Friday, 29 June 2012

Streaked With Sweat

It is an imperative that you transform yourself from a consumer of the rich man's bullshit, to a manufacturer of the people's truth. Yeah, sticking it to the man with some more paywall pilfery. The fabric is not mine but the stitching is...

O good old man, how well in thee appears the constant service of the antique world, when service sweat for duty, not for meed! Thou art not for the fashion of these times, when none will sweat but for promotion
It was in a hotel in Docklands where we last met, a few hundred metres from his apartment, ten minutes away from Upton Park. On the eve of the the £100 million play-off final Kevin Nolan talked about Wembley and the bus he had hired to ferry his family and friends down from Liverpool to London that weekend, about honesty and legacy, about winning people over "bit by bit". Yet he had also been elsewhere, living in that untethered state where a season's endeavour is condensed into a single blissful or brutal moment.

Weeks on from the 'richest match in world football' and West Ham United beat Blackpool to return to the Barclays Premier League; had they lost, as their captain put it, "it would've been a fail". It is that simple, that stark. Ninety minutes separated Nolan from proving something, or from knuckling down and starting again. It is a surreal position, yet one he understands, because proving and knuckling down, grafting and starting again, earning and demanding trust, is precisely who Nolan is, as a footballer and as a man. On that Wembley-bound bus that day was Nolan's nan, who had not seen a game since the play-off final of 2001, when Kevin was in the Bolton side that defeated Preston North End. His uncle was there, his cousins, his grandad, who has travelled all around the country to follow his grandson for Bolton, Newcastle and now West Ham. His brother James, friends from school, the works.

His family, as he calls them all – the people who have instilled old-fashioned virtues of trust, loyalty and honesty, a set of beliefs he has put into the dressing rooms at his two former clubs and one that has helped lead his present side back to the rarefied climes of the top flight. "My mam brought me up with good manners, a good surrounding, she has always been there for me, and my dad as well. They wanted me to be grounded. There's not many people in my life I hate. There might be people who stab me in the back along the way or have done something to upset me but I don't really carry grudges. It’s the way I am, with everyone who knows me," he says. "When they’ve got me, when they’ve got my friendship, they’ve got me 110 per cent in whatever I do. I’m never really light-hearted in anything."

If that makes time in Nolan’s presence sound grim, the impression is misleading. The 29-year-old has a lightness about him, a love of company, laughter and chat. He speaks with relish about taking his family to see Ghost and Shrek at the theatre, about introducing Jasmine, his daughter, to Hammerhead, the West Ham mascot, and how she is now demanding an audience with the Queen. "Life away from the football has been decent," he says, despite the fact he has lived, in the main, away from his wife and two young children. He has yearned for the day when they will move permanently to Essex this summer — "my missus is blonde, so that’s a head start," he says — when he will truly feel as if he can "throw myself at it". And this is the point about Nolan; no half-measures with anything.

It is 15 years now since Nolan, then 14, made his first start for the City of Liverpool Boys team. Only Francis Jeffers from that side played in the Premier League, and he has not done so since February 2007. For Nolan, the date is far more recent – Saturday 7 May 2011, when Newcastle beat Birmingham at St James' Park. Just under two years prior to then he famously stood up in the tight confines of the crestfallen away dressing room at Leyton Orient, following a 6-1 defeat in a pre-season friendly for Newcastle, and demanded the truth: who wants out? "Right, this can't go on," he said. "I have never been so embarrassed on a football pitch. You're either in or you're out. We need everyone to pull together to turn this club around and if you don't want to do that, and you want to leave, then put your hand up and we'll help find you somewhere else."

It was an episode of cleansing and re-commitment that formed the bedrock of promotion. A new team forged in the fires of adversity. Four players- including Sébastien Bassong and Habib Beye- raised their arms. As it turned out, five from that room left. Newcastle had found team spirit and incredibly, from that starting point, on the back of a draining relegation campaign, came the Championship title, then came a strong return season in the top flight. Nolan scored 12 goals and talks for a new, extended deal started. It was an era of turmoil on Tyneside, but as a Scouser nurtured by Bolton Wanderers, he was at ease with Newcastle’s industrial identity, the history of longing. He felt at home, until contract negotiations fell apart abruptly in June and Nolan felt he had no alternative but seek acceptance elsewhere, loyalty and trust had diminished.

He did not want to leave to further his career, he was not looking for more money to feather his already luxurious nest and at the time had not contemplated looking for a new challenge at a new club. Nolan knew there would come a day when Newcastle United no longer needed him, but as the club’s captain, felt he had a responsibility to help the team progress until they reached a point where he no longer had to help bind things together. "The most disappointing thing was thinking I was going to be at the club for a long, long time," he says. "Being very much part of Alan Pardew’s plans, signing off to make sure we were ready for next season and a couple of days later, what was on the table is now off the table. My only regret is not being able to see everything through that we started and that's probably what I'm more disappointed about. I went to Newcastle and we got relegated and then you become part of this great story. It was just great to be a big part of that."

Nolan is not the type to stick around where he is no longer wanted. "I’m not going to hang around picking up my money," he says. "If I’m not playing, I’m one of those players who will move on. I have respect for what Mike [Ashley] and Derek [Llambias] are doing up there because that's how they want to do it. If I see either of them, I'd shake their hands and I'm happy Newcastle are doing well. It's a club I have really fond memories of. As I said, I don't hold grudges. I thank them for letting me get away and join another fantastic club."

West Ham and Sam Allardyce called, and Nolan left. "It was just, West Ham? Yeah, get me there, it's another challenge," he adds. "Being able to link up with Sam and having David Gold and Mr Sullivan, the way they were about getting me here and the lengths they went to, I thought I owe them. I owe them 110 per cent from the moment I walk in the door to the moment I leave. That really drives me on because people have put so much faith and trust in me. I want the people who put trust in me to go, 'Yeah, that lad gave us everything.'

At West Ham, he joined up with Sam Allardyce, his former manager at Bolton. For him and the club, it has meant a change of culture. "I walked in the first couple of days and no matter what, I was a Sam Allardyce signing because I had worked with him before and I had nine great years at Bolton. For the first few weeks, it was a case of, 'Do the lads trust me?' They only knew me on the pitch and they probably didn't like me because I'm not a friendly guy on the pitch! I'm a moaner but I think the lads have taken to me. I think they know they can trust me 100 per cent because I am here for them and I'm not Sam's spy. I want them to be the best they can be for West Ham and as the weeks and months have gone by, I think we have got stronger as a group. I just hope to be sharing more great moments with them all."

