Titi Camara was the catalyst for Harry Redknapp's departure from West Ham, and Glenn Roeder isn't too keen either. Darron Kirkby looks at the brief highlights
In his first 20 months with West Ham, Titi Camara played only 485 minutes – and just 94 of them were at home. Perhaps more than any other player, Titi’s bearing on the club’s history is completely disproportionate to his on-field contribution. Five months after he joined for £1.7 million, the man who signed him, Harry Redknapp, was out of a job. The most regularly aired reason put forward for his departure was that the board had lost faith in his judgment after Redknapp had squandered what little of the Rio Ferdinand money he had been given on the likes of Rigobert Song, Ragnvald Soma and, above all, Titi Camara.
But when he signed a three-and-a-half year deal in December 2000, Camara had looked like another in a long line of shrewd Redknapp signings. In his first season at Liverpool he had notched ten goals in 24 appearances (and 13 as sub), making him the club’s second-highest scorer behind Michael Owen.
There was an air of anticipation among Hammers supporters who believed Camara’s pacy and direct style would blend well with the more unpredictable talents of Paolo Di Canio and Frédéric Kanouté. And if he could follow in the footsteps of the last TC to appear in West Ham’s forward line – Tony Cottee, the club’s fifth-highest scorer – we would have been more than happy.
But our optimism lasted only a matter of days, until Camara made his debut at Filbert Street – one of the most unforgettable ever made by a West Ham player, for all the wrong reasons. Titi squandered a hatful of chances and memorably put the Match of the Day cameraman in danger when an eight-yard volley landed on the roof of the stand. I can still recall somebody behind me shouting “Titi ye not” in his best Frankie Howerd voice.
If only we had realised that Titi was a nickname – his real name is Aboubacar and Titi (a corruption of petit) was coined by an older sister – we’d have soon appreciated that the only records Camara was ever likely to break would be negative ones. Despite this most inauspicious of starts, he appeared in West Ham’s next three matches, although after January 6 Titi played only twice more and was an unused substitute on three occasions.
Things got worse in 2001-02, when he made the bench only once – in the annual 1-0 victory at Old Trafford – although he did come on for the last seven minutes. The only conclusion that perplexed supporters could come to was that Camara must have been hiding in the trophy cabinet.
But as this season approached, and with two of his main rivals for a striking role, Svetoslav Todorov and Paul Kitson, having left the club, there was a feeling that Titi might have a bigger role to play. According to Glenn Roeder, Camara looked fitter and sharper than ever before in pre-season, and with Di Canio on an extended holiday in Italy, he was said to be in the running for a place in the starting line-up for our first match of the season against Newcastle. But the fact that Joe Cole – whose only goal in 33 appearances last season was against Macclesfield – started up front while Titi spent 90 minutes twiddling his thumbs on the bench just about summed up his spell at Upton Park.
Yes, he has suffered from a few minor injuries, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that neither Redknapp – who bought another striker in Todorov just three months after he had signed Camara – nor Roeder seemed to have any faith in him. After again being an unused substitute in West Ham’s first two games of the season, Titi came on for the last 14 minutes of an abject home defeat by Charlton and looked our sharpest player. True to form, he wasn’t even in the squad for the next match.
From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month