Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dreams Into Reality

Big Sam strolled to the dug-out for West Ham's pre-season friendly at Dagenham & Redbridge last week like Dean Martin walking on to a stage in Las Vegas – only with a better suit. He acknowledged the cheers with a breezy wave, joked with his coaching staff and was happy to pose for pictures with supporters and sign autographs after a 1-0 win. But David Sullivan and David Gold, the owners, did not hire Sam Allardyce to beat League Two clubs, writes Nick Szczepanik in today's Independent. Taking West Ham back to the Premier League at the first attempt is his task, and once the Championship campaign starts, the relaxed figure of a summer evening has to deliver the intensity that was missing last season as West Ham sleepwalked to relegation under Avram Grant.

Allardyce accepts the challenge, and there is no hedging of bets with talk of stabilisation and regrouping, which is just as well. He knows that the size of his new club – not to mention the new manager – means that expectations are inevitable. "No one else can put any more expectations and pressure on than me," he said. "Because I haven't come down here to spend a long time down in the Championship. I've come to win the club promotion and get myself where I've been for the last 10 years, and that's managing in the top league in the world."

It may come as no surprise to some that the man charged with restoring West Ham United to the Premier League expects to return as a champion. Allardyce has always defied the critics and will attempt to do so again as he sets about transforming the club's fortunes, writes the Telegraph's Alex Shaw. He insists it is guile allied to graft that has brought him success in the past and in his blueprint for his side’s return to the top flight, Allardyce wants to set the record straight. He wants to remind those who have mocked his lofty dreams there’s nothing wrong with being sure of your strengths.

To those who continue to cast aspersions over Allardyce’s style of play, he asks them to view the bigger picture in his bid to manage where he believes he should. But most of all, you get the impression the one-time England candidate feels he has something to prove to himself. With that he bows his head, closes his eyes and rubs his forehead for a good 10 seconds. The memory alone is headache-inducing. "I was a raging bull, an angry man, worrying, demanding," he says, as he reflects on his evolution as a football manager. Arsène Wenger or Rafael Benítez might like to add to the description, ponders Guardian's David Hytner, but Allardyce is not talking about the halcyon days at Bolton Wanderers, when he would routinely upset the establishment, rather his formative years at Limerick, Blackpool and Notts County. "My style now compared to back then, it was just a part of the process," he says. "I don't think you can do it any other way, because you are too inexperienced to do it any other way. But if you don't learn from your experiences, then you don't last in this game."

Allardyce has lasted. He once said that he would like to see through his 10-year contract at Bolton and retire at 56. "By the time that birthday comes along, I would think I would be looking at other things in my life." Allardyce will turn 57 in October. At the start of last month, he signed a two-year deal at the Boleyn. He is now consumed and driven by the challenge in front of him – to restore the club's morale, which was battered during their relegation from the Premier League, and to lift them to an immediate return. It will not be easy, and not only because this season's Championship contains plenty of intriguing contenders. West Ham have parted company with 12 senior players from last season's squad and the number could yet swell. Scott Parker is keen to remain in the Premier League and will be sold if his valuation is met. "Scott's position is delicate," Allardyce says, "because if someone hits the numbers that we would value him at and it's the Premier League, where he wants to be, he will be gone."

Allardyce has named Kevin Nolan, the £4m signing from Newcastle United, as club captain, rather than Parker, although it ought to be noted that Parker was not the captain last season. Matthew Upson, who was released on the expiry of his contract, had the armband. "The misconception that Scott was captain was born out of the rousing half-time speech that he gave at West Brom [in February]," Allardyce says of the midfielder's address that inspired the team from 3-0 down to 3-3. "I'd like to hear the transcript of that. I might use it myself. It would be wrong of me to plan [with Parker]. Kevin is here because he thinks his future lies here and he wants to get us back in the Premier League. Like me, he doesn't want to drop out of the Premier League for more than one season."

To that end, Nolan insists there will be no hiding place for West Ham this season and the minimum requirement is an immediate return to the Premier League. Speaking in the Mirror just seven days before the ­Hammers begin their Championship ­campaign against perennial play-off sufferers Cardiff at Upton Park, he said: "We have to come out all guns blazing. We have to hit the ground running, there is no hiding place for us. The stakes are high and there is immense pressure on us. But the time for feeling sorry for yourselves following relegation from the Premier League has long since passed. The least we should expect is promotion. Anything else will merely be an unmitigated disaster for this club. This club doesn’t ­belong in the Championship and we have to make damn sure we don’t stay here either."

Nolan experienced the trauma of relegation with Newcastle two ­seasons ago and he is the first to admit the Championship is not an easy league to escape. "There are striking ­similarities between West Ham and Newcastle," he states. "The pressure and expectations are exactly the same. When Newcastle went down some people expected us to ­struggle but we re-grouped and had a right go. We knew we had to either get out of the Championship straight away or face being stuck there for years to come. It was a make-or-break situation for us in much the same way it is for West Ham. You don’t have a divine right to win promotion no matter how big the club are. You have to earn the right. No-one is going to do you any favours. Everyone will want to beat us. This will be their biggest game of the campaign. Opposing teams will come to Upton Park looking for a major scalp. You’re a team to be shot at but if we apply ourselves on the pitch and get the supporters right behind us I see no reason why we shouldn’t be celebrating come April/May."

Nolan admits he was pleasantly surprised when he turned up at West Ham, and insists the players have been first class and are ­determined to put things right. "You expect to come into a ­dressing room that is on the floor and in complete disarray," he ­explained. "There are normally three or four bad eggs, a few egos and players desperate to quit. I can honestly say I saw none of that. There is a refreshing unity about this squad and single-minded ­determination to put things right."

Some people are still surprised that Nolan was prepared to trade top-flight football with Newcastle for the ­Championship. He claims it was a no-brainer explaining: "Naturally the opportunity to work with Sam Allardyce again helped, but the club made such an enormous effort to get me that I felt I would have let them down if I said no. It’s nice to be ­wanted, that’s for sure. And after everything that happened at Newcastle it was important for me to hear that. More importantly when I met David Sullivan he did such a great job selling the club it didn’t take long to make up my mind. To fair he could have sold me some unwanted double glazing windows. He was that good. I won’t lie though, he wouldn’t let me leave the room until I agreed to sign after they had their bid ­accepted for me. It was refreshing to listen to David Sullivan. His enthusiasm, ambition and plans for the club were very ­impressive. He’s a supporter first and foremost and like the co-owner David Gold I don’t think anyone was ­hurting more than them when the club went down."

The signing of his former Bolton regulars Nolan and Matthew Taylor have signalled the manager's intent. There is also the free transfers Joey O'Brien, also from Bolton, and Abdoulaye Faye from Stoke City. Further signings are afoot, with the priorities being a left-back and a striker. The England internationals Robert Green and Carlton Cole appear more likely to stay than go. "You're happy that that type of talent is moving a step down to try to get itself back up," said Allardyce. "Kevin and Matt have the same ambition as me: to spend as little time as possible in the Championship. But we're not taking it for granted that we're going to get promoted. There's a lot of really experienced managers in this division who are wanting to do the same as me, and young up-and-coming guys who want to make their names. And a lot of money spent."

Allardyce admits he and his new recruits have hung themselves "out to dry" by pledging to seek an instant return. He also accepts that the need to gain promotion is intensified by the club's financial position. West Ham carry debts of £80m and Sullivan, the co-owner, has said that life in the Championship will "blow a £40m hole" in the business plan. Then there is the move to the Olympic Stadium in 2014 and the imperative to take Premier League football with them.

"We're reducing our costs and overheads where a lot are adding on to what they had last year, so it will be a tougher division," says Allardyce. "It's going to be damned hard work over a marathon season of 46 games. We have to perform at a consistent level and make sure we're always in a winning frame of mind." That, he admits, required altering the prevailing mood. "The club was in despair really. Relegation leaves a club traumatised, from the owners to the fans, the players to the tea lady. And you've got to get them over the trauma and back to positive thinking. You win a game of football as much with your mind as with your ability."

Allardyce radiates optimism. "We want to go up automatically," he says. "And if we don't quite achieve that goal, then we are going to be left in the play-offs, at the very least, unless I become the worst manager ever overnight and the players become the worst there has ever been." His style these days is characterised by such thick-skinned self-belief and searing ambition. Where once he would lie awake at night "frightened by what the fans or the papers or the owners would say", he now feels able to blot out the background noise, which is perhaps just as well at a noisy club like West Ham. "I used to be a terrible, terrible worrier, a pessimist," he says. "It's probably because I was a defender. One mistake and the manager will shout at you. I couldn't remember playing well. I could only remember mistakes. I used to worry like mad. But as I got older and established myself, that diminished and as a manager, it's the same."

Insecurity has given way to conviction. Spectacularly so. Despite his sackings at Newcastle and, more recently, Blackburn Rovers when, in both cases, the ownership changed and his face no longer fitted, he can be fiercely proud of his cv. With man-management his greatest strength he maintains that he could win trophies at the very biggest clubs, such as Real Madrid and Internazionale, if he was given the opportunity. "I've said a lot of things over the years that people laugh at and I find them very insulting for making a joke about it or laughing at how I could be a manager of any club, anywhere and deal with it. I still feel like I can walk into any club, anywhere, any time and deliver. It's a bit like a CEO, isn't it? You can take up a position in any industry and if you're a good CEO, you can make that company profitable. You put me in a football environment anywhere in the world and I can deliver the module. I can modify the module for the particular culture and the way of playing."