Meeting again in a hotel foyer in Canary Wharf, Nolan is as always engaging company but now seems understandably more relaxed. Settling in at a new club, rarely an easy experience to begin with, has been eased by scoring 13 goals on the path to promotion. He has also taken, to his own surprise, to the big city. "I've enjoyed being able to go for a walk around and have a cup of tea. It's been really nice. You can sit and watch the hustle and bustle and watch the world go by. It's great. I always thought when I used to come down here that two days would be enough but I've moulded in and became one of those people that goes hustling and bustling past everyone else! My wife likes X Factor and she went with a couple of her friends to watch the results. She hasn't roped me into doing anything like that!"

When he got down in the early months Nolan admits he would go home [to Liverpool], to be with people "who love you and don't see you as Kevin Nolan the West Ham footballer. They see you as their son, their brother, as their cousin, as their best mate, as their husband and as their dad and that sort of helped me and you say to yourself, 'Just do your stuff and bit by bit, you will prove them wrong and make this work.'

Nolan had a fantastic nine years at Bolton and then went to Newcastle. "We got relegated and then you become part of this great story. If I could choose one club in London that would be perfect for me, it would be West Ham. It reminds me so much of Liverpool and Everton, a working man’s club, similar to Newcastle. Some have been here for 25 years. You meet all the people who work behind the scenes; Pete, the kitman, Shirley in the kitchen, who’s been here for 37 or 38 years. To hear her excitement, knowing she was going to Wembley is what it's all about. People like them deserve to be in the Premier League."

They also deserve the right to voice their discontent as they did often and loudly last season; debate over the style of Sam Allardyce’s football causing as much frustration as dropped points. "There are sections of the crowd who complain but it’s why they come to the ground. These fellas get shit off the wife all week and they come to football to let it out. They are full-blooded people who want the best for West Ham. If you think about it, a lot of them have been wounded by things like relegation in the last couple of years. They have gone through a lot. So to have 30,000 at home games is amazing. I’d rather have 30,000 fans moaning at me than no one there at all. It shows the loyalty and love for the club." It is, he says, why everyone tried their best to ensure the fans got back to where they belong.

For the boy from Toxteth, playing in the East End is a home from home just as the booing is water off a duck’s back. "Although I am a Northerner I respect what West Ham is all about and I am learning more as a I go along. I haven’t cracked the accent yet but I know what a ‘sweep’ haircut is. I’ve had pie and mash and it’s quite nice — up there with Scouse. The fans don’t hold back in what they want to tell you and I am from that background myself."

Nolan understands the fans have got expectations of the way football should be played, but is also keen to follow his manager's line. "I remember as a lad all the players Harry Redknapp had here and they underachieved. But with the flowing football they had, it was probably considered enough. We want to get away from that and be the club which gets into Europe, goes on fantastic cup runs, and then wins it. That is my vision of West Ham in the next five to 10 years. We won the battle to get promoted but there is also one to change the culture. Sometimes we have got to be able to win ugly as well as as beautiful."

And winning can be in and of itself beautiful as Shirley, Pete, his nan, the Nolan bus and 38,000 West Ham fans who watched that momentous play-off victory can testify. They witnessed the captain of their side lead the club out at Wembley for the first time since before he was born, back in 1980. It was Nolan’s first visit to there as a player, although he was part of the Bolton side who beat Preston North End 3-0 in the 2001 play-off final at the Millennium Stadium when he was just 18. "I remember being on the pitch and it was starting to sink in that we were going up to the Premier League," he says. "I was only a young pup then. I remember the last two minutes of that game. We were 3-0 up and it was so surreal. You're just waiting for the final whistle so you can go and celebrate. Then I just remember running around like an absolute idiot after it. I had scarves around my head and around my waist. I had everything hanging off me. I still have a lot of the memorabilia. It was such a magic day."

It was, smiles Nolan, even more special this time. "It was amazing to lead the team out in front of 38,000 West Ham fans, having all my family there, but it wouldn't be remembered unless we won. That was the main thing for me. We deserved to go up, but Blackpool weren’t going to give it to us. If any team in that league can have a day of wonders, it’s them. It is a massive game. You have to turn up and you have to produce your best to get to where you want to be."

Something Nolan knows well. Whatever happened, he was always going to streak the turf with his sweat. "I’m not the type of lad where everyone will go ‘look at him, isn’t he elegant?’" he says. "I’m a hard worker, a grafter and it’s from my roots. I’m someone you can lean on, someone who’ll give everything, someone who’ll say it to your face and not behind your back. I feel, wherever I go, I have to put everything into it, because leaving some form of legacy is a drive. Not that the end is in sight, but because every day, when I walk out of the room, I’d like people to say ‘there’s a lovely, grounded lad who works his socks off’. To everyone who ever doubted you, you just do your stuff and, bit by bit, you will prove them wrong. I want people to say he was a very good player in the Premier League, he was a very good player for us, and when people see me they shake my hand and say thanks, you were a proper sportsman for our club."

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

I’d Rather Eat My Own Eyeballs

The following is an amalgam of a couple of related articles liberated from the Times paywall dungeon when the sentinels averted their gaze a few weeks ago...

The vice-chairman of West Ham is trying to be nice, and she needs to be, because the last time she met Times journalist Andrew Davidson it all ended badly, with her promising that he would never work in journalism again. "Did I?" says Karren Brady, making very large eyes at him over her hamster cheeks. Yes, she phoned, she swore, she shouted, she threatened. But that was in May 1995, and they’ve both moved on. But what had he written about her? Only that fans of Birmingham, where she was chief executive, were unhappy with her running of the football club, and the fact that the money that put her there, supplied by David Gold and David Sullivan, had been made in the porn industry. Sullivan had once been convicted of living off immoral earnings.

It sounds quaint now — football worrying about where the money comes from. But the unexpected menace in Brady’s call is still fresh in his memory. She sighs. "I think experience brings an element of patience. Back then, I just wanted to win everything." Then she crosses and uncrosses her 2in platform shoes, flicks back her hair, and turns her attention to her computer. Brady, 43, is funny and frank, but eventually distracted, taking calls, fiddling with her Macbook, studying emails, punching replies then turning back to say: "What did you ask?"

