Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Da Costacutters

Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient face a crucial week in oppostion to West Ham's Olympic Stadium move, writes Paul Kelso in this morning's Telegraph. The clubs will discover within days whether their challenge to United's tenancy of the Olympic Stadium has been successful after a High Court judge spent the early part of this week considering their case. Mr Justice Davis will rule on whether to grant permission for a judicial review of the decision to declare West Ham the preferred bidder after considering four separate applications from Tottenham and Orient.

The clubs are challenging the decision of the Olympic Park Legacy Company to select West Ham, the Government and London mayor Boris Johnson for endorsing that decision, and Newham Council's decision to agree to lend £40 million to a joint venture with West Ham that will convert and run the stadium. If successful, reports Kelso, Tottenham and Orient will be granted a full trial at which their challenge will be heard, which is likely to be no earlier than October. Both have already won the first round of their challenge after the judged rejected an attempt by the Government and the mayor to skip the first phase of the judicial review and proceed straight to a substantive hearing in the autumn. Tottenham and Orient objected, arguing that the judge should decide whether to grant permission for the challenge before hearing the substance of the case. That process began on Monday when Mr Justice Davis began studying several hundred pages of documents submitted by the various parties.

The legal challenges follow the acrimonious bidding war between Tottenham and West Ham that culminated in February with the Hammers being selected as preferred bidder. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, desperate to develop a new stadium to keep pace with their Premier League rivals, believes he was encouraged to enter the Stratford bid, only to be used to drive a better deal out of West Ham. Orient, meanwhile, believe that West Ham's move to within a mile of Brisbane Road will have a huge impact on attendances and the club's commercial prospects. Orient are also challenging the Premier League's decision to approve West Ham's potential move to Stratford. An arbitration hearing will be held in the autumn.

The clubs' submissions, copies of which have been seen by Kelso, reveal that Tottenham and Orient are challenging both the process and the substance of the OPLC's decision, and Newham's financial support for West Ham which they say breaches European laws on state aid. The submissions also reveal that one of the OPLC's grounds for rejecting Tottenham's bid was that their plans to renovate Crystal Palace as an alternative to retaining the athletics track was "inadequate and under-funded" and "does not provide a long-term sustainable athletics legacy". Spurs reject this argument, insisting that they provided a £500 million guarantee to underwrite their bid and the Crystal Palace scheme.

The role of Newham in providing a £40 million loan to West Ham is at the heart of the challenge from Tottenham and Orient, while the legal process is understood to have exposed tensions between the OPLC and the council over the key issue. Without the Newham loan, West Ham cannot afford to take on the stadium, but Tottenham and Orient argue that it is an inappropriate use of public money and was made unlawfully. Given this, they argue that West Ham's bid, which relies on council funding, is not financially secure and should not have been approved.

Tottenham argue that the Newham loan breaches EC laws banning state aid for private companies; that the council acted beyond its powers by entering into the deal with West Ham; and finally that Newham should have considered offering similar terms to them as they would then potentially have benefited from having two Premier League clubs in the borough. Newham's defence is technical but crucial. The council argues that in fact it has not agreed to make the loan, but simply agreed that its chief executive could make the loan in future, if a suitable deal can be agreed with West Ham over terms and conditions.

Tottenham argue that this admission proves that the OPLC should not have approved West Ham, as without the Newham money the bid cannot satisfy the key criteria that any tenant has "committed, secure and agreed" funding. Newham's claim that the loan has not been agreed is understood to have greatly concerned the OPLC, which based its decision to award West Ham the stadium on the fact that the funding was in place. The council and West Ham are understood to have signed numerous documents to that effect.

The Daily Telegraph understands that the OPLC was so concerned that it has written to Newham demanding clarification of the status of the loan. The council is thought to have responded that the loan will be available to West Ham, but Tottenham and Orient will claim that that admission negates the council's defence on other points. Describing the OPLC decision as "irrational, discriminatory and unfair", Tottenham accuse them of displaying bias towards West Ham in the bidding process and of secretly changing the rules by which the preferred bidder would be chosen. Tottenham argue that in key areas they were not given vital information about how the decision-making process would be made, particularly in relation to the five criteria on which the final call was based. The OPLC set out the criteria at the start of the process, stating that they were listed in order of importance, with the financial certainty of bidders rated the most important.

Spurs say that "without warning" the OPLC changed the rules during the final bidding, judging the criteria with equal weight. This, they say, worked against them as West Ham should have failed the financial test, and the areas they were "perceived as failing" – reopening the stadium rapidly and flexible usage – were third and fifth on the list. They cite a letter from Johnson as evidence of the confusion, even among OPLC stakeholders. Explaining his decision to back West Ham, Johnson initially said the objectives "were listed in order of importance". In a subsequent letter however he has admitted that this was "a mistake and obviously so".

Away from the legal proceedings and West Ham have reportedly offloaded Portuguese defender Manuel da Costa to Lokomotiv Moscow for £1.3million. The Mail state the 25-year-old, who had one year left on his deal at Upton Park, has signed a four-year contract with the Russian club. Da Costa joined West Ham on a three-year contract in August 2009 from Italian side Fiorentina, as part of the deal that saw Savio Nsereko move in the other direction. He has been capped 22 times by Portugal at under-20, under 21 and under-23 level.