It remains easy to touch a nerve with Allardyce. Just tell him his teams have been long-ball bully boys or that he jars with the "West Ham way". "People had to make an excuse, at the time, for little old Bolton beating Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United," he says. "Little old Bolton used to beat Rafa Benítez [and Liverpool] every time he came to the Reebok Stadium. And they couldn't cope with it." Allardyce's West Ham will look to entertain but, above all, to win. He made the point that Manchester United and Chelsea were not only the best creative teams but the most destructive ones, too. "There is an adaptability," he says. "They never play the same way. Arsenal probably do and that's probably why they've won nothing for six years."

So while many still see Allardyce as a slave to Prozone statistics, long balls and blood and thunder, he sees it differently, calling on his adventures in Europe managing Bolton and the flair of World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, along with Champions League conquerors Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro as a case for the defence. Allardyce reiterates graft as well as guile is necessary if West Ham want to return to the top flight and, remembering his time as a Bolton player under Ian Greaves, he reflects on two failed promotion attempts before abandoning brains for brawn and earning promotion back to Division One in 1978. "We were known as one of the teams for the purists," Allardyce explains. "Then, with about seven games to go, Ian told us to forget about the football that we had tried for two years. He told us to get the ball in the channels and squeeze it up there. It’s a lesson you have to learn. Great teams always know how to play any way."

Allardyce has won plenty of games with his own sharp mind – his instant exploitation of the new offside rules bordered on genius, and his application of sports science at Bolton was well ahead of its time – but he is still perceived as a typical northern former muck 'n' nettles centre-half. Many of the perceptions are wrong – he is not a northerner, for example, having been born and brought up in the West Midlands – and the one that rankles most is his reputation as a long-ball coach, at odds with the West Ham way. "It bores me to tears, to be honest. It will be answered by our performances this year," he said.

The harshest judges will be West Ham's supporters, but though Allardyce admits it will be a while before he feels like a Londoner again – he played for Millwall for two seasons in the early 1980s – he appreciates the club's traditions, hopes to promote young players from their vaunted academy, and relishes the responsibility of entertaining a demanding fanbase. "They're like Newcastle fans. They live and breathe the club and work hard for the money to come and watch them, so we have got to reward them for turning up in their thousands, as they have done for many, many years. Even though, realistically, over the last few years it has been a bit of a yo-yo time for them. It's the Championship now and for me it's a big change from the past 10 years of success."

That analysis of his decade in the Premier League defies, rather than ignores, the fact that he was sacked at his previous two clubs, and West Ham will surely settle for a repeat of his effect on his previous clubs. "Everywhere I've been there has been progression, even Newcastle," he said. "Even though we were six months into a complete overhaul of the club, we were 11th when I left and they'd finished 14th the year before. At Blackburn we completely turned that around, and everyone knows what we did at Bolton because we were top eight, top six and looking like a Champions' League-threatening side. West Ham is a different type of challenge, trying to win promotion and experience the joy of that."

The country's elite will have to wait. Allardyce must first ensure that the step down a division serves as a springboard. But he has it mapped out and the goal is to challenge for European places and cup finals. "How far can we go? That depends on how much the owners want to back the dream to turn it into reality," he says. "That's what I've done and that's what I do. I turn dreams into reality." And what about London and his new surroundings? "I would like to take in the sights and have a look around Big Ben,” he adds. "I haven’t seen Buckingham Palace yet and I’d like to do that - on an open top bus as long as the weather is nice." If Sam Allardyce has his way, he’ll be sitting on that bus parading the Championship trophy come May.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Switzerland- Day Four

There is something almost Riefenstahlian about the official site's daily descriptions of the squad's pre-season fitness regime; the luxuriating in the mundane minutiae of each training drill and the fetishistic depictions of lythe young bodies in the throws of physical exertion. So it is we learn that it was a mixture of work and play for West Ham United's players as the squad continued their pre-season training camp in Switzerland. Having arrived back at the team hotel late on Monday evening following the 2-1 Uhren Cup defeat by BSC Young Boys in Grenchen, manager Sam Allardyce afforded his players and staff a rare lie-in on Tuesday. The players were still up for breakfast at 8am and heading to their respective training areas a little more than an hour later.

Meanwhile, we are told, Allardyce and his backroom staff headed for a nearby lake for a welcome early-morning swim. The majority of the squad remained at the hotel to take part in a recovery session in the swimming pool, loosening up any muscles that may have tightened following the previous night's game. A small number of players cycled the two miles to the main training complex, where they were put through a series of technical drills by assistant manager Neil McDonald and first-team coach Wally Downes.

After a 'hearty' lunch, the squad and management boarded the team coach for a short drive to a nearby ten-pin bowling alley for a team-bonding exercise. There, goalkeepers Robert Green, Ruud Boffin and Marek Stech were the stars, with all three stoppers recording scores of over 200 - the Belgian taking the plaudits with a high of 215. Following dinner, the players got together for a team presentation before heading for bed ahead of a day of double-training and Wednesday evening's Uhren Cup meeting with Swiss Super League champions FC Basel.

Reflecting on the last few days, Sam Allardyce declared himself a contented man. The West Ham United manager has been happy with the way his players have given their all during the club's pre-season training camp in Switzerland, including their committed performance in Monday's 2-1 friendly defeat by BSC Young Boys - his first match in charge. However, Allardyce has told West Ham TV that there is still plenty of work to be done in all areas before the Hammers take to the pitch against Cardiff City on 7 August, both in terms of supplementing the playing squad and improving the form and fitness of the players already at the club.

"I think in terms of a pre-season training camp it's been an outstanding venue from many different aspects," said Allardyce, speaking from the team's hotel in the central Swiss canton of Bern. "We're in a beautiful place, have a fantastic hotel who are attending to our needs and I think we're virtually the only people in the hotel at this time of year and that's a big help. Down in the valley here, there is a 50-metre pool which has been very good for the morning starts. One or two of the lads are a bit miserable when they're getting up at 6.30 in the morning, but after the pool sessions they've been invigorated for their football training. Later in the evenings we've been moving on with the strength and conditioning and sport science lads, so it's been a good exercise up to now. There are a lot of young players who have travelled with us who want to make their mark and I think it's very important to get to know them as soon as possible and the senior players a little bit better not just as footballers but as people. Hopefully we can pull all that together and by the time this pre-season has finished, I'll have a better overall view of the squad."

Allardyce got his first view of that squad in a competitive environment on Monday, when a young side were narrowly beaten by Swiss Super League side and UEFA Europa League qualifiers Young Boys. The players gave their all during the Uhren Cup tie in Grenchen, despite having got up for a swimming session at 7am and a full training session in the mid-morning. The boss singled out England Under-18 international Robert Hall and England Under-21 defender Jordan Spence for particular praise, with the former rattling the upright with a rasping 25-yard shot late on. "First and foremost, just for everybody concerned, we've been training every day since we've been here from 6.30am. We even trained on the day we played. It's not the normal preparation for a game but we felt the lads needed to go into the game slightly fatigued and we weren't going to play all of the players for the whole game - particularly the senior players who were given 45 minutes each. It was effectively a training session rather than us going for the result. It was a competitive match against a very good side who had beaten Hertha Berlin 4-2 prior to playing ourselves, so the whole exercise was good from my learning curve point of view."

Cristian Montano also featured prominantly against Young Boys and is aiming to catch the eye of his manager after signing a new professional contract with West Ham United. The talented forward endured a difficult 2010/11 season after signing his first professional deal a year ago, suffering a succession of niggling injury as he looked to build on the Doris Bell Award he won at the end of the previous campaign. Now he is fully fit and raring to go, the Colombia-born 19-year-old is hoping to earn a regular place in the first-team squad for 2011/12 by impressing Allardyce during pre-season. "I'm very proud of this contract and I'm happy with myself as well," he told West Ham TV. "I have got my second contract which is the most important thing. Hopefully I can keep going from here and make the next step, which is to make my first-team debut and hopefully become established. I want to prove myself."

Montano is also eager to impress the same supporters he wowed by scoring two goals during Academy Director Tony Carr's Testimonial match in May 2010. The teenager travelled to Austria with the first-team squad for their pre-season tour in July last year, only for injuries to ravage his first campaign as a professional. "As a second-year scholar, I managed to do really well and win the Doris Bell Award, which I was really happy with and which, at the time, was a bit unexpected," he added. "As a first-year pro I just wanted to carry on from where I'd left off, which I did, but when we got back from the tour the injuries started kicking-off and it was a bit stop-start for me. Obviously I managed to get fit again and here I am. I've got my next professional contract and I want to carry on from there."

