Emotions run high in 'Tevez Derby'
To the uninitiated, the second round of the Capital One Cup throws up the perennial question that faces Premier League and top Championship sides at this stage. Namely, is the cup a distraction and drain on resources the club can do without or how weak a team can the manager name in order to beat a side from a lower division?
To the well informed, though, the game against Sheffield United in midweek is much, much more than that.
For this is a match that the West Ham faithful have been drooling over since the draw was made; just a small chance to settle a score that has festered and still provokes outrage and debate whenever it is mentioned. It's an opportunity to gain small revenge for a debt that figuratively and literally can never be repaid. The Capital One competition is the first time West Ham have faced the Blades since the infamous "Tevezgate" ruling -- the Carlos Tevez affair that ended with Sheffield United winning an out-of-court settlement that meant the Hammers had to pay 20 million pounds in compensation.
The Tevez affair was the hugely controversial incident during the 2006-07 season that saw West Ham fined 5.5 million pounds by the Premier League for breaching rules governing third-party ownership and for trying to cover up a deal that meant Tevez was partly owned by an investment company owned by businessman Kia Joorabchian.
The Hammers were never deducted points though and even more controversially, Tevez was granted to permission to continue to play. When the Argentinian scored at Manchester United on the last day of the season to keep West Ham up and send Sheffield United down, the Blades took legal action on the basis the striker was not only ineligible but had been instrumental in the Hammers' astonishing escape that season.
Sheffield United's action has long been disputed by fans with regular sniping continuing over the years as the fortunes of both clubs changed in the intervening period. The current owners stated that had they been in charge at the time of the affair, they would have fought the decision through the courts and the legality and fairness of the whole incident continues to reverberate through both clubs, even though the debt has been fully paid.
The West Ham unofficial web sites are full of fans suggesting songs and chants to aim at the Sheffield visitors and it seems Tevez himself will be making an appearance of sorts -- with hundreds of masks of the Argentinian to be worn by supporters.
With all the controversy against what is likely to be a lively affair off the pitch if not on, it's hard not to lose sight of expectations here. As so often expressed in this blog previously, a league cup run like the one that led to the semifinal against eventual winners Manchester City last season is the least fans can expect. There is no reason why a club like West Ham shouldn't target the Capital One cup as a competition they could reasonably win. Sunderland made it to the final last year, after all, and scared City by taking a 1-0 lead at Wembley.
Hammers fans want a cup run but more than anything else they want to beat Sheffield United and if possible, by a large margin.
The players may not expecting it but there is likely to be an intense atmosphere at Upton Park this week and Sam Allardyce will need a comfortable win if he is to send the supporters home happy.