Saturday, 25 June 2011

King Of Kings

My name is Sam Allardycias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

...and for my next trick FC Basel will take Radoslav Kovac from this club and actually pay money for the privilege. You read that correctly. Radoslav Kovac is off to Switzerland and it's not to join Dignitas. The Sam Allardyce revolution gathered pace yesterday when the Czech Republic international, who made 13 appearances as the Hammers were relegated last season, ended his stay in east London by agreeing a deal to join the Swiss champions. Kovac, 31, leaves the Hammers after making 62 appearances since arriving initially on loan from Spartak Moscow in January 2009. He made the move permanent the following August.

With the Hammers now preparing for life in the Championship, Kovac said he wanted to embark on a fresh challenge. He had grown frustrated over the past few months at a lack of regular opportunities, having fallen down the midfield pecking order under Avram Grant. Basel claimed top spot in Switzerland last season and offered the former Czech Republic international a two-year deal as they prepare for UEFA Champions League football. Kovac could face the Hammers when Basel take on Allardyce's side in a pre-season friendly on 13th July, and is the second of West Ham's relegated Premier League squad to move on this week, after defender Manuel da Costa departed for Lokomotiv Moscow.

Curiously, Kovac hailed his days at West Ham as the best of his career; which given the ponderous ineptitude of his contribution is a sad indictment of the ability of both the man and the people who decided to sign him. The midfielder revealed his fond memories under the guidance of former boss Gianfranco Zola, but admits he and the Italian's successor Avram Grant did not see eye to eye. "The first two years were fantastic and were the best years in my career," he told "Those were great times under Gianfranco Zola. We had a good team and had good company. Then Grant came in and everything changed. I don't like to recall the final days and weeks but I was taking it as it was coming. Otherwise, life in London was great and my family was happy there. We learned a little bit of the language too."

Kovac also claims current boss Sam Allardyce wanted the 31-year-old to stay at Upton Park, but he found the lure of UEFA Champions League football too difficult to turn down. "Sam Allardyce came in and said he would like to co-operate with me," Kovac said. "They asked for €500,000 and Basel were willing to pay €250,000, but then they upped it and the deal was done. I felt how much they wanted to capture me. The talks with them were correct and very swift and, moreover, they are in the Champions League." Despite his affection for West Ham, Kovac was fully intent on leaving the club this summer, although he would have foreseen no problem in seeing out the final year of his contract had Basel failed to negotiate a transfer. He added: "Even though there was a managerial change, I still wanted to leave as I was not playing often. Naturally, if the deal had fallen through I would have stayed, it would not have been the end of the world." Well maybe not for you, Radoslav.

The news came on the same day that the club also parted company with first team coaches Paul Groves and David Coles. The pair arrived at the club a year ago next week as part of Avram Grant's backroom staff overhaul. Both followed Grant from Portsmouth, where they proved popular with fans and players alike. As is often the case when a new manager arrives, the exisitng staff are tarnished by their association with the previous regime. Coles, 47, is one of the country's most well-respected goalkeeping coaches and is widely regarded to have been responsible for David James' renaissance during his time at Portsmouth. 45-year-old Groves, a former Grimsby midfielder and player manager was hired by Grant in November 2009 as first team coach. He followed the Israeli to the Boleyn Ground last July.

Elsewhere, Marek Stech insists he is ready to stake his claim to become West Ham's first-choice goalkeeper next season, and in doing so seemed to indicate Rob's Green's imminent departure. The Czech Republic Under-21 international told Pravo: "Green wants to stay in the Premier League and he reportedly has an offer from Aston Villa. There are us three youngsters left for the position of No.1 and, besides that, there is also a new manager so I am optimistic. We have been relegated but the second division is more difficult than the top one. You play more fixtures, so paradoxically it is an advantage for me that we are not in the elite league as I have a better chance."

Stech could face competition from Ruud Boffin who impressed many fans after a solid debut performance against Blackburn last season. His situation is further complicated by the fact there is a clause in his contract that means the Hammers owe his former club Sparta Prague a fee once he plays five games. The 21-year-old played three Carling Cup games last term and hopes the two clubs can come to a compromise over the summer, but if not, he will push for a loan move after brief spells at Wycombe and Bournemouth in 2009. "West Ham are in talks with Sparta and the clause is still valid," he said. "It is a big amount of money and I am not allowed to be specific about it. I hope everything gets resolved before the start of the new season. I would not like to leave West Ham as I love the club, but I need to be a regular starter. I may have to go on loan somewhere. It would be difficult for me now to change clubs (permanently). After the Euro U21s, goalkeepers of my age will be in demand and they have been regulars. I am not a first-choice goalkeeper and that makes it a lot more difficult for me. I would then probably choose to go on loan in England. I want to start the new season as number one, no matter where that would be. I need to gain experience. If I'm playing once in 10 games it gives me nothing new. You lose self-belief, talent and confidence if you're not a regular."