With Demba Ba, Victor Obinna and Robbie Keane having departed the Bolyen Ground this summer, Montano is preparing to impress Allardyce between now and the opening npower Championship fixture against Cardiff City on 7 August. "It's not impossible," he said. "I'm going to keep working hard and hopefully show the new manager that I can play and do well. We're all in the same boat - a new manager and new staff - so we've all got to prove ourselves again, which is not an easy thing to do because we've all got to start from scratch. I've come back in good shape and hopefully I can get a bit stronger, too."

Also keen to impress is Frank Nouble, who is hoping his goal against Young Boys is the first of many this season. The 19-year-old striker bagged the first strike of Sam Allardyce's reign with a well-taken header in West Ham United's 2-1 Uhren Cup defeat in Switzerland on Monday. Having caught the eye no only with his goal, but also with his pace and power, Nouble is hoping he can convince the new manager that he does not need to delve into the transfer market to sign a new centre forward. The youngster told West Ham TV he is 'eager' to force his way into the first-team picture and boost the club's 2011/12 Championship promotion challenge.

"It was a good game to play in," he said. "I think everyone tried their best. Most people played a half each and obviously it's pre-season so everyone wants to get around and get fit and impress the new gaffer and his staff. I enjoyed it. I knew I was only playing one half, so I got in my mind that I had to give everything. They are at a better stage than us because they've been out training for a few more weeks, but I'm hoping that I showed a little bit of what I can do, even when I'm not fully fit. When I'm fitter, hopefully I'll be able to do that for longer periods of the game. My goal came from a short corner. Luis Boa Morte crossed it in and I knew I had the run on my defender, so I went in and it was a good goal. I think if you're not hungry then you're not going to succeed in life and I'm definitely hungry this season to stamp a mark and stake a claim for playing."

Nouble admitted he had found things difficult at times last season and has come back to the club reinvigorated and rejuvenated ahead of the new campaign. "The first year I came here it was good and I got a few opportunities. Last season I went away on loan quite a lot, which was good for my experience, but going away for one month at a time wasn't really too great. This year hopefully I can come back and give everything. I'm 19, going on 20, now and I'm ready to make the next step. Some players have gone but you've just got to deal with it. Even if another player comes in, it's just an opportunity for me to showcase what I can do whenever I get the chance. There are still some strikers here so I've got to keep battling it out and show the manager that he doesn't need to put his hand in his pocket."

Meanwhile, Allardyce is keen to bring his former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Joey O’Brien to Upton Park – if he can prove his fitness. The 25-year-old played 45 minutes in Monday’s opening pre-season friendly against Young Boys and Allardyce is convinced that he can be a useful player in their Championship campaign. "He is an outstanding player," the West Ham boss told the Recorder from Switzerland this week. "For someone to play 28 times in the Premier League at the age of 19 shows that he has a lot of talent and if he is fit then he could be a very good player for us."

Fitness is the key for O’Brien, who has three international caps for the Republic of Ireland. His recent career has been plagued by injury and he ended last season on loan at League One outfit Sheffield Wednesday. Allardyce is well aware of the risks. "He has to prove his fitness," he said. "He has had a very frustrating time with injuries over the last two and a half years because he was misdiagnosed and then didn’t receive the right treatment. But it was good to see him come through 45 minutes on Monday without any reaction and now we will just have to see how it goes with him. We have him until the end of pre-season before we have to make a decision."

Allardyce has spoken to the England internationals in the squad and he revealed that at least one of them could be persuaded to stay for the new season. Scott Parker, Robert Green and Carlton Cole are all on the tour of Switzerland, but are interesting a host of Premier League clubs. "We sat down and chatted and they said they were happy to do their pre-season training with us and see what happened," said the manager. "Obviously we are a business as well as a football club and if the right sort of bid comes in for a player then we would have to look at it and we would certainly keep the player aware of what is going on, but I am hopeful that they won’t all be leaving."

Allardyce also confirmed that the club are talking to another of his Bolton old boys in Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen. "We are certainly interested in bringing him to West Ham," said the boss. "But negotiations on this one are at a very early stage." The Mail disagree and report discussions on a one-year deal are in the advanced stages, with a medical planned for the player on Thursday. The Iceland international, who spent the second half of last season on loan with Fulham, is a free agent after his one-year deal with Stoke expired. The former Bolton, Chelsea and Barcelona player struggled to make any impact at the Britannia Stadium and failed to find the net during 10 appearances with the Cottagers. Gudjohnsen came close to joining the East London club in January last year, but instead elected to spend a spell on loan with Tottenham from Monaco.

The same paper also claims West Ham have opened talks with Blackpool striker DJ Campbell. Campbell’s contract has a clause allowing him to leave for £1.25m. The striker was reported to have agreed to join QPR, but West Ham and two unnamed Premier League clubs are also said to be in the race to land the 29-year-old, who scored 13 Premier League goals for relegated Blackpool last season. Campbell, who joined the Seasiders from Leicester City last summer, has no secret of his preference to remain in the Premier League.

Allardyce is clearly looking for options after Stoke City agreed terms with West Ham United for striker Carlton Cole. The England forward, 27, is currently in Switzerland with West Ham but is reportedly due to hold talks with Stoke City manager Tony Pulis upon his return. Stoke chairman Peter Coates told Sky Sports: "We have agreed terms with West Ham, that's done. Now it's a case of can we agree terms with Carlton?" Cole joined West Ham from London rivals Chelsea in July 2006 and scored 42 goals in 165 appearances. But he managed just five league goals last season and according to media reports is now set to leave Upton Park. The fee has been reported to be an initial £4 million with a possible £2 million in add-ons.

Coates said Stoke had tried to sign Cole on previous occasions but was optimistic that this time the forward would make his way to the Midlands club, who lost in last season's FA Cup final to Manchester City. "We come from two different places. He has got an injury problem (Cole has had knee trouble) - he has always had that - and that is a risk you take so we have to factor that in," he said. "But he is a good player and Tony has always liked him. Manager's like different players but Tony has always liked him. I think we've tried to sign him around three times over the past few years without succeeding so maybe we will get somewhere this year. Now we've done a deal with the club it really needs his input with the player because he likes to talk to them and make sure they are on board, and he is on board and everything is ok from his point of view. But we see that work in progress and hope that something can be done."

According to today's Mirror, Cole's proposed move to Stoke is already in serious doubt after the striker's wage demands reportedly stunned his suitors. The paper claims Stoke were given permission to speak to Cole after offering £6million for the England international and the 27-year-old was expected to fly to Austria to join the Stoke squad. City’s director of football John Rudge even remained behind to accompany him. The Potters do pay big wages but Cole wants mega-bucks to uproot from his native London and instead joined the Hammers on their pre-season trip to Switzerland. Cole’s stance could now let Premier League new boys QPR back into the race to sign him.

The Mirror also claims Scott Parker is under consideration for a dramatic return to Chelsea, it emerged last night. The Blues are in sudden need of a midfielder after discovering Michael Essien could miss six months following surgery on a knee injury suffered in training last week. Hammers joint-owner David Sullivan last night refused to confirm whether the club had already been approached by Chelsea over the transfer of Upton Park talisman Parker. He is already known to Villas-Boas from his time at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho in 2004-2005.

Chelsea’s young coach was impressed by Parker’s conduct during his spell in west London, despite being frustrated by a lack of regular first-team football. The midfielder also stood out during the ritual, under Mourinho, which saw players deliver pre-match team talks. Parker went on to prove his leadership qualities last season when delivering a similar oration to inspire his West Ham team-mates from 3-0 down at West Brom to grab a point. Signing Parker would also help boost the club’s English contingent. Chelsea currently have only six domestic players in their squad and one of those, striker Daniel Sturridge, is expected to either be sold or go out on loan in search of regular action.

Finally, the Minister for Sport has 'advised' Tottenham Hotspur to ditch plans to challenge the decision to award preferred bidder status to West Ham. Despite having admitted corporate subterfuge in their attempts to undermine both the OPLC voting committee and members of West Ham United's staff, Tottenham have maintained that they will seek legal recourse - despite having lost the vote to win tenancy of the £500million stadium by 14-0.

However that could be set to change after the Conservative Minister Hugh Robertson warned the north London club that their plans to press on with legal action could destroy the capital's bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Speaking to the media yesterday, Robertson insisted that Tottenham should think very carefully before proceeding. "I would hope Tottenham would see the greater good to London; maybe it's a fond hope," he said. "The initial economic planning tells us it will be a £100million boost from hosting a World Athletics Championship. I hope anyone involved in sport would see the greater good, whatever their feelings about the stadium process. I find it frustrating that having been through the process we are now being dragged through the High Court, having won the first round we have the appeal to come. If we win that we will bid [to host the Championships], but I will not let the country bid if we have not got a locked-down secure venue, given the backdrop of previous bids."

Tottenham recently announced that they were seeking public funding after revealing plans to build a new stadium within their current borough of Haringey. Mr Robertson's warning could be seen as the first indication that should they refuse to play ball and back down over the Olympic Stadium issue, any such funding could be extremely unlikely to follow.

*West Ham play their final match on the tour tomorrow (Wednesday) against Basel with a 7.30pm kick-off.

