Word spreads about how people who run a club conduct themselves and the word about West Ham is not good at the moment," he stated. "It is going to be difficult to entice the right person to the club. We need someone with a very strong character. Someone like Neil Warnock or Martin Allen, who will go in and sort the squad out from top to bottom. The squad needs a complete overhaul and we have a great chance to restructure."

Finally, a peek at the betting exchanges show Chris Hughton is still the market leader at 3.1 but his price is gradually drifting as punters remain uncertain as to who West Ham will identify as the right man to succeed Avram Grant and guide them back into the Premier League at the first attempt. According to Betfair, the most interesting addition to the market in the last 24 hours is Walter Smith, who walked away from Rangers at the end of the SPL season after guiding them to another title and is rated an 18.0 outsider to become the Irons' 14th permanent manager.

The 63-year-old tactician's record in Scotland is spectacular having guided the Gers to ten league championships and 11 cup successes in a combined 12 seasons in charge, in addition to sparking the revival of the national team during a brief stint as boss of the Tartan Army. His next move is likely to be to England, they report, having achieved almost everything in his homeland; however quite how prestigious a job he could attract is up for debate despite his impressive CV due to an unconvincing spell at Everton between 1998 and 2002 and a reputation for encouraging anti-football.

Gordon Strachan had to settle for a Championship club in Middlesbrough despite leaving Celtic as a three-time champion and Alex McLeish took over at relegation-threatened Birmingham even though he had done well at Rangers and Scotland, so it could be that he would consider the West Ham post. Whether he would be a popular choice is also unclear as while a pragmatic approach is arguably what the east Londoners need right now, think Betfair, most fans would prefer to see the pass-and-move football promised by caretaker appointment Kevin Keen, whose odds to be hired full time have crept in to 8.0.

Over at Ladbrokes, they're more interested in Dave Jones’ latest failure to take Cardiff to the Premier League and the resultant implications. In each of the last four seasons Jones has had a squad capable of mounting a strong challenge for promotion from the Championship, but this dream remains unfulfilled. Jones is one of a number of new names added to the next West Ham manager market and has been installed at 7/1. He could prove a useful appointment for West Ham, with Jones having a proven track record of success on a tight budget, they think.

Alan Curbishley is another interesting newcomer to the next West Ham manager betting market and looks a big price at 25/1. Curbishley has already been in charge of West Ham once before with reasonable success, helping them to Premier League survival in 2007 and then finishing in mid-table in the following campaign. Although the style of football of the team meant that he was not the apple of the eye of many West Ham supporters, Curbishley’s steady nature is something that may appeal to owners Gold and Sullivan. In the words of Karren Brady, it seems even the bookies have no clear idea who's doing what and when.

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