We are in her office, all light, leather and contemporary prints — a little bit of Soho inside West Ham’s dilapidated ground, squeezed by terraces and tower blocks in impoverished Newham, east London. Brady wakes at her apartment in London’s Knightsbridge at 6.30am before being driven here before 9am in her Bentley Continental to oversee the club for Gold and Sullivan; they bought control from the Icelandic bank Straumur in 2010, months after selling Birmingham. Since then West Ham’s fortunes have nose-dived, out of the Premier League, into the Championship, totally reliant on its owners’ cash to prop up its £80m revenues. But Brady’s fortunes have soared — a regular on BBC1’s The Apprentice, she has an autobiography out and her profile has never been higher. Television producers are her latest fans. "I get offered a new series three times a week," she mock-moans. "Come to the jungle, trek to the North Pole, dine with me, Ready Steady Cook, Celebrity Family Fortunes — I’d rather eat my own eyeballs."

What’s not clear is whether she really is a good business manager. Birmingham’s fortunes were mixed, but Brady — whom many thought a 'gimmick' when appointed managing director aged 23 — proved resilient. Her reward, after her bosses sold Birmingham for a profit, was West Ham — the boyhood club of both Gold and Sullivan — where she is vice-chairman, but in effect chief executive. "Every day is different, but fundamentally it is finance and marketing," she says. Eight executives report direct to her and she also heads West Ham’s attempts to move to the Olympic stadium, as well as liaising with team manager Sam Allardyce. All player sales are handled by Sullivan. She says she enjoyed Birmingham. "I ran a tight and happy ship." But she was never loved by its supporters. "Never loved? I don’t know. On reflection I think people appreciate..." The phone rings (yet again). "Hello, can I call you back? Oh, I hadn’t seen that, leave it with me ..."

Brady has a small shareholding in West Ham, and takes director fees from Arcadia and Syco. The surprise is that she never returned to the advertising world where she started. She was a trainee at Saatchi & Saatchi aged 18, and describes it as "the most influential year of my life". She learnt about brand building, communication and "being on-message". She left to sell ads for LBC, the radio station, where she so impressed Sullivan, a client, that he put her in charge of Sport Newspapers. Later she persuaded him that football was an opportunity. Brady prefers to work for entrepreneurs. She now advises Sir Philip Green and Simon Cowell — sitting on their boards — and she loves Lord Sugar, the reason she joined The Apprentice. You can see where she gets her brittle directness. She nods. "Self-made decision-makers, those are the people I work best with as I prefer the direct approach. My dad was an entrepreneur."

Her father Terry, who made money from printing and owned a box at Arsenal, was her introduction to the football world. Two years in the sixth-form at a boys’ boarding school in Aldenham, Hertfordshire hardened her approach. She had to be tough to withstand the inevitable gossip that followed her relationship with Sullivan, but she never toned down, appearing designered and coiffed, like a rich man’s girlfriend. She still gets stick, with reviewers of her book — Strong Woman — asking how she can claim to be a feminist after working in the porn industry. "But I’ve never worked in it, and things have changed. David Gold’s daughter runs his Ann Summers business, Sullivan’s property portfolio is overseen by a woman." She throws a look, as if to say, who’s the victim? Her argument is that, in many ways, women are better managers than men, and men should acknowledge it. "The great thing is that we are natural nurturers of people."

The book, she insists, is not self-promotion but "I have to get my plug in somewhere"; nor is her popping up as judge for this year’s Nectar small business awards. She is now, as the award blurb claims, 'one of the UK’s leading businesswomen' — she is also unique, a female pioneer in the fiercely chauvinistic world of football, who wants to encourage other women in business. And what about the day job? "I’d never do television if it compromised my work here." Some wonder whose brand she is building, however. She shrugs. "It comes back to working out who you are. I had brain surgery in 2006" — for an aneurysm — "and it made me realise life is very short."

Brady's time is shorter and more stricty regimented than most. She uses a personal shopper to buy her clothes. "So Harvey Nichols comes to me. But I don’t spend as much as you think." She works four days a week in London while her husband oversees their home in Knowle, near Birmingham. Married with two children, her first call of the day is "from my kids on the way to school at 7.15." Brady frequently works till 10pm, "but that’s usually because I am at a function, not at West Ham." In what little downtime there is she will happily "spend my money on travel," (Mexico is a favourite) and she says, "I never begrudge the school fees." Most weekends she is "supporting my 13-year-old son’s rugby team or working as a taxi driver for my 16-year-old daughter."

David Gold says he has no qualms if her other obligations reflects well on his club. As for Brady eyeing opportunities elsewhere, he says determination and loyalty are her key character traits. "She is the first lady of football — she wouldn’t be that in advertising or media." Yet she isn’t a football fan. Her husband Paul Peschisolido, recently sacked as manager of Burton Albion, is far more engaged. One newspaper claimed she fell asleep during West Ham’s recent game against Cardiff City. "I was tweeting," she protests.

So, if West Ham had lost against Blackpool at Wembley? "It would have frustrating but I would not have walked away. What frustrates me more is the Olympic stadium." West Ham was selected as preferred bidder, then deselected when the process changed. The decision has been delayed again. It has been an excruciating period for Gold and Sullivan, who are putting £35m a year of their own money into the club. Some supporters would rather eat their own eyeballs than use them to watch their team across a running track, which is a non-negotiable feature after the Government’s promise to leave a legacy for athletics. Brady pulls out the latest stadium plans, showing stands extended over the athletics track for matches, and brushes aside quibbles about a lack of atmosphere. "David and David wouldn’t allow it if it didn’t work. It will be amazing." The West Ham executives believe it will be a "piece of history" that will attract new fans if the club relocated from Upton Park to Stratford after the London Games.

It is the second time West Ham have been in the frame after the first process, which resulted in the club being chosen as preferred bidder in partnership with Newham Council, collapsed in red tape following a complaint to the European Commission about illegal state aid. The lengthy exercise, which pitted West Ham against Tottenham Hotspur, cost about £300,000 in fees. Brady insists it was worth bidding again because the opportunity to increase the gate from 35,000 to 60,000 in a new stadium with better transport links is "too good to miss". But their offer to become the anchor winter tenant in a multi-use stadium is conditional on it being a "world-class" venue for football, she adds.

West Ham maintain the sightlines "stack up" and that the top tiers will be closer to the action than at Wembley. Brady says her supporter advisory board had seen details of the bid, which is subject to confidentiality agreements, and approved although she understood the general scepticism of some fans. "I don’t blame them, to be honest, but they cannot see what we can see," she says. "Everybody who has seen our vision has voted in favour, even those who write for fanzines and have been very negative."

