Dan Coker's Match Preview

West Ham's Croatian Connections: Part Two

Ahead of England’s Nations League decider tomorrow, here’s the second part of my look back at Croatians who have represented West Ham United.

Part One can be viewed here.

Davor Suker

Davor Suker was born in Osijek on 1st January 1968 and began his professional career with local side Osijek in 1984 – West Ham would later play Osijek in the UEFA Cup in 1999. Suker played for Yugoslavia in the 1988 Olympics before moving to Dinamo Zagreb in 1989. He won two caps for Yugoslavia and joined Spanish club Sevilla in 1991. Suker made his Croatia debut in 1992 and was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro ’96. Suker caused controversy in 1996 by posing for a picture at the grave of Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic while in the company of two well-known criminals. He signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 1996 and won the Golden Boot at the 1998 World Cup.

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Suker moved to Arsenal in 1999 before joining West Ham on a free transfer in the summer of 2000. The 32-year-old made his debut in a 4-2 defeat at Chelsea on 19th August 2000 and scored his first goal for the Irons in a 2-2 home draw with Manchester United a week later. He scored his second goal for the Hammers in a 1-1 draw at Sunderland on 5th September 2000, with his final goal coming in a 2-0 home win over Blackburn in the League Cup third round on 31st October 2000. His final appearance for the club came as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on 28th April 2001. Having made 13 appearances for West Ham, scoring three goals, Suker moved to German side 1860 Munich in the summer of 2001.

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Suker played for Croatia at the 2002 World Cup – in total, he won 69 caps for his country, scoring 45 goals. He retired from playing in 2003 and established his own school of football, the Davor Suker Soccer Academy, with training camps located in Zagreb and several other Croatian cities. Now 50, Suker has been the President of the Croatian Football Federation since 2012. His three goals for West Ham can be viewed in my video below.

Mladen Petric

Mladen Petric was born in Brcko on 1st January 1981 and began his professional career with FC Baden in Switzerland in 1998 – Petric had moved to Switzerland with his family during his childhood. He moved to Grasshopper Zurich in 1999 and spent five years with the club, winning two league titles and making his Croatia debut in 2001, before joining Basel in 2004. Petric won the Swiss title again and the Swiss Cup with Basel but moved to Germany in 2007, signing for Borussia Dortmund. Under the management of new Croatia boss Slaven Bilic, Petric became the first player to score four goals in a match for Croatia (against Andorra) and also scored the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over England at Wembley, a strike that ensured the Three Lions would not qualify for Euro 2008. After a season with Dortmund, he joined Hamburg and spent four years with the club.

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Petric moved to Fulham in 2012 but was released just a year later. He made his final appearance for Croatia in February 2013 – he won 45 caps for his country, scoring 13 goals. With West Ham United having failed to sign a striker to join Andy Carroll during the summer transfer window having been linked to Jermain Defoe, Loic Remy, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba, Sam Allardyce brought in free agent Petric in September 2013 – he made his debut as a substitute in a 3-2 home defeat to Everton on 21st September 2013. Petric made three more sub appearances for West Ham over the following month, in a 3-2 League Cup third round win over Cardiff, a 1-0 defeat at Hull and his final appearance in claret and blue, a 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City on 19th October 2013.

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Petric was released in December 2013 and signed for Greek side Panathinaikos in January 2014. He won the Greek Cup in 2014 and announced his retirement from football in May 2016 at the age of 35.

Nikica Jelavic

Nikica Jelavic was born in Capljina on 27th August 1985 and began his professional career with Hajduk Split in 2002. He moved to Belgian club Zulte Waregem in 2007 before joining Austrian side Rapid Vienna in 2008. He made his Croatia debut under Bilic in 2009 and moved to Scotland in 2010, signing for Rangers. After 18 months with Rangers, he joined Everton for £5m and spent two years with the Toffees.

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Jelavic moved to Hull in January 2014, spending 18 months with the Tigers before teaming up with his former international manager Bilic at West Ham on transfer deadline day in September 2015. He had made his final appearance for Croatia in 2014 having won 36 caps for his country, scoring six goals. Jelavic made his Hammers debut as a substitute in a 2-1 win at Manchester City on 19th September 2015 and made eight sub appearances before his first start, in a 0-0 draw at Swansea on 20th December 2015. Jelavic scored his first goal for West Ham in a 1-0 FA Cup third round win over Wolves at the Boleyn Ground on 9th January 2016 and scored his only league goal for the club a week later in a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle. His final appearance in claret and blue was again as a substitute in a 2-0 home win against Aston Villa on 2nd February 2016. After scoring two goals in 15 appearances for West Ham United, Jelavic moved to China, signing for Beijing Renhe. After spending a loan spell with Guizhou Zhicheng, Jelavic, now 33, signed for the club permanently last year.