Stech had been hoping to feature against Manchester United in the Carling Cup quarter-finals only to discover the Hammers' hierarchy wanted him to sit it out, but the young keeper is eager to put that behind him, even refusing to have an extra week off after the Euro U21s. "Green didn't do well in the World Cup and he wasn't overly confident after returning from that tournament," he said. "The third goalkeeper got injured too so I was in a good position. I was doing quite well in the reserves and putting pressure on Green in training sessions. My chance was coming closer but I simply couldn't play. I was fired up for that one (Manchester United) but then the club president came and told me that they would not pay Sparta," Stech added. "I didn't know there had been any clause whatsoever, I was shocked about that. I felt sorry about how West Ham acted in that issue, but it is gone now. There is still plenty of motivation left and it is no problem to stay and fight for a regular spot. England is the best place for football - packed stadiums and unbelievable fans. I will not throw in the towel!"

Similarly, defender Winston Reid has pleaded with Sam Allardyce to allow him to remain with the club next season. The 22-year-old is keen to stay at Upton Park, despite suffering relegation with the club last season, following a £3million move from Midtjylland. Reid, a New Zealand international, signed for the Hammers after impressing during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The new West Ham boss is understood to be keen on shipping the player out of the club or sending him out on loan. However, Reid told the Daily Mirror: "I want to stay. We have a job to do getting West Ham back into the Premier League. I have not spoken to the new manager but I don't think I will be loaned out or sold." The player failed to cement a regular first-team place and only made three appearances under Avram Grant after suffering a literal pain in the arse injury early on last season. He scored his only goal of the campaign in the club's 5-1 FA Cup victory over Burnley in the fifth round.

According to today's Sun, the club have already opened talks on a new deal for Jack Collison. Boss Allardyce met the highly-rated midfielder on his return from holiday this week and assured him he has a big future at Upton Park. Collison, 22, has two years on his contract but is one of the lowest paid at the club on around £5,000 a week. The paper reports the Hammers are likely to offer him a new four-year deal and double his wages, despite suffering relegation. Allardyce wants Collison to form the midfield backbone with new skipper-elect Kevin Nolan. The West Ham board plan to offer big bonuses and pay rises for a promotion in 2012, with Nolan in line for £500,000. Defender Jon Spector is also thinking over a new contract offer.

On the rumour front, West Ham have reportedly made a late bid to snatch Tranmere Rovers’ Dale Jennings from the clutches of Bayern Munich, according to the Mail. Sam Allardyce has signalled the offer after negotiations stalled between the Bundesliga side and the League One team over prospective add-ons. The 18-year-old former Liverpool trainee was all set for to fly out to Munich this weekend once the finer details were ironed out but West Ham have moved to trump the Germans with a £1.8million bid and will pay more cash up front. The paper claims the move has swayed cash-strapped Tranmere and they are now leaning towards accepting the Hammers' package. They already rejected a £600,000 offer for Jennings in January but realise it is a signing that can bring them a decent return. He has only made 29 league appearances but is seen as one of the best young talents outside the Premier League. Interestingly, football journalists in Germany have given Bayern's interest in the player little or no credence at all.

Other less substantiated whispers suggest a bid of around £750k has been placed with Southend United for 18-year-old midfielder Kane Ferdinand, which the Shrimpers are now considering; that discussions have been opened with Leeds United over wantaway winger Max Gradel; and that the club continue to monitor Peterborough United duo Joe Lewis and Craig Mackail-Smith. Also on the radar is free agent Jay Bothroyd. West Ham and Celtic are the two clubs thought to be closest to securing the signature of the former Cardiff striker. He held talks with the Scottish club this week but is yet to finalise any deal, leaving the door open for United. The little birds suggest Bothroyd would prefer to move to London. Lastly, the club are said to maintain a passing interest in defender Anthony Gardner, who spent last season on loan at Selhurst Park and is now a free agent following the expiry of his contract at Hull City. It was reported earlier this month that West Ham are ready to pounce for the player after a move to Birmingham City fell through following Alex McLeish's departure as manager.

