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

Friday, September 18, 2009

West Ham United vs Liverpool: Match Preview - 19/09/2009

1. Opposition

Eternal bridesmaid’s, Liverpool, are in town this week, clutching the withered bridal bouquet of Manchester United’s dominance.

The Reds have suffered a couple of blips already this season, with losses to tottenham and Villa. They do, however, come to Upton Park on the back of a 4-0 victory at home to Burnley, largely courtesy of ex-Hammer, Yossi Benayoun, who scored three and set up the other.

Whether they finally have the necessary quality and depth to win their first title since 1990 remains in doubt. The renewed commitment of Gerrard, Torres and Benitez will have bolstered fans, but the lack of major investment in real quality will likely hinder genuine title prospects.

Not that this should matter to The Reds come Saturday. We have been so subservient to them these last 30+ years that I half expect our players to doff their caps in the tunnel, perspiration still glistening on the brow from scrubbing the Liverpool team bus.

Victory at the weekend is as likely as Jamie Redknapp spelling ‘analytical competency’ without the use of a Speak & Spell. In fact, I’d wager he couldn’t even say it.

2. Nature vs Nurture

Premier League clubs this week agreed on new rules which state that eight out of twenty-five first team squad members must be ‘home-grown’ from next season.

No worries for us, but before you think ‘Wow, Arsenal are going to fold!’, the term ‘home-grown’ is misleading. Any player, foreign or otherwise, that has been at one club for three years or more between the ages of 16 and 21 qualifies.

On this basis, Cesc Fabregas is ‘home-grown’, as would Ronaldo have been at Manchester United prior to his departure.

Arsene Wenger’s considerable internet grooming skills can therefore remain extra-curricular.

3. Stop The Rot

While it is too early to start looking into competitive hotel rates in Doncaster for next season, we do come into this game on the back of two poor performances.

A nothing draw at Ewood Park was followed by a defeat at Wigan so turgid that even eternal nice guy, Frankmundo Zola, saw fit to declare the performance unacceptable.

The immediate chances of us nipping this downturn in the bud seem slight, with our next two games being at home to Liverpool and then away to Man City.

What is the best catalyst for recovery: to have a proper go and suffer a potential rout? Or adopt a conservative approach and, who knows, maybe nick a point?

I’d go for the former, but what do I know? I thought Kieron Dyer was a sound purchase.

4. History

This fixture constituted the penultimate home game of last season and culminated in a 3-0 defeat. Steven Gerrard put the visitors 1-0 up within a minute and 2-0 up after 38, before the game was settled late on by Ryan Babel.

Nothing much noteworthy from us, bar David DiMichele’s curious stuttering dive right on the stroke of halftime when clean through on goal.

A mistake by Jamie Carragher had let the diminutive Italian in, and DiMichele took the retrospectively admirable decision to showcase his emerging ballerina skills, as his future was so obviously not in football.

We have won just one league encounter against Liverpool from the last fourteen, losing ten. Liverpool’s away form is good (six wins from seven ) and our home form is bad (one win from four).

A failure to score in our last two games against considerably weaker opposition than Saturday’s also does not bode well. Neither does Liverpool’s seven goals scored in back-to-back wins.

One chink in Liverpool’s armour is from set-pieces, from which all seven goals conceded this season have come.

5. Out With The Old, In With The Old

This season’s must-have ageing striker accessory is Mexico international, Guillermo Franco, who this week signed on a free transfer following the expiry of his contract with Villareal.

Argentine-born Franco comes with some international pedigree, enjoying a recent goal-scoring spree in Mexico’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

His motivation is to consolidate that place during a World Cup year. Ours is more likely the chance to harvest his organs when Dean Ashton dies.

6. So Long, Alonso

The main Merseyside transaction of the summer involved Xabi Alonso, departing as he did for Real Madrid after largely being hung out to dry since Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez flirted with Gareth Barry last year.

In came Alberto Aquilani from AS Roma, who is yet to make his debut for the club and so will obviously do so this Saturday and score eleven goals.

