"Arguments still rage about whether Tevez should ever have graced the Upton Park pitch."
West Ham United’s shocking 2006/07 campaign ended with a last day reprieve, when victory at Manchester United saved the Hammers from what had looked an inevitable relegation.
The 1-0 Old Trafford success was brought courtesy of a Carlos Tevez goal, and was the second time that the east London side had beaten United in the year when Sir Alex Ferguson’s men regained the Premiership crown.
Tevez’s contribution, particularly in the run-in towards the end of the season, was colossal and controversial in equal measures. The Argentine striker scored only seven league goals in all, but many of them came in the months of March and April when desperate times called for desperate measures. He almost single-handedly inspired the Hammers to a run of seven wins from their last nine games, saving their Premiership bacon when all looked lost.
Yet arguments still rage about whether Tevez should ever have graced the Upton Park pitch. Representatives of relegated Sheffield United aswell as other lower placed sides such as Wigan Athletic and Fulham still insist that the club should have been deducted points after admitting that they had broke Premier League rules on third party ownership of players. Furthermore, those clubs maintain that Tevez’s subsequent eligibility remains unproven.
In August, Tevez had been placed at West Ham by the mysterious Iranian Kia Joorabchian along with fellow Argentine international Javier Mascherano as talk of a takeover gathered pace. In the event the club was bought by Icelandic biscuit baron Eggert Magnusson shortly after, and it was he who was left to deal with the eventual fallout from the unusual arrangement.
Joorabchian still claims that it is he and not the club who owns the registration of Tevez (Mascherano moved on to Liverpool after failing to win a regular starting slot). Despite the administrative cock-up, Tevez was allowed to play on by the Premier League who fined the club £5.5million. That decision was to prove West Ham’s saviour in the end, though we may still hear more on the subject from those who feel wronged by the Premier League’s decision.
Setting aside the legal wrangling, West Ham’s escape is nothing short of miraculous when one considers their plight in early March. A 2-0 and then a 3-2 lead was blown in a 4-3 loss at home to Tottenham, and with Arsenal and Chelsea still on the fixture list it seemed that there was no hope for survival. Yet Arsenal were seen off thanks to a Bobby Zamora goal, while Blackburn Rovers fell in yet more controversial circumstances when both West Ham goals looked to have been as a result of generous refereeing decisions.
Middlesbrough, Everton, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers were also dispatched, with even the 3-0 reverse at Sheffield United and the 4-1 home drubbing by Chelsea failing to pull the plug on the Hammers’ top-flight stay. It was a truly remarkable run, but it still needed Wigan Athletic’s 2-1 win at Sheffield United to ensure Premiership football at Upton Park next season. Cue the legal arguments.
It had all started so bleakly for the Hammers, with manager Alan Pardew replaced by Alan Curbishley at Christmas. Pardew had overseen a dreadful start to the season, that despite being the man responsible for last season’s terrific run to the FA Cup final and top-half league finish. The arrivals of Tevez and Mascherano seemed to upset the jellied eel cart, with the former Reading manager often refusing flatly to include the Argentine duo in the starting line-up. A 4-0 defeat by Bolton Wanderers on December 9 proved the last straw for Pardew, who in a bizarre twist went on to take up Curbishley’s old post at The Valley.
Curbishley spent big in the January window, bringing in the likes of Luis Boa Morte, Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson in an attempt to turn things around. Yet injuries to all three at various stages of the run-in looked to have scuppered his efforts until that late, devastating, Tevez-inspired run. When West Ham United were thumped 6-0 by Reading on New Year’s Day you could have got very long odds on a revival, and perhaps even longer by the time of Tottenham’s late show at Upton Park in March.
Turning to the cups, Pardew’s side were massively outplayed by Italian side Palermo in their first UEFA Cup assignment. They went down in both legs, suffering a 1-0 home defeat before a 3-0 pasting in Italy. Nor could they replicate last year’s heroics in the FA Cup, bowing out at the fourth round stage after a 1-0 home defeat by Watford. That followed the indignity of defeat to giant-killing Chesterfield in the Carling Cup, with the Saltergate side having already put Manchester City out of the competition.
Having secured their top-flight status for next term then, West Ham are now expected to push on following Magnusson’s multi-million pound investment. The club are close to a deal to sign Newcastle United skipper Scott Parker at the time of writing, and Manchester City’s troubled but talented midfielder Joey Barton could follow. With Mascherano gone the future of Tevez remains unclear. The 22-year-old has been linked with all of the top four Premiership clubs, aswell as various sides in Spain in Italy over the last few months. He is unlikely to remain at West Ham, but the money is there to secure a reasonable replacement. Charlton’s Darren Bent has been strongly linked with a reunion with his old manager after the Addicks failed to beat the drop.
West Ham’s 2006/07 campaign shows how far the mighty can fall, and that you can never rest on your laurels in the Premiership. Yet thanks to the miracles of Tevez, they seem in a strong position to finally build on their successes of a year ago.
By Stephen Orford
June 1 2007