"Word is that every Hammer from Barking to Canning Town wanted rid of Reo-Coker shortly after the 2006/07 kick-off."
Had West Ham United been relegated at the end of last season, then manager Alan Curbishley could justifiably have argued that it was not ‘his team’ suffering that fate.
Months before Curbishley arrived at Upton Park the seeds of a miserable season (albeit with a happy if controversial ending) were well and truly sewn. Alan Pardew presided over a quite staggering run of poor results considering the heights achieved a year previously, and it was always Curbishley’s mandate to try and turn that situation around with more or less the same playing staff.
The former Charlton boss was busy in January of this year trying to draft in what help he could, but in truth the likes of Matthew Upson, Luis Boa Morte and Nigel Quashie were not the reason that the Hammers avoided the drop. But for Carlos Tevez’s late-season heroics, the east London side would have been playing Championship football in 2007/08.
So it will be with much relish then that Curbishley gets another crack at the Premiership with his new club, and that he will be given the chance to do so with a squad which contains considerably more of his own men. All of Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Richard Wright and Freddie Ljungberg have been recruited in the off-season, aswell as Bordeaux’s French international midfielder Julien Faubert. The latter will miss the first half of the season having suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in a pre-season friendly in Austria, leaving fans to wait a little longer to see the £6million man in action.
If the recruits are an eclectic mix of the unfulfilled, the loud and equally unfulfilled, the bench straddling and the ageing, those being shown the door at Upton Park represent far less risk. Both Paul Konchesky and Nigel Reo Coker have seemed unsettled of late. Indeed, it was Curbishley who pointed Konchesky in the general direction of the exit door at Charlton in the latter part of his reign there. It is therefore little surprise to see him join Fulham for a fee of over £3million. Despite some rather grandiose talk of a regular international berth, Konchesky seems recently to have reverted to type and become the clogger of old. As such, the money now residing in Eggert Magnusson’s biscuit tin as a result of the deal seems a fair enough recompense.
Word is that every Hammer from Barking to Canning Town wanted rid of Reo-Coker shortly after the 2006/07 kick-off. Sulking like a French striker in an Arsenal shirt, Reo-Coker was accused by many of not offering his all following the club’s failure to sell him to the Gunners that summer. The former Milton Keynes Dons midfielder travelled the long journey from midfield pivot to berated luxury player in record time. His £8.5million move to Aston Villa is a transaction likely to suit all concerned with all things claret and blue. Ok, maybe not Burnley.
Joining him at Villa Park will be former Nottingham Forest striker Marlon Harewood. Harewood is a player who puts one in mind of a troubled racehorse. Possessed of blistering pace, Harewood also has chronic tunnel-vision and often emits the impression that he has little understanding of why he is required to parade in front of thousands of loud, often angry folk at weekends. Harewood moves to Villa Park for an undisclosed fee, but his loss should be more than offset by the return to fitness of former Crewe and Norwich man Dean Ashton.
And so to the ones that Curbishley might have preferred not to lose. Up first is Israeli wingman Yossi Benayoun, on his way to Liverpool for another secret amount. Benayoun’s guile and trickery might not have been quite the thing for last season’s battle against the drop, but in a more flourishing side he would have been a key option. As, naturally, would divine saviour Carlos Tevez. The Argentine star rescued the Hammers from relegation almost single handedly, but looks set for a move to Manchester United once the legalities are ironed out. Quite how his partnership with Ashton would have blossomed is likely to be something we will never know. Perhaps that’s a matter for debate on a Sky Sports special, chaired by Richard Keys and involving Ray Winstone and Warren Mitchell.
For now Hammers fans and Curbishley are entitled to a little quiet optimism ahead of the 2007/08 campaign. A repeat of last year’s disasters seems unlikely, and whatever the weather the manager can always go to Magnusson for a new year top-up. Should West Ham struggle again there will be no doubt as to whose team this is.
By Stephen Orford
26 July 2007