Alonso’s departure is a puzzlement to me because most people outside of Benitez could see that he was an instrumental part of this side.

While Gerrard and Fernando Torres often take the plaudits, Alonso was always adept at keeping things ticking over in midfield with good vision and an impressive range of passing.

They did get £30million for him, but to me he was exactly the kind of unsung, genuine quality that makes Championship winning sides. A bit like Wedge Antilles – no, he won’t get the princess or slay a Sith Lord, but by god he’ll do a job for you.

7. Diamanti Geezer

Alessandro Diamanti was given his first cameo against Wigan last week and provided the spark that was so sorely lacking.

He went very close with a free-kick (ostensibly something of a speciality) and hit the post late on.

Zola has spoken of his intention to ease him into the pace of the English game, so he is perhaps unlikely to start on Saturday, but I don’t see why not. Packing the midfield with like-for-like players has done little for us in recent weeks.

8. Sex Sells

It has been announced that current Birmingham City co-owner, Dave Sullivan, intends to leave the midlands club should a proposed takeover go through.

Sullivan has stated his intention to remain in football and is a well known West Ham fan. Indeed, the prospect of his investment in the club has already been touted this year.

Comically, he made his fortune in pornography in the late ‘70’s and therefore is fully qualified to add his name to the long line of morally sound businessmen to have invested in West Ham.

He said earlier this week: "Following the takeover I will be looking for a new challenge where my experience, success, sound business acumen and readily available editions of Razzle will make a difference."

The commercial possibilities are mind-boggling and the West Ham DVD selection could soon become unrecognisable: ‘Frank McAvennie Scythes The Hammerettes With His Two-Footed Tackle’ etc.
9. It Makes You Proud

Prospective investor Dave Sullivan (left). There’s nothing I can add to this photo to make it any funnier.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wigan Athletic vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 12/09/2009

1. A Change Of Tack

I don’t know about you, but personally I think this blog has become just a little too considered in recent weeks at the expense of our bread and butter.

Perilous flirtation with the threat of legal action has been discarded in favour of sound reasoning, and that has to change.

I plan to address this dumbing down of the groundless histrionics which lie at the core of any self-respecting madman’s agenda - it’s political correctness gone mad.

If we could afford solicitors here at The H List, I’m sure we’d be paying them far too much for doing too little, so it’s about time these imaginary leeches earned their scandalously fictitious pay cheques.

2. ‘Av it

Wigan owner, Dave Whelan, upon being asked with which fist he will punch his grand-daughter to sleep with tonight.

3. Opposition

The latest episode in our inexorable march to midtable sees us visit everyone's favourite least favourite team, Wigan Athletic.

Wigan's summer activity largely involved big name departures - Luis Antonio Valencia went to Man United in a bid to slip into the Brylcream-slickened shoes of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Steve Bruce was unavoidably whisked north to Sunderland by the haphazard nature of his physics-resistant snout.

Lee Cattermole was ensnared in Bruce’s rhinal vortex meaning that, along with Wilson Palacios and Valencia, Wigan have lost arguably their three most influential players in little over a year, albeit for a tidy profit.

That Dave Whelan is ploughing said profit into child labour technologies is both deplorable and typical of the man.

In came former Wigan player Roberto Martinez, arriving as he did from Swansea, to take the reins of Whelan's immoral sweat shop.

A surprising opening day victory away to Villa has since been marred by a home defeat to Wolves, a 5-0 thumping by Man Utd, a 2-1 away loss to Everton and an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Blackpool in the Carling Cup.

So they’re obviously about due for a result.

4. Nowhere Man

HeadHammer Shark’s unrequited love has left him high and dry, although for whom is still unclear.

Lucas Neill was on the verge of signing for Atletico Madrid this week, a deal which fell through at the last minute. Fellow Spanish side Real Zaragoza also declared an interest, but were perturbed by the Aussie’s wage demands. The latest is that Sunderland are to offer Neill £40,000-per-week.