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The Iron Liddy Column

West Ham Supporters Are Tree-mendous!

As the proverb says ‘great oaks from little acorns grow.’ When I wrote that little article about football’s role in creating the First World War Centenary Woods on the spur of the moment on Sunday afternoon I had no idea that it would develop into something so fantastic and that’s all thanks to the response and generosity of you amazing West Ham fans.

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For anybody who missed the first article and would like to know the background to this one the link is here: For Club and Country: Help to get West Ham United to the top of the WW1 Remembrance League

On the afternoon of the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day the total sum of donations in memory of the West Ham footballers and supporters who fought and died in the First World War stood at £52. As soon as my article was published that evening the donations started to flood in and by the end of the day you had donated an amazing £970, bringing the total to £1,025, which was just over the halfway mark of the West Ham target of £2,000. Over the next 3 days donations continued at a steady rate and the total to date now stands at an incredible £1,701. Take a bow West Ham fans; you are a credit to your club.

In the meantime, despite the press coverage of football clubs all over the UK taking part in planting WW1 memorial trees at their grounds last week, the donation levels for the other clubs featured on the For Club and Countrywebsite failed to move significantly, if at all. Although the campaign has been running for almost two and a half years and the clubs themselves were made aware of it the message clearly wasn’t filtering down to the people it was aimed at ….. the fans themselves. In fact 10 of the 62 football teams featured still have yet to receive a single donation.

The flurry of activity on the West Ham page and the fantastic and sudden increase in donations didn’t go unnoticed by the Woodland Trust, the conservation charity behind the First World War Centenary Woods. Upon reading numerous references to West Ham Till I Die in the comments which accompanied the donations, they investigated our blog and read my article. The Woodland Trust then contacted me on Tuesday via Iain Dale and today I spent half an hour on the phone to a lovely guy called Daniel, who has been behind this campaign since 2014. His role in this brings him into regular contact with our hero Sir Trevor Brooking, who is the ambassador for the For Club and Country campaign; and in fact he had dinner with him just last week at The Imperial War Museum as part of the Games of Remembrance project.

Daniel said that he was blown away by your response to my article and that he will be telling Sir Trev that his beloved West Ham has lead the way in donating to this important memorial and that we will almost certainly be the first club to reach their £2,000 target. This money will be converted into 100 trees, which will be planted in our name in March within the football section of the First World War Centenary Woods at Langley Vale. You can read more about this project here.

During our conversation I suggested that tapping into some good natured football rivalry would definitely pique the interest of fans of other clubs. Although the message of the campaign is a serious one and those who have donated obviously did so to commemorate the West Ham footballers and supporters who died or suffered in the Great War, there’s no doubt that the prospect of coming first in the ‘donations league’ was an added motivating factor. I mentioned the fact that Tottenham had previously been near the top of the ‘DL’ and that I had used this as an extra incentive to get Hammers to donate. Daniel acknowledged this and it was at this point that he wryly admitted to me that he is a Spurs supporter! Naturally this provoked a bit of banter and lots of laughs between us; he even referred to himself as Spud. :)

I also mentioned to Daniel that a WHTID reader and poster called Claret! had suggested including a dynamic league table on the For Club and Country website to reflect the number of donations coming in and he said he would look into whether this would be possible within the functionality of the website. So your idea may become a reality Claret!

And now for the exciting part ….. thanks to your generosity the Woodland Trust are going to be using West Ham and our sterling fundraising efforts as a case study in a forthcoming national press campaign about football’s role in creating the WW1 Centenary Wood and West Ham Till I Die will feature in the articles! If we can reach our £2,000 target before the media campaign takes place it will make Sir Trev doubly proud of us; so I’m appealing again to the members of the wonderful West Ham Till I Die family who haven’t yet donated to consider pledging whatever you can afford to help us over that line. Not only will your name then appear alongside the name of Sir Trevor Brooking CBE in the Roll of Honour in the National Football Museum; you will also have played a part in creating a beautiful green memorial to the people and animals that died in the terrible conflict of the First World War. A memorial that will benefit our environment and stand for centuries to come.

This link will take you directly to the WHU donation page: For Club and Country: West Ham United

Come on you Irons!


Joe Cole Retires - All The Best Joey!

Former West Ham and England midfielder Joe Cole announced his retirement from playing earlier this week. After the initial reaction of this making me feel very old (!), I thought I’d piece together previous articles I’ve written on Joey from an England, Chelsea and Liverpool perspective. He was one of my favourite players when he broke through with the Hammers at the turn of this century – after sadly having to leave the club to win trophies, I was delighted when he returned to east London for a second spell earlier this decade. I wish Joey all the best in his retirement – who knows, maybe we’ll see him back for a third stint in some capacity in the future?!

Joe Cole was born in Paddington on the 8th November 1981 and was a prodigious young talent who was linked with a £10m move to Manchester United before he’d even made his professional debut. Likened to Paul Gascoigne, Cole made his debut at the age of 17 in January 1999 in a 1-1 FA Cup draw at home against Swansea; his league debut arrived eight days later in a 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Cole was a key figure in the Hammers’ FA Youth Cup winning team in 1999 and also played his part in the senior team’s InterToto Cup success later that summer. His first goal for the club came in a 3-2 League Cup win at Birmingham in November 1999 while his first league strike came in the 5-4 win over Bradford in February 2000.

Cole scored five goals in 2000/01, including one in the 3-0 win at Coventry and strikes in the 1-1 home draws with Bradford and Coventry. He also notched crucial goals in the 3-1 home win over Derby and 3-0 home victory over Southampton as the under-performing Hammers secured their survival in the top flight the weekend before Harry Redknapp’s departure.

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Cole made his England debut on 25th May 2001 in a 4-0 friendly win over Mexico at Derby’s Pride Park and scored his first goal under new Hammers manager Glenn Roeder in the 3-0 FA Cup third round win at Macclesfield in January 2002. The skilful midfielder was part of England’s 2002 World Cup squad and got his 2002/03 campaign off to a flyer, scoring from distance to give the Irons the lead against champions Arsenal only for the Gunners to eventually claim a 2-2 draw at Upton Park. The season was a turbulent one, with Cole one of the few players to emerge with credit from a campaign which would end in relegation. Joey also scored in the 2-1 home defeat to Birmingham, the 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough, the 3-2 FA Cup third round home win over Nottingham Forest and the 2-2 home draw with Newcastle. He was named captain by Roeder in January 2003 and was voted Hammer of the Year by the club’s supporters at the season’s end. Cole scored his first England goal in his tenth appearance for his country on 3rd June 2003 in a 2-1 friendly win over Serbia & Montenegro at Leicester’s Walkers Stadium.

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The 21-year-old Cole left West Ham United in the summer of 2003 to sign for Chelsea in a £6.6m deal, having scored 13 goals in 150 appearances for the Hammers. His second England goal came on 16th November 2003 in a 3-2 friendly defeat to Denmark at Old Trafford. Cole became a regular in Jose Mourinho’s 2004/05 Premier League title-winning team, scoring nine goals in all competitions. His third England goal was scored on 26th March 2005 in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Northern Ireland at Old Trafford.

2005/06 saw Cole score a career-high 11 goals in a season in all competitions, earning himself a place in the PFA Team of the Year as Chelsea retained their Premier League title. He scored two goals for England during the season, the first being the winner in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying triumph at Wales’ Millennium Stadium on 3rd September 2005 and the other coming in a 2-1 friendly win over Uruguay at Old Trafford on 1st March 2006. Cole started all five of England’s matches at the 2006 World Cup, scoring a stunning, dipping volley in a 2-2 Group B draw against Sweden in Cologne on 20th June 2006.

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The following campaign was an injury-hit one for Cole but he did score for England at the end of the season, in a 3-0 European Championship qualifying win in Estonia on 6th June 2007. He was back to his best in 2007/08 – he reached double figures in the scoring charts again, won the Chelsea Player of the Year Award and played in the Champions League Final. Cole also scored home and away against West Ham that season, refusing to celebrate his strike in Chelsea’s 4-0 win at Upton Park in March 2008.

Cole scored a late equaliser against the Czech Republic at Wembley in a 2-2 friendly draw on 20th August 2008 and followed that up with a double in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win in Andorra on 6th September 2008. A knee injury kept Cole out for the second half of the 2008/09 campaign and his final game for the Blues was the FA Cup Final against Portsmouth in May 2010, Chelsea winning the match 1-0. After seven years at Stamford Bridge in which he scored 40 goals in 281 appearances and won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups, one League Cup, one Community Shield and was a Champions League finalist, Cole joined Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool on a free transfer in the summer of 2010. Earlier that summer, Cole had won the last of his 56 England caps at his third World Cup – he had scored ten goals for his country.

Cole made his Liverpool debut in August 2010 against Rabotnicki in the Europa League, creating the opening goal for David Ngog in a 2-0 win. His league debut against Arsenal at Anfield lasted just 45 minutes though, as he was sent off for a challenge on Laurent Koscielny. Cole missed a penalty against Trabzonspor in the Europa League third qualifying round first leg but did score his first goal for the club against Steaua Bucharest in a Europa League match at Anfield the following month. He scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool in a 2-1 win against Bolton in January 2011 and scored his first and only goal of Kenny Dalglish’s reign in a 5-0 win against Birmingham at Anfield in April.

Cole spent the 2011/12 season on loan at French side Lille but his Anfield career looked more promising after Brendan Rodgers took over – in November 2012, Cole was given a start against BSC Young Boys in the Europa League, providing a cross for Jonjo Shelvey to score the opener and then scoring Liverpool’s second himself in the 2-2 draw. On 9th December 2012, he scored Liverpool’s second at Upton Park as the Reds beat West Ham 3-2.

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31-year-old Joey returned to the Boleyn Ground in early January 2013, signing for Sam Allardyce’s Hammers on a free transfer. He set up both goals on his second debut for the club as James Collins scored twice in a 2-2 FA Cup third round draw with Manchester United and scored himself in the 1-1 home draw with Q.P.R. and the 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham.

Cole started the 2013/14 season with a bang, notching the Hammers’ first goal of the campaign in a 2-0 home win over Cardiff in August 2013 before scoring in the 3-0 win over Fulham in November. His final goal for the Hammers came in the 3-3 home draw with West Brom in late December 2013. Cole’s last appearance for West Ham came in the 2-0 defeat at Manchester City in May 2014 and he left the club later that summer after his contract expired, signing for Aston Villa. Cole had scored five goals in 37 appearances in his second spell in east London, taking his totals for the Hammers to 18 goals in 187 matches.

Following a spell with Coventry, Cole, now 37, most recently played for Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL, the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. He announced his retirement on Tuesday.

All the best Joey – COYI..!

The Blind Hammer Column

Can VAR Help West Ham?

Blind Hammer looks at the evidence for VAR aiding West Ham.

This season José Mourinho has trotted out a number of excuses. His explanation for the inept performance against us was the lack of VAR. He insisted that it would have disallowed 2 of West Ham’s goals.

It is fascinating that Mourinho should favour VAR. It is especially interesting given the benefit that Manchester United have received from referees over the years. You might expect that Man United, more than most, would lose out under VAR.

We should remember the 2016 FA cup quarter final at Old Trafford. Then our Payet inspired team were denied by 2 crucial refereeing mistakes. Firstly Payet was denied a clear penalty when Rojo slid in from behind and was nowhere near the ball. The second error was arguably even worse. Bastian Schweinsteiger held goalkeeper Darren Randolph immobile and prevented him responding to Martial’s late equaliser.

There is a wide perception that Referees favour bigger teams with key decisions. Some try to deny this. They argue for example that Manchester United and other “bigger” clubs receive more free kicks and penalty awards as a natural consequence of spending more time in and around opponent’s penalty areas. It is their reward for pressure and attacking play.

Recently Mark Halsey angrily denied on TalkSport that Referees are biased towards the big team. He insisted Referees entered games with no agendas and tried to adjudicate as objectively as possible.

Yet Halsey completely misses the point. Nobody seriously suggests Referees are consciously biased. However there is increasing evidence that they are unconsciously persuaded. There is academic evidence, for example, that Referees decisions are affected by the pressure of home crowds.

Graham Poll admitted as much in a recent interview for the Daily Mail. He described his belief, whilst refereeing, that there was no favour shown towards big team. Now however, he is retired he can see that bigger teams benefit. However he insists this is an unconscious process that Referees are not aware of.

The point is that there is, now, enormous scrutiny on referees. Any contentious decision given against a high profile team will expose a referee to a tremendous examination. This inquest will be led by pundits across the media. Videos will be inspected microscopically to identify the slightest error.

This scrutiny places a pressure to err on the side of caution when making a key decision against a “big" team. In contrast, the consequence of making a contentious decision against a lower profile team is far less.

All this is supported by 2013 Leicester University research which tested referees by asking them to adjudicate on key decisions by watching videos. In one sample they asked Referees to make decisions with sound muted. They then played these incidents with the full crowd noise associated with the incident. Not surprisingly the research showed a clear influence from crowd noise which influenced referees to adjudicate more in favour of the home team.

All this proves is that Referees are human and can be influenced by pressure as much as anybody else.

The safety net of VAR may just give Referees the confidence to make decisions they may otherwise feel too intimidated to make. Manchester United, alongside other big clubs may become the biggest losers under VAR.