She insists the new commercial terms on offer, which would mean West Ham will become a 'concessionaire' paying an annual rent to the government under a 99-year lease, would secure the club’s long-term future. This is presently dependent on the backing of Gold and Sullivan. The sale of Upton Park would be expected to repay the estimated £70 million debt. The downside of simply leasing the ground would be offset by not having the burden of the upfront capital costs — an estimated £100 million — of making it fit for professional sport with corporate hospitality suites, toilets, offices, merchandising outlets and catering. "Ownership gives you a certain level of completeness because you make your own decisions," she says. "We will be a tenant but overall, we still think the commercial package is viable."

The Olympic Park Legacy Company, now merged into the London Legacy Development Corporation, is offering tenants the chance to bid for naming rights. Brady points out these could be worth about £10 million a year if football was the main activity. West Ham, who have the support of UK Athletics, hope to attract more fans by offering cheaper tickets and a taste of British sporting heritage. They claim to have 850,000 registered supporters and enough demand to fill 60,000 seats. The nearby corporate market in Canary Wharf will also be targeted now the club has returned to the Premier League. "It’s a piece of history," insists Brady, repeating the new mantra. "It’s the only Olympic stadium in the UK and it will attract crowds. You cannot bully the Government. They are not going to be strong-armed into decisions under the threat of judicial review. The most important thing for them is usage, community, jobs and revenue and we tick all boxes."

And that will be "job done" if they secure it? "My remit here is to reduce debt, introduce process, and get the Olympic stadium. In my first year, we reduced the debt to £70m, made a trading profit and won the stadium, then we got relegated, fell back into loss, debt went up, we lost the stadium..." But she never quits. Suddenly Davidson feels the need to apologise that their last meeting didn’t go as well. He's not sure what he did, but whatever he did, he's sorry. And she smiles back through whitened, gritted teeth before playfully reaching for her phone.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Remembrance Of Things Owed

It was 12.24am, local time, when Alessandro Diamanti walked forward for the final, decisive kick and, when it was all done, sparked the match that would exsiccate English Euro dreams to ashes. Little did the Italian know that 1300 miles away he was also about to reignite a domestic feud that has been quietly smouldering for two years. Perhaps it was the deja vu that comes with another harrowing disappointment in a penalty shoot-out that prompted David Gold to take to Twitter; or else something in the ecstasy-rapted face of the screaming Diamanti as he wheeled away in celebration that pricked into consciousness- like the tea-socked madeleine- frustrations that had recently lay dormant. Within hours of England crashing out of Euro 2012 in Kiev on Sunday night, the West Ham co-owner publicly announced the club intended to sue Brescia Calcio for the £1.5million he says they are owed from the sale of Diamanti from the Italian club to Bologna FC 1909. The process will begin with a visit to the Court of Arbitration for Sport as early as next week.

The Italy international signed for the Hammers on a five-year contract in August 2009 from Livorno for £6million, before he was allowed to move back to Italy after just one season in the English Premier League. It is, though, the player's subsequent transfer to Bologna in a 50% co-ownership deal following Brescia's relegation to Serie B (an eventuality believed to have cost United a further €300,000 because of a 'survival clause') that has left the Hammers incensed. Brescia are not only receiving a £1.2m transfer fee but they are also entitled to a percentage of the player's future rights under the terms of the co-ownership agreement. In July last year West Ham United asked the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) to suspend Diamanti's player registration with Brescia Calcio with immediate effect. Due to the failure of Brescia to pay the latest instalment fee, the club also requested that the national association and FIFA impose sporting sanctions until the matter is resolved. There was at the time a swift response from the Biancoazzurri, with a official press declaration, signed by sport director Andrea Iaconi, stating: "This is pure bullshit, we're paying the installments as by arrangements. Some are still to be paid, but we will do with no doubt. This will not, in any case, prejudice the eventual selling of the player to Bologna."

An article from October last year revealed just how far the situation had escalated, with West Ham United reported at the time to be refusing to pay transfer fees for three other players they bought from overseas clubs as a direct result of the bitter dispute with Fifa. Writing in the Telegraph, Jason Burt said the club were furious that their Diamanti claim had still not been dealt with by world football’s governing body. It meant that West Ham were now themselves the subject of a formal complaint to Fifa and the Football Association because they withheld payment of €1million (£875,000) for the defender Winston Reid.

The New Zealander was signed in August 2010 on a three-year contract from the small Danish club FC Midtjylland but West Ham have, so far, not paid any money for him. The identity of the other players has not been revealed but West Ham have signed the likes of Frederic Piquionne from Lyon, Pablo Barrera from Pumas, Guy Demel from Hamburg and Ruud Boffin from MVV Maastricht in the past couple of years. It’s thought that the Piquionne fee could be one that has not been paid in full yet.

West Ham do not dispute that they owe Midtjylland money for Reid but believe that there is a point of principle at stake because Fifa have so far not dealt with their dispute. The money West Ham were owed should have been paid last July with the money they then owed paid to the other clubs in late August. West Ham therefore argue the Diamanti cash was, as that point of principle, rightfully theirs to fund the fees they owed. West Ham believe that unless they take such a strong stance they will not receive the money they are owed for Diamanti. The club has honoured all payments to other British clubs for players it has signed.

The Hammers have urged Midtjylland to put pressure on Fifa to sort out their case. Once it is dealt with they will pay the Danes immediately what they are owed. Midtjylland have become the unwitting victims of the row — as, West Ham will argue, have they — and Soren Bach, the club’s chief executive officer, confirmed to The Telegraph in a statement: "We did not receive any payment — and we can confirm that we have filed a complaint to Fifa and the Football Association over an unpaid transfer fee for the sale of Winston Reid." It’s understood that the total amount being withheld is equivalent to what West Ham are owed by Brescia.

Meanwhile, Football Italia reports Diamanti will now remain permanently at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara after a blind auction process, which his present club confirms was “like a poker game.” In effect, the clubs involved write a figure in a sealed envelope and the highest bid wins the full contract. “It was like a long and tiring poker game,” said Bologna President Albano Guaraldi after his €3.36m offer won. "We had prepared one envelope first, then had a second one with a slightly changed amount inside. We would’ve won with the first envelope too, but we didn’t want to run any risks. We could not and did not want to lose him. We sought an agreement with Brescia at all costs to avoid the auction. Diamanti is a player who gave us a great deal last season and will continue to help Bologna this term, next term and in future. We are aware of his value and will therefore endeavour to improve his contract."