*While this Saturday a Hammers XI will travel for a friendly at Bishop’s Stortford.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Switzerland- Day Three

Sam Allardyce suffered defeat in his first game in charge of West Ham United, narrowly losing 2-1 to Swiss side Young Boys. The respectable result was the culmination of a hectic day three of the pre-season tour in central Switzerland, which saw the squad conduct two training sessions ahead of their opening Uhren Cup fixture. The players were up early ahead of a 7am swimming session before returning to their hotel for breakfast. After a short rest, Allardyce led the way as the group cycled the two miles to the club's training complex, where a short warm-up was followed by keep-ball, an 11-a-side match and some set-piece and tactical drills. After a rest and a pre-match meal, the squad boarded the team coach for the hour-long drive to Grenchen, 20km north of Bern, arriving at the Bruhl Stadium 90 minutes before the 6pm kick-off.

Club representatives attended a civic reception in the town, which is renowned for being the watch-making capital of Switzerland and is home to the likes of Breitling and Fortis. There, they were welcomed by town Mayor Boris Banga, Head of Culture and Sport Barbara Pestalozzi, Uhren Cup official Frederic Falbriard and airport CEO Andreas Wegier. The Hammers learned that Grenchen is also known as the 'Silicon Valley of Switzerland' and that Lufthansa pilots are trained at the airport, which is the third-largest in Switzerland in terms of plane movements by all accounts. Anyway, signed pennants were presented to Banga and Pestalozzi, while a series of speeches were made, including one by West Ham thanking the people of Grenchen and Switzerland for their outstanding hospitality.

On to the match itself where West Ham's players gave a good account of themselves against a Young Boys squad just five days away from their opening Super Liga fixture against Basel. With Robert Green, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole given the night off, Allardyce sent out an inexperienced team to take on the UEFA Europa League qualifiers in front of a 7,000-strong crowd. The match was the second in the four-team Uhren Cup tournament, with Swiss champions FC Basel and German Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin BSC the other two clubs involved. The competition began on Friday evening, when Young Boys defeated Hertha 4-2. Basel were due to take on Hertha following the Hammers' clash with Young Boys this evening. The Cup has been running every summer since 1962, when hometown club FC Grenchen were the winners, which makes this year's competition the 50th. In that time, clubs from England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia have all lifted the trophy. Last year's tournament was won by German side VfB Stuttgart.

United's starting eleven saw Ruud Boffin in goal behind Abdoulaye Faye making his debut at centre-back alongside trialist Hernani Da Rosa. Julien Faubert and Jordan Brown were the fullbacks. Fellow trialist Joey O'Brien anchored in central midfield alongside George Moncur, with Freddie Sears and Cristian Montano on the flanks. Luis Boa Morte, as captain, started in the withdrawn striker role behind youngster Frank Nouble. Curiously, Boffin and Boa Morte were late post team-sheet replacements for Robert Green and Frederic Piquionne; although no explanation was offered. Green had looked fine when warming up on the pitch just moments earlier. The substitutes were Marek Stech, Herita Ilunga, Jordan Spence, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Junior Stanislas, Frederic Piquionne, Olly Lee and Robert Hall.

The game kicked-off in bright, warm sunshine under the shadow of the surrounding Jura mountains. Within two minutes Boffin had been forced to parry a shot from the dangerous David Degen, who had found himself free on the right side of the penalty area. A minute later and former Switzerland Under-21 midfielder Marco Schneuwly got in behind Brown again as the United youngster endured a torrid opening spell. West Ham then slowly played themselves into the contest until a further uneventful ten minutes was interrupted by Ben Khalifa- who having just been denied by an excellent Hernani sliding tackle moments earlier- brought another save out of Boffin. A minute later a cross from the left was headed down by Ben Khalifa and slammed home by Schneuwly from about eight yards. Faye and Hernani looked to the assistant referee for a flag, but he was (rightly) unmoved.

West Ham were level just four minutes later when young striker Frank Nouble reacted first to a near-post Boa Morte corner, getting in front of his marker to glance a fine header inside the far post. It was a big moment for the 19-year-old striker, who has spoken of his eagerness to impress new manager Sam Allardyce during the pre-season. The goal was followed by the playing of 'Bubbles' over the stadium PA system and a loud cheer from the many West Ham fans who have made the trip. The car park before the game had been swarming with Swiss Hammers, who were clearly delighted to see their club play in their home country.

A minute later and a ripple of applause broke out as Montano came within a couple of yards of putting his side in front. Faubert's hopeful free-kick from near halfway hung in the air and Montano outjumped Zverotic with ease, but could only head the ball high and wide of the left-hand post. A real competitive edge was starting to creep into the game, with plenty of hard challenges going in from both sets of players. After Young Boys threatened again when Degen cut inside Brown, Montano went down under a heavy challenge and needed lengthy treatment. O'Brien showed some neat touches in midfield but he was also a victim of a crude challenge.

Both sides subsequently created chances to take the lead but it was the Swiss side - for whom victory saw them lift the Uhren cup having also won their opening game of the tournament - who did just that with six first half minutes left on the clock. Schneuwly was allowed to bring the ball forward 40 yards before slipping in Degen for a stab at goal that Boffin diverted round the post. The resulting Degan corner was met by Switzerland international defender Francois Affolter, who sent a powerful downward header into the net from about six yards. West Ham's problems defending set-pieces still clearly evident for all to see.

Two minutes before the interval and a big let-off for United when Schneuwly's cross was allowed to bounce by Faye, who was trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick. The lively Ben Khalifa didn't give it up, and managed to poke the ball past Faye and the advancing Boffin only to see it roll across the face of goal. Degen then picked up the loose ball and crossed for two Young Boys to throw themselves to the ground looking for a penalty that referee Herr Hanni was never going to give. The half-time whistle was met by polite applause and Nouble's goal was obviously the highlight for the travelling support. There was plenty of reasons for Allardyce to be content though with the application shown by his players just ten days into pre-season training.

Allardyce and his newly-assembled backroom made five changes at the break, with Jordan Spence, James Tomkins (taking the armband from Boa Morte), Frederic Piquionne, birthday boy Olly Lee and teenager Robert Hall replacing Faubert, Faye, O'Brien, Boa Morte and Nouble. The only other introduction was Herita Ilunga, who has reportedly impressed in training. He came on for Brown after an hour. Young Boys replaced Wolfi, Ben Khalifa, Doubai, and Spycher with goalkeeper Ivan Benito, Mario Raimondi, Emanuel Mayuka and Ezgjan Alioski.

Even though Young Boys hit the post shortly after the restart, the Hammers started the second half brightly. Ten minutes of engaging attacking football- particularly by England U18 forward Hall- was halted by Degen, who had the ball in the Hammers net for a third time only to be ruled offside. Five minutes later a deep cross from Zverotic picked out Emmanuel Mayuka inside the box who tested Boffin. The rivalry would be resumed in spectacular fashion twenty minutes from time when the Belgium keeper made a miraculous save to again deny the striker. Degen raced into the box and cut the ball back for the Mayuka six yards from goal but Boffin was there to block the ball with his feet.

Inbetween there had been some nice exchanges between Lee, Hall and Piquionne; the latter tamely squandering a half chance. The impressive Spence also contributed a couple of dangerous crosses, and Montano picked up another heavy knock. As tensions rose, the committed Montano and Ilunga got involved in a brief skirmish with the home side. With ten minutes remaining, the exciting Hall sprinted away down the left before lifting a fantastic pass that Vuskovac could only flick on to Piquionne. The striker tried to control and find Sears, but his pass was blocked behind for a corner. Moments later Piquionne broke the offside trap and created the chance- via Lee and Ilunga- that saw Hall let fly with a rasping shot that shaved Benito's left-hand post. So close to an equaliser, West Ham were nevertheless finishing strongly as the sun began to set in Grenchen.

Although the final whistle arrived with the Hammers still trailing, manager Allardyce could still be proud of a good night's work. There was certainly signs that West Ham have a bright future. A number of first-team regulars were not on duty tonight, but the Hammers more than held their own against a side that regularly turns out in Europe and is adorned with full internationals. What is more, the performance is likely to tell the manager a lot more about his squad than he knew before the game.

As for United's young guns, they had the chance to put themselves into the thoughts of the manager. Rookie home-grown professionals Olly Lee, Cristian Montano, Jordan Brown, Robert Hall and George Moncur all featured and Tony Carr believes the quintet have a golden opportunity to push themselves into the first-team picture ahead of the 2011/12 npower Championship campaign. "It's terrific for them and if you look at the squad as a whole, there is a fair spread of Academy players in it," said Carr. "To even just get picked to go on the trip is an accolade, so they've got to go there, soak it up and when they do get an opportunity to go on the pitch, show the new manager what they are all about. He can look at them and, although they might not immediately be ready for the team, he can see that the talent is in the pipeline and ready to break through when needed."

The Academy Director also impressed the need on the young players to approach the tour with the right attitude, both on and off the pitch. "They are at the sharp end of the game now, at first-team level, and performance and professionalism are vitally important," he added. "Although it's the pre-season, gaining confidence and momentum that we will need to take into the season is always a good thing. They've got to show a good attitude around the senior players and, likewise, the senior players will set the example and standards for them. It's only six or seven days, but it is a great experience for them."

