Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Are You Listening, Mr Pardew?

West Ham United have officially announced the signing of Mali international forward Modibo Maiga. The 24-year-old joins the Hammers from French side FC Sochaux-Montbeliard for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £5million, putting pen to paper on a four-year contract with an option for a further two years. The player, who becomes West Ham's fifth summer arrival following Mohamed Diame, George McCartney, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Stephen Henderson, will be the second Malian to represent the club. He follows in the footsteps of fellow forward Frederic Kanoute, who scored 33 goals in 92 appearances for the Hammers between March 2000 and May 2003.

A beaming Maiga could not contain his pleasure at completing his move to the Boleyn Ground; the culmination of a long cherished dream to play in the Premier League. "I am really happy and excited about joining West Ham United," he told "I know West Ham are a big club in England and I'm really looking forward to representing them. They have huge tradition and it is like joining part of a family and that is one of the main reasons I wanted to come here. I know some of the big names that have played for the club in the past and I am proud to be part of a new team back in the Premier League."

The excitement, of course, is likely to be reciprocated by the expectant West Ham fans. These are days of hope and optimism, when our team is still level on points with the great powers and we dream impossible dreams. On the beaches of Spain and Portugal, Turkey and Greece, the great diaspora of Hammers followers pores over English newspapers, gorging on the transfer tittle-tattle that tells of the impending arrival of the one player who is going to transform our team. He bears the exotic stamp of some faraway place, his foreign passport enough to convince us of his credentials as a footballer to stir the heart.

So it was that Modibo Maiga stepped out of St Pancras station two days ago, over-sized suitcase in hand. The latest stop on an eventful journey that started in the back alleys of Djicoroni Para before wending its way through North Africa and then across France. "Shy, a little. Modest, certainly," says Gilles Santalucia on first meeting the man. It is, he thinks, the natural result of an education learnt on the streets of one of the poorest districts in one of the most deprived countries in the world. Mali has an estimated population of 12 million with over 50 percent of the country located in the Sahara Desert and with 64 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. It is a time and place, admits Maiga, where nothing in life is simple. "It is a region where things are very, very difficult," he concedes. "It must be said, it is a mess over there."

The young Malian is the third son in a family of ten children (six girls, 4 boys), yet grew up with a football almost stuck to his foot (especially the left one) and always smiling. "My father was a driver and my mother has long had a cafe. Even if it is was not always clear to us growing up in Mali, despite everything, there is still a zest for life that never disappears." Maiga has, he says, found less joy in people in France. "Everyone there has their own life but with us, we all live together. Among locals, there is a lot of solidarity, a common shared experience."

Growing up on those dusty plains, football was Maiga's first and only love. "I went to school through high school," he explains. "Afterwards, I changed my path. I chose football. In the neighbourhood we knew there was a lot of African players that were doing well in Europe. It made us envious. I was always one of the best in Djicoroni Para when doing competitions and technical stuff." Then he pauses as if to give full flight to his memory, "but we did not think, right then, of our futures. Football, it was fun, a kind of love. Yes, that's love. Only later did I start to see it otherwise."

Maiga started out at Stade Malien, based in Bamako and one of the two dominant clubs in Malian football. It was 2003 and he was 15 years of age, rubbing shoulders with several Mali internationals past, present and future. Just over a year later, and after only three club appearances, he was spotted by famed recruiter Philippe Romieu. Maiga initially moved to Raja Casablanca on a six-month loan with option to purchase and ended up staying for three seasons; winning several awards including the Moroccan League, the Throne Cup and the Arab Champions League. "I think the move to one of the biggest clubs in Africa certainly facilitated my integration in France," reflects Maiga. "I have only good memories. You do not forget the first steps you take out of your country."

For an ambitious and talented footballer, small motivation was required to leave Mali. "You do not know where you want to go," he says, "but you feel you want to go to progress." In Casablanca, Maiga had little choice but to embrace the madness. "The Moroccan people are crazy about football. With 60 000 to 70 000 spectators per match, there was an incredible atmosphere." Such an experience would leave an indelible mark on any impressionable young player. "It made me want to go even higher," he recalls, before admitting that he never found in France anything to match what he encountered in North Africa. "I miss it because the atmosphere in the stadiums there is very motivating for the player."

The move to Europe would prove to be a culture shock in more ways than one. The raw 20 year old landed in a snow dusted Le Mans shivering in the depths of a unseasonably harsh winter. Alone and uncomfortable in a strange land, he quickly confronted the unpalatable truth that a successful football career would "force him to consent" to sacrifice, to change his lifestyle. "It's very hard to deal with it all when you come from where I come from," he says. "For Brazilians, I think it's even worse. Them, they need to come with their entire family for everything to be happy around them. They need it. Yet we must face this new life to succeed. You are forced to fight against adversity."

Under the watchful eye of Daniel Jeandupeux, Maiga initially faced a severe test of resolve which would endure for almost a year. "When I arrived at Le Mans from Casablanca, I was a little hurt," he admits. "I took the time to heal and then had to gradually integrate myself into the group as well. So I started with the team of CFA (Championnat de France amateur fourth division)." He eventually joined the first team under the management of Rudi Garcia but featured only intermittently. "I fought through it," he states, before insisting he never lost belief in his ability even when he was not playing. "I told myself that I would play full-time the following season and be in great physical shape."