The Italian originally arrived in east London in controversial circumstances when it was revealed by Livorno Director of Sport Nelso Ricci that his transfer fee had been partly paid by club sponsors SBOBet. After just 29 first team appearances - and eights goals - Diamanti was subsequently shipped out by new owners Sullivan and Gold in the 2010 summer transfer window, despite having been named the Best Signing 2009/10 by the club's online fanbase, and voted runner-up as Hammer of the Year by the club's supporters. It was widely suspected at the time that the unusual circumstances surrounding his signing had sparked that decision. Following his return to his homeland with Brescia, Diamanti scored six goals in 31 Serie A appearances and earned his first Italy cap.

West Ham’s frustration is all the more annoying for them given the tough stance Fifa said they were going to adopt on clubs who are found guilty of being slow to pay transfer fees. There has been the threat of points deductions as well as fines for guilty parties. Speaking in October last year, West Ham vice-chair Karren Brady told The Sun that chasing your money in Europe is hard work. "£450,000 has been due for so long we've been in touch with the Italian federation and FIFA to impose some kind of sanction, but the money still isn't immediately forthcoming. Another million plus is due and there's still no sign of the first payment. FIFA have done nothing more than yawn. It isn't as if Brescia don't have the funds. They have just sold the Italian international to Bologna. In England, our leagues would be down on us like a ton of Mike Ashleys."

The following March, Brady revealed she was still bulldogging away at the relevent authorities concerning the missing payments. Brescia have now appealed a FIFA verdict that they should pay up at once but Brady promised she would never let it drop. "Why should wheedlers and welshers from Brescia treat us as though we’re their private charity?" she asked in her Football Diary. Gold is similarly adamant they will not allow the matter to end and is now taking legal action. Speaking on his twitter site last night, he said: "We sold Diamanti to Brescia because he was desperate to return to Italy. He was then sold to Bologna. We are suing Brescia for the money."

For the fan shorn of material consideration, the cameo of Diamanti on Sunday night remains a reminder of things owed. The maverick genius that the adoring Boleyn gallery apotheosizes and deserves but all too rarely enjoys. To those watching eyes Diamanti bestrode the verdant glebe of Kiev's Olympic Stadium and elicited an undated memory as vivid as Stendhal's fragmented frescoes surrounded by the blank brickwork of oblivion. Fists clenched, veins bulging, eyes to the sky, celebrating a goal in West Ham colours. It could be a flashback to when Di Canio ruled the same rectangle of East End turf. "We share the same way to play football," Diamanti once said. "We both give everything on the pitch for the team and the fans. I always play with passion. I am a passionate man. Not just about the goals but about the football. I try to put everything on to the field."

Like Di Canio before him, the man they call Il Mago seems the embodiment of the player who from the moment he learns to walk, he knows how to play. As Galeano would have it, the player in his early years who brings joy to empty lots and in his early manhood takes flight and the stadium flies with him. The ball seeks him out, knows him, needs him. She rests and rocks on top of his foot. He caresses her and makes her speak, and in that tete-a-tete millions of mutes converse. Nostalgia, of course, has a meaning less connected with suffering and more with emotional indulgence. You can wallow in it because the territory is thick with shared memories, with mnemonic solidarity. Like the memory of a lover who came into your life and left footprints on your heart, the distance of time has diminished the flaws of the past. So it is that you forget those games when the fountain of public adulation became the lightening rod of public rancour. Diamanti, they said, one-paced, one-footed, one-trick; too lazy, too lightweight, too slow. Yet we still long for the day when we can see his like again, only better. In the words of Rupert Brooke...

"And I shall find some girl perhaps, and a better one than you,
With eyes as wise, but kindlier, and lips as soft,
but true, and I daresay she will do"

Saturday, 23 June 2012

First Impressions Count

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genuis hits a target no one else can see.
It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us. At first glance you might think Schopenhauer's aphoristic statement of transcendental idealism has little relevance to a promoted team's chances of survival in their first season in the Premier League, but someone at West Ham has clearly taken the maxim 'you never get a second chance to make a first impression' to heart. This morning Sam Allardyce reiterated the need to see West Ham United make an instant impact when they kick-off their return to the Barclays Premier League on 18 August. The Hammers face Aston Villa at the Boleyn Ground in what will be the reverse of the first game of the Premier League season two years ago. Avram Grant's side went down 3-0 that day at Villa Park before going on to lose their first four Premier League games and Big Sam believes that his new-look West Ham side cannot afford a similar start.

Cursory statistical analysis concludes that if a new arrival wins their opening game of the fledgling Premier League season, then they have a 75 per cent chance of staying up. Including the three newcomers, 62 teams have been promoted to the Premier League up to 2012-13, which is the League’s 21st season. (Three teams have come up per year except in 1995 when only Middlesbrough and Bolton came up as the division was cut in size). Of the 59 ‘debuts’ so far by teams in a ‘coming up’ season, only 12 teams started with wins, 15 began with draws, and 32 lost their opening games. Of those 12 first-day winners first, nine of them (or 75 per cent) went on to retain their Premier League status at the end of that season. That’s why a first-day win could be so vital to this term’s newcomers. The three among the dozen who won their openers but went down anyway were Blackpool (two seasons ago), Bolton and Crystal Palce in 1997.

West Ham United captain Kevin Nolan is clearly relishing his club’s return to the Barclays Premier League after the Hammers were pitted against The Villans on the opening day of the season. The Midlanders will travel to Upton Park with new manager Paul Lambert in charge for the first time but Nolan believes home advantage can prove crucial for the Hammers. "It is a home game to get us started, which is great for us,” Nolan told West Ham’s website. “Aston Villa are a very good side and have a new manager so their players will be looking to impress, but we will be aiming to kick off the new campaign in a positive way on our own ground and look to try and win the game.”

For David Gold the motivation will be slightly more visceral, with the Hammers Chairman admitting he is keen to see his side gain revenge for the events of two seasons ago. "It's going to be extremely exciting; we're back in the Premier League," Gold told Sky Sports News. "It's Aston Villa first, I'm pleased about that for a number of reasons, one being the last time we played them on the first game they beat us 3-0 at Aston Villa, so I'm looking forward to them coming here and hopefully we can reverse the score. I think it is important to get off to a good start; the season before last in the Premier League I think we lost our first four games because we were playing big clubs. But at home to Aston Villa and away at Swansea, they are winnable games or games you can expect to get something from so we are very excited about it."

