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."

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