The French-born defender started his career at AS Nancy and has also played for PSV Eindhoven and Sampdoria. He missed three months of last season with a foot injury and was said to be keen to move on after starting just 14 Barclays Premier League matches as the Hammers got relegated last season. "It would have been a step backwards to stay at West Ham, where I didn't always get in the team," he said. "Going to Lokomotiv is a chance to improve my game. Many famous players have come to play in the Russian championship, where teams like CSKA, Zenit and Lokomotiv are the top three clubs. Alexei Smertin (the Lokomotiv sporting director) told me of the club's ambitions, that Lokomotiv have serious intentions and intend to fight for the Russian title. I want to play in a good team and win. This is what prompted me to sign the contract."

Interestingly, Da Costa is due to stand trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court in a couple of months after pleading not guilty to sexual assault over an incident last October. The player has already admitted common assault on the female clubber after a row broke out at Faces Nightclub in Ilford. He was subsequently remanded on conditional bail to stand trial on September 12. He was also ordered not to enter Faces and not to contact the complainant. Da Costa is also yet to answer for his crimes perpetrated in the name of ball distribution, positional sense and defensive concentration; in all areas of which he has proved himslf to be a hopeless and futile recidivist.

Elewhere, the same paper insists West Ham continue to monitor Peterborough goalkeeper Joe Lewis; although some in the club's hierachy remain to be convinced about the 6ft 6ins stopper. The player has been on the radar of Premier League clubs for some time and some of the wealthier clubs in the Championship. He has developed a decent reputation and earned international recognition with England U21s and director of football Barry Fry has often been signing his praises with rumours of big clubs circling.

West Ham have repeatedly been linked but it is thought they have reservations about the 23-year-old following a few scouting reports from last season. Instead, claims the Mail, they are more likely to persevere with Robert Green if he is willing to stay and hope to develop a better defence under Sam Allardyce’s stewardship. That said, Premier League clubs are thought to be interested in Green. Aston Villa, West Brom, Newcastle and Manchester City all need goalkeepers of varying degrees as they look for either number ones or understudies yet Green will at least want to ensure he plays every week and that may keep him at Upton Park.

Talking of Peterborough, Talksport believe West Ham are ready to make a move for highly rated Craig Mackail-Smith. The striker, 27, has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs, but as yet has failed to reach an agreement over a lucrative move into the top flight. Hammers boss Sam Allardyce has already seen Demba Ba leave the club and is looking for a quality striker to spearhead their attack as they look to bounce straight back into the Premier League.

Mackail-Smith scored 35 goals to help Peterborough gain promotion last season, but is keen to showcase his talents at a higher level and could be tempted by a move to Upton Park. The radio station states West Ham have already shown they mean business by signing Newcastle captain Kevin Nolan and Stoke defender Abdoulaye Faye and now hope Mackail-Smith will become their third major signing of the summer. Peterborough's director of football Barry Fry admits West Ham have enquired about his availability but have yet to make a firm offer. "West Ham did ask me what we wanted for Craig," said Fry. "They have not made a bid as yet, but they are having a serious go at getting back into the Premier League straight away."

Other reports today suggest Bolton midfielder Matt Taylor could be on his way to Upton Park. The versatile 29-year-old can also play at left back and is said to be 'in talks' with the Hammers over a permanent switch, according to Setanta. Taylor began his career at Luton back in 1999 and moved to Portsmouth three years later in a £750,000 switch. After 178 appearances in six years at Fratton Park he joined Bolton, having lost his place at Portsmouth to Niko Kranjcar.

Gary Megson paid around £4million to take Taylor to the Reebok Stadium during the 2008 winter transfer window. During his first full season Taylor scored ten goals from 34 league games, then eight from 37 the following season. Last season he appeared in 36 of Bolton's 38 league fixtures. Should he sign for West Ham, Taylor would be the third former Bolton player to arrive at the club since Sam Allardyce was unveiled as the new manger.

Of the players already here, Skysports understands Jack Collison's representatives have entered discussions with West Ham over a new deal for their client. The talented midfielder is a player the club are eager to keep at Upton Park as they look to win an immediate return to the top flight. With Scott Parker seemingly to depart over the summer as Tottenham continue to be strongly linked, it will be left to the likes of Collison to help lead a promotion push. The Wales international is still under contract at West Ham but the club's management are looking to tie him to a long-term deal. Talks are set to continue over the summer as both parties look to thrash out fresh terms for a player highly-rated in the East End.

West Ham are also reportedly hopeful that young forward Zavon Hines will sign a new deal with the club. Hines, 22, is currently a free agent after rejecting the first offer of a new contract at the end of the season. Sullivan said at the time the player wanted 'silly money' and the fans would all be shocked if he told us the figures involved. Yet Allardyce is thought to be keen on keeping the England Under-21striker at Upton Park and hopes he can persuade him to change his mind. The new manager wants Hines to see how the club is heading in the right direction following their relegation into the Championship, and remains hopeful that Hines will pledge his long-term future to the club before the start of the season.

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