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...

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