Transfer Gossip

Are we Really Competing with Arsenal to sign Ciprian Marica?

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The number of reports linking West Ham with the Romanian striker, Ciprian Marica, have increased markedly in the last couple of days. However, the latest such story, in yesterday’s Sunday Express, suggested that we are in direct competition with Arsenal to sign the free agent and will probably lose out to the north-London club. Yet, these ‘Marica to Arsenal’ rumours have been circulating since June and have so far come to nothing. We know that injuries to Podolski, amongst others, have left Arsenal short of strikers and that a free agent could be an interim option. However, is Marica a player that Arsene Wenger would be inclined to target? Does he fit Wenger’s model of the technical attributes that he looks for in a player? Moreover, is the Romanian’s goal scoring record good enough to even warrant Wenger’s interest?

Well, Marica’s agent is certainly doing a good job talking up his client and the prospects of a move to Arsenal. The agent, loan Becali, has declared that Marica as a ‘really great striker, who has already got experience in western European football and so it’s natural that big clubs are eyeing his career. He’s close to joining Arsenal, but we have to wait for the next week.’ Yet, does this description of Marica as a ‘really great striker’ hold water, certainly based on his league and cup scoring record in Romanian and Germany? Basically, he has approximately a 1 in 5 domestic goal scoring ratio, although his international record is better with 22 goals in 63 matches (a 1 in 3 ratio).

It is, however, interesting that not only does Marica start more consistently for his country, but they play him as a centre forward. Both of these factors could explain his better record as an international striker. I may very well be wrong about this, but Marica does not instantly strike me as a typical Wenger signing. As we currently know to our cost, the failure to adequately reinforce during the transfer window means that the player selection criteria might alter slightly once it slams shut. In terms of his preferences for a move, Marica might also prefer moving to a club with involvement in European football. Such a preference would obviously militate against West Ham. Also, much will depend on the terms that Marica is seeking to sign on a Bosman deal. Those terms could possibly prove ‘too rich for West Ham’s blood.’

Time will tell, but even if Wenger is not interested in the player, it has been suggested that there might be competition for his signature, from other sources, in the form of Lazio, Inter-Milan and Shaktar Donetsk. And, who knows, perhaps the reality is that West Ham are targeting some other free agent.

So apparently, the absence of business on deadline day was a case of some you win, some you lose! And we allegedly lost out on three striker targets on the final day, in the form of Romelu Lukaka, Demba Ba and Nicholas Bendtner! That surprises me, because I thought that both Lukaku and Ba were non-starters because the players did not want to move to West Ham; while it was Crystal Palace who were on the verge of signing Bendtner, before Arsenal pulled the plug on the deal with the failure of their bid to land Ba. So, did we really have any realistic chance of signing any of the three? Probably not. Never mind, we can still comfort ourselves with the club’s mantra that we signed some excellent players and completed our business early.

Or perhaps not, because the very fact that the club are casting around for free agent strikers is a clear admission that one bit of key business was not completed early, in fact it was not completed at all! So, why not just be up front and admit it. Say, the club are very pleased with the signings that they did make (which is arguably justified), but unfortunately fell short in its declared objective of signing a 2nd striker.Then explain that while acknowledging this failure, the club are doing everything possible to augment our strike force with a free agent signing, to ensure that results do not suffer in the run up to the next transfer window.

I truly hope that the concerns regarding the current in-depth strength of our strike force prove baseless. And we can, in the period leading up to January, successfully position ourselves to enable us to improve upon last season’s 10th place finish. However, if a lack of fire power does conspire to adversely impacts upon results, and our final league position, then spin will be of little use in pacifying the justified discontent of Hammers supporters.

SJ. Chandos.


Nostalgia

Match Day 45 Years Ago - The Good or Bad Old Days?

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Going to West Ham in the late sixties and early seventies was quite a different experience compared to today. Many of the older fans who read this article will remember fondly some of the memories and hopefully comment on some of the things I have forgotten. It may be some of their experiences may be slightly different? For the younger readers it will hopefully give an insight on what the experience of a game at Upton Park was like 45 years ago.

Foreign players were rare in our domestic league in this era and players wages were not extravagantly higher than a good standard wage. Players would often stay at their clubs for ten years or more and if they reached this milestone, testimonial games would be played so as to give them the proceeds of the gate takings to help them start their new careers after football. Many ex players from those days would use the money to buy a pub or start up a small business.

My journey as a youngster would start in Loughton and a change at Mile End on the tube would have you at Upton Park in around 40 minutes. The walk down Green Street was an experience in itself. Everywhere you looked there were stalls selling old and new programs, scarves, bobble hats, badges and rosettes etc. The smell that drifted from the hot dog stalls was quite over powering. If you wanted to go to Upton Park on a Saturday it was likely you would have to start queuing from about 1pm for a 3pm kick off. In those days it was all standing except the Upper West. If you did decide to get to the game around 2pm you would find the queues on the western side of the ground reach right down to Green Street. Apart from the season ticket holders in the seated Upper West, it was cash to get in and if the ground was full you missed out. My own first experience at the Boleyn was delayed a few weeks as my dad thought it OK to arrive at the ground at 2.30pm for a game v Liverpool. Sorry, all doors locked – Full House!

Bobby Moore had his own sports shop across the road from the ground and the Hammers official merchandise store was located in a caravan parked to the side of the Western entrance. Prior to the game the “monkey peanut” sellers would circle the exterior of the pitch as buyers would send their money down via other fans and the peanuts passed up the same way or thrown to them if the vendor had a good arm!

By 2pm the crowd would be in good voice and Bubbles was only one song that would echo around the ground for an hour. The North Bank was the main area for the vocals but the old Chicken Run (East Stand) was often a sway with our favourite song. Traditionally the South Bank was the area for the away fans and for an hour or more before the game the chanting taunts would to and fro incessantly between the rival fans. Into the seventies and West Ham fans made a presence in the South Bank as well, stemming mainly from the catalyst that was soccer hooliganism. Prior to this it was not uncommon for the South Bank to be completely filled by away support when playing the bigger clubs. Around 2.30pm the British Legion band would come out and play near the players entrance, central to the West Stand. The only time most fans were paying attention to the band was when they started to play Bubbles as this was the signal that the teams were on their way out onto the pitch. It was around this time that the newspaper reporters and photographers would file around to their normal positions of behind and to the side of the goals.

From my recent visits back to watch West Ham there is no doubt that the singing and atmosphere created in the ground is many decibels below the old days. The all-seater stadiums have certainly created a safer and more comfortable experience but to be honest I think today’s fans are missing out on what a truly incredible fever pitch a football game can deliver. The upside is that attending a football game nowadays is relatively safe, unlike in the days of skin heads and soccer hooliganism. The truth is that following West Ham home and away in the early seventies, you would be watching football shrouded in a threatening atmosphere that tended to hang over games like a dark cloud, ready to burst.

I was at the final game of last season against Reading and despite it being the last game of a what was a successful season, the atmosphere was a touch sterile. I know one thing for certain. The pitch the players played on was in better condition than Bobby Moore or Geoff Hurst would have enjoyed on the FIRST game of any season 45 years ago. In those days the pitches would deteriorate after October and by January very little grass existed in the penalty areas. I also watched at half time as fans would be scrolling on their I phones to see what the scores were at other matches. Back in days past we would wait anxiously to watch the numbers go up in the corner of the North and South Banks as you checked your match program to decipher what game was A, B, C or D etc. If Spurs v Forest was match D for example and the half time scoreboard showed 0-1 next to D, a big cheer would go up as we knew the Spuds were in trouble!

The scarves tied to the belts of fans have been replaced by replica shirts. The hard men of football have been replaced by diving cheats. Mud bath pitches have been replaced by pristine oversized bowling rinks. The crowd surges and swaying has been replaced by the”excuse me mate – can I get by you”. That anxious wait for 6pm and the Evening Standard late edition to hit the newsagents to find out the other scores and updated tables, replaced by instant results on our phones. Were they the good old days or the bad old days?


Guest Post

Why It's Rubbish Being a Football Fan Abroad

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By Hannah McFaull, An East Londoner in San Francisco, Feminist, Punk, Political Science Geek

I am a life long Hammer, as are my entire family going back a few generations. My siblings and I shared a season ticket for a while and to me, there’s nothing more beautiful in this world than walking up those steps and seeing Upton Park in all her glory. It is indeed rubbish to be a football fan and live abroad, and before you start, it’s not rubbish being a West Ham fan in general. At least I’m not Spurs.

Living about 6,000 miles away from the Boleyn is one of the harder separations I’ve had to make to live in San Francisco. And it doesn’t matter how many Red Sox games I go to, there is just no replacement for being at home when the season starts.

I remember my first time clearly. We beat Leicester 2-1 on a rare Monday evening. The sun set as the crowd got shoutier, the floodlights giving each player four shadows, an image that I can instantly recall. I got my chunky, grappy 5 year old fingers trapped in the tip-up seats and the pain was incomparable to anything I’d felt before. I loved the noise, I loved the singing, but most of all, I loved the football.

Our routine for games on the rare occasion I am in London, usually consists of coming in on the District Line from Zone 6, like a Pied Piper collecting willing participants with every stop. We have a quick half in a pub by the station and then surrounded by friends and family, head to the ground for about 45 minutes before kick off. The feeling of being part of something bigger, part of a community, is wonderful.

Now I listen to the games whilst I make breakfast, barely awake and reaching for the (England bought) PG Tips. The eight hour time difference is rough. Worst of all I listen to the games on my own. San Francisco is just stretching and yawning as the whistle blows. East London is a sea of claret and blue, and I’m in my pyjamas and last season’s away shirt, wishing I was there.

There’s a pub here that our mate works at and they open up early enough to go down there and watch it with a cheeky pre-9am pint. Unfortunately our mate lived in North London for a while and has continued his support of Arsenal ever since. Yes, I watch West Ham games surrounded by ex-pat Gooners. In some ways this makes it sadder.

So think of me the next time you go to whatever ground you call home, especially if it’s on Green Street. Because it’s hard being this far from your family and friends, but it’s even harder being this far from your football team.


Poll

WHTID Reader Survey 2013

Each year I ask you to take part in a survey poll on what you think of various aspects of the running of the club and the future of this website. There are 23 questions and it won’t take you long to fill out. You might even enjoy it! Do try to answer all the questions. I’ll keep the survey open for a couple of days and then publish the results next week. To wet your appetite you’ll be asked whether Jack Sullivan’s twitter account should be silenced, whether Ravel Morrison should start against Southampton, what other facilities you’d like to see on this site, what you think of the recent changes, which other West Ham sites you read, and much more besides.

To start the survey click HERE


Talking Point

In Praise of the Second Striker/Goal poacher

There is clearly a great deal of frustration amongst West Ham about the formation that Sam Allardyce almost uniformly adopts. Call it 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or even 4-4-1-1, but the common denominator appears to be the lone centre-forward supported from the flanks and from midfield (particularly by Kevin Nolan). At its best (mostly at Upton Park) it has worked well, with Nolan in particular benefiting. At its worst (mostly in away games) the centre forward gets isolated and disengaged from midfield and it just does not deliver the necessary attacking threat and encourages the opposition to attack us.

The common complaint is that Sam Allardyce only plays it one way and does not appear to be able to change to a different formation. Invariably, 4-4-2 then comes in to the equation and the issue of the absence of a second striker on the pitch. Finally, Kevin Nolan’s selection, and his role playing behind the centre forward, is seen as a particular obstacle to the inclusion of that much extolled second striker. Where it is used most successfully on the continent, the centre forward is supported by two mobile forwards, who invariably have the dual ability to go wide and/or give support and make and take chances in more central striking positions. In the West Ham system that is the element that is arguably missing, with the likes of Jarvis and Downing attacking down the flanks and looking to deliver crosses in to the target man and midfield runners.

So, what is it about 4-4-2 that is so dear to most Hammers fans? I am sure that you would solicit a number of different responds to that question. However, the core common element would probably relate to a preference for a strike partnership up front. There is an old saying that strikers best hunt in pairs and that has certainly been true at West Ham, where partnerships such as Keeble/Dick, Hurst/Byrne, Hurst/Best, Hurst/Robson, Gould or Taylor/Jennings, Cross/Robson, Cross/Pearson, Cross/Goddard, McAvennie/Cottee, Hartson/Kitson, Kanoute/Di Canio, Zamora/Harewood, Ashton/Harewood and Cole/Vaz Te are legendary and integral to the club’s history. We are all familiar with the big man/little man combination, the target man and the goal poacher that feeds off of him. Admittedly they were not all like that though not all partners conform to that dichotomy. The obvious example being the pacy, mobile partnership between Cottee and McAvennie; where both players thrived on running on to the through ball and were equally proficient at finishing. While other partnerships such as that between Geoff Hurst and Clyde Best was between two target men in effect, although Hurst had the ability to play both roles.

Pop Robson

However, the ‘big man/little man’ partnership is one that sticks in the memory and affections. And I also had a real admiration for the mobile goal poacher in the partnership. West Ham have been blessed with some great, great strikers in the poacher mould. For instance, Johnny Byrne, who had electric pace, beautiful technique and deadly finishing skills. Johnny Dick, who although not particularly fast, thrived feeding off Vic Keeble and was a natural goal scorer with his deadly left peg. My personal favourite was Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, a penalty box predator, who I believe was one of the greatest two or three finishers to play for West Ham, certainly in the modern era. Then there was Alan Taylor, who although not of the quality of some of the aforementioned greats, had genuine pace and an uncanny ability to be in ‘the right place at the right time’ to conceptualise on goal scoring opportunities. Of course, he will always be remembered for those three crucial goal braces in the quarter-Final (Vs Arsenal), semi-Final (Vs Ipswich Town) and Final (Vs Fulham) of the 1975 FA Cup victory.

Tony Cottee

Most Hammers these days, will recall the goal scoring heroics of Tony Cottee. Not only the successful partnership with McAvennie, but all of his goal scoring achievements across his two spells at the club. When I think of Cottee, I automatically recall the youngster who scored against Spurs on his first team debut, the partnership with Frankie Mac in 1985-86 and the later Cottee, whose had such a fruitful second coming at his boyhood club. I recall the two overseas goal scoring wizards that was Di Canio and Tevez, both were world class talents and left so many good memories behind them. But the other ‘second’ striker that I really admired was Paul Goddard. That guy had everything, pace, technique, a good football brain and excellent finishing ability. I will always remember his goal in the 2nd leg of the League Cup, at Upton Park, Vs Coventry City. We were trailing 3-2 from the first leg and Coventry City were defending very well and frustration/anxiety was starting to grow as the match proceeded. Until Goddard received the ball centrally on the edge of the box, pushed the ball slightly to his left and tightly turned and hit a guided missile of a shot in the top left hand corner of the opposition net. It was the decisive moment of that tie and we went on to win the semi-final with a late Jimmy Neighbour winner.

It is those type of goal poachers that we miss, along with dangerous striking partnerships and the threat that they conveyed. That is probably why supporters, more recently, have identified with the Baldocks and Maynards and been critical their relative lack of first team opportunity and early transfers out of the club; it is also an explanation why many supporters sympathised with Vaz Te and his recent assertion that he is a central striker, not a wide player! For many, there is just too much missing in the typical 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 Allardyce formation. While others have no problem starting with that formation, but seek evidence of the manager’s ability to tactically ‘change it’ and revert to a 4-4-2, with a second striker alongside the centre forward. And, as I have already stated, that hostility towards Nolan is largely because it is perceived that his inclusion, and Allardyce’s apparent assistance upon playing him, is a perceived barrier to adopting a 4-4-2 system, with the deployment of a 2nd striker.

Ironically, the failure to finish off the summer transfer business with the acquisition of an appropriate striker, means that we have two fit strikers, in the form of Vaz Te and Maiga, whose strengths are predominantly playing as second strikers. While we are currently inadequately provided with a target man in Carroll’s injury absence! It is an absolutely ridiculous that we have allowed ourselves to get in that position. And it really does necessitate the signing of an adequate free agent striker to cover for Andy Carroll. There are more reports this evening that the club will bring in the Romania international striker, Cirprian Marica, who scored his side’s opening goal in their 3-0 win over Hungary yesterday evening.

Marica is obviously fit and ready to play, so the club would do a lot worse than to sign the striker as a matter of urgency. If we can sign him, and possibly Carlton Cole when he improves/proves his fitness, then we can go forward with a bit more confidence until the January window opens.

SJ. Chandos.


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