Prior to the Madrid deal collapsing, Neill claimed that his motivation was the opportunity to play in the Champions League. Funny. The very same opportunity presented to him by Liverpool in 2007 didn’t stop him signing for a team in the midst of a relegation battle for a considerably higher wage.
The old excuse of 'testing himself against the best' doesn't wash either. The last time I checked John Pantsil still played in The Premier League.

Despite all his protestations (according to the man himself, a move to Madrid would represent “a brave decision”), money is clearly his only motivation. Just how many Kit Kat Chunkys can one man buy??

While I never shared HeadHammer Shark’s unbridled love of Neill, he certainly played a major role in our battle against relegation and showed glimpses of his old form towards the end of last season - when he was in the shop window.

I would have a whole lot more respect for him if he came out with the truth, or even kept his mouth shut, instead of spouting translucent platitudes.

5. The Story So Far…

We have experienced a gamut of outcomes in just the first three games of the season: a comfortable win at Wolves, a narrow and frustrating loss at home to tottenham, and a lame duck draw away at Blackburn.

Our underwhelming forays into the transfer market dictate that we must see out the next four months with a reasonably threadbare attack. I am thus far equally underwhelmed with our attempts at a 4-3-3 system, particularly as it invariably reverts to a 4-5-1 coupled with a frustrating amount of hopeful balls lobbed up to Carlton Cole.

Regardless of personnel available, we should at least explore a trusty old 4-4-2, if only to give opposition defenders something/someone else to think about and thereby freeing up more space for Big Carlton.

One of Jiminez, Dyer or Diamanti should partner the big man, with one of the remaining two floating in behind. Use Stanislas as an impact substitute and Noble, Parker and Collison/Valon Behrami to do the graft in midfield.

The industrious and popular Behrami made his return from injury in a midweek reserves 6-0 win over Birmingham, playing for an hour. In the same game Alessandro Diamanti scored twice either side of half-time, with both goals direct from free-kicks.

For a West Ham side this is as rare as me getting through any ITV football coverage without writing a death threat to the producer.

6. You And I Are Gonna Live Forever

It took no time this season for Convicted Price Fixer Dave Whelan to fire the first shot in our ceaseless war of attrition. When I heard the news that the already self-promoting JJB Stadium had been renamed The DW Stadium, my first thought was 'he's left the 'CPF' off the front.'

My second, more hysterical thought was that this immodest move from Whelan was a personal slight, one I aim to repay in kind. An attempt to re-name this blog ‘Stand Up To Suspect Northern Tradesmen’ has been met with a stony silence by my employer (who doesn’t pay me any wage, by the way).

Whelan's Stalinist attempt to add 'immortality' to his already questionable résumé does nothing for his public persona. We can only hope that in time, this vacuous monument to evil is felled as easily as Eduardo, and the armies of children toiling in Whelan’s gulags are freed.

7. Internazionale

Wednesday night saw Fabio Capello’s England book their place at the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa, thanks to a commanding 5-1 defeat of Croatia at Wembley Stadium.

West Ham representatives Matthew Upson and Rob Green both did well, Upson cementing his place as first reserve centreback in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, and Green notably contributing when called upon.

Green made a fine save down to his left late on and smothered the follow-up, only to concede while prostrate during the ensuing mêlée, as John Terry was on the line busily directing his mother towards some unguarded handbags.

8. The Power Of Authority

Football’s governing bodies have recently bared their teeth and for once have done so meaningfully.
Eduardo Da Silva punished retrospectively for diving against Celtic? A good thing.
Chelsea banned from transfer dealings for two years for yet again tapping up young talent? Brilliant.

‘Get up, you diving cheat! Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!’

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Blackburn Rovers 0 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Two Coins For The Boatman

If you should ever find yourself watching a game of football that is worse than this debacle, then pray that your affairs are in order, for you, my friend, are in Hades.

2. What Can You Say?

I can't pretend that this article will give you great insight into the machinations of this game. In truth, there was barely anything that could warrant being described as a "machination" unless you consider two goalkeepers whacking the ball to each other to qualify.

