Friday, 6 May 2011

The Imp of the Perverse

There are certain natures, purely contemplative and altogether unfit for action, which nonetheless, impelled by a mysterious and unknown motive, act at times with rapidity of which they would have believed themselves incapable. Thus, Baudelaire introduces us to Le Mauvais vitrier; the exemplar of what Poe coined The Imp of the Perverse, and as exemplified by David Gold's unpropitious comments in this morning's papers. What else could explain the actions of our co-owner, who chose the eve of our biggest game in years to tell the world he would let the club's England internationals leave if they are relegated.

The Hammers are bottom of the Premier League, three points from safety with only three games remaining. With home games against Blackburn and Sunderland, sandwiched by a trip to fellow-strugglers Wigan, the prospects of the east London side playing in the top-flight next season look bleak. It is the football equivalent of standing upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss, wrote Poe, we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink away from the danger. Yet, unaccountably the Perverse Imp remains. "It's unfair to tell a player to forego your potential England career to come down and play in the Championship," David Gold told the BBC's Football Focus. "It impacts on his career. Would I try [to stop them]? Of course, I would try but you would have a one in 10 chance."

That would mean losing the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year Scott Parker, who would be a prime target for many of the league's top clubs; as well as goalkeeper Robert Green, Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole, the other players who have intermittently forced their way into England manager Fabio Capello's plans. The 74-year-old knows his admission will cause controversy, especially as it comes after co-owner David Sullivan opted not to attend the Hammers' 2-1 defeat at Manchester City on Sunday because of their miserable away form. Yet Gold, who has recently been in hospital after contracting cholangitis – an infection of the common bile duct – and septicaemia, was ready to take his share of responsibility if the club are relegated.

It is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror, observed Poe. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height... for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. "Do I blame myself? There is no doubt you end up blaming yourself," continues Gold, regarding the increasing likelihood of the east Londoners taking the plunge. "You go over the decisions you have made and yes, you have to take the blame. At the time you think you have done the best job. When the [January transfer] window closed I thought we had done enough."

Stepping away from the brink is Lars Jacobsen, who has claims relegation for West Ham will be a personal disaster. The Denmark defender knows only too well has the pain of ­relegation and then being moved on, and insists it is not an experience he wishes to repeat. When the Hammers co-owner and joint chairman David Sullivan questioned the commitment of some of his players, mentioning some whose contracts were up this summer and looking elsewhere, he surely cannot have had the determined Jacobsen in mind.

The right-back, whose one-year deal expires shortly, says he is now fighting for his career, his pride and for the future of the club, starting against his former club Blackburn at home tomorrow. "No player wants relegation on their cv," he said. "I have gone down before and it is the worst feeling ever. And I don’t want to do it again. I know a lot of people think you just move on to a new club. But it is about your personal pride. That’s on the line as well as the club. Of course I can only talk for myself, but it will be a disaster for me personally if we go down. I was relegated when I was at Nuremberg. I was injured all season, but I played the last five games. We lost the last two and went down."

It's been three years since Jacobsen, 31, suffered the drop in the Bundesliga, but it still stings. "It takes a long time to get over it - it is not nice," he recalled. "You feel partly responsible. I can’t really describe it. In sports, it is the worst thing that can happen. I was told to join another club." Jacobsen did just that, but then had an injury-hit season at Everton before moving on to Blackburn for a year and now to the Hammers. "I went to Everton after Nuremberg. I had a three-year deal and had been there for a year. But they had to let a lot of players go – including me. I was told they wanted me to find another club. They couldn’t afford to have too many foreign players. That is what happens. You have to be aware of the fact that you might be out of a job. But you can’t afford thinking too much about it because, if you do, you lose your focus on what’s important – and that’s playing football and winning games."

Asked what he thought about Sullivan’s comments, Jacobsen said: "I haven’t read it. Obviously I have heard about it. I will concentrate on playing football. That is it. I am sure everyone will give 100 per cent. Like myself, I am out of contract and I can only say I will give 100 per cent." The virtual season-long relegation battle has been a hard slog and mentally draining on West Ham, but Jacobsen said: "It is so tough to look at the table and see you are down there week in and week out. It is the worst pressure you can get when you’re at the bottom, because it’s your life you’re playing for and the life of the club. It is about the future for a lot of players as well, it’s about everything."

West Ham’s slump – five straight defeats – has come at the worst possible time and they will probably have to beat Wigan and Sunderland too if they are to avoid the drop. Jacobsen said: "It’s going to be tough, but all three games are winnable. You always have ups and downs during the season, but now we have to put, how do you say, a cork in the hole and stop that bad circle. Blackburn is key. If we can win, I know it will give us a big mental boost, it’s about showing bravery now. When you look at the table we are last and everybody is trying to tell you from outside you are going down. But I have a strong belief we can do it."

