Reality sets in for Magnusson

December 11, 2006
(Archive)

From thoughts of the Champions League to the harsher reality of the Championship in a flash: that is the worst-case scenario for Eggert Magnusson. His £85million takeover of West Ham prompted, for the second time this season, suggestions that the Hammers could gatecrash the private party of the European elite.

GettyImages / Ben RadfordAlan Pardew: Left out in the cold after a poor run of games.

But just as the optimism that followed the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano was swiftly drained, the sight of a demoralised Magnusson slumped in his seat at the Reebok Stadium was a sign that the precariousness of West Ham's position had sunk in.

His solution? To dismiss Alan Pardew. The manager who, barely four games before, had been given his backing. A three-year reign that was rarely uneventful was curtailed, six months after an FA Cup final that, despite defeat on penalties, represented a triumph for the positive football Pardew espoused.

Now he is gone. The ruthless demolition job performed by Bolton was enough to persuade the Icelandic owners that relegation beckoned. Outfought and out-thought, it was a chastening experience, particularly for Pardew, whose attempt to replicate Sam Allardyce's formation was an unmitigated disaster. It completes a descent into chaos this season: Pardew has presided over a team who have not scored on their travels for almost 12 hours, compiling the club's worst away run for 46 years.

A certain fallibility on their travels is almost a West Ham tradition, but not one Magnusson appears to tolerate. Results have almost appeared secondary in a season that bears similarities to a soap opera, but now they must take precedent. Takeover talks and distractions in the boardroom and the courtroom (thanks to Anton Ferdinand) can be cited as mitigating factors, along with the arrival of two unfortunate Argentinians and the personal problems of Roy Carroll and Shaun Newton. Inhabiting the relegation zone at Christmas, however, must demand nothing less than total focus on their predicament.

Statistics suggest it is required. Only Charlton and Fulham have had as few shots as West Ham, and that is an easy explanation for a lack of goals. Hampered by their travel sickness, they seem infected by the worst case of 'second season syndrome' since Ipswich followed fifth place in 2001 with a swift return to the Championship 12 months later.

Perhaps not since then has each member of a team's form been so different to that of the previous year. Collective overachievement has been followed by a malaise that has impacted upon each individual; the charge levelled at Pardew is that development of players has stopped and, during three successive defeats, they have appeared increasingly unmotivated.

Nonetheless, it provides a reminder that perceptions change. Outside Upton Park, few players were expected to impress after promotion to the Premiership in 2005. However, the majority appeared better suited to top-flight football to the extent that, at various stages of the season, Pardew championed nine of them for England.

Lucrative contract extensions, decisions Magnusson may wish he could reverse, followed but, with reputations in decline, Nigel Reo-Coker, Marlon Harewood, Paul Konchesky and co. have been ignored by Steve McClaren. But while Pardew's policy of buying British initially found approval with West Ham's new chairman, recent recruits have been less successful.

Robert Green's only previous Premiership experience culminated in relegation with Norwich, Carlton Cole has continued his close working relationship with the substitutes' bench and there was surprise among the supporters of both Preston and Sunderland that Tyrone Mears and George McCartney both failed to nail down a first-team place. Pardew's former team-mate Lee Bowyer, meanwhile, has never recaptured the adrenalin-fuelled effectiveness of his peak at Leeds.

Only Dean Ashton enjoys a loftier standing, and that is by means of not playing. In his absence, Teddy Sheringham, now in his fifth decade, has provided the sole source of direction in attack and only Tevez, though without a goal in 13 games, has even hinted at the kind of incision and inspiration required. For all the enthusiasm of Marlon Harewood, there has been a lack of strategy in an impotent attack.

Dean Ashton
GettyImages / JulianFinneyInjury-hit Dean Ashton celebrates in happier times for West Ham.

After just 10 goals in 17 games, January provides a window of opportunity, especially with a budget bolstered by the millions Magnusson has provided. That, in turn, hastened Pardew's exit, with the need to give the funds to his successor. There was a seeming willingness to commit £10million for winger Shaun Wright-Phillips but much now depends on the identity of West Ham's next manager, with Alan Curbishley the obvious favourite to succeed Pardew.

With a foreboding fixture list - Manchester United are the next visitors to Upton Park - the caretaker manager Kevin Keen's is an unenviable task. They may be deeper in the mire before a salvage job can be mounted

But if admirers of Pardew, and many remain, believe West Ham have panicked, one explanation is that, new as he is to the club, Magnusson is a student of the club's history. There are marked similarities with the 2002-3 season when West Ham were often deemed 'too good to go down' and duly got relegated. The loyalty extended to Glenn Roeder then was hardly justified and, in a comparable situation, it is unsurprising that Pardew, met with a different fate.

Hammers fans will need little reminding, that was a side that boasted Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Paolo di Canio and Frederic Kanoute, and were still demoted. Four years on, Manchester United and Arsenal are credited with an interest in Reo-Coker and the asset-stripping that followed West Ham's last relegation is another precedent they will be eager to avoid.

Having invested so much, it is imperative for their new owners that West Ham avoid becoming the costliest club in the Championship.

To do that, they must preserve their Premiership status and ignore the clichés that will accompany it. Too good to go down? West Ham now know there is no such thing. And that is why they have sacked Alan Pardew.


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