Fact - or fiction?

It's all been going too well, hasn't it? Our best start to a season in years, but problems are never far away. So what are we to do with our troubled players, the ones that may be sold, want to be sold, could leave or just cannot get into the side?

It's a situation that has exercised my brain cells (not many, I hear some say) far too much over the past few weeks. It's called having time on my hands....

Nothing irritates me more than international breaks and transfer windows, and when the two virtually converge around this time of the year, my tolerance level drops alarmingly.

Now I didn't always feel like that. During my former working life, international breaks meant travelling Europe and beyond. I loved it all, everything but the flying bit, to be precise. But it took me to places I could never have dreamed of or afforded, over 50 countries worldwide.

But now internationals bore me. We have lost 36 days of this season already to international breaks, it's far too much emphasis on country rather than club. Let's face it, England will never win anything again, we won't even get to stage a full major event.

And if you offered me England winning the World Cup or West Ham winning the title (or anything, really), it's no contest, surely.

The breaks unbalance the season. From the first day of the campaign to when we re-commence at Everton on Saturday, we will have played a game roughly every nine days.

And as Big Sam keeps pointing out, the next few months over Christmas and New Year and beyond will see us play a match every five days, up to the Hull game in mid-January, with the obvious greater risk of injuries and less recovery time. Is it only me who feels that FIFA (in particular) and UEFA should be told to stick their calendar?

OK, whinge over, now how about Winston Reid, Andy Carroll and Mauro Zarate. And maybe Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole and Ravel Morrison.

Reid first. I see we are giving him an ultimatum, sign in January or you will be sold. Yea, right. That only works if Reid or his advisors want a transfer window move. It might suit us if we can claw some cash from a situation initially of our own making, but its not as easy as that.

Reid and his people know that in the summer he can walk away for nothing. I bet every club who has shown an interest are saying, sit tight, do nothing and we will be able to offer you vastly higher wages if we don't have to fork out ?5m in January.

It seems we are offering him ?60,000 a week, not a great deal more than the recently published Premier League average weekly wage of around ?43,000. His bargaining position is so much higher if he waits until the summer.

No doubt his advisors will want all of any previously projected transfer fee factored into a new five year contract with whoever signs him. That would push his possible wages nearer the ?100,000 mark.

So why would he agree to be sold in January? It seems his Danish agents have held plenty of talks, but not agreed anything. Just going through the motions, it seems, to spin it all out.

And, anyway, it's more than just about money for Reid, he wants European football, and to achieve that with us, we have to finish in our best-ever league position of fifth. Now I am delighted with our fourth spot, overjoyed, but staying there may well be just beyond us.

So I feel Reid has us over a barrel. I know it is easy in hindsight, but maybe we should have addressed this problem a long time ago, because it looks like we got him on the cheap anyway and are going to be really mugged now.

Zarate is just as complex. His name was banded about by an Italian agent, Luis Rozzi, who was interviewed on Sky (them again) and by any other media outlet willing to pick up the phone.

Now it seems Zarate, who was represented by his brother Sergio Zarate when he joined in May on a three-year deal with a year option, largely at the behest of David Sullivan, has disowned Ruzzi and pledged himself to the faith here.

It seems that Ruzzi had dealings with Zarate when he moved to Italy before, but not now. The one question I am sure our club have asked is who, from the players' entourage, asked Ruzzi to test the water in Italy again, because I do not believe for a second that he was doing all the work off his own bat and for nothing, Or is that too cynical of me?

To my mind, Sullivan was right to buy him. Our beloved leader had had enough of last season's shambles when it came to strikers and injuries, and wanted something in the bag straight away. The fact that Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia were to sign a couple of months later and be such a success was hardly something Sullivan felt he could be certain would happen.

We all now assume that BFS didn't fancy the Argentinian much anyway, and that has been obvious with the fleeting amount of chances that Zarate has had to perform, regardless of the seemingly long list of 'niggling' injuries. He played well for one half at Crystal Palace, and scored a blinder.

But even then a ragged, manager-less Palace were able to sort out tighter marking after the break, and Zarate faded. That has been the case when ever I have seen him since (not much, I accept). He looks short of physical strength and too easily bullied out of matches, despite the clever feet and movement.

At the heart of this whole shoddy mess of agents and sleight of hand is that Zarate seemingly does not enjoy being stuck on the bench. My view on this is, watch this space! He's on around ?40,000 a week (I'll come to that later after I have dealt with Carroll), and his every second of inactivity is costing us.

Now, for our Geordie hero. Stupid postings on Instagram (whatever that is) showing a picture of St James' Park and a one word caption..."reminiscing,"... is at best a joke and at worst downright mischievous, trying to see who can be wound up!

Big Sam has made all the right noises here. Carroll is several games from fitness, so he will be used from the bench, and that will take us up to January when the African Cup of Nations kicks-off on the 13th, going through to February 8, now it seems in Equatorial Guinea. At the least we will lose Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyate, and Carroll will be straight into our front line.

The 'but' is that Carroll is on over ?80,000 a week. It is the same problem that saw his exit from Liverpool, once Brendan Rodgers had made it clear the big man was not in his plans and could only expect a few games from the bench.