West Ham United: Boffin, Faubert (Spence 46), Brown (Ilunga 62), Hernani, Faye (Tomkins 46), Sears, O'Brien (Lee 46), Moncur, Montano, Boa Morte (Hall 46), Nouble (Piquionne 46).

Subs not used: Stech, Reid, Stanislas.

Goals: Nouble (21).

BSC Young Boys: Wolfi (Benito 46), Silberbauer (Farnerud 72), Schneuwly, Costanzo, Ben Khalifa (Raimondi 46), Zverotic, Spycher (Alioski 46), Affolter, Degen (Tosetti 78), Veskovac, Doubai (Mayuka 46).

Goals: Schneuwly (17), Affolter (39).

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Switzerland- Day Two

The first time I passed through Switzerland I had the impression it was swept down with a broom from one end to the other every morning by housewives who dumped all the dirt in Italy...

Sam Allardyce is cracking the whip with his players by introducing triple sessions for the squad during these early stages of pre-season. The West Ham manager is said to be determined to transform the club following their relegation and is coming down hard on his players as they look to bounce straight back into the top flight. The former Bolton and Blackburn boss is renowned for his strict discipline but none of the first-team squad were prepared for the three sessions a day when they jetted back from their holidays last week, according to a report in this morning's Mirror. Allardyce wants his players in prime condition when the new season gets underway on August 6.

Head of sport medicine and sport science Andy Rolls has declared himself delighted with the squad's response to their pre-season training camp in Switzerland. The Hammers have been up early and working long and hard to get themselves in shape for the 2011/12 npower Championship campaign, and Rolls and his staff have devised a productive and stimulating series of sessions, ranging from keep-ball sessions to cycling to water polo. Two days into the trip and things seem to be going to plan. "Things have gone very well," agreed Rolls. "The whole week has been fantastic. We sat down with Sam and organised it from start to finish. I don't want to tempt fate but everyone has got through with minimal problems so far. There are always some blisters at this time of year but you expect that because it's hot and the ground is hard. We've come out here and the weather has been ideal really. It's not been too hot, although the sun has been out. The pitches are nice and soft. It's gone really, really well."

The gym has been a 'hive of activity' as the squad split into five groups to work on specific and focused parts of the body dependent on their own individual needs. "We did a circuit for 20 minutes where we hit all the exercises we wanted to do to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes and anything else they need to strengthen to prevent injuries. We then split into groups. Myself and the staff looked at each player's individual record and any problems that they've had and tried to see what we could do to benefit each individual player," explained Rolls. "We split them into five groups. The first was a lower-limb strength group, which was for players who have had some knee problems or muscle injuries. The second was a flexibility group which was for players who were tight in certain areas we found in our screening day last week. The third was a metabolic circuit for players to work on specific things, while the fourth was a core stabilisation group for those who have had some groin problems. Finally, there was some specific groin rehab which was specific to that small group of players."

Then it was onto water polo, diving, cycling, indoor hockey, basketball, racquetball and football; all on the agenda on the second day of United's training camp. The first-team squad were up bright and early on a beautiful morning in the canton of Bern in central Switzerland, assembling at an Olympic-size swimming pool at 7am for a water polo tournament. Following eight highly-competitive matches, Jack Collison made the biggest splash, combining with team-mate Scott Parker before scoring both goals to lead his team to victory. Collison and Parker were assisted by Jordan Brown, who swapped his usual left-back position for that of goalkeeper and made some heroic saves.

Following the water polo, some of the players moved to a 3m diving board to show off their skills, while others enjoyed a ride down a water flume. After breakfast, the players and staff hopped on to mountain bikes for the two-mile ride to the training complex. There, under the close guidance of manager Sam Allardyce, the squad enjoyed an hour-long practice match that saw Junior Stanislas score and miss a penalty - saved brilliantly by Ruud Boffin - as his team won 1-0. No sooner had the squad cycled back to the hotel for lunch when the heavens opened and torrential rain obscured the usually breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains.

After a bite to eat and a well-earned rest - although some of the younger members of the squad suffered a shock tennis defeat by the backroom staff - the players reconvened for their third and final session of the day. This time it was Abdoulaye Faye who was the goalkeeping hero, making a series of outstanding blocks to lead his team to a thrilling penalty shootout victory following a competitive indoor hockey match. The players then broke away for some smaller-sided games, with basketball and racquetball among the disciplines enjoyed.

The Hammers will take on Swiss Super League challengers BSC Young Boys in the pre-season Uhren Cup tournament in Grenchen tomorrow evening. Then, on Wednesday, West Ham will face Swiss champions FC Basel. Before, during and after those fixtures, Rolls said the players would be concentrating 100 per cent on getting themselves ready for the fast-approaching season. "It's a bit of everything in pre-season. We want to hit as many areas as we can and look at the anaerobic side of things, because the aerobic will take care of itself. We have had pool sessions and football sessions, nice long breaks after lunch for rest, massages and any treatment they needed, then we got going again at 5pm. On Sunday, we did three sessions again at 7am, 10am and 5pm. This week is a training week."

Meanwhile back in Disraeli's modern Babylon where the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually and one feels them passing like a whiff of air, the disputation over 'Knightgate' rumbles inexorably on. The Daily Mail slathers that West Ham's takeover of the 2012 Stadium after the Games could be thrown back into jeopardy by the investigation into the club's previously unknown payments to an Olympic Park Legacy Company employee.

Dionne Knight, the OPLC 's director of corporate services, was suspended on full pay last week after it emerged she has received payments from West Ham on a consultancy basis during and after the tender to take over the stadium. She had already been frozen out of discussions on the process because she had declared to the OPLC an ongoing relationship with West Ham director Ian Tompkins. However, OPLC did not know she was being paid by West Ham, while the club say Knight told them she had cleared her role with her employees.

Now chartered accountants Moore Stephens have been asked to establish whether this was indeed the case and as long as Knight did not have access to confidential information that could have aided West Ham, it seems likely that they will be able to move into the stadium. However, if any discrepancies are found, it would throw West Ham's takeover into jeopardy with the potential to reopen the contest. Tottenham, beaten to the vote by West Ham, are already seeking a judicial review of the entire process. Although a judge last month said there were no grounds for a review, they are now appealing and are likely to include the allegations against Knight.

In conjucture with the internal probe, the OPLC have also contacted the Police to investigate claims that its chief executive had his telephone records accessed by unauthorised agents. It follows on from last week when West Ham United called in the authorities following claims in the Sunday Times that the personal records of its employees had been surreptitiously gained by corporate investigators acting on behalf of Tottenham Hotspur. According to today's edition of the Times, the OPLC called in police when they discovered that records of phone calls made by chief executive Andrew Altman had been acquired by unauthorised agents. It is further reported that call records belonging to West Ham's vice-chairman Karren Brady were also accessed by the corporate sleuths, who had been employed by Tottenham to covertly investigate both the OPLC voting committee and employees of the club.

The revelation that Spurs have allowed themselves to become embroiled in a row regarding the unlawful access of personal phone records could not have come at a worse time for the north London club, following the national outrage this week over the News of the World's phone-tapping imbroglio - a scandal that led to the sudden demise of the 168-year-old newspaper. In last week's edition of the Sunday Times it was reported that Dionne Knight and her 14-year-old daughter had been spied on at her home by Tottenham's agents. As Rebekah Brooks can doubtless testify, the rich truly have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.

In other news, a sweep of the Sunday tabloids reveals Michael Essien's injury could pave the way for Scott Parker's shock return to Chelsea. A report in the People states the full extent of Essien’s knee injury will be revealed tomorrow and if the midfielder faces a lengthy lay-off, it could prompt a shock move to take Parker back to Stamford Bridge. Essien, 28, has undergone further tests this weekend to establish the true nature of the injury he sustained in training on Thursday, although Blues’ officials fear he has once again wrecked an anterior cruciate ligament. If that prognosis proves correct, it will be the third serious knee injury of his career and give new boss Andre Villas-Boas a serious headache ahead of the new season.

The People discloses that Chelsea have already considered a move for Parker, who flopped during an 18-month spell with the club between 2004-2005, earlier this summer. Now his name will be back in the frame if the club need to get a replacement in quick for the tough-tackling Ghanaian. The paper claims Parker, 30, is available for a cut-price fee of around £5m with West Ham keen to get his £80,000-a-week wages off their books. Tottenham and Aston Villa have shown an interest in the England midfielder following the Hammers’ relegation, but only Turkish club Fenerbahce have made an official offer. Parker, though, is keen to stay in London and would relish a second chance to show Chelsea fans what he is capable of. He made just 15 appearances for the club after a £10m switch from Charlton in 2004.

The Mirror, meanwhile, think West Ham are poised to sign Eidur Gudjohnsen on a free transfer following his exit from Fulham. The 32-year-old Iceland striker had a one-year ­contract offer rescinded following Mark Hughes’s departure from Craven Cottage. Swansea tried to take ­Gudjohnsen to the Liberty Stadium and the former ­Barcelona and Chelsea star was on the verge of ­agreeing terms until the ­Hammers ­intervened. Gudjohnsen’s arrival would put more pressure on West Ham to compromise over their demands for Scott Parker, thinks the paper. The Hammers initially wanted as much as £10million, which was ­problematic given his age and wages. The article goes on to state that Allardyce, who worked with Gudjohnsen at Bolton, switched his ­attention after hitting ­problems trying to secure Stoke’s Glenn Whelan in the deal that will see Carlton Cole join Stoke. Tony Pulis reportedly rejected the offer and has secured straight cash for Cole.

