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.

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