Saturday 15 March ~
West Ham seem to have been tenth in the Premier League for as long as Derby have been bottom. That is likely to remain the case for at least another couple of weeks as they have a five point gap on either side, from their opponents today, Blackburn, in ninth, to Spurs in 11th. After the turbulence of last season, when their team just stayed up thanks to a flurry of late wins, including victories at Arsenal and Man Utd, most West Ham fans would surely settle for mid-table comfort. But it has been suggested the club's owner, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, is far from happy with this state of affairs.
Richard Scudamore, twit-in-chief at the Premier League, gave a gushing interview to the Telegraph this week in which he claimed the League was shaping up well in every respect and that "The middle bit is interesting; getting into the top half is important to people psychologically". Getting into the top half was something Alan Curbishley often managed to do at Charlton, but they always fell away in the final couple of months. West Ham's three successive 4-0 defeats reminded some of the spring torpor that dogged Curbishley's former club, which has prompted him to mutter darkly about "an agenda" being pursued by elements within the media.
West Ham spent heavily in a bid to stay up last season and splashed out again in the summer – ex-Arsenal man Freddie Ljungberg for example is being paid £80,000 a week. It's fair to assume that Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, who owns a bank in his native Iceland, has not got involved with West Ham for philanthropic reasons. He may still hope to move the club into the Olympic Stadium after 2012 with Upton Park being sold for redevelopment. In the meantime, like most of the other Premier League franchise owners, he expects the club to qualify for Europe regularly – but to even get close to the top six will require a lot more investment next season.
Meanwhile, a transfer deal that Gudmundsson's predecesor, Terence Brown, conducted with the mysterious international corporation MSI may yet have serious repercussions. Carlos Tevez was able to play an important role in helping West Ham avoid relegation last season because the club assured the Premier League that they had bought out the portion of his contract owned by MSI. The latter's representative, Kia Joorabchian, is now going to court to contest this claim. Failure to win the case will leave West Ham open to further action by their relegation rivals of last season, Sheffield Utd, who lost £30 million as a consequence of dropping out of the Premier League.
While this season ceased to be meaningful for West Ham's players as soon as they were knocked out of the cups, it would make obvious sense to give the current manager more time to build his own team. But sense is in increasingly short supply among football club owners in 2008.