Back to the courts, where Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient have effectively been warned by a High Court judge not to appeal against his rejection of their attempts to block West Ham United’s proposed move to the Olympic Stadium. Writing in this morning's Telegraph, Paul Kelso states an emphatic judgment by Mr Justice Davis dismissed their various challenges as lacking substance, and advised against a “knee-jerk” appeal. He also ordered both clubs to pay the legal costs incurred by Newham Council and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which combined could approach six figures. The clubs had sought judicial appeal of the Olympic Park Legacy Company’s decision to select West Ham as the preferred bidder for the stadium, and of Newham’s proposed £40million loan to fund the conversion of the arena. Four challenges, two from each club, were rebuffed, though a fifth application by Orient against the Government is yet to be decided.

Dismissing Tottenham’s challenge as "more the product of legal ingenuity than of substance", Mr Justice Davis warned both clubs: "I would hope renewal [appeal] on all points is not a knee-jerk reaction and careful consideration will be given to the extent of renewal, if any." Tottenham and Orient now have until 4pm next Wednesday to appeal and will consider their options over the weekend.

In an unusual move, the judge included a proposed date for an oral hearing in the first full week of July, which would represent an extremely quick turnaround for cases of this complexity. It has led sources at the clubs to question if the case is being rushed through to satisfy a desire to conclude negotiations over West Ham’s lease as quickly as possible, and therefore allow London to bid for the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Deadlines for bids to the IAAF, athletics' governing body, close at the end of August.

The oral appeal could be heard by a different judge and both clubs believe they have grounds to dispute the ruling, writes Kelso; particularly with reference to state aid rules, but the strength of Mr Justice Davis’s findings will render any challenge a high-risk move. The judge was dismissive of many of Tottenham's arguments in their challenges to Newham, which he treated as the lead case of those before him. At different stages in the four-page judgment, he describes their arguments as "puzzling" and "unarguable", and declares himself "not overly impressed" by the case they level. He is equally sceptical of Tottenham’s challenge to the OPLC, describing one of their grounds as no more than "a quibble", another as "legalistic and of no actual substance".

Tottenham argued that Newham’s decision to agree a £40million loan to West Ham as part of a joint venture breached European Commission law banning state aid. The judge said he was "puzzled by the claim" and said the various points raised by Tottenham were "unarguable in the present claim". Spurs’ argument that the council acted beyond its powers in making the loan was also rejected. "I do not think this point arguable," he writes. He also dismissed Tottenham’s argument that the Newham was "irrational" and discriminated against Spurs by not offering them a loan as well as West Ham, and thus passed up the chance to have two Premier League clubs in the borough. "I simply do not understand the… suggestions that Newham’s approach was inherently discriminatory,” he said. In conclusion he stated: "Ultimately I have taken the view that the grounds advanced are more the product of legal ingenuity than of substance."

Finally, Sam Allardyce has been speaking about the "great thrill" of getting down to work at West Ham United after his first week in east London. The manager took time time out to speak to West Ham TV about the task in hand, with a week to go until the first-team squad report back to Chadwell Heath. "It is a great thrill to be here," he said. "Even in an empty Upton Park it gives me a thrill and gets me back in the mood again. I have been out of work for six months or so and I have missed the old adrenalin rush."

Allardyce said the club had already begun to take a hold over him, and he claimed the potential support was such that the club could have high aspirations. "The club is steeped in such history and tradition. It is the only club I would have dropped down for. It has got the fanbase to achieve something special. With the right guidance, right direction and right support in all departments, I hope we can give them that."

The hard work has obviously already begun and, after the weekend, Allardyce and his new assistant manager Neil McDonald will be stepping up the preparations at the training ground in readiness for the players' return. "As difficult as a job it is going to be from an early stages point of view, of finding out what everyone does and sorting it out, I am really looking forward to it. Hopefully we can get through the work we need to get through as quickly as possible in how we need to change, change the mentality and how we need to drive the club forward at the first time of asking as quickly as possible. Come the kick off to the new season, we won't have done it all by then, but hopefully we will have done enough to start winning right from day one."

Allardyce said he is eager to ensure a return to the West Ham way of good football that is also winning football - and used an example of two former greats of the game that would not settle for anything less. "I used to play against Sir Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore. I was fortunate enough to be on the same field as them. They were coming towards the latter stage of their career when I was just starting and it was a great honour to play against them."

My name is Sam Allardycias, King of Kings... and for my next trick, Olympiakos, you will be buying a decrepit Congolese malingerer but remember only his form from two years ago.

1 comment:

SuffolkChris said...

As usual, a well written, intelligent,and informative blog. (surely it will never catch on). This, (along with westhamtillidie) has quickly become my favourite "Hammers" place on the net... Keep up the good work.


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