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.

1 comment:

PokerFiend said...

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