This game was actually a terrible indictment of the Premier League and everything it has come to represent. Here were two teams playing their third games of the season and already looking as though they were each quietly content to play out an interminable 0-0 draw. Blackburn had started slowly and were without a point, meaning that Sam Allardyce was always likely to play for a draw first, whilst we were aware from home modelling our revolutionary "one striker" system as decreed by our Icelandic creditors.

It's ridiculously idealistic of course, but you would think that someone somewhere might consider that there are actual paying CUSTOMERS at these games. I don't need to see my team win necessarily, nor do I even need to see goals to be entertained but I do like to see something approaching ambition and attacking intent. I expect nothing of Allardyce, but I am disappointed in Zola (*).

(*) - Yes, I accept that we were away from home against Allardycian spoilers, and we kept a clean sheet and that our squad is put together based upon the whims of our bankers, but still - colour me disgruntled.

3. The Statistics

As much as I would love to pin the blame for this crime against football on Blackburn, we must shoulder some of the blame. Although we had the greater possession, at 54%, we did almost nothing with it and generated just a single solitary shot at goal. One! ONE! 1 against Paul Robinson. That's negligence pure and simple.

The home side had six goalbound efforts but none that I can really recalling troubling Robert Green, and in fact both keepers could probably have set up a domino table in the corner of the pitch with no noticeable impact on the end result.

Elsewhere Carlton Cole had 6 shots and managed to get just one on target. There is a word for this and that word is Darrenbentian.

4. The Opposition

A Blackburn season ticket can cost as little as £199 which is either a steal in today's over inflated market, or daylight robbery when they serve up shit like this, depending on your view. Seriously, I feel sorry for Rovers fans if this is what they can look forward to for the rest of the year. Once upon a time they were a good team with quality players. Now, they are ... not.

Of course, everyone knows what to expect from Allardyce. Your team won't be relegated with him at the helm, but at the same time you have to be prepared to leave your principles at the door and accept the terrible football that will inevitably come your way.

Allardyce always strikes me as a man using the latest cutting edge technology, algorithms and data points in order to prove that the earth is flat. Sure, we hear all about his modern approach, and he talks a decent game in terms of how he prepares his teams but you cannot ignore that they play Stone Age football.

Watching Jason Roberts chase around on his own whilst the rest of the team made sure not to over extend themselves was an early indicator that Blackburn weren't going to spend this game being hoisted on their own overly ambitious petard.

We should be better than this, but we are not. With only one striker, and two mercurial sorts behind him (Stanislas/Dyer and Jiminez) then we always seem likely to struggle if the opposition don't over commit. Our much publicised decision not to get in another striker looks even more ludicrous in the light of this game, and not only because of the inherent danger in not having cover for Cole, but also the inflexibility. We couldn't switch to 4-4-2 even if we wanted to with our current personnel. I haven't forgotten about Hines or Nouble by the way, but teenagers who haven't started a Premier League game between them are not suitable back up, no matter what the Club's PR machine tells you.

5. Flat Earth Society Meeting Boils Over

Referee looks in weirdly broken mirror

6. Transfer Window Special

Anyway, enough of this crap. I refuse to analyse this game any further. It was terrible and I strike it from my memory.

Instead lets focus on West Ham's awesome transfer window performance, which appears to have melted the interweb in East London.

Our activity was as follows:

- James Collins sold to Aston Villa for an "Undisclosed" amount, widely believed to be £5m.
- "Record signing" Savio exchanged for Fiorentina's Portugese defender Manuel da Costa and £3m.
- Herita Ilunga signed permanently! Yes, we're still counting that one!
- Alessandro Diamanti bought from Livorno for £5m (or £1.5m depending on who you believe) after sponsors SBOBet held a raffle to raise the funds.
- Luis Jiminez signed on loan from Inter Milan with an option to make the deal permanent if we find sunken treasure between now and the end of the season.
- Various unheralded European youngsters signed to lull you into thinking we are Arsenal-lite.