Garcia's subsequent departure for Lille and the promotion of Yves Bertucci coincided with Maiga's rapid rise. "My ambition to be successful at the club would have been the same no matter the coach," thinks Maiga. "I wanted to play more than anything. I worked very hard for it and I'm really ambitious. But it's true that Yves [Bertucci] knew me very well since I developed under his command in CFA. He knew me more than Rudi [Garcia] elsewhere. Yves gave me my chance. So I tried to return it to the fullest and to earn his trust."

Le Mans also had a strong contingent of French-speaking African players and Maiga believes that it eased his progress. "The presence of certain players was a very good thing for me," he says. "When I landed in the Sarthe, there was Romaric and Stephane Sessegnon. There was a lot of Africans. It was fun. We worked together and I could learn from their experience, and always listen to their advice." Playing alongside Ivory Coast player Gervinho, Maiga's talent slowly blossomed into full glory across the football fields of France. Despite Le Mans' ultimate relegation to Ligue 2, he bagged 15 goals in 88 games over a three year period; including eight goals in 30 games in the 2008-2009 season. Unwilling to drop a division, Maiga jumped at a transfer to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard for an estimated three million euros. "I could not forget that relegation," he says. "Even now it's hard to return to this disappointment. As Sochaux had followed me for a few months, I did not hesitate and I immediately gave my consent because it was a good challenge ahead for me."

Signing a four-year contract, Maiga informed the media that at Sochaux he felt respected. "Frankly, since the beginning I liked the place a lot," he says. "I really do not care about the surroundings, what interests me is the club environment. At Sochaux I felt more respected, more relevant and that made me more confident. The staff were very human and made me want to get involved. With them I felt able to make much progress. What they said, what they did, could only make people want to give of their best." That was then though.

During the 2010–11 Les Lionceaux coach Francis Gillot moved Maiga more central and teamed him up with Nigerian striker Ideye Brown to devastating effect. The pair struck up a 30 goal partnership, each scoring 15 goals. Between them, they accounted for half of FC Sochaux's league goals. Maiga and Brown were assisted by playmakers Marvin Martin and Ryad Boudebouz as Sochaux finish fifth in Ligue 1 and qualified for the UEFA Europa League. By the following August, Maiga had announced that he would never play for the club again. In the interim strike partner Brown had been sold to Dynamo Kyiv and coach Gillot departed for Bordeaux. A frustrated Maiga expressed his interest in moving, but with one star striker gone Sporting Director Alexandre Lacombe wasn’t keen to see his other forward leave the Stade Auguste-Bonal.

Maiga's subsequent refusal to make himself available for selection for several matches of the new season launched its own public "soap opera"; played out against the backdrop of an impending transfer to Newcastle United that the player desperately wanted, but which Lacombe categorically refused. The Mali international told L'Equipe: "I want it to be done with Newcastle. I want to leave, it is necessary that the president agrees to negotiate. I met everybody, they want me and it is not any club. England is a dream. I want to go." For their part, Sochaux accused Newcastle of speaking to Maiga without their permission and confirmed they had contacted Fifa to intervene. A few days after the transfer window slammed shut, a frustrated Maiga- who had already missed games against Malherbe de Caen and AS Nancy- went for a 'Sunday drive', claiming sickness and without informing anyone of his absence. He missed further games before eventually returning to the first team and scoring four goals in three games.

Yet resentment was still raging in Maiga as the unforgiving fans continued to whistle his every move. Things came to a head in a televised match against Toulouse when Maiga was shown apoplectic with rage and hurling insults at the supporters who had once idolized him. "It was a good answer to the people who do not know football," he told the media after the game. "This will make them shut their big mouths. When you see what I did last year and the fans for whom I have always played do not try to understand, they hiss you. [...] I say 'fuck you' to the supporters. My answer is on the field. I have always been strong in my head, thank God."

An exasperated Lacombe was moved to extinguish the fire again. "He has in him a strong vengeful side," he told assembled journalists. "He really has it deep in his guts, and I think he spoke without thinking. It's our fault, we should not have let the press so quickly in the locker room. I do not know exactly how it happened, but I take it upon myself. We made a mistake, I take responsibility." Within months, the man who had resisted Newcastle’s repeated attempts to sign the 24-year-old in the summer conceded there was no point trying to do so again in January. "I have had enough of being booed by supporters, but anyway it does not stop me scoring goals for the club and making them happy," added Maiga in response. "I will not finish my career in Sochaux if I am scoring every week - that is the reality of football. I have not invented that. At the moment I am here and scoring goals. I do not know when the transfer window opens what there will be. It depends also on the club, but in the near future I want to ply my trade in another top league. It is a genuine ambition, I will accept being booed for that."

By October several newspapers were reporting that Maiga was again close to sealing a £7 million transfer to move to Tyneside, before L'Equipe revealed in December that he had failed a medical ahead of his proposed move amid concerns over a 'knee problem'. "I am disappointed at this turn of events," responded the player’s agent, Karim Aklil at the time. "Modibo is in perfect physical condition, which was confirmed by one of the leading experts in the field." Aklil was referring to a report of the player performed and submitted by Professor Jaeger, an independent medical practitioner in France. "I was surprised that Newcastle’s medical team employed a very shallow observation before reaching a conclusion. I’m quite convinced that the future will prove us right. Modibo is one of the best strikers in the French Ligue 1," he added.

