The Premier League Previews 2010/11, Part 18: West Ham United – Owner Over-Occupied?

The Premier League Previews 2010/11, Part 18: West Ham United – Owner Over-Occupied?

By on Aug 13, 2010 in English League Football, Latest | 4 comments

It’s been an interesting few years when you look at the financial side, and the stewardship of West Ham United. When the club were last relegated in 2003, chairman Terence Brown played a canny hand when dealing with players exiting the club. Unlike other relegated clubs in previous seasons, who proclaimed a firesale the moment their fates had been sealed, and followed it up with almost weekly media proclamations that they had to sell players, thus reducing the value of said players, Brown made it clear: West Ham did not need to sell. Brown even went as far as turning down a transfer request from Jermain Defoe, submitted less than 24 hours after the Hammers had been relegated. Such a policy, coupled with the sales of Joe Cole and Glen Johnson to Chelsea, saw the club maximise their transfer income, and enabled them to compete in the newly renamed Championship. This of course led to world class pundit Martin Samuel claiming that Brown was the Worst Chairman in the World (a claim that Samuel continues to make to this day). The reality is, that Brown wasn’t even the worst Chairman that West Ham have had in the Twenty-First Century.

It took two attempts at the Play-Offs for West Ham to regain their top flight status, and that’s where the fun began. 2006 saw Kia Joorabchian arrive on the scene with a proposed takeover that the media saw as giving the Hammers the same sort of money as Chelsea, and seeing West Ham as being the side to break the quadropoly of the Big Four. The opening salvo in this exchange appeared to be the arrivals of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez (a move which almost saw West Ham deducted points and subsequently relegated over the way in which the players had been registered by the club). Joorabchian’s interest in the club eventually diminished, as no agreement could be made over the valuation of the club, and Brown sold the club to two Icelandic businessmen. Biscuit magnate Eggert Magnusson and Landsbanki bank co-owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson. Magnusson was the initial public face, and chairman of the club, but had never owned more than 10% of the club, and eventually sold up to Gudmundsson, who became Chairman in the process, just in time for the Icelandic bank crisis to affect the world’s economy. Landsbanki went into receivership, and Gudmundsson needed to sell, and the buyers were lifelong West Ham fans and former Birmingham City owners, David Sullivan and David Gold. This was old ground for Sullivan and Gold. After all, when they arrived at Birmingham City, the club was in administration, because the previous owners, the Kumar Brothers had found their businesses end up in receivership, mainly down to the collapse of the Pakistani bank BCCI in 1991.

The big difference between the two clubs was that Birmingham City were in administration, when Gold and Sullivan arrived, West Ham United were not. However, the new owners made it clear that the club had large debts and high wages, and the two combined weren’t sustainable in the owners eyes, and there was only one way to solve the problem – the players would have to take wage cuts at the end of the season, whether the club survived the ongoing relegation battle or not. Such a claim (coming just a day after Sullivan claimed that the club were prepared to spend £100k per week on the sort of striker guaranteed to score them the goals to get the club into midtable) was clearly designed at making the players look overpaid and not worth the money they were earning, but such a claim was always going to be both hollow, and affect morale amongst the players. After all, being told that wage cuts are coming never helped anybody work harder, and besides, thanks to the power-struggle between the PFA and the FA in the early 1960s (when players had no rights at all), offering a player a contract with lower pay than he is already on, enables him to walk away on a free transfer, with his contract paid up in full. Since that time, Sullivan has made a number of comments which seem at best divisive, and his most recent proclaimation, about not interfering in the team affairs of new manager Avram Grant: “We won’t be interfering with Avram. Of the next 20 players we sign, 18 will be his choice. Maybe the 19th will be a player I like. I’ve been in football for almost 20 years now and I’m not a complete mug when it comes to picking a player. I think that’s reasonable. The 20th will perhaps be a player Avram wants but I will veto. But having said all that, if Avram was still set on a player, he would probably veto my veto.”

And it is with that in the background, that we need to look at the Hammers’ chances this season. Avram Grant replaces the popular, but ineffective Gianfranco Zola as manager, and Grant’s managerial career in England is a little mixed to say the least. Replacing Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, he was allowed to add two players to the squad, Nicolas Anelka and Branislav Ivanovic, both of whom have become integral members of the squad, but neither’s impact under Grant’s reign was positive, and it was only under subsequent managers that either have come close to justifying the outlay. Grant’s next managerial tenure was last season at Portsmouth, and let’s be honest it would be unfair to judge anyone under those circumstances, (even the FA Cup run was enhanced by the freshness of those first teamers unable to play in the League with appearance bonuses due to their former clubs). In that respect, predicting Avram Grant’s tenure at West Ham based on his history is impossible. Even predicting the style of play (tedious and defensive when in charge of the Israeli national side, more adventurous at Chelsea and whatever he could at Portsmouth) is difficult. Grant has always won over the fans, so the type of passing style favoured by his predecessors and the Upton Park faithful is most likely.

