Thursday 4 December ~
On the surface, the last couple of weeks or so have been good for West Ham United. They began with an impressive 1-0 win away to Sunderland, a result that added to the pressure on their manager Roy Keane, who has walked out today. Since then, they have claimed a credible draw at Anfield to reduce a rather impatient Liverpool support to booing their side, despite the fact that a point – although not the three they might have expected – was enough to take them top of the league. Indeed, it seemed that the media's favourite team had finally got back on their feet after their poor start and were doing what they do best – upsetting the big boys.
But the truth is that things do not look good down at the Boleyn Ground right now. The news that the club have secured a new sponsor, little known Philippines-based online bookmakers SBOBET will seemingly do little to lift the gloom surrounding the club's future: the fact that the "terms of [the agreement] are undisclosed" suggest that the fee heading the Hammers way will not be anything like the "lucrative deal" they are describing it as.
Gianfranco Zola will apparently be forced to sell off up to eight players in January, with Darren Lewis in the Mirror naming Dean Ashton as the highest profile of those set to depart Upton Park. To lose Ashton, despite him missing much of the season though injury, would undoubtedly be a blow to Zola's ambitions as the club. However, if they were to get the £18 million that they expect for Ashton (which, to be honest, is unlikely), then one would have to say that it'd be a good deal – as long as Zola was able to strengthen what is already a pretty poor squad with the funds generated by the sale.
However, if the Hammers' position is as terminal as we are lead to believe, that money is likely to be swallowed up by the gaping hole in the club's finances left as a result of the collapse of chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson's business empire. With Zola admitting that unused players are likely to leave in January – today's Express names them as Luis Boa Morte, Calum Davenport, Danny Gabbidon, Jonathan Spector, Nigel Quashie and Lee Bowyer – he may well find himself with a squad devoid of cover and strength come January, as well as ongoing financial difficulties. Do not be surprised if, by the time next August rolls around, the Hammers are absent from the Premier League line-up, be it through relegation or, worse, extinction. Jim Lucas