Maiga says the failed medical was due to lingering thigh injury he had picked up earlier in the Ligue 1 campaign and which he had been dragging around for several weeks. He points to the presence of Demba Ba in the Newcastle squad a year after he was turned down by Stoke for a similar reason, and argues Alan Pardew may live to regret the decision to pull the plug on a deal that had been in place for months. "I am mentally fine, I wanted that move to Newcastle badly," he says. "However, it did not happen as they said my knee has a problem. There is a player at Newcastle now, he was told at a Premier League medical that he had a knee problem, he then went to another and started scoring goals before his move to Newcastle. Me... I feel better than anything."

By February Maiga had time enough to revisit those words, sweating in a Libreville hospital bed having contracted malaria while representing Mali at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. His absence had originally been attributed to a mystery ankle injury, partly at the behest of the player himself who had neglected to take the preventative measures as prescribed by his club doctors prior to the tournament. Fevered and tired, he would miss the 1-0 semi defeat against Côte d'Ivoire, with manager Alain Giresse lamenting he had no resource to compensate for losing Maiga's speed and trickery. When Maiga eventually returned to France, severely weakened and incapacitated for several more weeks, he was in no position to help his team-mates by now embroiled in a desperate relegation struggle.

By the end of April, Maiga had returned with 4 goals in as many games: against Lyon, Brest, Montpellier and Dijon. Seemingly keen to repair his damaged reputation, or else realizing that his personal interests coincided with those of the team, Maiga had taken full advantage of a serious knee injury to Edouard Butin to remind sceptical fans of his talent. His relieved coach, Eric Hely, told a curious media that his wayward star had 'fallen into line'. "These last few weeks, he has been working hard," he said. "He has demonstrated he wants to play and, above all, he has acquired a good level of physical fitness. He is now being rewarded for his efforts."

In addition to Maiga's natural finishing and exceptional heading ability, Sochaux captain and goalkeeper Teddy Richert believes Maiga has developed a new found physicality which enables him to disrupt and bully defences. "It doesn't surprise me at all," he says. "You can see it on the pitch and in training that he wants to give everything to show what he is capable of and that's what he is now doing." Maiga has developed into a versatile player; possessed of power and technique that means he is as comfortable playing a lone central striker role as he is a "more facilitating role in which I pull out towards the wing." He has, he believes, mastered both positions. "It really does not matter what position I play," he promises. "I can give my full potential through the middle or out wide. So I have no preference. I play where the coach asks me."

While off the field Modibo Maiga had largely been a disaster last season: throwing tantrums, insulting his own supporters, missing training and refusing to play, acknowledges Jonathan Fadugba, it stemmed from a burning desire to leave the Ligue 1 strugglers for a bigger club which, in fairness, his abundant talent probably warrants. Writing for, the chief correspondent for FFT's United States of Africa states: "Nevertheless his shenanigans have been quite disheartening to witness and one wonders to what extent it was his misbehaviour, rather than worries over the state of his knee, that caused Newcastle United to pull out of the deal." It's a shame, thinks Fadugba, because when on his game the Mali international is a real handful – aggressive, alert, strong in the air and a good finisher. Scoring 24 goals in 59 games for Sochaux certainly suggests he can do it at a high level, and having been rejected by the Magpies he always remained desperate to impress watching scouts to finally rescue him from his nightmare in Montbéliard.

Cursory statistical analysis certainly supports this assertion. A recent post on the English Premier League Index compared Maiga to the other top scoring strikers in Ligue 1 last season. Montpellier's Olivier Giroud (now of Arsenal) led the league in most stats, goals, total shots, assists and shots on target; while the league's second best scorer, St Etienne's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was second to Giroud in all the stats that he led. "Maiga was second in shooting accuracy with 53%, behind Lyon striker Lisandro Lopez who had 58% of his shots hitting the target," reveals the article. "He was also third in conversion percentage with 18%, behind Yoan Gouffran (24%) and Lopez again (23%). A key Stat to look at here is appearances, Maiga made the least amount of appearances last year with 23, which would mean he would score less goals."

Not that Modibo Maiga is one of life's natural number-crunchers. "I just believe in myself and I always want to go higher," he says, with the same conviction he had as a kid growing up in Bamako that one day Barcelona would come calling. "Seydou Keita (former Lens and Barcelona midfielder) is like a big brother to me and when I was young he gave me good advice. He told me that I have all the qualities that I need to achieve great things but that I have to work hard and God must be willing." He then raises his eyes as if to scan the sky. "My first name is that of an ancient religion and I am a devout Muslim," he reveals. "It's like that in Mali. I was born into it, and it is what gives me my mental strength. Even when I was having a difficult time in Sochaux and the fans did not understand me, I never gave up faith that I would one day make it to Premier League. I always wanted to play here and now I have a chance. What is more, my health is very good and so are my knees!" Are you listening, Mr Pardew?

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Southend United 0 v 3 West Ham United

If you're looking for a thrill that's new
Take in Fords , Dartford Tunnel and the river too
Go motorin' on the A13
Pre-season games are not supposed to be like this. Usually these games are played in blazing sunshine in front of shirt-sleeved fans, but this was strictly umbrellas, rainhoods and bovril as the West Ham fans descended on rain-lashed Roots Hall for a trip to the seaside. Away from the summer fete atmosphere that has recently dominated domestic sport at Wimbledon and Silverstone, there could be no clearer sign that the football machine is beginning to churn. At times this game looked more like a water polo match as the Hammers negotiated puddles as well as League Two opposition to record their first victory since returning to action.

