Shooting ourselves in the foot

So we have a pending relegation crisis, a managerial crisis and the return of the dark cloud that is the Sheffield United crisis. Forgive me, but haven't we been this way before?

It all seems to come around about this time every year, or is that just me being paranoid, or the pessimist that my match-going mates continue to call me. I'm sorry, but when you've been around West Ham for as long as me, you do tend to see a glass as half empty rather than half full.

And it is all so avoidable. The relegation situation would have been avoidable if our beloved team had managed a half-decent, organised performance at Aston Villa last Sunday.

It has taken me a few days to get over what was a bitterly disappointing outcome and it was even laughable to see a quote from Sam Allardyce that 'we couldn't play any better.' Good grief, if he believes that maybe he should go now.

It makes you wonder why managers of all persuasions think they can trot out rubbish remarks for the great unwashed and expect them not to be challenged. Club websites and players do the same. Do give us some credit for knowing what we are watching.

Then there was the official statement from the club to re-iterate what we all have known all along - that's if we have been keeping up, and we all have. It explained again that there will be no talk of new contracts until we are safe from relegation.

That was in response to a no-quotes piece in one of the Sundays about big Sam's future. Nobody picked up on it until the club went all official on the website, then it's all over Sky on the half hour, every half hour, and has been the subject of follow-ups all week.

That could all have been avoided if the club had ignored the Sunday paper piece and allowed Sam to handle any questions at his next press conference. He's big enough and ugly enough to look after himself, and he would have said that there was nothing new in the story, it's been that way since the Play-Off final when his long-term future was put on the back burner until he had achieved the second part of his two year contract...to maintain West Ham's place in the top flight.

So often our club, who seem to lack basic understanding of how journalists work, come out with poorly conceived statements that just add fuel to a fire that would fizzle out on it's own accord.

So now we have had a week of 'names in the frame' and soul-searching about Sam's future, style, his staff and what the players think. Well done everybody, a crisis out of nothing.

Sam is a very rich man with a home in the Lancashire hills. He does not need to work, he does it because he wants to prove he is right and everyone else is wrong about him. He may even want to go in the summer, he hopes with his reputation restored and our club safe in the top flight and able to get their hands on the vastly bigger sponsorship pot from Sky and the worldwide TV contracts.

That would make paying Sheffield United their last ?6m hand-out this summer an awful lot easier. Maybe we will even be able to spend money on transfer fees in the next window, unlike the last one where we paid out only wages and loan fees and were unable to buy a good left back and a new striker. But then again, pigs might fly.

Sheffield United, of course, is a problem we can do without raising its' ugly head every few months. It leaves a bad taste.

And I am fed up with seeing everybody still writing that we contravened third-party regulations over Carlos Tevez. Now if I am wrong about this, please someone correct me. But when the Tevez crisis arose, the Premier League did not have any regulations about third-party ownership, I believe the Football League still don't have any either.

The new rules came about afterwards. We were found guilty of lying to the Premier League, and having a clause in Tevez's contract that allowed his owners to sell him whenever they wanted, against our wishes, in any window.
That clause was discovered by Liverpool's former chief executive Rick Parry when he was going through Javier Mascherano's contract with a fine tooth comb ahead of the now Barcelona star's loan move to Anfield.

The clause contravened regulations that say no outsider can influence team selection, and if that said third party had other players at other clubs with the same clause, it could be seen as a way of influencing team selections.

In the summer of the Tevez scandal, the Premier League adopted new regulations and voted not to punish West Ham any further. Clearly, at the time more than a few clubs did not want to see any close investigation of certain contracts and wanted the situation concluded.

It was also suggested at the time that a few contracts of Portuguese or Brazilian players would not have passed closer inspection. Maybe Chelsea and Jose were all too aware of a pending problem?

This wasn't good enough for the Blades as we know, who finally found an FA-established independent hearing that allowed them to railroad us into the current ?20m we are still paying back.

And that only came about on the back of the wonderful Scott Duxbury being accused of trying to re-negotiate Tevez's original contract that we said had been torn up at the time of the original offences.

The Premier League accepted that had happened, and allowed Tevez to play at Wigan on April 28, 2006 and the final two league games against Bolton and Manchester United...all three games were won and we were saved from the drop.

Only after all that did Duxbury try to offer Tevez a deal to stay, and that was interpreted at the tribunal - without anything in writing it has to be said - as 'not having torn up the original contract.'

Now that's how I have always seen it. I was a working journalist at the time and obvious sympathetic to the Irons, but do not believe that my understanding of what happened to be incorrect. As I said, if I am labouring under misapprehensions, will someone put me right.

It just continues to annoy me that we are constantly accused of breaking regulations that didn't even exist!

But now back to the present and our team who could be dragged into a relegation battle very, very easily. All that pressure could have been avoided by a victory at Villa Park, and we certainly had the chances despite a terrible, mechanical performance.

The previous day I, along no doubt with a few thousands Irons fans, had sat at home and watched virtually every result go our way, apart from Southampton beating Manchester City. Had we won at Villa we would have been 12 points clear of the drop zone with 12 games left.

We would have been on 33 points and almost safe. But now the gap is just seven, although we still(!) have a far better goal difference than any of the bottom four, which is worth another point.

Since we went down in 2002-03 with 42 points, still a record, the fourth from bottom survival place has been achieved with 44, 39, 34, 38, 38, 36, 35, 35, 40 and 37 points. An average of 37.

So now I believe we must get 37 minimum. But the run-in is very tough. Home to Spurs and Manchester United, and away trips to Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City. That's six of our final 12 games were are unlikely to get anything from on current form.

So we have to find seven points now from the other six. And that includes matches against fellow strugglers Southampton, Reading, Wigan and Newcastle. It does not look like it is going to be easy, which makes the rotten display at Villa even harder to take.

Perhaps the five-day break in Dubai will help us. It certainly did last season at this time when we were going through that bad patch of draws in the Championship.

But unless we want to avoid facing Sheffield United on the field next season - our money looks to be giving them another tilt at promotion - we had better get our act together quickly and rustle up seven points from somewhere.

It is all coming to a head together, with the move to Stratford likely to be confirmed in the next week or so. What our wonderful leaders will not be able to contend with is a team in the Championship while their heads are on the clouds over a rebuilt Olympic stadium, and the Boleyn on the market.

So come on Sam, if this is your last throw of the West Ham dice before you return to the Lancashire hills, get a grip now!

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