Ignoring the fact that Whelan and Gudjohnsen are not positionally comparable, the fact Cole remains with the Hammers squad in Switzerland suggests his move to Stoke is still some way from being completed. Despite reports to the contrary, the West Ham striker joined fellow England internationals Rob Green and Scott Parker as part of the Hammers' 26-man squad at their six-day training camp near Bern. Stoke chairman Peter Coates has admitted the club is still negotiating for the player. "Cole's a player the club is interested in and Tony Pulis has liked him for a long time, we think he's a very good player," he said. "It's not done and dusted but it's work in progress."

Finally, West Ham are after Southampton’s England Under-21s attacking midfield player Adam Lallana, 23, who has scored 30 goals in the last two seasons, according to the Star. The player only recently signed a contract extension though so this is a non-starter, according to me. And that completes today's journey from pellucid alpine abstemiousness to steamy urban miasma.

The first time I passed through London I had the impression it was never swept at all...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Switzerland- Day One

Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? A decent training facility and the cuckoo clock...
West Ham United kicked-off their pre-season training camp in Switzerland with a busy and varied day of training on Saturday. According to the official site, the 26-strong first-team squad were up early for a session in the swimming pool before heading off to a nearby training complex for activation and an intensive hour-long football session. After a break for lunch and an afternoon of well-earned rest, the squad reassembled and returned to the training centre for another hour of circuit training and specific strength and conditioning work.

The likes of Robert Green, Scott Parker, new boys Kevin Nolan and Abdoulaye Faye and trialists Joey O'Brien and Hernani da Rosa were all put through their paces by manager Sam Allardyce, assistant manager Neil McDonald and the backroom staff. "Linking the staff and the integration of all the departments are very important at this time of year - the medical, sport science and football departments have created a very good working programme to encourage the football and fitness of the players in the build up for the start of our new season," said Allardyce. "We have had three very good sessions today which we will review at the end of the evening. All the players appear to have come through their sessions today and there are no injuries, which is one of the most important things in our pre-season. We are in a very tranquil spot in the mountains of Switzerland. We're training at altitude which is always good for the condition of the players. What little downtime the players have, there are good facilities at the hotel, a fantastic lake, outdoor swimming pool and a mini golf course where they can enjoy each other's company. This helps with the very important matter of team bonding that is vital."

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, several newspapers are reporting Carlton Cole is on the brink of joining Stoke City in a deal worth £4.5m up front plus an additional £1.5m based on appearances. Cole has been a Stoke target ever since their promotion to the Premier League and is expected to have a stringent medical over the weekend before signing a four-year deal. Newly-promoted QPR looked to be favourites to land the 27-year-old before Tony Pulis came back in with the money West Ham were looking for. Stoke had a £3m bid thrown back at them earlier in the summer, but club owner Peter Coates has now been persuaded to match the asking fee.

Stoke had been trailing Birmingham duo Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome in a double deal which could have risen to £16m with add-ons. When the two clubs could not agree on the amount of the down-payment, Stoke decided to switch their attention back to the United striker. Despite earlier reports suggesting the player was happy to stay in east London, the Sun quotes a source close to the deal as saying: "Cole was desperate to stay in the Premier League and was impressed by the plans manager Pulis has for the team. The club targeted him and went all out to get him, which he was impressed with." Stoke flew out to Austria for their pre-season training camp yesterday and hope Cole can join them within the next 48 hours.

Curiously, one-time reputed Hammers target Thomas Sorensen has been among the most vocal in voicing his opinion over the new arrival. The goalkeeper believes Cole, who he knows from a loan spell at former club Aston Villa, will prove a shrewd piece of business. "He is a much improved player," he said. "He was fairly young when I played with him at Villa. He was a little bit indisciplined and needed a lot of work. But he has definitely improved. The role he has had at West Ham has given him a lot of responsibility and you can see he has grown. He has been involved with the England team and, whenever we have played him, he has been a handful with his physical presence. He has also capped every season with quite a few goals. If he came to Stoke, I think he would be a great signing for us."

Hammers boss Sam Allardyce has always insisted his wantaway trio of Cole, Scott Parker and Robert Green would not be allowed to leave until the club’s valuation was met. That said, West Ham are reportedly 'desperate' to get the big earners off their wage bill following relegation last season. The 6ft 3in striker still has two years left on his Hammers contract but it is believed his wages would have been a concern. Cole also endured a disappointing campaign, finishing with only five league goals from 35 appearances, while there remains lingering doubts about the long-term fitness of the player.

Cole will be the fourth 'big name' to leave Upton Park since West Ham's relegation to the Championship, after Demba Ba, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Matthew Upson. The Sun suggests England goalkeeper Robert Green could make it a nap hand after moving to the top of West Brom's wishlist. Albion boss Roy Hodgson wants a new stopper - and is looking at Green and Birmingham City's Ben Foster. It is reported relegated Brum will not budge on their £9m valuation of Foster and that would price Baggies out of a deal. It is suggested Green would be available at less than half that and Hodgson admitted both are names on his radar. "There are good goalkeepers available at the moment in the sense that they don't want to play in lower divisions - you'd be talking about Foster and Green," he said. "And goalkeepers who are second choice at their club despite having a lot of experience. If anything we have a barrage of suggestions and possibilities."

The same paper also states West Brom have bid £2.5million for Jack Collison. The midfielder, 22, is yet to sign a new deal with the Hammers after two weeks of talks. Baggies manager Hodgson made his move this week in the face of competition from Stoke, Newcastle and Everton. The Wales star said: "It's flattering but I'm in negotiations over a contract at the moment. Let's see how that goes." Collison is one of West Ham's lowest earners on just under £4,000 a week but has two years left on his deal. Hodgson is offering to treble Collison's salary and Premier League football. The West Ham youth product only returned from a serious knee injury at the back-end of last season, and Allardyce is hoping he will forge a partnership in midfield with new arrival Kevin Nolan. Speaking on Twitter, David Gold responded to questions from worried fans by insisting 'Jack is not for sale'.

In other news West Ham have asked the Italian Football Federation to suspend Alessandro Diamanti’s registration with Brescia. The Italian left West Ham for the then Serie A side in August 2010, but the latest instalment of the £2m transfer fee has not been paid according to the club. Furious Hammers chiefs have accused Brescia of holding back the payment and are adamant the striker should be banned until the cash bust-up is resolved. A club spokesman said: "Due to the failure of Brescia to pay the latest instalment fee, West Ham have asked the Italian Football Federation to suspend the player's registration and requested that the national association and FIFA impose sporting sanctions until the matter is resolved." Diamanti hit six goals in 31 outings for Brescia last term, earning his first Italy cap.

Finally, Allardyce might be otherwise engaged at the moment but he still found time to blame Margaret Thatcher for the ruination of this country... sorry English football. Speaking in today's Sun, the West Ham manager laments the shutting down of extra curricular sports lessons and believes the country is "only producing half the players the school system used to". Allardyce believes former Prime Minister Thatcher "killed football" in England and is to blame for the lack of good young English players in the game. He also blamed cut-backs for a lack of homegrown talent coming through and a lack of opportunities for youngsters. "[Margaret] Thatcher killed football, no doubt about it," he said. "Since Margaret Thatcher stopped teachers being paid extra money for coaching sports after school, all sporting activities have diminished on a competitive basis. This was a working class game but it's only at private schools where the children get the sports opportunities I had - and even then a lot of them don't play football, it's mainly rugby. Despite putting in place all sorts of advanced academy systems at clubs we are only producing half the players the school system used to. Our [West Ham's] youth trainer, Tony Carr, is fighting to find the next [Rio] Ferdinands and [Frank] Lampards with one hand tied behind his back."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Backroom Business

We've had Fletcher and Mackay and now West Ham are looking to add Baraclough to their growing list of Slade Prison namesakes. The club are reportedly close to appointing former Scunthorpe boss Ian Baraclough to their coaching staff, according to several sources. Sam Allardyce is keen to bolster his backroom team after seeing Kevin Keen leave for Liverpool earlier this week and has lined up a move for the highly-rated coach as he begins his plans for next season. Baraclough took his first steps into coaching when he was named first-team coach under Nigel Adkins at Scunthorpe in 2006. The 40-year-old replaced Adkins as manager last September following his departure to Southampton, but he was dismissed by Scunthorpe in March with the club rooted to the bottom of the table. Sky Sports state Baraclough has gained the reputation as one the best young coaches around and Allardyce believes he will be a valuable addition to the Hammers set-up.