Having failed to win either of their opening two fixtures of pre-season - losing 3-1 against Austria Wien and drawing 1-1 at Boreham Wood in midweek - the win was a welcome one. It was also thoroughly enjoyed by the travelling Hammers fans who filled the away end plus had many more supporters in the home stands. Of the official capacity of 7,135, at least half were supporting the visitors. They watched West Ham warm up for their Premier League campaign with a commanding performance that saw Sam Baldock score his third goal in successive matches.

Manager Sam Allardyce had opted for a strong team in the first half. Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble, Winston Reid, George McCartney and Ricardo Vaz Te were all in the starting line-up and the difference in class showed as Jussi Jaaskelainen was hardly called upon in that opening 45 minutes. After just two minutes, Nolan's close range effort was ruled out for offside before Vaz Te's neat near post flick from Matt Taylor's right wing corner was tipped wide of the target by Blues' trialist goalkeeper Rhys Taylor. The Southend shot-stopper then did well to smother a long range shot from Taylor before the former Rotherham keeper denied the winger again with a solid stop low down to his right hand side.

With the Hammers in full control their efforts were rewarded with 22 minutes on the clock; finally making their pressure count as Taylor's right wing corner picked out an unmarked Nicky Maynard and the striker thundered a header in to the roof of the net from close range. West Ham did not stop there though and Jordan Spence doubled the lead in the 34th minute with a fine solo strike. The young defender charged from the halfway line down the right flank and unleashed a powerful long range shot in to the bottom left hand corner of the net. It was a goal of some class, though Southend boss Paul Sturrock will surely have been disappointed by the defending, or lack of it.

Allardyce made only one change at the break with Sam Baldock replacing Maynard as he looked to step up the game time of many of his first-choice players. Paul Sturrock countered with 10 changes with only one-time Hammers target Kane Ferdinand remaining on the field from the first half. If the aim was to help stem the flow then it seemed to have the desired effect, as the Hammers initially struggled to re-assert themselves after the interval. Allardyce eventually rang the changes on the hour with five more substitutions to give the youngsters a chance and it was one of them who created the third West Ham goal just four minutes later. Former MK Dons frontman Baldock reacted quickest when Southend's second half goalkeeper Phil Smith failed to hold a low 20 yard shot from Elliot Lee and chipped the rebound in to the back of the North Bank net.

The goal killed off any remaining hopes of a Blues fightback and from then on the Hammers were comfortable. Guy Demel and Ravel Morrison were both given run-outs, while youngster Amos Nasha stood out at the back, but as the pitch deteriorated, so did the game as the Hammers settled for three. The only sour note for boss Allardyce was the sight of young left-back Dan Potts being stretchered off after a nasty clash of heads with Southend's Mark Phillips. As an eloquent postscript, the biggest cheer of the day from the downbeat home fans came when former Hammers trainee Freddy Eastwood replaced trialist Joe Yoffe in attack with nine minutes remaining.

Speaking after the game, Neil McDonald said he was delighted to see West Ham United secure such a comfortable victory but was even happier to report encouraging news about stricken left-back Dan Potts. The youngster was knocked out cold for a short period before regaining consciousness and being tended to by the Club's medical staff and paramedics. He was carefully fitted with a neck brace before being stretchered off the pitch to an ovation. Thankfully, the 18-year-old was up on his feet again in the dressing room a short time later and was able to have a shower. Potts, who was voted Man of the Match, was taken to hospital for a precautionary scan and will be kept in overnight for observation.

McDonald told West Ham TV: "Pottsy is fine. He is going to stay overnight in hospital just to double-check he is all right but he's up and walking about. He's got showered and now he'll be taken into hospital for observation. He's come round and he's got a bit of a sore head which is only natural from a clash where he's made a fantastic defensive header. We'll make sure he's OK and, all things going well, he'll be back to work on Monday."

While the news about Potts' health provided a boost for everybody associated with the Club, the assistant manager was also pleased with the way West Ham played in testing conditions at Roots Hall. Heavy rain left the pitch sodden in places, with puddles holding the ball up in the corners, but the Hammers moved the ball quickly and relatively easily to open up Southend and score three fine goals. McDonald put West Ham's impressive performance down to the hard work that has been done on the training field since the Club returned for pre-season on 1 July. "They're getting stronger and they're getting fitter, which is what pre-season is all about. It was nice to get some goals as well, which was great," he confirmed. "With another good week of work under their belts and having played two games this week, it's building up well in pre-season. We passed the ball really well and kept it moving. We've been working on keeping the ball and passing and moving during the past two weeks and we now just need to build their fitness up. We played some really nice stuff at times."

Southend United manager Paul Sturrock felt the manner of his side’s defeat showed the friendly had come too early in Blues’ pre-season preparations. "The game was a bit too early for us in our preparations and I think everyone saw that," said Sturrock. "West Ham are also 17 days ahead of us in their training and you have to take that in to consideration. We were also up against a Premier League side, so it was always going to be a difficult game." The wet weather also played havoc with the Roots Hall pitch and Sturrock felt the match would have been called off if it had been a league contest. "If this was a normal game then it would definitely not have taken place," said the Scotsman. "But because it’s a friendly you just have to get on with it. The biggest plus point for me was that we got no injuries and we can now look forward to continuing our pre-season because we’re in the middle of some very hard work at the moment."