So what chance of Southampton, Reading and West Ham winning on opening weekend? The stats suggest the Hammers have the best chance – albeit not a good chance. Teams arriving in the Premier League as play-off winners from the second tier have the best record on the opening day (five wins, six draws and nine losses in 20 matches to date). The champions have a very slightly worse record (W5, D4, L11) and the runners-up have the worse record (W2, D6, L12). On this basis, Southampton have the toughest historical hoodoo to overcome. The last time the Championship runners-up won their first match the next season in the Premier League was in August 1999 when Bradford won 1-0 at Middlesbrough. The biggest win by a promoted side in their ‘debut’ game was 11 years ago when Bolton won 5-0 at Leicester and the largest debut defeat was two years ago when West Brom went down 0-6 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. West Brom survived, of course, so losing doesn’t mean relegation. But winning certainly helps survival.

Even before that ball is kicked, history suggests that prior to last season the promoted trio would have a 53.6 per cent chance of survival. This is based on 56 teams previous being promoted to the Premier League since 1992, and 30 of those 56 teams (or 53.6 per cent) surviving their first season. That means 26 immediately went back down. Among the promoted teams in the past 19 seasons, 34 of them amassed 13 or more points from their first dozen games, and of those 34, eight were relegated (or 23.5 per cent), meaning the survival rate for 13 points after a dozen games is 76.5 per cent. (Details of the eight who went down are in the table below). The highest tally for a promoted side after 12 games was amassed by Nottingham Forest in 1994-95 (with 27 points) followed by Wigan (25 points in 2005-06) and Blackburn (25 points in 1992-93). The lowest tallies were amassed by Swindon (five points from first 12 games 1993-94) and Sunderland (five points in 2005-06), then Derby (six points in 2007-08).

Last season all three promoted teams made promising starts and gained a total of 41 points having played 12 games each, with QPR picking up 15 points, and Norwich and Swansea collecting 13 points each. On this basis, the latter two increased their survival chances to that encouraging 76 per cent figure; while QPR went even higher to 83.3 per cent predicated on the fact that among the 24 promoted teams who had amassed as many points from the first 12 games, only four of those, or 16.7 per cent, ended up relegated. Prior to last season the previous time that all three promoted clubs managed to avoid immediate relegation was 2000/01. According to Prozone, over the last five years the average time that newly promoted clubs spent in the Premier League is 1.9 seasons. Over the last ten years the team promoted as champions have been relegated after just one season on three occasions, the runners-up on four occasions and the play-off final winners on six occasions.

It is the reason, believes Allardyce, why West Ham must try to achieve as many points as possible from those crucial early games. "It will be hugely difficult but not as difficult as what follows," he told West Ham TV. "We get through October and then November and December are the toughest months of the season, not only because of the fixtures but the number of games we have to play. We've got to get off to get off to a flying start and achieve as many points as we can in the first nine or ten games. The fixtures are difficult though; nothing is going to be easy at all."

A good start to the season is crucial, agrees former Hammers stalwart Tony Gale. "I can't stress how important it is for sides to get a good start," he said. "We've got six new managers starting the season, three promoted sides and three sides that might be accused of second season syndrome if things don't go too well. Those tough games can knock the stuffing out of you early on if you're on the wrong end of the result. Just look at teams like Bolton, who had such a hard first six to eight games last season and found themselves playing catch up all year. It's so important you pick up some points in those first games."

Not least because winning games at the start of the season is statistically an easier proposition. Primarily it is all about grinding out results and attempting to find some fluency. "There can be some strange results early in the season as all the teams look to settle into their routines, but if we can make a solid start, then that will be good for us," insists Nolan. "Nothing is sorted early in the season, but if we can start as well as we can do, then we give ourselves something to build on. I am sure all our fans can't wait for the season to begin and to know we are back in the Premier League only makes it more exciting. I am sure our fans will do their best to help us do what we can to get off to a good start."

Those fans will become ever more crucial when the end is in sight; mental factors come into play, as well as fatigue, especially if a team is in the latter stages of a cup competition. Teams have to pay more attention to what their rivals are doing. Some have games in hand, some have points on the board. Nerves start to affect players. Being able to cope with the pressure of being in a relegation scrap is what separates contenders from ultimate survivors in a situation where every point counts. In five of the last six seasons the 17th placed team has survived by a margin of one point or by superior goal difference. While 'reaching 40 points' is seen by many as the Holy Grail, the average number of points needed to retain Premier League status over the last five seasons has been 36.7 and dropping. Last season QPR clung to last day survival with 34 points.

While we are butchering sacred cows there is an old adage that "when you’re down at the bottom it’s the six pointers that matter". However, both relegated West Ham (14 points) and Birmingham (13 points) gained more points against the eventual bottom six than 17th placed Wolves, who managed only 8 points against their direct relegation rivals last time the Hammers dropped. So, it would appear that not even beating those around you at the bottom can guarantee survival.

Ultimately, the newly promoted clubs will need to ensure their Premier League status by performing on the pitch. Having analysed the performance statistics of teams that have survived their first seasons and those that have returned to the Championship after just one season, there really is very little difference in their key performance indicators. In fact, reveals Prozone, the relegated teams have a superior pass completion rate with 54 more passes a game than the teams that survive. These relegated teams also had an average of 1.1 more shots on goal per game. This would suggest that possession and shots at goal are not necessarily indicators of superiority, and that incisiveness and accuracy in front of goal play a larger role in survival.

There is a lot of speculation on the physical demands of the Championship compared to the Premier League. This last season saw Championship teams run an average of 3.6km more each match than their Premier League counterparts, cover 1,239 metres at high intensity and perform 62 more sprints per game. Therefore it will be adapting to the style of play and the tempo of the game that will be fundamental for the newly promoted clubs. The statistics show that relegated teams run 25m further in every match and cover 92m more at high intensity than those teams that have avoided the drop proving quality is the key to Premier League success.

Which brings us to the players on the pitch that will ultimately earn those points, which is why all three newly promoted clubs will be looking to bring in new players to create a squad that they feel is capable of keeping them in the Premier League. Prozone shows that over the last five seasons, the newly promoted teams have brought in the most players during the summer with an average of 9 new players, while the top four clubs bring in an average of 5.1. This is perhaps understandable, with new clubs looking to bring in the added number and quality of players they need to stay up, while in the upper reaches of the league it is usually more about refining the squad to achieve a higher finish and push for honours.

