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, January 15, 2009

West Ham United vs Fulham: Match Preview - 18/01/2009

1. History

Fulham have the misfortune to count themselves amongst the two or three teams across the globe against whom we have a good record. We have lost but once in our last twelve encounters, recording seven wins and four draws along the way.

Prior to this year’s 2-1 away win at Craven Cottage, last season saw us come from 1-0 down at home to a Simon Davies free-kick before rallying to win 2-1, thanks to a header from Custard Cream Dean and a winner from Anton Ferdinand.

At the time, things were looking up - Julien Faubert made his debut, we had consolidated in the top half, a few players in the treatment room were declared “clinically not dead” and no-one knew quite how bad Julien Faubert was.

Of course from then on we were moored in 10th place until May and our aspirations for the season were sucked from us as if by a two dollar whore with a Dyson strapped to her face.

2. January Sale

Just halfway through this season’s transfer window and it already feels as if it has rumbled on for an age. With it’s dominance of recent headlines, this blog will inevitably follow suit until we can enjoy a few short months respite, before further news of firesale, financial irregularities and foreclosure.

The current rumour mill discharge can be summarised thusly:

(i) Herita Ilunga

No sooner had stories emerged of the club’s intention to hang onto Ilunga, than the newly rabid Rafa Benitez declares he could be interested in taking the Congolese to Anfield.

One would assume that part of our loan agreement is that we have first option and Zola has already declared his intention to make the move permanent.

Ilunga’s gaze could be turned by interest from the League leaders and at the moment I wouldn’t want to be the one to stand between Liverpool’s Spanish manager and whatever it is he wants - his recent outbursts missing only the requisite spittle, unkempt hair and him forcibly trying to ram a copy of The Big Issue in your face.

(ii) Bellamy & Parker

This story shows a stubborn and offensive refusal to die that Margaret Thatcher would admire. The latest rumours are that we have rebuffed three offers for Bellamy from Man City, the most recent being a £22million deal for both Bellamy (£12million) and Parker (£10million).

Both players have recently enjoyed their best form since joining West Ham, coincidentally in the run-up to the transfer window and tottenham continue to hover in the wings for Bellamy, making the frankly hilarious offer of a straight swap for Darren Bent.

(iii) Julien Faubert

The biggest disappointment since Terence Trent D’Arby’s second album, Faubert has been angling for a move away from Upton Park and has been quoted in the French media as saying:

“Zola has said he relies on me, but I don’t see anything coming. I didn’t play against Newcastle and I don’t know what he is up to. Right now my agent is discussing with clubs. Playing for a club such as Lyon is my priority to re-launch my international career. But the problem is that my selling price is very high.”

Sorry to be the one to break this to you, Julien, but that’s not the problem. The problem is you’re shit.

(iv) Luis Boa Morte

Just when you thought you’d had all the cold turkey you could stomach, the prospect of LBM’s departure to Hull City arises and knowing Luis as I do, he will surely take his big bag of hallucinogens with him.

However, having read HeadHammer Shark’s review yesterday, Luis has now decided to stay at Upton Park and ‘fight for his place in the team’.

The more likely reason is the inability of Hull to match whatever ridiculous wages Curbishley put him on and Luis’ desire to sport those white stilettos accessorised so tastefully with mini-umbrellas in the first half and these bobby dazzlers in the second.

(v) Lucas Neill

Joe Kinnear announced his interest in our captain and claimed that Neill’s agent (the commendably named Paddy Dominguez) has been contacted.

West Ham have reacted quickly to quash this story and “are astonished by reports today that a Premier League manager has claimed contact with one of our contracted players."

3. A Change Is Gonna Come

All this transfer speculation provides the men in charge with a clear choice and a great opportunity.

Should they refuse every offer for all key players regardless of fees, it would send out a strong message to onlookers, potential buyers, players, staff and fans on the direction West Ham intend to go.

If they cash-in on a few of those considered vital to any progression, there is nothing to stop any remaining top players looking for the exit, citing the club’s obvious lack of genuine ambition.

To resist any and all overtures for our top players would provide the club with a shot in the arm for the second half of the season that an extra £10million in the coffers could not – particularly as that money is likely to be swallowed by the black hole of our finances.

Resistance would also help to restore some confidence among those who are unsure of the Board’s long-term intentions.

4. Opposition

Fulham are enjoying a robust season thus far, having stealthily positioned themselves in midtable without drawing any attention. They have steadily gone about their business, picking up points here and there with no great fanfare and find themselves well placed at the halfway mark.

Jimmy Bullard remains their best player but has begun to do what Chuck D specifically asked him not to, and believe the hype. He has demanded a ‘double your money’ deal from his employers, lest he ply his trade elsewhere. Bolton have recently ended their interest in Bullard and so he may find himself in an awkward position unless someone else comes in for him.

The genius of Jimmy Bullard is that he detracts attention from Fulham’s true talisman, King John Paintsil. Sunday will mark Paintsil’s first return to Upton Park since a summer move across town along with Bobby Zamora, and the pair should both be on the receiving end of a warm reception.

JP is looking forward to the match, but has made clear his desire to do as well as possible for The Cottagers, as he is such an exemplary professional.

“I will be very happy to see the West Ham fans as I love them so much. They were really behind me when I was there and they gave me a lot of support.”

5. Sheikh Your Moneymaker

The week’s big story has been Manchester City’s pursuit of AC Milan’s playmaker, Kaka. While it has been firmly established on the Upton Park terraces that he is not as good as John Paintsil, he apparently still commands a fee of £100million and a weekly wage of £500,000.

This whole wage madness began at Old Trafford back in 2001 when new arrival Sebastian Veron was put on £50,000 per week, smashing the clubs previously strict wage structure. This lead to the likes of Keane, Giggs, Scholes and Beckham demanding parity and Pandora’s Box was left as exposed as Audley Harrison’s jaw.

From there we find ourselves in the position where the average wage of a Premiership footballer is now around £20,000 a week, rising up to the current high of the £130,000 Robinho is “earning”.

The figures involved in this proposed transfer are frankly ridiculous and would set a dangerous precedent in these uncertain times. If City succeed, Kaka will earn nearly three times as much as Robinho, who in turn earns nearly twice as much as his nearest teammate. This will surely only lead to unrest amongst the squad and raise the bar inexorably.

What would stop Stephen Ireland (a good, but not great player) from then demanding £100,000 a week? That then becomes the benchmark for above average players and before you know it Lucas Neill wants an annual wage of £4billion and the over-stretched finances of several clubs cause many of them to fall like so many Audley Harrisons.

Arsene Wenger succinctly summarised Man City’s proposal as potentially causing “an inflationary trend in a deflationary world.” Obviously there are positives to having Kaka gracing Premiership pitches from Stamford Bridge to St James’s Park, but the overall effects of this transfer could provoke the death knell of English football’s dominance of Europe.

6. Coming Apart At The Teams

Whilst still remaining tight overall, a few gaps are beginning to appear in the league table. The usual suspects (and Villa) are edging away, there is an eight point gap between Everton in 6th and Hull in 8th and we are six points clear of relegation-destined tottenham.

Ourselves and Fulham are locked together on 26 points, although Fulham have a better goal difference and a game in hand after last week’s scheduled encounter with Blackburn Rovers was frozen out.

A win for either team would help establish them as a top half outfit and keep the spectre of relegation at bay, as it is still plausible that any team from 8th down could get sucked into an end-of-season scrap.

7. Picture Book

Bolton weren't sufficiently impressed with Jimmy Bullard's new suit to sign him in January.

8. Claret And Blue In Green

An interesting if off-message article in the news this week was of 16-year old Tyler Rix, a former Academy player who was forced to make a decision between his two loves, football and music.

Rix chose music and its paid off as he has recently been awarded a £1million four-album deal with Universal Classics and Jazz.

One can only hope that the young Rix can continue the long tradition of great football music, like Crystal Palace’s ‘Glad All Over’ or ‘The Anfield Rap’.

9. Gentleman John

The following is an extract from the new book by Craig Murray, former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prominent political activist:

“In December 2008 I found myself sitting next to Baroness Amos on an airport bus heading for the plane to Accra. Once on board she moved to Business class while due to overbooking I was downgraded to Economy Plus.

I shared this fate with John Paintsil, the Fulham and Ghana wing-back. We sat together and I must say he is delightful. He was flying back for two days mid-season to take his sick father to hospital. He was extremely polite and unassuming, helped other passengers with their luggage, put up with my conversation about football, and was evidently devoted to his wife and children.

At the end of the flight I saw him search through the cabin to find one of the British Airways Unicef envelopes to make a donation, while not drawing anyone else’s attention to his gift. We hear a great deal about the terrible behaviour of Premier League footballers. But I am sure there are other John Paintsils.”

Apart from that last line, I couldn’t agree more.

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