Shrimpers midfielder Kane Ferdinand felt Southend United were outclassed and never looked like troubling the Hammers. "I think the difference in class between the two teams was there to see but it was good for us to get out there again," said Ferdinand, 19. "West Ham have been back in training a few more weeks than we have and that showed as well, but it was nice to get a game in. The matches help to break up the hard runs and training we’re doing and I’m sure this will have done us good."

West Ham: Jaaskelainen, Spence, Potts (Mavilla), McCartney (Demel), Reid (Nasha), Nolan (Bywater), Noble (Morrison), Hall (O’Neil), Taylor, Vaz Te (Lee), Maynard (Baldock)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Boreham Wood 1 v 1 West Ham United

I was living in a Devil Town
Didn't know it was a Devil Town
Oh, Lord, it really brings me down
About the Devil Town

West Ham United respected the point with a 1-1 draw against Blue Square Bet South behemoths Boreham Wood in their opening pre-season friendly on English soil. Venturing into darkest Hertfordshire, to the town that inspired Urban Dead's quarantined gameworld in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, Sam Baldock and Ravel Morrison provided the stand-out moments in a game the Premier League outfit controlled for long spells but could never quite kill off.

The visitors got off to a good start as George McCartney and Ricardo Vaz Te combined well down the left before the former Portugal Under-21 international found George Moncur, whose first-time curling effort was palmed away well by the goalkeeper. Pelly Ruddock, who joined the Hammers from Boreham Wood last winter after coming through the non-league club's Programme for Academic and Sporting Excellence scheme, was handed the captaincy on his return. He almost opened the scoring as he attempted a volley from Matthew Fanimo’s pinpoint cross, but the midfielder sliced his effort when he should have controlled the delivery.

With 21 minutes on the clock, the home side almost took the lead from a corner, but Callum Reynold’s powerful header went straight over Jaaskelainen’s bar and out for a goal-kick. Six minutes later Boreham Wood were left ruing that miss as Sam Allardyce’s side took the lead through Baldock. The tireless striker had scored the Hammers’ only goal in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat against Austria Vienna and playing here up front largely on his own, he caused the home team plenty of problems. First, hitting the base of the post from a first-time left foot shot, then eventually breaking the deadlock when Vaz Te unselfishly laid the ball into his path and he struck a crisp shot into the corner of the net via a deflection.

As the first half came to a conclusion, Jaaskelainen was finding himself more and more involved, first stopping Graeme Montgomery's free-kick from the corner of the penalty area, then diving down to his left to stop a low strike from left-back Mark Jones as the hosts showed that they were determined to make an impression in front of a bumper crowd that included the local Mayor. Flickering consciousness lurched into animated revivification six minutes into the second half when giant forward Inih Effiong seized on some calamitous defending by Sam Allardyce’s team. Young defender Eoin Wearen saw his weak back pass intercepted by Omer Riza and when he squared it to the cyclopean substitute, the striker beat Jake Larkins from just inside the box.

Manager Allardyce, back in the dugout after spending last week working on bringing in new recruits, cut an unconcerned figure on the night as he ambled around the ground signing autographs. The relaxed atmosphere was underlined by the presence of Rob Burgess-Allen, his 'Assistant Manager for the Day', who had successfully bid for the right to spend all day at Chadwell Heath, before mixing with the squad on the team coach and in the dressing room pre and post-match. Just as Neil McDonald had done in Vienna, Big Sam was using the night to give his full squad more valuable game time in the run up to the big kick-off at home to Aston Villa on 18 August. He opted to play two different teams in each half, providing a mix of youth and experience throughout. For the second period Winston Reid, Gary O’Neil, Kevin Nolan and Nicky Maynard were the senior players; replacing Vaz Te, Noble, McCartney, Jaaskelainen and Baldock. They were joined by talented former Manchester United midfielder Morrison.

Indeed it was Morrison, partnering Nolan in the middle of the park, who seemed the most likely to produce something after the break for West Ham. The 19-year-old looked sharp spreading the play nicely and probing for openings, while Maynard played the lone striking role, with little success. He did have one shot saved after latching on to Morrison’s pass, while he should have scored right at the death when Morrison’s long-ranger was parried into his path, only to stab the rebound wide. Nolan had come even closer a few minutes earlier. Following more good work from Morrison, Matt Taylor’s cross from the left picked him out perfectly, but the skipper’s shot hit the ground and bounced up on to the bar as Boreham Wood held on for a creditable draw.

In the absence of Burgess-Allen, Neil McDonald declared himself happy with proceedings. "It was a good workout and though it would have been nice to have won, it is not about results," he said. "This is all about building up the fitness, building up the endurance as well which we have been working on for the last week and a half." McDonald did have some words of praise for Morrison after his second-half showing. "I think he is an exciting sort of player, especially when we have got the ball," he said. "He can play that final pass and drive on with the ball, which is certainly what you need in the Premiership. It was a good workout for him, another 45 minutes under his belt after 90 against Austria Vienna, so that is a good week for him and he has got to know the other players a little better."

West Ham (first half): Jaaskelainen, Driver, McCartney, K Lee, Spence, Vaz Te, Moncur, Noble, Ruddock, Fanimo, Baldock.

Second half: Larkins, Chambers, Potts, Reid, Wearen, Turgott, O’Neil, Nolan, Morrison, Taylor, Maynard.

The Hammers travel to Southend United this weekend.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Fußballklub Austria Wien 3 v 1 West Ham United

I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.