It is likely Baraclough would become the coach to link the Academy and developing players to the first-team squad; the only position Allardyce said he had left to fill in the restructuring of his immediate backroom staff. The new Hammers boss had initially been tipped to team up again with his former coach Sammy Lee at Upton Park. The former Liverpool coach left Anfield last week, and had previously worked alongside Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers. "We are looking to bring in one more coach, but it will not be Sammy," confirmed Allardyce yesterday. "Sammy is a first-team coach, but I have Neil McDonald and Wally Downes here already. We are looking at people at the moment though, and hopefully we will have someone in place in time for the trip to Switzerland at the end of the week."

The news comes just days after West Ham secured Martyn Margetson as their new goalkeeping coach and extended the contract of Tony Carr. Margetson, 39, held the same position at Cardiff, but has left the Welsh club to join Sam Allardyce's backroom team at Upton Park. He trained with the West Ham squad today ahead of making the move permanent. The Hammers boss had been in the hunt for a new goalkeeping coach after Coles was relieved of his duties along with first-team coach Paul Groves. Margetson, who also works with the Wales national team, will now coach the fit-again Peter Kurucz, Marek Stech and Ruud Boffin, although it remains to be seen how long the Welshman will have the chance to mentor Robert Green, who is expected to leave the club, should a suitable offer be received.

Meanwhile Carr signed a new five-year deal with the club. The world-renowned Youth Academy director, whose existing deal was up this summer, put pen to paper on a contract that will keep him tied to West Ham United until 2016. The 60-year-old has been employed by the club in a coaching capacity since 1973, and only last year he was awarded the MBE for services to football. Speaking to last year Carr admitted that despite the lure of offers from elsewhere, he always intended to see his career out at Chadwell Heath. "If the club want me to stay I'd like to stay," he said. "I'd like to go on for another three or four years, if I'm honest. I'm quite healthy, I still enjoy it, I still think there's work to be done. We've got good kids in the system and I want to see them develop. I hope there's going to be some good players coming through in the next three or four years and I want to be part of that. Obviously there comes a time when you go 'look Tone, as much as we love you you've got to pack it in'. And I understand that. But whilst I'm still quite fit and healthy... the day I stop enjoying it is the day I go 'thanks, but I've done my bit'."

If Baraclough does arrives it will be as direct replacement for the departed Keen. The Hammers stalwart left his role as first-team coach only last week to take up a similar position at Anfield, but is anticipating a return to the Boleyn Ground with his new club sooner rather than later. "I am extremely confident with the squad that is there, that even if West Ham lose a couple of top players, this time next year Liverpool will be playing West Ham in the Premier League and I can't wait to be back," he said. Having served the club for nearly 20 years as player and coach, Keen admitted he would miss the close connection with the passionate Hammers faithful and said they would always be close to his heart. "The supporters have always been fantastic. I thank them for their support. I have been at the club for nine years as a player and nine years as a coach and I have learned so much from good managers, the likes of Paul Heffer and Tony Carr and also from those people who don't always get the credit. A part of me will always be claret and blue. It is the right time for me to move on but you never know what will happen in the future."

Wally Downes is equally confident of the Hammers chances and told West Ham TV a strong squad will be key to getting the club promoted this season. Downes expects the club to hit the ground running in the npower Championship, with the first-team coach emphasising the need for a collective desire to get the job done. In short, he expects the story of the season to be about the team and not the individual. "This season it is going to be about how strong and how supportive the squad is," he said. "It is not about the eleven players or the 18 players, it is about 20 or even 30 players because of the amount of games we are going to play, it will be about 50-60 games a season on a regular basis. Players have to be ready to come into a successful side and perform to the level of whoever they are replacing."

With such an arduous challenge ahead, the work of United's Sport Medicine and Sport Science department will be of paramount importance. It is their hope that a unique new system will keep players out of the treatment room. In partnership with the University of Ghent (UGent) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Belgium, the Hammers have introduced individual risk profiles for every professional. The profiles will cover two specific areas - injury prevention and performance progression - and allow head of sports medicine Andy Rolls and first-team physiotherapist Stijn Vandenbroucke to constantly monitor player's individual performances, risk areas and injury histories.

With the help of the two universities, each profile will be updated on a daily basis throughout the season and will be accessible via a password-safe website to enable players and staff to keep tabs on their condition from anywhere on the planet. To kick-off the project Rolls, Vandenbroucke and the Hammers' medical staff have started screening squad members using a range of balance, flexibility and strength tests. The test results will help them to identify areas of individual strength and weakness and tailor each player's training schedule to minimise their chances of being injured.

Following next week's pre-season trip to Switzerland, the players will undergo performance progression screening at Chadwell Heath later this month, adding to the data available. Regular tests will be held throughout the season. Vandenbroucke explained the purpose of the screening in detail . "We are testing for injury prevention because we want to create an up-to-date risk profile for every player for throughout the season," he said. "Therefore we need to know what their weaknesses and their strong points are, so we're testing their flexibility, strength, stability, core stability and balance, jumping and a few other things. From there on, together with the universities, we can work out what they need to do during the pre-season and the season."

Vandenbroucke said the pre-season tests would stand the players in good stead ahead of what will be a busy and demanding season in the npower Championship. "I think it's going to be a very tough season with a lot of games and physical demands on the players, so I think in the pre-season we have to grab the chance to make everybody as strong as possible so we can go as far as possible in the competition." Belgian-born himself, Vandenbroucke said the roles played by his fellow countrymen at UGent and VUB would be of huge benefit. "We have worked together with these universities because they have created an algorithm [list of instructions] which will help us on a daily basis with injury prevention and performance progression. "After each training session, they will help us to create an injury-risk profile for the following day so we know if players have trained well, if they are fatigued or if they are at risk of suffering a certain injury. We're trying to use evidence-based data and use Sport Science at a high level."

Having blogged two weeks ago about how Sam Allardyce has been in the vanguard of football's scientific revolution, it is the clearest indication yet of the direction the club is now moving. While Rolls and Vandenbroucke collate their data, the manager has been busy running the rule over his squad this week in training before they jet off on Friday. He has declared himself happy with what he has seen. "It has been lovely weather and the boys are looking very enthusiastic. Everyone looks like they are glad to be back," he said. "Last season was a miserable one, but we have to put that behind us and start to work on the task ahead and that is getting straight back into the Premier League." The trip to Switzerland, where they will play two games, is one Allardyce is looking forward to. "I have always gone on pre-season tours in the past and they are an invaluable way of getting to know everyone and improving the team spirit," he said. "We have lots of new faces among the players and the staff and this will be the perfect chance for everyone to get to know each other."

And with that it was off for a run through Hainault Forest, where back in the 60's it had been a common sight to see the likes of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters working to up their fitness levels ahead of another long and gruelling campaign. The tradition continued into the 1990s, when Paolo Di Canio was among those spotted jogging and sprinting through the trees. This week, the manager reinstated the old tradition with a modern slant, taking his squad for a 'speed play' sessions that include walking, jogging, high-intensity running and hill sprints.

Fitness coach Eamon Swift explained that the trip to the forest also provided the players with a welcome change of scenery as they stepped up their preparations for the 2011/12 npower Championship season. "The manager is very interested in the psychology of the players and very interested in changing environments, so the main focus of the session is to have a change of stimulus," Swift explained. "We went to Hainault Forest, which is something we haven't done for a while and wouldn't normally do, and while we were there we did a change of speed session. The players did a walk, a jog, a three-quarter pace run and mixed that into a 25-minute period. We then finished with some hill repeats - periods of climbing with some walk recovery. The players did not run for the full 25 minutes - it was a 'speed play' session including periods of walking, jogging, 75 per cent running and tempo running. It was not just one pace the whole way through. It was a 45-minute session in total with a warm-up and stretch recovery to finish."

While the sessions prove to be both testing and fun for those involved, Swift said it would also provide important performance data for the science bods analysing the players' fitness levels. "We used heart-rate monitors so there will be a conditioning response. The main thing is that we got the lads together in groups and they were geeing each other on and, in the bits when they didn't have to work so hard, they got together and were chatting while the staff followed behind on bikes and gave them extra motivation where necessary. It was a good morning. The lads were very happy about it afterwards, so I think the most beneficial part about this session was bringing them together and helping to enhance the team ethic."

West Ham start their pre-season campaign with a match against Young Boys of Berne on Monday, with a 6pm kick-off, before playing FC Basel on Wednesday.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Shadow On The Line

You see the truth is like lightning, it always follows the line of least resistance. So, for what we do, the trick is simple. All we have to do is find the line and then follow it back up. And, whatever it is, it's all going to be sorted out neat and tidy, 99% of the time. But with this, with what we see here. Well, you try and find the line on something like this and all it's going to do is fur up your arteries so thick you'd think you're a fucking werewolf. So, we just pass it on. And then we step right out of the picture because whoever it is who has to pick up this sorry rag of rope it'll sure as shit be the devil of them...

The Olympic Park Legacy Company has launched two independent investigations into its "internal stadium procedures" as the row over the Olympic Stadium continues to escalate. The quango, which awarded the 250‑year lease on the Olympic Stadium to West Ham United over Tottenham Hotspur, last week suspended its director of corporate services on full pay after it emerged she had been paid by the east London club to carry out consultancy work during the bidding phase.