That alerted the money men in the USA, who were straight on the blower wanting to know why their big investment was going to be a spectator. Now my impression of the Yanks in British football is that they know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. And they know even less about the European transfer system.

I recall being told once that the previous Yankee owners at Anfield had to have transfers explained to them because they thought we had the college draft system used stateside. And they never grasped the finer details.

But Carroll's role as an expensive reserve didn't wash and that produced the loan, then transfer, to E13. Now I cannot see our own rulers being too happy with a weekly outlay of ?80,000, added to Zarate's ?40,000, for the dearest season ticket seats in the house, so to speak (I stole that from Roger Johnson). That's ?120,000 a week outlay for little or no return. A situation that nobody would want to drag on for very long.

Our accountants won't like it any more than Liverpool's American owners did, and just how patient Carroll will be is open to debate. Ditto Zarate. Cole and Vaz Te's contracts end in the summer and I would be stunned to see them extended, while Jussi Jaaskelainen and Morrison are in the same boat.

By next season we may well be prepared to risk young Sam Howes on the bench or Raphael Spiegel. But don't be surprised if we try to buy a young 'keeper as back-up.
Clearly, with us being right on the edge of our Financial (un)Fair Play cap, any new players will have to be funded by departures. I would still give Morrison another chance because he has so much skill, but he is making being a tow-rag something of an art form and his exit would not surprise me.

So the departures of Cole, Jussi, Morrison, Vaz Te and Reid would free up around ?90,000 a week (my estimates from trusted websites I have used for years), while if Carroll and Zarate do finally go, we are talking over ?200,000 a week saved to be used to bring in new faces.

All hypothetical, I know, but it is the sort of juggling our owners seem to insist they have to do these these days.

So...I do not expect Reid to go in January, rather work his ticket and leave in the summer. We can hardly punish him by leaving him out because he is too important to our defence. And anything but total commitment from him would surely not impress possible new employers with regard to his professionalism and character.

It would not surprise me to see Zarate go at some time, but not Carroll. But if we are to believe what we are being told, some movement has to happen in January if we are to add to our squad with Reid's potential replacement...Fulham's youngster Dan Burn and Russian centre-back Aleksander Dragovic are the latest in the frame, it seems.

There could be others to go, certainly from the development squad ranks, but I still do not expect BFS to let a transfer window pass without some financial activity. It's not his way.

On the BFS situation; is it just me, or are we witnessing him running rings around everyone and the common-held belief that fan power forced our manager into a corner and our owners into a very public show of power?

Yes, I can already hear the disgruntled out there reaching for the keypad, but lovely old uncle Sam has come up smelling of roses, after months of discontent, hasn't he?

Just how draconian our owners were is still open to debate. Can you honestly see the Baroness and the porn Barons (sounds like one of Sullivan's dodgy DVDs doesn't it) standing over a cowering Sam, laying down the law.

Sam doesn't waste much time to get his points in. He has already said he wasn't told to change the style without any real contradiction from the board, and after Carroll's furious late cameo against Villa, he quickly pointed out how much we all enjoyed the late, late aerial blitz. He never misses a trick.

Is his job safe? I think so. Is there more than a 50-50 chance that he will get a new rolling one year contract to see him take us into the Olympic stadium? Pretty much. And have the anti-Sam brigade melted away? Not all, but we are fourth after our best start to a Premier League season, so the volume has been turned down somewhat.

And we now have his more public detractors shuffling around apologetically. That, I must add, is a shame because people I have high regard for firstly as former journalist and others as enthusiastic, dedicated to the cause, bloggers, held views and expressed them with clarity, honesty, passion and genuine concern for our club.

The anti-Sam lot had a good case and genuine feelings about our style of play. That it has changed so obviously, I believe, is more down to Sam having better, quicker players to utilise.

And frankly I doubt that he cares whether he is axed or not. He knows he will get another job, if he wants one, now his star has risen again. His credentials have only been enhanced by this season's turnaround.

At this point it is worth mentioning how different Sam is viewed inside the game, to outside. Fellow professionals respect his ability to survive and adapt. And to deliver the requirements of the job, points. Inside the game, style and flair come second to results, believe me.

As for the outsiders, us, people tend to hate his style of play and arrogance. And in our case, a measure of lacking respect. But he does the job and it is noticeable that our players seem to enjoy playing under his management, they understand the professional objectives BFS personifies.

Oh, and one last moan. What on earth was that dreadful in-house TV that we had to endure in the bars during the Aston Villa game? I doubt I have ever seen anything so bad.

It looked like it had been cobbled together in a lock-up on the Barking Road by a bunch of teenagers on work experience. Truly dreadful.

It seems we cannot afford the Press Association half-time and full-time scores service any more. What we had to endure was, would you believe, some obscure boxing at half-time and a silent interview with a boxer. No scores, nothing. Sometimes you cannot make it up.

My message to our club's commercial department is that if you want to use advertising around a central TV screen in the bars and restaurants, then you must make the punters watch by putting something on worth attractive their attention. Very basic really.

What we had for the Villa game was a disgrace for a Premier League club. Are we cutting corners and costs to give us more FFP scope?

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