West Ham United were beaten 3-1 by Fußballklub Austria Wien in their opening pre-season friendly fixture. An experimental side featuring new signings Mohamed Diame and Stephen Henderson plus youngsters Seb Lletget and Ravel Morrison deployed in a conventional 4-4-2, was comfortably beaten in the Austrian capital by a team three weeks ahead of the Hammers in their pre season preparations. Sam Baldock gave the Premier League newcomers a fourth minute lead at the 10,850-capacity Franz Horr Stadium, getting his head to a hanging Carlton Cole cross to force the ball past Lindner in the Wien goal. Cole then looked poised to record the Hammers' second of the match just before the 15-minute mark, the former Chelsea striker leaping for a cross in the box but taking a defender down in the process, resulting in a free-kick to the home side.

Yet that would prove to be as good as it got for the visitors, managed for this game and the entirety of the five day training camp in Bad Waltersdorf by assistant Neil McDonald. Blistering sunshine and temperatures in excess of 80 degrees forced a short break in play 20 minutes in, and then with Cole off the field receiving treatment, the revitalised 23-time Austrian Bundesliga champions levelled midway through the first half, Roland Linz evading a challenge on the edge of the box and beating Henderson. Three minutes later Tomas Simkovic burst down the left and picked out Dare Vrsic, who finished well to give Die Vielchen the lead. Cole was subsequently replaced with just 26 minutes on the clock by Nicky Maynard - however the damage is not thought to be serious. Cole tweeted after the game: "I had slight calf injury but came off for precautionary reasons! We got about 10 games this preseason so plenty of games to get match fit."

Shortly after the restart West Ham thought they had equalised when Ricardo Vaz Te nodded down Gary O'Neill's cross for Maynard to finish, but Kevin Nolan had already been penalised for a foul in the build-up. The Hammers had introduced several new faces, including recently re-signed George McCartney and new boy Jussi Jaaskelainen and the Londoners did start to enjoy a stronger spell of possession midway through the second half. Luck was not on their side, however, as Wien added another onto the scoresheet against the run of play 15 minutes from time. A strong push upfield saw Tomas Jun wriggle free from the Hammers defence before firing home a cracking effort from outside the box. The strike left Jaaskelainen- who had earlier made a flying save to deny the Czech Republic international from no more than ten yards- with little chance. The third goal gave the home side a new lease of life, cancelling out West Ham's period of domination and allowing them to kill the game off.

While the jubilent Wien Fanatics were in good voice at the final whistle, the general consensus was it had been a good workout for both teams. Playing against a near full strength team that begin their Bundesliga campaign in less than two weeks, the Hammers started brightly before their opponents' greater fitness levels saw them come back to claim victory. "The game went very much the way I thought it would go," McDonald confirmed to West Ham TV. "We started off well and scored a really good goal through Sam and then their passing and moving took over. We conceded two poor goals in the first half. The goal they scored in the second half was a really good strike so probably, all in all, we're pleased. We said before the game that it was all about improving our fitness and getting our endurance up and a lot of them played 45 minutes-plus so it finished off a good week, even though we got beaten 3-1."

Among those to give their all for the cause after just six days on the training pitch were teenagers Lletget, who played at right-back in the second half, Morrison and Dan Potts, who featured at centre-back during the closing 45 minutes. "They did very well," thought McDonald. "We asked them to play in different positions as well because of the lack of numbers and they've done OK. We're happy with their performances and it was a great experience for them coming away with the first team on pre-season, some of them for the first time, and to play against a very strong and sharp team. There are plenty of positives."

Not least in the way Baldock took his goal. "I think the goal was fantastic," stated McDonald. "Carlton Cole has run down the line and put in a good cross to the back post and Sam was in the right place at the right time." The diminutive striker had been left out of the starting lineup for much of the second half of last season, but insists he is itching to force his way back into manager Sam Allardyce's thoughts and make an impact in the Barclays Premier League. "I don't see why I can't take this opportunity to stake my claim," said Baldock. "Everyone knows that during the second half of last year I was very frustrated. I'm a footballer who wants to play football at the end of the day. I've been working hard and hopefully I'll be given a chance to show what I can do."

Focusing on his goal, Baldock revealed that he had been slightly fortunate to score, but that there was no luck involved in him being in the right place at the right time to meet Carlton Cole's far-post cross. Having worked on movement in the opposition penalty area on the training pitch the previous day, it was pleasing for the forward to see his hard work pay off. "I wasn't particularly pleased with my performance but I don't think anyone can say they played particularly well - it was more about getting a run out and seeing if you can get that match-sharpness after six days of training. It was a good end to the trip in a nice stadium with a good atmosphere and quite a few travelling fans, which was nice to see. I saw Coley made a great run and he got pretty much to the byline. I thought I'd lose my marker by making a run to the back stick where he hung it up and to be honest it just hit me! It hit the defender and came off my shoulder but it's a goal and strikers love goals, don't they."

For McDonald the positives included a good week's training as well as the climate. "They are three weeks ahead of us - they start in two weeks' time so they were always going to be a lot brighter and a lot fitter and fresher," he admitted. "The lads have done what they were asked to do, considering that was their first week. It's been lovely in Austria - the weather has been perfect from when we arrived to when we flew back home and that's the weather you want for pre-season. It's hot to run about in, of course, but I think the lads have acquitted themselves really well considering we have only had one week of training."