The January transfer window sees another busy time for the newly promoted clubs, as they look to cement their place in the top division. In fact, they bring in almost three times as many players (4.2) as those teams in the Champions League places (1.5). The established Premier League clubs draw the majority of their player purchases from the top leagues in Europe (the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga) with the top four clubs drawing an average of 63.1% of all transfers from these leagues. With smaller budgets and less pulling power, the newly promoted teams must cast their net further and perhaps take a gamble on players who have not yet proven themselves in the top European leagues. In fact, the newly promoted clubs will take just under half (45.3%) of their new recruits from outside of these 'Big Five' leagues.

I guess the only thing we can say for certainty is that statistics offer many clues but few straight forward answers into what it takes to survive in the Premier League. Given that survival and relegation depend on small margins and that a single point will usually make the difference, perhaps fans of newly promoted teams would be better served spending these precious summer months basking in reflected glory instead of sweating the travails ahead. In the words of Schopenhauer: "A man's delight in looking forward to and hoping for some particular satisfaction is a part of the pleasure flowing out of it, enjoyed in advance. But this is afterward deducted, for the more we look forward to anything the less we enjoy it when it comes." And if you still doubt the great man knew anything about football then think again because I've seen the documentary footage.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Thanks For The Memories

At 30 a man should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures - be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.
Robert Green has agreed to join Queens Park Rangers on a two-year deal after rejecting an improved West Ham United contract offer. Green, who is on international duty at Euro 2012, was a free agent after his contract with the promoted Hammers came to an end. His deal with Queens Park Rangers will begin on July 1. The Loftus Road outfit have been in talks with the 32-year-old for some time and manager Mark Hughes is clearly delighted to have landed his target. "It was important we brought another quality keeper into the group," he told the club’s official site. "Rob is obviously someone with vast experience at international and Premier League level and his pedigree speaks for itself. He's got all the characteristics of a top keeper and he'll be a huge addition for us who will stimulate the goalkeeping group, which can only be good for the squad as a whole."

Green will now compete with current QPR goalkeepers Paddy Kenny and Radek Cerny for the No. 1 spot, although the former is widely expected to depart before the new season begins. The 6ft 3in keeper has amassed over 480 club games during a 13-year professional career that started at Norwich. He was signed by Alan Pardew in 2006 for £2m and went on to make more than 240 first team appearances over a six year period for the Hammers. Green's last game for the East London side was at Wembley in May, when West Ham beat Blackpool 2-1 in the Championship play-off final. The Hammers were keen to retain Green, with joint-chairman David Gold writing on Twitter last month: "Robert Green is a free agent, he has chosen to move on. Nobody wants Rob to leave but nothing is forever, he must do what's best for him and we must do what's best for us." Green's refusal to sign a new contract despite being offered a healthy incentive to do so - reported to be double that of his existing salary - meant that he was always likely to leave on a free transfer this summer. His departure means that Stephen Henderson and new signing Jussi Jasskelainen will now do battle for the vacant number one shirt.

The England backup goalkeeper made his international debut against Colombia in 2005, but was out of the England side until 2009 when he played a role in the successful qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He retained his place in Fabio Capello's squad for the tournament and was picked to face the United States in England's opening group game. That match will forever be remembered for Green allowing Clint Dempsey's 25-yard shot to squirm under his body and roll over the line in a 1-1 draw. Such is the lot of the goalkeeper, mused Eduardo Galeano, that the man called doorman, goalie, bouncer could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent or punchbag. They say where he walks, the grass never grows.

Just as moss will never grow on the memory of a fine Spring afternoon when Green produced the game of his life; standing unbowed at The Emirates in the face of a 30 shot Arsenal cannonade that prompted one Times journalist to remark: "Rarely in the history of the Premiership, let alone English or, perhaps, world football, can a match of such a one-sided nature have ended in favour of the oppressed." Not that Green was just about making saves that day in 2007, for he kept goal in the truest sense of the term. His judgment in leaving his line was impeccable as he came out to deny Freddy Ljungberg a shot in the 11th minute and again when he advanced to thwart Jérémie Aliadière's attempt to beat him at the near post in the 66th. His handling was flawless and he knew all his angles. His numerous saves jostled one another for superlatives, the one-handed stretch to keep out a point-blank header from Gilberto Silva just pipping an earlier dive to palm away the Brazilian's shot. "I'm here to make saves and keep clean sheets," said the man whom the team stood and applauded as he entered the dressing room after the final whistle, "it's the goalkeeper's job." After such a display this was a bit like Horatius saying he was just there to keep bridges.

In 1930, Albert Camus was Saint Peter guarding the gate for the University of Algeria's football team. He had been goalkeeper since he was a beggar child, because in that position your shoes don't wear out as fast. During his years in the net, Camus learned many things but chiefly he learned to "win without feeling like God and to lose without feeling like rubbish." It is not a skill so easily acquired, but it is something every good goalkeeper with aspirations for longevity comes to intuitively understand. The keeper wears the number one for a reason. Is he the first to be paid? asks Galeano, before answering his own question. No, the first to pay. It's always the keeper's fault. And if it isn't, he still gets blamed. When the team has a bad afternoon, he's the one who pays the bill, expiating the sins of others under a rain of flying balls. It is to his credit that Green has since recovered from South Africa, winning the latest of twelve caps representing his country against Norway in May, in one of England's Euro 2012 warm-up games.

Now Green has decided he will be paid; embarking on one last adventure, and in all probability, more than doubling his money by signing for someone else. Yes, generally goalkeepers last longer than a jar of reduced fat mayonnaise in Yakubu’s fridge, but they can’t keep playing forever, reasoned Iain Macintosh in a piece he wrote in defence of Green. He is 32 and this will surely be his last gigantic deal before he enters a world of rolling-contracts and pay-as-you-play. Why shouldn’t he cash in? What's wrong, ponders Macintosh, with admitting: "You know what? People are tripping over themselves to pay me money now, but in 10 years time, I’ll be lucky to get a seat on a sofa in a TV studio, helpfully pointing out that a winger ran very fast or that it only takes a second to score a goal. I don’t want to be a manager, I don’t want to be a coach and I do NOT want to end up like Neil Webb, traipsing up and down the street delivering your bills. I’ve got a wife and I’ve got kids and I want to make sure they’ve got everything they need for the rest of their lives. I had to put up with the entire nation calling me a butter-fingered twatbag in 2010, so I don’t owe anyone anything. I love West Ham, I’ll always love West Ham, but Mr Fernandes here wants to pay me £50,000 a week to catch a ball every now and then and that’s fine by me."