Based on the above do you therefore assess West Ham United's transfer policy to be:

a) An ongoing sophisticated policy of analysing a worldwide network of young talent, evaluating their place within our revolutionary new Project using relevant and cutting edge metrics before selling them on at their maximum value to be replaced with younger, cheaper options.

b) Not a policy at all, but an ongoing exercise in very well disguised asset stripping designed to service our huge debt, whilst hoping to keep us moderately attractive enough for the mythical new buyers.

c) Insane.

d) The same as it has always been since I have followed West Ham. Cash in, and spin it to the fans.

Once upon a time I believed in the Project. I really did. Even allowing for Duxbury's inclement success with oral cuddling, I was prepared to buy into the notion that someone had at last developed a cogent business model for the Club.

I didn't think that it was worth trumpeting that from the rooftops, because it did rather strike me as something that we should have been doing years ago, but none the less I concurred with the thought process. A small club like us can only pretend to compete in the ridiculously unfair market that we operate in, if we take advantage of any market inefficiencies that exist.

As such, the Club has decided to focus on developing young players, identifying reasonably priced foreigners and then extracting maximum value for older players where we have replacements available. And good for them - that is a sensible and viable business model for a team like us. Duxbury also deserves credit for his hire of Zola, who was nobody's idea of a good choice and yet he currently occupies an almost talismanic position in view of what (hasn't) happened in this transfer window.

If you look at comparable teams in other sports, they are able to achieve success with an operating model such as this and I give them credit for realising that. We cannot compete with the lunatics at Eastlands, or even the wasters at White Hart Lane, whilst we don't get the annual subsidy from UEFA like the "Big 4" so we are making some sort of attempt to equalise things outside of simply spending a load of money we don't have, a la every promoted team of the late 90's.

The fact we play in such a deliberately uncompetitive environment is not the Club's fault, and they are doing the best they can.

But here's the rub. It's mostly proven to be bullshit hasn't it?

I don't doubt that the Club is on a reasonably sound economic footing, but the problem is that we are not a single entity anymore, wrapped up as we are in an Icelandic web of bankruptcy. We cashed in last January to the tune of £20m and another £8m or so in this window. Our outgoings in that time have been nowhere near that amount, unsurprisingly, which simply highlights that this money is being used for things other than the development of our squad.

The problem is that Duxbury gave two interviews this summer, clearly stating that we would sign two strikers, that he was really clocking up the airmiles in the process of doing this, but it didn't matter because he got to go to Franco's house for barbecues.

Now, with our much touted purchase of Savio looking fairly ill judged, and no strikers signed before the deadline it rather leaves in tatters the notion that Gianluca Nani is going to save the club with his magic address book, and does leave Duxbury looking a bit shifty at best, and a flat out liar at worst.

I doubt things are going to change much until we get new owners, but my biggest area of concern is that what little money we have seems to be being spent on some strange purchases. Alessandro Diamanti, a Serie B midfield star was brought in at some expense, at a time when we were crying out for a striker. And I mean lying prostrate on the floor, wailing like a baby.

Diamanti may well turn out to be a steal. He may also turn out to be Savio. I would rather have spent the money on a slightly surer thing. (Niko Krancjar springs to mind, although he'd spring back out again fairly quickly I imagine). It's hardly news to suggest that we are light in the striking department, but it does fairly boggle the mind that we are a Cole injury or suspension away from starting 17 year old Frank Nouble up front. On his own.

And then yesterday, James Collins departed. For £5m. When Andy Turner went for £12m. *rips out spleen*.

Certainly we are equipped to replace him with Gabbidon and Tomkins, but given that he was Zola's first choice so far this season, it is fair to suggest that in the managers eyes at least, we just got weaker for no apparent gain.

At this point, the League is probably crap enough to let us tread water until January, but the problem is that I can only foresee outgoings in that window and perhaps the odd Serie B loanee coming in to give us a boost up front.

I'm not saying I want us to mimic Stoke (ever, in any sense at all), but blimey they did spend £11m in this window. So it's not that there isn't money around English football at the moment, it's more that there isn't any around East London. And I'm not sure that projects can work without any funding at all....

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