Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Kicked To The Curb

1. Finally…

A lot of us thought this day would never come. For months now we have all battled against lowered expectations, increasing frustration and even a progressively diminished appetite for one of those things we hold most dear.

But then came the news we’ve all been waiting for. Yes, the reports are true - two H List updates in one day!

2. Curb Your Enthusiasm

This hastily drafted edition is of course in commemoration of yesterday’s resignation by Alan Curbishley as manager of West Ham United. Having been the bookies favourite for the chop since before the start of the season, Curbs beat the Board to the punch by handing in his notice yesterday afternoon.

Rumours of dissatisfaction at all levels of the Club (including Curbishley’s) blossomed over the weekend. Saturday’s impressive if flattering result conversely appears to have fuelled the fire and the transfer activity of the last few days has been cited by Curbishley as his reason for leaving.

According to reports, it was Lucas Neill who soured Curbishley’s buoyant post-Blackburn mood by declaring in front of the whole team that the players had "kept you in a job" and that the manager needed to do more to lead and inspire the team.

Now, I find it laughable that Lucas Neill feels qualified to tell anyone they are not performing. The Australian’s questionable facial hair is the very essence of sound reasoning when compared to some of his laboured defensive work and his favoured method of inspiration is to berate less experienced team-mates for his own shortcomings, but things are obviously not going all that well if your captain openly rocks the boat in front of the staff.

On the transfer side, the recent sale of Anton Ferdinand and the more surprising departure of Gorgeous George McCartney on Monday had been interpreted as symptoms of Chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson’s displeasure with his manager, but it was thought he was willing to persist with Curbishley having seen the team win three of their four opening games. It was these enforced sales however which convinced Curbs that he had to go.

His loss of control over club transfers (a dangerous precedent for the Board to set should they wish to attract a top manager) and the steady erosion of authority since the arrival of Sporting Director Gianluca Nani have lead Curbishley to the door. The former manager was left out of the decision to sell Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland but still felt confident enough to state that "no-one else" would leave, only to see McCartney go the same way a week later. This left Llewellyn suffering a "breach of trust and confidence".

The club maintain that McCartney’s sale was only decided upon having received a written transfer request from the player, who was troubled with his wife’s inability to settle in London (anyone else find it strange that Roy Keane, having famously denounced players for kowtowing to their wives demands is only too happy to snap up a player for doing just that?) and that Ferdinand’s inability to agree a new contract forced the club to cash in, although Anton has publicly claimed that West Ham’s contract offer was withdrawn once news of Sunderland’s interest emerged.

While transfer policy being taken out of his hands made Curbishley’s mind up for him, the Board’s concerns went further, incorporating misgivings about both man-management and tactical nous.

One wonders why those in charge did not make a clean break over the summer, but it was felt that Curbishley had earned the right to stay on in the job having suffered a lengthy injury list last year. It is now apparent that the Board had a clear vision in mind and did not think Curbs prized enough to stray from their charted course.

3. Tale Of The Tape

During his 20-months in charge, Curbishley’s record was 29 wins, 28 losses and 14 draws. His win percentage was 40%, which was a mild improvement on his more acclaimed term at Charlton where his team won 38% of the time.

We undoubtedly have him to thank for a commendable job in steering us through the choppy waters of the back end of the 2006-’07 season, avoiding relegation thanks to a remarkable run during the last ten games. Since then however, with the pressure off and money to spend, Curbishley flattered to deceive and largely wasted our biggest ever transfer kitty. He has merely managed to compile a squad peppered with troublesome characters and an injury list as long as your broken arm.

Oddly, the Board attest to being proud of this rather damaged and disruptive bunch, lauding the funds made available and the personnel at Curbs’ disposal, with particular praise heaped upon our "central spine of internationals". Little attention is paid to the fact that more than one vertebrae of that spine is a crumbling, brittle mess.

One statistic which testifies to the fickle nature of modern football is that West Ham are now looking for their fifth manager since the turn of the millennium. In the 92 years between 1902 and 1994, we got through just seven. The average tenure of the 20th century manager was a giddy 13 years and that includes Billy Bonds four year term and Lou Macari’s single season. How times have changed.

4. The Contenders

For the time being, the first team will be in the competent hands and bandy legs of former winger Kevin Keen, but speculation is rife as to who will take over full time. So who to replace the former man in charge?

Harry Redknapp was touted as a target some weeks ago and is among the favourites, but I can’t see it. I doubt he will leave his palatial Sandbanks residence for a one-bed flat in Newham, particularly considering the potential lack of control over the transfer wheeler-dealing upon which he thrives. And we don’t want his shifty sidekick Peter Storrie back anyway.

Ruud Gullit recently resigned from his position as manager of LA Galaxy, citing similar familial reasons to George McCartney, but despite being a world class player, Gullit is to management what Silvio Berlusconi is to sexual equality in the workplace.

