Here is a little parlour game, the rules of which probably only occur to followers of West Ham during their most distressing nightmares. Put together a team line-up of players currently performing elsewhere in the Premier League that have been let go by the Hammers.
It would read something like this: David James (Portsmouth); Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd), James Collins (Aston Villa), Paul Konchesky (Fulham); Joe Cole (Chelsea), Michael Carrick (Man Utd), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool); Craig Bellamy (Man City), Jermain Defoe (Spurs).
Then compare it to the side Gianfranco Zola fielded at Bolton last night and consider how many of his line up would displace anyone from this fantasy Hammers XI. You could make an argument for Scott Parker over Benayoun, perhaps. But after that, with Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole absent injured and Mark Noble suspended, you would be hard-pressed even to suggest the rest of them were worthy of a place on a subs' bench containing Anton Ferdinand (Sunderland), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa), Matthew Etherington (Stoke) and Bobby Zamora (Fulham).
Sure, some of their former players wanted to leave to further the quality of their bank accounts. Sure, even if West Ham were the most stable operation in the division, the likes of Rio, Frank and Joe would have upped sticks long ago. But the fact remains that no other club has squandered its own resources quite as prodigiously as West Ham.
And now they look perilously poised for another tumble out of the top flight, a ludicrous position to be in when you consider the relative potential of their rivals in the division.
When no club went immediately bust last autumn, football was quick to claim that it would not suffer too irksome a reaction to the credit crunch. But at places like Portsmouth and West Ham we can see only too clearly the fall-out, as owners who borrowed recklessly in order to finance their purchase scramble desperately for the escape hatch. Portsmouth are so hopelessly hamstrung by debt, far from the transfer window bringing an injection of new blood, January looks like being the cruellest of months, as yet more departures are sanctioned.
As for the Hammers, the arrival of the Icelandic contingent has turned out the worst bit of news at the Boleyn Ground since Paul Ince got the equaliser on his return with Manchester United in 1994. Their borrowing heading south faster than a migrating swallow, they can do nothing but advertise a firesale of the few remaining playing assets they have. It was probably them who planted the rumour in the papers of Parker going to Liverpool in January.
And yet, unlike Portsmouth, whose new owners appear to be as much of a chimera as their previous ones, there is hope for the Hammers. With their porn backgrounds and Versailles-styled homes, David Gold and David Sullivan might appear ludicrous from the outside. But they have money. And - unlike many of those drawn to football during the credit boom - it is largely their own.
Beside, their motives are a lot sounder than those of foreign speculators gambling with someone else's money in the hope of buffing up their asset. True, the pair's principal aim may well be to find a vehicle to enhance their egos, but that suggests they will be even more anxious for the project not to fail. The last thing the buyers of a vanity purchase want is to be made to look foolish.
Besides, after two decades in charge of Birmingham, a club they rescued from the lip of oblivion, they left the place in the best position it has ever been. They love their football, love the trappings that go with ownership, Gold, in particular, craves the wider respect football brings to a life otherwise governed by sleaze. They would be good for West Ham. And if the current owners have the remotest ambition to leave the place in any condition other than resembling a train wreck, they should do the business with the pair quickly.
- Aston Villa
- Man Utd
- West Ham
- Frank Lampard
- Yossi Benayoun