Friday, August 10, 2007

Mid-Table Mediocrity (a brief West Ham United preview)

As a West Ham United fan... and after suffering through a painful last season watching the team barely rescue (courtesy of the recently departed Tevez) themselves from a full-fledged disaster on the pitch and then the boardroom disaster, courtesy of the former owners, that smelled awfully like corruption (I thought that didn't happen in England, only in those swarthy, sweaty lands down South)... I'm ready for some sweet mid-table mediocrity. Manager Alan Curbishley--someone, I might add, I'm not entirely sold on--has made some interesting and strong trades over the break, most notably sending former captain Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood to Aston Villa, sadly Benayoun to Liverpool, and shuffling former Liverpool knee/golf club fetishist Craig Bellamy and longtime Arsenal player Freddie Ljungberg into the fold. Ljungberg is a shrewd, wise, though surprising choice. I think he'll work out fine. But Bellamy is a huge question mark. There's no doubt that the guy has pace, keen vision (I unfortunately remember him setting up Riise in that brutal win over Barcelona during a first leg Champions League match, not to mention his earlier equalizer and subsequent golf club swing celebration), and he's a brutal finisher when his heart and mind are keyed up (something that never really happened with his season with Liverpool). But he's a liability when you factor in his suspect shenanigans off the pitch. I have a feeling that if Bellamy doesn't feel like playing nicely, everyone else in the locker room suffers accordingly and feels the ripple effects of his tantrums.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see with him, and I hope that his professed sincerity about giving his all for the Hammers and all that jazz really does come from the right place in his heart. God knows last year's squad had its share of bloated egos, locker room bullshit, and lackluster energy on the pitch for most of the season.

And then there were the injuries--Upson, Gabbidon, and Ashton. But with those players fit and ready to play again (Ashton's return is perhaps the most important), the Hammers will no doubt be in better form. Unfortunately, captain Lucas Neill (who Curbishley signed to the team mid-season last year and who immediately got injured) is now injured again--he "tweaked" his knee ligaments--and will definitely miss tomorrow's opening match against Sven's Manchester City lads.

All in all, I'm cautiously optimistic for mid-table success. Curbishley, though, has bigger aims for Europe and ambition to be something more than a glorified feeder club to the big four in the Premiership. Easier said than done, of course. We'll see how much of a risk taker he'll be once the bruises start showing....

West Ham United v Manchester City airs Saturday on the Fox Soccer Channel at 6:55 AM (Pacific).


Ghost Dog said...

I liked Freddie a lot. Might have to watch a few West Ham matches just to see him play.

Derek said...

Yeah, Freddie was really good on Saturday. Yeah, you should definitely watch the Hammers, GD. They have grit, passion, and every once in awhile they win!