Speaking of right-wing Italians, everyone’s favourite fascist, Paolo DiCanio has already thrown his hat into the ring. With typically emotive language, DiCanio stated "Of course, the dream for me is West Ham and I keep them in my heart". However, his distinct lack of coaching experience will not appeal to the decision-makers and he remains an outside bet.

Roberto Mancini is another surprise shortlist entry. He apparently has close ties with Gianluca Nani and a proven track record in management, having lead Inter Milan to their last two Serie A titles. Despite wanting to prove himself in the Premier League, West Ham would be a significant step down from Internazionale and it is unclear whether a club of our size could tempt a man who has feasted at the top table of football management to pop round for some pie and mash. I would be interested to see the ensuing chaos of a full-blooded Mancini-DiCanio axis, however.

Avram Grant has also been touted as a potential. The West Ham Board are reportedly not too keen on appointing the former Chelsea chief, which is just as well as he is in the midst of raking the gutters at Toad Hall.

Sam Allardyce has been out of the job market for a while now but his appointment would be a disaster for all concerned. His sole achievement of keeping Bolton in the top half of the table with a tepid brand of apathetic football is precisely the same modus operandi which caused so many of us to lose faith in Curbishley.

Hang on a second…. Look at our releases this summer: King Pantsil, Bobby Zamora, Anton Ferdinand…. Ye gods, the Board aren’t paving the way for the return of Big Racist Ron Atkinson are they?

5. Waiter! Bring Me The Bilic

I think many of us are on the same page when it comes to who we would love to see in the hot seat at Upton Park.

Slaven Bilic is the dream ticket: not yet 40, charismatic, a champion of hard-working, attacking football and a passionate, no-nonsense disciplinarian - he ticks all the right boxes for me.

Bilic famously sticks to contracts, which does not bode well, but is known to want a move to the Premier League and has cited West Ham in particular. He has been in charge of the Croatian first team since July 2006 and gone on to become one of the most coveted young managers in football. For some time Bilic has been recognised by the National Team Coaching council to be #2 on the international scene behind Dunga, but I think any one of us could be manager of Brazil and keep them in the top 10.

Just yesterday Bilic stated that he did not yet want to leave his national side having signed a contract extension ‘til 2010. It has been reported however that he has been keeping tabs on the situation at West Ham over the last few weeks.

Bilic began his playing career at Hadjuk Split before moving to the Bundesliga and Karlsruhe in 1993 for £750,000. Three years later, Redknapp picked him up for £1.3mllion and Bilic spent four years at Upton Park where he established himself as a regular and passionate defender – if a little dirty.

After an impressive showing for Croatia in Euro ’96, Everton came in for him with a bid of £4.5million brokered in March of 1997. Slaven however declared that he owed a debt of loyalty to West Ham and admirably insisted on staying ‘til the end of the ’96-’97 season to ensure that we avoided relegation that year.

His management career began with the stewardship of the Croatian U-21 side, helping them to qualify for the European Championships, before he agreed to temporarily manage his beloved Hadjuk Split for five games while they searched for a permanent replacement. It was in this brief spell at Split that Bilic caught the mangement bug and from there he embarked on a research tour of Europe, receiving management guidance from Arsene Wenger and Marcelo Lippi among others.

In keeping with our club traditions, he has a proven record of promoting youth: his first action as first team coach of Croatia was to promote Eduardo da Silva, Luka Modric and Corluka from the U-21 squad. Neither does Bilic suffer fools having boldly cut established seniors Dario Simic, Olic and Balaban from the squad for his first competitive game after they missed a single training session.

As you can see, I’ve obviously tied my colours to the mast. I think the club should go all out to lure Bilic and make every effort to get what should be their primary target. No-one will be well served by a second choice or stopgap alternative, given a year to impress before Bilic becomes available or, worse still, causing us to miss out on the Croatian altogether.

Despite his recent refusal, Bilic could really say little else in light of England’s World Cup Qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb next Wednesday. He is a fiercely patriotic man and that would be my main concern, but with the England fixture soon approaching and with the spotlight firmly on him, at the very least we should have a definitive answer within the next week and be able to move on from there.

We all know that he would be a great asset in attracting the sort of technically accomplished young players Croatia seems to churn out so much more effectively than England, the sort of players we’ve been crying out for for over a year.

As if all these reasons weren’t enough, he’s also fluent in Italian, German and English, has a Law degree, is lead vocalist/guitarist in a Croatian rock band, chain-smokes on the touchline, runs around like a loon when his team scores and has the presence to make Jose Mourinho look like an unkempt Andrew Lloyd Webber in piss-stained Y-fronts – all vital managerial credentials.

But best of all, his aforementioned band wrote and released a Number 1 single in aid of Croatia’s Euro2008 campaign called ‘'Vatreno Ludilo', which literally translates as 'Fiery Madness'.

Someone give this man a job.

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