On the signings front, things don’t look too great. We all know what Frederic Piquionne can (or indeed can’t) do, from his year at Fratton Park, Thomas Hitzlsperger showed great promise for Aston Villa almost a decade ago, but hasn’t set the world alight since, Winston Reid faces a huge step up, even bearing in mind his World Cup experience for New Zealand, and Pablo Barrera (like Javier Hernandez at Manchester United and Giovani Dos Santos at Spurs), will be aiming to prove that Mexican players can settle into English football. However, Tal Ben Haim has worked a lot for Grant, and no-one knows how to utilise him better, and the squad he has inherited is a good one, and a relatively young one – after all, the complaint last season was that Zola struggled to get the best out of his resources, Grant should have no such trouble with all his experience. If Luis Boa Morte and Kieron Dyer can get – and stay – fit, Grant has effectively another two signings under his belt, and more importantly, West Ham have lost none of their main players from last season. As seasons go, this one is as unpredictable as they get, and while I don’t see the Hammers setting the world alight, 2010-2011 should be a lot more comfortable. As long as the owners don’t undermine the players or the manager, that is.

Readers are reminded that, whilst comments and criticism are welcome, abusive comments will be deleted, as will comments that use fake email addresses for verification. There are plenty of places on the internet for people to spit bile, but this isn’t one of them.

The image used for this article is reproduced courtesy of Flickr user wallyg under a Creative Commons 2.0 Licence.

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    4 Comments

  1. Good article, I am starting to come over to the side of chairmen in general. It’s about time people who know the game (or some that think they do, ref: Martin Samuel) seem to think its not the board’s place to get involved in football matters. But I do think if you have been in the game from a board perspective for 20 years and you are not only funding the club but saving it from administration then you are entitled to a comment on how its run. Maybe not as publicly as the Davids but it’s about time some real world reality is brought about this bubble that players seem to live in.

    Anyway, I presume you do not follow West Ham that closely, maybe in passing on MOTD and haven’t seen where we have been weak in the past few seasons hence the comments on the signings? Im surprised for instance that you don’t think someone like Hitzlsperger is not exactly what West Ham need? Also our weakness of a rightback which is now covered by Haim and as backup a promising youth player in Reid? Piquionne has shown he can score in the prem league even when playing for a terrible side, when Cole got injured last season we had no back-up much like the right back issue. Barrera is a risk, but so far in pre-season has looked pretty good taking apart the Deportivo full backs when he came on. Also surprised on your comments on Thomas Hitzlsperger, this is the same German who is national team captain with 50+ international caps. Who has won the Bundesliga, got to the final of the 2008 Euros, got to the semi final of the 2006 World Cup. Hardly “Not setting the world alight” I would say? In fact, in terms of achievement much more than the likes of Gerrard.

    With West Ham it is never a problem with talent, it has always existed, it generally is the psychological approach to games we never seem to get right. West Ham have never had a large squad who are competing for the first team, with the players coming in everyone is looking over their shoulders, I think this will up the game that extra percent they need to really push on.

    Col

    August 13, 2010

  2. What happened to my comment? Factually spot on, no abusive language, just slightly differing views and I was deleted?

    Col

    August 13, 2010

  3. @Col: absolutely nothing wrong with your comment, intelligent, incisive and critical in a constructive way, just as we like them. Unfortunately, due to comments by other fans on other articles (including an impersonation of a fan that could have left us open to legal action), we now have to pre-approve every comment, so not every comment appears straight away.

    Rob

    August 14, 2010

  4. Interesting read and viewpoint. Having supported WHAM for over 50years I am overjoyed that the new board are true fans with an East London background.They are more than entitled to have their viewpoint aired regarding all matters in the club. Thank god they do or we could have ended up with an 8mil Yakubu playing for us. The worst scenario is a board giving a manager every player he wants.
    Curbs got Eggy to buy Ljunberg and Dyer for example when they were both injury prone players ,and they were paid vast sums to occupy the treatment tables.
    Gold & Sullivan would not have sanctioned those deals and our financial worries would have been considerably less. You cannot expect any shrewd business person to invest tens of millions of pounds in a business and sit saying nothing whilst watching their investment being mis- handled.Even more difficult if you are a true fan as G&S are. The veto system that Sullivan refers to would indicate to me that he has properly communicated with Grant from the start of their relationship and procedures are in place to handle differences in opinion between the board and manager.Firm leadership and positive objectives seem to have been missing from the clubs agenda in past seasons. We have gone from a novice board and manager to a vastly experianced board and manager and for sure the benifit to the club,players and supporters will be immense this season.

    kennyhammer

    August 14, 2010

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