West Ham desperately need their talisman and driving midfield force Scott Parker to be fit for the run in. He will be given until the last possible minute to shake off his Achilles tendon injury for tomorrow. Jacobsen said: "The fact he has been awarded Footballer of the Year and, where the team is, just shows you what kind of a season he has had. He’s a very important player for us, not just for his playing ability, but his character; he’s a leader on the pitch. He can get everybody going, he’s so important to us. He has been injured for the last couple of games, but we don’t say, if he is not there, that we cannot win."

Steve Kean claims West Ham will be taking a risk if they play a less-than-fully-fit Parker in the relegation clash on Saturday. Parker is desperate to help the bottom club at Upton Park but the helpful Blackburn boss explains what a big risk it'll be to play the midfielder on Saturday. "It depends how fit he is," he said. "Sometimes if a player is not 100% fit and all of a sudden has to go off that can have a psychological effect on the rest of the team. That was one of the factors we felt about Junior Hoilett over the last few games. If he starts and he's not quite right and you have to take him off after 10 minutes then people can say 'oh no, the potential talisman is not on the pitch.'"

Victory for Rovers will put them on 41 points and should assure them of safety and Kean cannot see any reason why they should not triumph in London. He added: "We do not fear these games - we are looking forward to going and getting points because we are playing well. I think it will be an open game, I think they will come and try and score in the first 15 minutes and will try and get at us. I don't expect them to be cagey but to try to get the ball up front and try to get the crowd on their side."

The verbose Kean admits he also tried to sign Demba Ba in January - and could make another move this summer. Blackburn's boss will get a close up view of the Senegal striker who has hit five goals since his £7million switch from Hoffenheim during the transfer window. Recent reports suggest Kean could try for him again if West Ham go down. "Ba was one of the serious ones we looked at in January but he decided to go to West Ham in the end. He's done very well at West Ham and he looks like he can get goals. I know about the speculation and we've had our scouting network out and about - but the rest of us are just thinking about staying in the Premier League for now."

It's not Ba but Carlton Cole who can score the goals to keep West Ham in the Premier League, thinks Tony Cottee in this mornig's Mirror. Cole is the club’s top scorer this season with 11 goals, but hasn’t found the net since February and was only a subsitute on Sunday at Manchester City. However, Cottee, who scored crucial goals in relegation battles for the Hammers and Everton, insisted the Premier League’s bottom club must now turn to the burly England forward.

"We need to score goals, which is why our top goal-scorer should start the game," he said. "It’s not only goals, but he offers a focal point and is the only real target man West Ham have. I remember scoring a vital goal against Chelsea for West Ham in 1988, which helped keep us up, and also against West Ham for Everton in 1994. They are the moments, as a footballer, you will not forget. There is no doubt the players will be extremely nervous this Saturday, but it is the type of game where you need to stand up and be counted. Saturday is the time to show how good a player you are and it is the type of match every class footballer should revel in."

West Ham finish the season with a trip to fellow strugglers Wigan before hosting Sunderland on the final day. But Grant’s side first need to beat Blackburn, who need one win in their final three matches to climb to safety. "Defeat is unthinkable, while a win will probably lift us up the table and drag Blackburn into deep trouble," added Cottee. "There is no doubt in my mind that 39 points will be enough to see us stay in the Premier League and six could even be enough. However, considering West Ham have won seven games all season, asking them to win two of their last three is a big ask."

Cole could line up with Robbie Keane and Demba Ba in an attacking team which will hopefully see Scott Parker return to action after missing the last three games. Grant will wait until Saturday morning to decide whether the midfielder is fit to play. Captain and centre-back Matthew Upson is fighting to recover from a dead leg which forced him off at the City of Manchester Stadium; not that he will necessarily play anyway according to the Mail. The paper insists West Ham are thinking of dropping the captain after David Sullivan questioned the player's commitment last week. The defender is out of contract at the end of the season, yet he withdrew after 26 minutes of West Ham's 2-1 loss against Manchester City last Sunday with a dead leg.

*The full interview with David Gold can be seen on Football Focus on Saturday 7 May on BBC One and the BBC Sport website. You can also follow him on his own twitter feed. Talking to the BBC, Gold confirmed: "My daughter's on Twitter and she gets bombarded - ask the chairman this, ask the chairman that, so I thought it only appropriate that I did it. I think it's good to relate to the fans. Also I think it's important that they know we're doing everything that we can; we're hurting as much as they are. I hope I get some nice messages from them as much as the bad ones."

Let's hope The Imp is more careful than Danny Gabbidon. The West Ham defender has admitted to a charge of improper conduct in relation to comments on his Twitter account on April 16. He has requested a non-personal hearing, after writing in the wake of his side's 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa: "U know what, f*** the lot of you, u will never get another tweet from me again, you just don't get it do you. Bye bye." Now that's how you tell someone to stick a cork in their hole.

1 comment:

Paul said...

An excellent circular journey yet again, Trilby. I enjoyed that. Fingers crossed for this PM. Paul


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