An OPLC statement read: "The Olympic Park Legacy Company has launched an independent investigation into its internal stadium procedures as a result of the allegations made concerning employee Dionne Knight. The auditors Moore Stephens have been appointed to carry out this investigation into our procedures. They have put together a team led by their specialist forensic unit. We are also investigating the nature of the consultancy work that Dionne Knight undertook without our knowledge or permission. We will communicate the outcome of investigations when the work is complete. We remain confident that the integrity of our processes has not been compromised."

An independent barrister will also be appointed to conduct the "employment elements" of a separate investigation into how Knight came to be working for West Ham on the procurement process for the conversion work the club needed to do on the stadium. The OPLC has said that it had no knowledge that she was working for the Hammers. The club were told by the West Ham Olympic Stadium project director, Ian Tompkins, with whom Knight was in a long‑standing relationship of which all parties were aware, that she had obtained permission from the OPLC. Tompkins has also been suspended pending an investigation.

The OPLC continue to insist the decision to award West Ham tenancy of the stadium after the 2012 Games stands, despite them launching the twin-pronged inquiry. They remain confident that Knight was isolated from the Olympic Stadium decision-making process once she declared her relationship with Tompkins. The process was handled by a separate team based at its law firm Eversheds. Spurs will return to the high court this month in an attempt to force a judicial review of the decision-making process. The OPLC board voted 14-0 in favour of the joint bid from West Ham and Newham Council, with the decision rubber-stamped by the government and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. West Ham have said they will sue the Sunday Times for claiming the payments to Knight were "secret" and have claimed they will also take legal action against Spurs, who have used a security firm to investigate the bidding process.

In the meantime, Tottenham continue to press ahead with their plans to build a potential new stadium at Northumberland Park in Haringey. They hope to fund the development by asking supporters to pay upfront for premium seat packages costing as much as £53,000 over 10 years. Writing in the Telegraph, Paul Kelso states the club wrote to supporters on Tuesday asking them to take part in a survey designed to determine the level of demand for premium packages including food and parking options.

The survey indicates that the club is pursuing the Northumberland Park development adjacent to White Hart Lane in parallel with its legal challenge to the loss of the Olympic Stadium bid to West Ham. It also reveals the club’s strategy for paying for a stadium development that as recently as January was described as unaffordable by chairman Daniel Levy. The survey offers 39 different seating and hospitality packages in a tier of premium seating that appears similar to the Club Wembley middle tier at the national stadium that effectively bankrolls the ground through the sale of 10-year packages. Spurs appear to be adopting a similar model, asking supporters to pay as much as half of the fees upfront to help repay loans incurred in stadium construction.

Finally, we have another shadow on the line as the London mayor has been persuaded to vociferously back Tottenham's bid for public funding to help develop their plans for the new stadium. It comes after Spurs insisted any public cash would only be used for improving the local area. "It has potential to inject investment in stadium-led regeneration in the heart of the community," Boris Johnson said. "This level of investment will safeguard existing jobs, create considerably more local employment opportunities as well as enhance the public realm and vibrancy of the whole of Tottenham."

Spurs had plans to develop the Northumberland Park site approved by the mayor in 2010 but escalating costs turned their focus towards taking over the Olympic stadium in Stratford. After appearing unsuccessful in their appeal against the decision to hand over the Olympic stadium to West Ham, Levy confirmed that they are investigating the development of the new site behind the Paxton Road end of the White Hart Lane stadium. Tottenham have now applied to the government's Regional Growth Fund for a grant to cover costs which would be associated with moving to Northumberland Park. They include upgrading public transport and providing training and employment opportunities for local people.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Eloquence Of Silence

Ministers are said to be closely monitoring allegations of inappropriate payments made by West Ham to a director of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, after the bitter public row over the future of the Olympic Stadium escalated yesterday. The Government is alarmed by revelations, first exposed on Friday, that an OPLC director was paid £20,000 while moonlighting as a consultant for West Ham, and has sought reassurances about the OPLC’s processes and the decision to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham.

Writing in today's Telegraph, Paul Kelso states the revelation will ramp up the pressure on ministers and the OPLC to reconsider the decision to award the stadium to West Ham, which is already facing legal challenge from defeated bidder Tottenham. West Ham issued an angry statement yesterday denying that the £20,000 "consultancy" payment made to Dionne Knight, the OPLC’s director of corporate services, was improper and revealing they were opening legal proceedings against Tottenham and the Sunday Times following publication of details of the payments yesterday. The strongly-worded statement accuses Tottenham of behaving "illegally" and is an indication of how serious the dispute between the two rival clubs over the £500million stadium has become.

The couple at the centre of the row, Knight, at the OPLC, and her partner, Ian Tompkins, the West Ham Olympic project director who helped the east London club win the bid, have now been suspended. West Ham insist they had taken their director’s word that his girlfriend had received approval from her employers to be hired as a paid consultant by them. In fact, the OPLC learnt about the arrangement only last Thursday when the woman was contacted by the newspaper.

Ms Knight, 34, from Surrey, has been an £84,000-a-year director of corporate services at the OPLC since May last year. She declared her relationship with Ian Tompkins, 53, when she took on the role. The sensitivity of the relationship was such that the OPLC decided that the stadium bid process must be handled from its external lawyers’ offices in the City of London. The couple had previously worked together at Newham council, which is responsible for the Games site and West Ham’s ground at Upton Park. Tompkins, who served as the council’s director of communications, joined West Ham in 2008 and was given the job of handling the bid for the Olympic stadium. He was responsible for appointing Knight, and is said to have assured Karren Brady, West Ham’s vice-chairman, that she had permission from her employers. The Legacy Stadium Partnership was aware of their relationship.

On Friday, OPLC said that it was conducting a review of its procedures but that it was confident that its stadium tender process had not been compromised by Knight’s work for West Ham. Knight had declared her relationship with Tompkins to the OPLC when she joined the company but had not revealed that she was moonlighting for West Ham. The legacy company is expected to announce tomorrow which firm will conduct the independent audit.

Spurs will attend a high court hearing this month in a bid to force a judicial review of the bidding process, which they claim was flawed, biased and in breach of European law. On Friday they were granted permission to seek full disclosure of a deal between West Ham and Newham Council, which has agreed to provide a £40  million loan to finance the stadium conversion. The London borough, a host for the Olympics, is also embroiled in the controversy because Knight was formally hired by a partnership half-owned by the council and West Ham. A spokesman for the council reiterated: "Both West Ham and Newham had been assured that the procurement exercise had been fully authorised. The work that was procured by West Ham was of significant quantity. Neither party has ever sought or received any advantageous information in regard to the stadium bid. Both West Ham and the OPLC will now conduct detailed, robust investigations and we will co-operate fully with both."

Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales has since stressed the importance of putting plans in motion for the Olympic Stadium despite the protracted row over its ownership. He does not believe the controversy should be allowed to delay plans for the venue. The east London Olympic borough won a joint bid with West Ham to use the stadium after the Games. The OPLC board voted 14-0 in February to back this bid, ahead of Tottenham, as first choice to move into the stadium. Wales, whose board authorised the £40m loan to the joint venture company that will operate the stadium, declared: "The sooner we can get on with it the better for our country. Anything that delays it is not good for our country. It is a seriously hugely popular bid. Everybody thought it was the best - let's just get on with it. We are very keen to get started. Our bid is way the best. It works in every possible way. We will retain the stadium so we can use it nationally and regionally. Our community will benefit enormously from it. Any rational person will say 'it is a no-brainer, this is by far the best bid - let's get on with it'. Things will happen as they happen. It is the right bid for the stadium and we will work as quickly as we can to open it."

Also reacting today, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, insisted the revelations will not scupper the club's move into the Olympic Stadium. "There is no reason why there should be any deviation. The woman concerned made her relationship known to the OPLC and was immediately excluded from having anything to do with the bid process," said Johnson, who rubber-stamped the OPLC's decision to choose West Ham's joint bid with Newham council over the rival one from Tottenham Hotspur. "Obviously they took steps, quite rightly, to exclude her of any involvement with the bid process and it now transpires there was a financial relationship – that is a matter that is currently under investigation. I have no reason to believe that this in any way will blow the decision off course. Let's face it, two years ago no-one would have said we would have two top London clubs fighting it out for the right to use the Olympic stadium. It is a great tribute to everybody involved in the marketing of the Olympic Park that we have got a situation where we have so much interest in the stadium. Before then people were talking about mothballed white elephants."

West Ham said on Sunday it would sue the Sunday Times over the claim that the payments were made in secret and take legal action against Spurs over its use of a firm of private detectives. The club will report Tottenham to the police for allegedly accessing bank accounts and tapping phones as the dispute over the Olympic Stadium gets ever more spiteful. With the exception of Knight and Tompkins, Spurs remain the only major player involved yet to give a public response. They have declined to respond to the allegations that they had employed private investigators, although sources claimed the club had not spoken to The Sunday Times. In the words of Emily Dickinson, saying nothing...sometimes says the most.

When pressed, Tottenham would state only: "We are currently in a legal process and cannot comment on the matter." Given the new and despicable phone hacking revelations emerging today, and the highly sensitive nature of such activities in the current climate, that is probably a sound approach. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the paper said: "The Sunday Times stands by its story and will rigorously defend any action taken against us." It just might have to.

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