West Ham fans, even the terrifying ones who have sticky-out veins on their foreheads and shout at passing clouds, would struggle to find fault with that, thinks Macintosh. Green was largely blameless for their relegation but stuck around long enough to repair the damage, even at the expense of his international ambitions. He hasn’t criticised anyone, he hasn’t hitched his skirts up at every passing scout and the last thing he did in a West Ham shirt was to help keep Blackpool at bay at Wembley. He has done enough in his six years service- perhaps even in that one famous game- to be mentioned in any discussion of the pantheon of West Ham goalkeeping greats. Yet when he lines up against his former team-mates on September 29 there may well be a small section of fans, faces contorted in rage, who will let the spittle and invectives fly, who will accuse the man of greed or disloyalty; who will choose to remember those rare occasions when he was left to look ridiculous, when the ball skid or his fingers of steel turned to silk. But I won't be among them. Instead, my mind will doubtless drift back to that warm day in 2007 and one of the finest individual performances in a West Ham shirt I have ever witnessed. Then I'll smile, as would Camus, assailed by thoughts of a life that wasn't mine anymore, but one in which I'd found the simplest and most lasting joys. Thanks for the memories Greeno and best of luck to you.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

When The Sun Comes Up

West Ham United have completed their third summer signing with Mohamed Diame agreeing to join the Premier League new boys on a three-year deal. The Senegal midfielder will move as a free agent at the beginning of next month when his current deal ends with Wigan Athletic. Diame had been linked with a number of top-flight clubs and had already held talks with Liverpool before the sacking of Kenny Dalglish by owners Fenway Sports Group. "I met with the then manager and we talked about next season but God decided to finish this situation," explained Diame. "It is true I was very sad in my head as I was thinking to go there but that is OK as I think I have got other opportunities to go to another club. I am free and not everybody is free in this moment like a midfield player like me and that is why I have got a lot of clubs interested in me."

It is no exaggeration to say West Ham boss Sam Allardyce had to beat off a host of European and domestic suitors to ensure the 25-year-old became the latest new face to arrive this summer after Stephen Henderson and Jussi Jaaskelainen. The Hammers boss met with the player in London this week, the culmination of a second round of protracted negotiations with Diame admitting the decisive factor was a desire to stay in the Premier League. "I had to be composed and make a good decision for my future," he said, before revealing he had offers from Spain, France and Turkey. Arsenal, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Sunderland and QPR are all thought to have tracked the player, while Manchester United reportedly pulled out of a move due to concerns over an arrhythmogenic heart condition. Wigan only became aware of the problem after Diame signed and have always kept a defibrillator close to the touchline.

"Diame is a good player and he is a good lad and we were disappointed that he did not sign a new contract for Wigan to be honest because he could not get a club in Spain when he was there three years," lamented Wigan chairman Dave Whelan. "So he is available on a free. He unfortunately has the problem with his ticker – his heart – and that is a serious problem. We have always addressed it and sort of helped him along with it. You have to keep that heart machine within 50 yards of him all the time. We picked him up when Barcelona had refused him because of his heart and we took the chance and brought him over and I don’t think that he has repaid the faith that we put in him and the chance we gave."

Diame, who it is understood was put through a stringent cardiac medical by a top London specialist, started his career at Racing Club de Lens in 2003 but left four years later after facing alarming health problems. After a full recovery, he signed for lowly Spanish side CD Linares in 2007, and moved to Rayo Vallecano the following year, helping the Madrid-based team to a mid-table position in the Segunda División. His big €3.8million cash-plus-player move to the Premier League followed in 2009 and he made an immediate impression with a strong performance on his debut against Manchester United just hours after signing. Diame went on to notch up 89 appearances during his stint at the DW Stadium, scoring seven goals.

Despite a string of impressive performances on the pitch, the French-born Senegalese international acknowledges he has at times struggled with life in England, telling a French football magazine last year he was frustrated with a lack of activity in Lancashire. "The truth about life in Wigan is that there is nothing to do," he said. "It is a crappy place. The town is tiny, and there is no atmosphere. I go in to training, I return home afterwards, and that is all I do. There is absolutely no comparison between Wigan and Madrid. I was happy there – it is a capital city, and I guess it is the same as any capital. After training I was able to go for a peaceful stroll. It was never really cold over there. But as for here – don’t get me started! When it snowed I felt like the temperature was minus 15, and feared I was going to turn into an ice cube. It is rare to see truly beautiful girls when you go out during the day. But it’s a different story when you go out in the evening. The girls seem to cover themselves up all day, only to be in good-looking mode at night. In Madrid I had the impression that all the women were beautiful."

It is not surprising, therefore, that Diame is eagerly anticipating the various new opportunities awaiting him in London. He said: "I'm very happy and very excited to have joined the club and I'm looking forward to the start of the season. I know the fans here get behind the team all the time and I'm looking forward to showing everybody what I can do on the pitch." The man affectionately known as 'Momo' will meet up with his new team-mates at Chadwell Heath on 1 July for the Hammers' first day of pre-season training before flying out on the club's trip to Austria the following day. The 6'1" midfielder will compete with the likes of Kevin Nolan, Gary O'Neil, Jack Collison and reigning Hammer of the Year Mark Noble for a place in the heart of midfield. Allardyce will have to decide who will be his first-choice selections but he has no doubt his latest acquisition will prove a great signing. The West Ham boss said: "His potential is really good and he's ready to go and compete in the first team straight away, as he's had three years in the Premier League already. He's 25 and can only get better and I hope he can go on to prove that to me and all of the West Ham United fans. He will be a very exciting addition to the squad."

The excitement comes in the form of boundless enthusiastic application, the respected IMScouting's network of scouts describing Diame as: "an aggressive, tireless worker in the centre of the field. He controls with both feet, which makes it easy for him to escape pressure and send accurate long balls to the attack. His greatest ability is aerial domination, as he has a very good natural jump. He is also technically skilled, knows when to release the ball at the right time which is very important for his position and he can join the attack on set pieces. Diame has perfect tactical positioning, just in front of the defensive line and he almost never loses his position," before concluding, "he is a strong and true fighter."

For someone who has refused to give up on his dreams in the face of ineffable challenges and innumerable rejections never has an assessment been so apposite. Only seven Premier League players completed more tackles per game than Diame last season (3.2 average) - one of which was ex-Hammers captain Scott Parker. Diame, himself, has a more colourful explanation for the exigent hunger that drives him, recounting with a huge smile the proverb his Dakar-born father taught him:

"Every morning a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running."

Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari