Monday, 23 July 2007

No Plan B for Curbs

JJ here,

The news that Freddie Ljungberg is to sign for West Ham can be seen in many lights. You might think it’s a great signing – after all, he’s an experienced Premiership star with a host of medals in his Jason Bourne-esque safety deposit box (Roy Keane has one anyway). Then again the past three seasons have seen him struggle with injuries, poor form and Olaf Mellberg trying to decapitate him during international training sessions.

One thing this signing does prove is that Alan Curbishley and his scouting team at West Ham do very little homework. While Arsenal and (this summer) Liverpool scour the continent and indeed the lower leagues for bright young talent; and Spurs pick up men from overseas like Dimitar Berbatov, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Younes Kaboul; West Ham have just gone for tried and tested options in the transfer market.

Okay, so the other three clubs mentioned have foreign managers with what some would term as a greater knowledge of the game abroad. However, Jol has been in England for three years, Benitez is starting his fourth season at Liverpool and Wenger has been in the Premiership with the Gunners for over a decade. It’s not like they’ve just come off the boat with a load of unproven but exciting talent.

Each has looked around Europe to pick up the best on offer, affording some of the Premiership’s brighter lights (Bent, Benayoun) whenever needed as well. It’s a risk, but if it works – as Berbatov proved – it can be the making of a team’s year as they add an unknown element that can unlock opponents.

Curbs, as his friends and everyone on Soccer Saturday call him, signs men who he knows do a decent job in the league but who most other managers wouldn’t touch due to reputation or price. West Ham have to be aiming for the top six, maybe even top four, with the money they’ve spent and certainly with the wages afforded to those they have picked up. But is that possible with their expensively assembled squad?


The mercenary Lucas Neill;
The prima donna Craig Bellamy;
The possibility of injury prone problem-fest Kieron Dyer;
The uninspiring jinx of Matthew Upson;
The steady influence but little else that Scott Parker offers, and now the reliable when fit Ljungberg.

Curbs has tunnel vision when it comes to players, he hasn’t got the wherewithal to go out and find someone decent to add something different to his side. Does he need more foreign scouts? West Ham currently employ former player Roger Cross as their chief scout but have no other info on names that might be looking out for them in foreign territories. If they do have such scouts at their disposal one can only imagine they won’t be getting much of a pre-season bonus for their, so far less than sterling, work.

The now injured Frenchman Julien Faubert was only signed up when Curbishley saw that Rangers were taking a risk on him; Curbs hadn’t signed anyone that week so this guy would do. Well, that’s the way it seemed anyway; put it this way Rangers were first with any interest and it wasn’t until Faubert’s name had appeared in the papers a few times that West Ham took any interest. They had the cash so they could steamroll in.

West Ham’s new owners showed little mercy with Alan Pardew last year and are unlikely to this season with a man who only has a track record of keeping a side up for the guts of a decade standing to his name. True it was an immense achievement and Charlton fell out of the league as soon as he left but this still isn’t a CV that will afford him much time under his current employers.

At Charlton he could pick players that had survived the Premiership with clubs that finished above his side and it was seen as a good move. Danny Murphy, Matt Holland and Paulo di Canio came to The Valley with varying degrees of success. He seems to be going for a bigger, stronger, more expensive version of this method with West Ham.

Now Curbishley will be asked to turn a bunch of men who are used to coasting through a season (Freddie aside) as stars of average clubs (Blackburn, Newcastle, Birmingham etc) and turn them into winners. Then, in the case of Bellamy and Dyer, change them into respectable members of the community as well.

He deserves this season a least to prove his worth but come January I’d forecast plenty more panic buys from other Premiership clubs who are well aware that West Ham will pay huge prices for their average ‘stars’. Why? Because Curbs hasn’t got any other ideas up his sleeve.


tyduffy said...

I think Curbishley is in the McClaren situation where he dove into the deep end of the pool and just discovered he can't swim. I think he is out by December.

JJ said...

Yup, I think if he's not challenging for the top six by then he's definitely gone.

Mark V said...

I agree - the competition for uefa cup places will be intense - spurs, everton, blackburn and newcastle (signings permitting), so far I can't see west ham threatening them too much

JJ said...

Maybe he should see if the big four really see West Ham as a threat and try to sign Gaby Heinze? They can afford him anyway.

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