Two players to miss the game were Jack Collison and Joey O'Brien, who have been on special individual training programmes due to the long-term knee injuries they suffered earlier in their careers. McDonald also suggested Cole's premature departure had been pre-planned as the medical staff continue to manage his own well-documented knee issue. While all three could not play their full part in the game, there was great value in them being present for the whole week in Austria. "The majority of the senior staff are here so, even though they were never going to play or be involved in the first game, it was important for them to come with the lads and do all the training sessions. They've got through all that so they'll be ready to move on to the next stage when we go back home."

That next stage is a return to the UK for Tuesday’s friendly clash at Boreham Wood of the Conference South. The midweek fixture will see the return of Sam Allardyce to the dugout after the manager missed the Austrian training camp to work on bringing in new recruits back in London. McDonald confirmed that the Club would be working hard to strengthen the squad ahead of the opening Barclays Premier League fixture at home to Aston Villa on 18 August. "That was the reason Sam didn't come. He's been very busy over the summer. He's been on the phone trying to get deals done and I'm sure he'll be trying even harder in the next few weeks to try and freshen the squad up because we need competition for every place in the lineup."

West Ham Utd: Henderson (Jaaskelainen 46), Spence, Tomkins (McCartney 46), Reid (Noble 46), Potts, Taylor (O'Neil 46), Diame (Nolan 46), Morrison, Lletget, Cole (Maynard 26), Baldock (Vaz Te 46).

Subs not used: None.

FK Austria Wien: Lindner; Dilaver, Margreitter (Rogulj 83), Ortlechner (Rotpuller 76), Suttner (Wimmer 83); Gorgon (Murg 68), Vrsic (Mader 59), Holland (Spiridonovic 76), Simkovic; Linz (Kienast 76), Stankovic.

Subs not used: None.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Permanent Insurrection In The Transfer Circus

And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind
You find he did not leave you very much not even laughter
Like any dealer he was watching for the card
That is so high and wild
He'll never need to deal another
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece about the friction between social media and the written press as it pertains to the transfer circus. It was inspired by a disgruntled football journalist from the Birmingham Mail who bemoaned the fact that such is the power of social media these days that a 'ridiculous story' about Peter Odemwingie failing to agree terms with Arsenal - based on two 'friends' of his - was run by a Nigerian website. Not a usual news source, he pointed out, just one which anyone of any age could set up in their bedroom and portray as a reputable provider of news. Trouble is that people get sucked in. They see the reports on NewsNow and assume it might, just might, be true. Who can blame them, he asked, not least when a UK-based agent is also repeating the false rumour on national radio to millions of listeners. Such was the power of that particular report that both clubs were moved to issue a statement denying it all. As it happens Albion and Arsenal never had discussions over Odemwingie, let alone got to a stage where the player was quibbling over personal terms.

At the time I was writing that original article Herita Ilunga was reportedly a £1.5m target for Greek champions Olympiakos. Except he wasn't. Nor had he ever been. Julien Faubert was also alledgedly poised to move to Lazio; a piece of rampant speculation extrapolated from a solitary snippet of second-hand information that a club official at the time had reportedly met with the Frenchman's representative, but that was as far as it went. We now know that both stories were little more than educated guesswork, which more often than not, is what fuels social media panic, be it on Twitter or on Facebook. A couple of websites in Italy subsequently reported the Faubert story and then it was picked up and reported as news by the website branch of a national radio station.

I was reminded of this today when reading an account of how a group of football supporters attempted to get a completely fabricated transfer rumour started last week; eventually choosing Newcastle United as the 'interested' club, and naming North Korean striker Jong Il-Gwan as the transfer target. The formative stage of their plan, such as it was, initially involved doctoring an article from a Korean newspaper. They claimed Newcastle had been tracking the player ever since 'he was named Asian Footballer of the Year', bemusingly adding 'he is the best young prospect since Kim Jong-Il'.

They subsequently tweeted the said article (accompanied by a YouTube video of Gwan scoring a hat trick against Australia) to a select number of Newcastle blogs and fansites, who voraciously swallowed the bait and promulgated the rumour. It wasn't long before a respected north-east journalist, Mark Douglas, was reporting "he didn't know about Gwan specifically but that he knew that the Mags were actively scouting in Asia for talent". From here it was a short step to the rumour being disseminated on the major Newcastle forums and members there enthusiastically discussing how he could be a bargain considering Carr's recent scouting record. Within hours one of the most popular Newcastle ITKs took to Twitter to claim he had heard from his 'sources' that Gwan would be signed for the club's development squad.

A couple of days later and the Daily Mail 'Insider' was attributing a score of 3/5 to the possibility of the transfer being concluded. The paper stated: "Newcastle rewarded scout Graham Carr with a new eight-year contract today and he continues to have that knack of finding talent. One of the latest targets of his attention is North Korea international striker Jong Il-Gwan. The 19-year-old has been linked with PSV Eindhoven and Partizan Belgrade but Newcastle have been keeping an eye on him since his hat-trick for North Korea in the Asian Youth Championship against Australia in 2010. Alan Pardew wants to build up his squad and will invest around £10m on second string players who can step up. The added bonus would be the commercial revenue a player such as Il-Gwan could generate."

The following morning a Serbian news site took the doctored article and printed it, adding that Partizan Belgrade were now keen to snatch Gwan away from Newcastle United's grasp. By the afternoon, other outlets were crediting PSV and Trazponspor with interest in the player; some claiming the former has a manager with good contacts within the Korean market. The story kept rolling for another week before eventually fizzling out; although not before ensuring a little-known player from behind the modern Bamboo Curtain had punctured Western consciousness and over 20,000 people had viewed his little-seen exploits on YouTube.

Self-publicists and shop-windows, the trouble these days is that people are in such a rush to break stories that diligence no longer applies, argued the Birmingham mail journalist. Nobody bothers checking with clubs to see if a story is true. They might check with an agent to see if it's true - and you can count on the fingers of one foot the number of agents you can truly trust - but even then they might not bother. Social media has not so much changed the way sports journalists work, it's shredded the rule book too. The growth of Internet and, more so, Twitter and Facebook leads to frenzied excitement and fevered panic, so that a large proportion of the local beat writer's job becomes sorting out the truth from the non-truths, half-truths or the not-yet-truths.

It's how the news business is supposed to work, when you're not in the market for 'Internet hits' or 'website traffic'. Which is not to say these websites and social media networks do not have a place in society. The recent sacking of Kenny Dalglish, for example, highlighted how far ahead breaking news on social media is when compared to traditional TV outlets. Almost a whole hour after Twitter had gone into overdrive and the news had broken, Sky and their special little yellow runner for 'breaking news' reported what hundreds of thousands, possibly millions had already discovered. Granted, it may not have been officially confirmed by the club until a little later but when you have reliable sources confirming reports, leading news outlets should be going public with news of this magnitude a lot faster, thinks Football and Social Media's Matthew Scott.

The reluctance to report anything until it is set in stone is surely a huge factor in the success of social media in attracting those who want to be the first to know. Surveys have shown that over 50% of people have learned about breaking news via social media rather than official news sources. Indeed, Twitter would be perfect and almost certainly replace rolling TV news if, adds Scott, it could be cleansed of people who, upon seeing genuine reports or rumours with some substance, take it upon themselves to add little white lies that then spread like wild fire, working its way down the IQ numbers. It is, he says, frustrating and saddening that genuine users or professionals can end up having their timeline tarnished with tweets that have been subject to a Chinese whisper-like effect.

These are social media's kite-flyers; occupying a hinterland somewhere between truth and lies, disseminating unsubstantiated whispers as fact and uncorroborated hearsay as indubitable certainty. They profess to be in constant contact with their 'sources' and titillate their followers with hourly updates concerning transfer targets, price negotiations, contract discussions and planned medicals; desperately searching for the one true dart among a hundred thrown that will validate their existence as 'In The Know' and thus perpetuate their myth. For these people Twitter is a parasitic persuit, promoting a never-ending discourse of what Llosa termed 'permanent insurrection'. They feast on their ability to arouse, to disturb and to alarm; to keep fans in a constant state of dissatisfaction and apprehension. Yet it is a symbiotic relationship. Their followers, hot with anticipation, constantly hector for the latest tidbit, each new detail firing the imagination and encouraging discourse. It is why my own Twitter timeline constantly pulsates to the latest disclosures of ‏@bradley_whufc @WHUFC News @WHUFC_ITK @WHUFC_News @BackPage @TheInsider_2012 and @WestHamDaily. I welcome the speculation because it ameliorates the lull of the summer months and because I want to be the among the first to hear about the next West Ham bound Jong Il-Gwan and how he is the best young prospect since Kim Jong-un. I just don't expect to actually learn anything.

For the years spent working on this blog, the constant scouring, filtering, checking and cross-referencing has taught me that there are no more than a handful of truly ITK people in the online West Ham United community and none of these post on Twitter. So I could tell you we are going to sign one of Grant Holt, Steven Naismith, Wilfried Zaha, Nicolas Anelka, Michael Kightly, Johan Djourou, Abdoulaye Ba, Victor Wanyama, Modibo Maiga, Matt Jarvis, Eljero Elia, Milos Krasic, Fabio Quagliarella, Dimitris Salpingidis, Chris Solly, Samuel Souprayen, Danny Simpson, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Guti, Reto Ziegler, Luc Castaignos, Jonas Olsson, Clarence Seedorf, Burak Yilmaz, Juan Manuel Iturbe, Joselu, Abdul Kader Mangane, Nathaniel Clyne, Christopher Samba, Keiron Richardson, Alessandro Del Piero, William Gallas, Marco Capuano or Dejan Stankovic, and the chances are one of those names will stick.

Or I could alternatively tell you Kevin Nolan isn't going anywhere. That Carlton Cole's knee is not getting any better and that he will be used sparingly next season. That Grant Holt isn't coming unless Norwich change their stance. That Freddie Piquionne is being offered around but his high wages are proving prohibitive for interested teams in the Championship. That Joey O'Brien has been told he will not be first choice next season but he still wants to stay. That we have three main targets before kick-off; namely, another central defender, a central striker and a winger with pace who can 'score as well as create'. That Abdul Kader Mangane has taken a medical. That full backs are not an absolute priority but considerable effort has been made to land Nathaniel Clyne. That we are very happy with our two goalkeepers and won't actively be looking for a third. That Ravel Morrison will get a lot of pre-season action to determine the level of his participation for the opening months of the season.

I could tell you all these things and be fairly confident that the percentage of truth contained within will be substantially higher that anything you will read on your Twitter timelines tomorrow morning. It is provided by people who do not seek recognition or adulation and the information they impart is given in good faith and without fuss; even if it it is invariably sporadic and often frustratingly vague. In short it is rarely as interesting, exciting or as neatly packaged as the revelations provided by their Twitter counterparts, but that is because truth seldom is stranger than fiction.

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