LONDON — West Ham United captain Paolo di Canio accused manager Glenn Roeder of lying while defender Tomas Repka and goalkeeper David James squared off against other at West Bromwich Albion last Sunday. Can you imagine what the mood in the camp would have been had West Ham lost instead of winning 2-1?
For as long as most people can remember West Ham has stood for most things that are good in football.
It had three players — Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters — in the England side which beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final and while the club has won nothing for a generation, West Ham’s style of play has always placed the emphasis on style, skill and speed.
Since it was promoted to the Premiership in 1993-94 West Ham has been many things but never boring either on or off the field. Some of the best and worst foreign players to play in England have found their way to Upton Park, while in Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe the Hammers have a trio of forwards who could become regulars for the national team.
When West Ham finished a credible seventh last season, Roeder’s first in charge, there was no reason to suspect that this time around the Hammers would be involved in a relegation dogfight amid controversy, rumors, back-stabbing and chest-pushing.
There are a number of reasons why West Ham is looking at the trap door into the Nationwide first division though as always is the case, it is somebody else’s fault. Hands never seem to be raised to admit guilt, only to point elsewhere.
Tomas Repka and Sebastian Schemmel — the latter the club’s player of the season for 2001-2002 — have lost form in such a way that defies belief. Schemmel has barely played and Repka is picked mainly because the alternatives are so poor. And if you saw Repka you would not want to be one of the alternatives.
Goalkeeper David “Calamity” James has made too many costly mistakes. Strikers Freddie Kanoute and di Canio have had long-term injuries while others, such as defender Christian Dailly, are a pale shadow of last season.
Di Canio, as influential as a player as he is a disruptive element in the locker room, made his feelings known to Roeder when he was substituted in the 48th minute against West Bromwich.
“The manager said I was injured but that is just an excuse,” said the Italian. “I was fit and causing problems for West Brom. We were 1-0 up and the decision wasn’t justified.
“Maybe it’s because the club have told my agents (note the plural) they can look for another club for me. I was angry not that I was substituted but with the principle. No one can decide whether I’m injured or not, only me.
“Glenn is a young manager and like everyone else he makes mistakes. Just because we won the match doesn’t mean his decisions were good ones.”
With friends like that who needs enemies?
Di Canio also has his own theory about West Ham’s demise.
“In the 12 games I have missed this season we have not won any of them. Is that a coincidence? Maybe I’m a lucky mascot. With that in mind I should play even on one leg.”
In a remarkable display of hypocrisy di Canio also berated Roeder for not taking stronger action against defender Gary Breen who has criticized West Ham’s organization.
The agents for Di Canio, 34, should be looking for alternative employment for their client who will not be offered a new contract this summer as the financial crisis in football bites even deeper.
In the last published figures West Ham was the sixth best-paying club in the Premiership and to take that wage bill into the first division would leave the Hammers in the sort of situation that Leicester, Ipswich and Derby, which went down last season, faced.
Leicester and Ipswich went into administration while Derby has virtually had to sell all the players for whom it has received offers.
The problem for clubs is that players’ contracts are watertight — they earn the same in the Premiership as the first division though that will surely change in the current recession.
David Sheepshanks, chairman of Ipswich which had a drop of £15 million in income after relegation, said: “What are assets in the Premier League can become liabilities in the first division. You are talking about a reduction of 70 percent on wages between what is affordable in the Premiership and Division One.
“Every contract negotiated for clubs who are promoted, or even most clubs in the Premiership, will have to have a reduction clause. Senior players will have to be realistic about their earning potential because there is simply no way clubs relegated from the Premiership will be able to renew contracts at anything like what the players were previously on.
“The gap between the division is unbridgeable — so big it means virtual financial ruin.” Breen will no doubt discover this in the coming months. The defender went to the 2002 World Cup finals a free agent after his Coventry contract ended and did well for the Republic of Ireland in the Far East.
West Ham offered him a three-year deal starting at £25,000 a week but Breen, possibly believing he was a better player than he really was, opted for a one-year agreement because he didn’t want to tie himself down — in other words he saw another lucrative move a year later.
Breen, almost a forgotten man in the Premiership, has started only a handful of games for West Ham and it is unthinkable, whatever the club’s status, that it will offer him a similar wage for any new contract. The reality is Breen will be fortunate to land a contract worth £5,000 a week which while still a fortune by most standards represents a significant and telling drop in his earnings.
West Ham, which has 23 points from 28 matches, plays Tottenham on Saturday in what promises to be a rousing game. It probably needs 13 or 14 points for safety from its remaining 10 games otherwise West Ham can expect to be playing against the likes of Wigan next season.
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