On the face of it, the impact of VAR on West Ham, as opposed to the bigger clubs, is not so clear. There is little reason to expect that, in the general round of matches, West Ham will benefit more or less. The often quoted cliché is that “over a season these things will even out”.

Yet this indifference ignores a deeper consequence of VAR. If West Ham are to ever win another Trophy they will almost certainly have to overcome a bigger team like Liverpool, or Manchester United or City.

This task is difficult enough without a referee unconsciously pressurised to make mistakes which favour the bigger teams. In 2016 Martin Atkinson allowed this pressure to force him into key mistakes which prevented West Ham progressing to a Semi Finals.

Although we will suffer as well as benefit from VAR in the years ahead, it is precisely against the bigger teams, in these key matches, that VAR may just help to even things up.

David Griffith

The GoatyGav Column

Why You No Longer Hear The Phrase “Tippy-Tappy”

Strange isn’t it. Was a time when the derogatory phrase would be rolled out with a, tired and worn out, regularity by those who subscribed to the Charles Hughes school of POMO. Based on the ideas of a World War II Wing Commander, named Charles Reep, Hughes, backed up by statistical evidence, promoted a system of play that, he suggested, would increase chances to score goals. With an impressive win ratio while managing the England Armature and Great Britain & Northern Ireland Olympic teams Hughes commanded great influence at the F.A. In essence the POMO (Positions Of Maximum Opportunity) system worked on the premise that most goals were scored with moves containing 3 passes or less that delivered a final ball in to the area from which you would be most likely to score. In other words you get the ball in to forward scoring positions as soon as you possibly can. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all Route 1, stick it in ‘The Mixer’ Hoofball. The system advocated getting quality crosses as a main source of supply which, I think, is a productive art form in itself. Can be very entertaining too but, for the most part, it’s an uninspiring system which will only put bums on seats when resulting in ‘winning’ football.

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Associated with the ‘Tippy Tappy’ phrase was a presumption that a ‘soft underbelly’ would accompany. As fans of West Ham we have all heard the various comments from opposition fans who’s team have won trophies down the years. Even down to the level of individual players comments like “he doesn’t travel North well,” were not uncommon. Often described as ‘pretty but ineffective’ pass and move has tended to be out of favour with many at the top of the English game for many years.

All well and good but, time and again, the tactic developed by Charles Hughes has been proven to be one dimensional. For years the England team would underperform against the world’s biggest and best because they were too predictable.

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So where are the critics of passing football now? With 15 goals in the last 3 games Manchester City, with their manager, Pep Guardiola, are one of the main reasons that football that’s pleasing to the eye is now being lauded and not lambasted. Following this weekend’s instalment of Pep’s passing masterclass a goal involving, no less than, a 44 pass move was hailed ‘mesmerising’ by Graeme Souness. And who can argue with him. From the moment that Fernandinho tenaciously won the ball, until Gundogan finished the move off with the goal, all 10 Manchester City outfield players touched the ball.

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Steeped in a long tradition, that began with Rhinus Michels, incorporating the great Ajax Amsterdam teams before being passed to Barcelona by Michels’ understudy, Johan Cruyff, who, in turn, had a huge influence on Guardiola, ‘Tippy Tappy’ tends to, now, be known by the, less derogatory, term ‘Tikka Takka’.

Overall my feeling is that the English national game is finally ‘growing up’ to meet the demands of modern football. As recently as this time last year you could still hear the battle-cry of the POMO merchants stating that Pep’s ‘Tippy Tappy’ style hadn’t won, and wasn’t going to win, the English top tier title. Those guns are now silent and, in this fan of football’s opinion, that’s a great thing.

Key for me is a subtle difference between the two, opposing, philosophies of the game. Whilst POMO produces opportunities to score the, more attractive, clever passing and movement of ‘Tikka Takka’ produces ‘better’ opportunities to score. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just look at how many goals are being scored by Guardiola’s team.

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As far as I’m concerned I hope POMO is consigned to the dark ages where it belongs. Thankfully we now have a manager who has complete and utter belief in a system of play that incorporates pass and move – and long may it continue.

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Since starting the composition of this article West Ham have been linked with the signing of Samir Nasri. The former French international player’s ability is not as much in question as his actions leading to his doping ban. So should we question his signing. Manuel Pellegrini has managed him before and seems willing to have him back. Is it a question of ‘good enough for the gaffer is good enough for me’ I wonder? I’m sure that other articles will go in to far more detail than I will here and I’ll be very interested to read the various opinions and comments over the coming days here. Next up are MP, and Nasri’s, former employers Manchester City. It’s a game I’m looking forward to watching. I wonder if Nasri will be in the line up to face them?

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

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