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Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 0
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By ESPN Staff

Hammers keen to avoid the spotlight

You could be forgiven for thinking that West Ham only had one player this summer. Such has been the media frenzy over Argentine Carlos Tevez's move to Manchester United, the rest of the Hammers' squad have been free to enjoy their pre-season relatively free of the spotlight.

In fact, the Hammers have been pretty busy in the summer transfer window, bringing in Freddie Ljungberg, Julien Faubert, Craig Bellamy, Scott Parker and Richard Wright for a combined fee of nearly £25million, but with one player dominating the headlines, the new arrivals have taken a backseat.

The summer spending alone could be balanced against the sale of the highly-rated Tevez, although anyone who has followed the transfer saga since the Argentine first expressed his desire to quit Upton Park will know that it is not that simple.

Questions over the ownership of the player have led to delays, court cases and arguments between the clubs and Kia Joorabchian's MSI company. Nothing is certain, although the Premier League may eventually sanction the transfer if West Ham receive an adequate transfer fee for the player. Frankly, a long drawn out affair is the last thing that the club need.

With a dismal 2006/07 season still lingering in the memory, West Ham will at least take solace from the incredible run of form in the latter stages of the league that saw them escape relegation.

Seven wins in their final nine games, coupled with the impressive goalscoring of Tevez, made the Hammers look like a top flight team again. Having been in the bottom three since December, it wasn't a moment too soon and manager Alan Curbishley can at least cite the resilience of his players as a major positive ahead of the new season.

Some high-profile exits, in Carlos Tevez to Manchester United, former captain Nigel Reo-Coker and striker Marlon Harewood to Aston Villa and Yossi Benayoun to Liverpool, have seen a number of players leave the club so far.

Reo-Coker was made a scapegoat for the club's failings last term, and while the England Under 21 midfielder has a lot of potential, he did not live up to expectations and West Ham can be well pleased with an £8.5million fee. Similarly, at least £3million for a striker, in Harewood, who only managed three goals last season can be seen as an excellent piece of business.

More of a loss will be the little Israeli maestro Benayoun. Unable to resist the temptation of playing for a club like Liverpool, the diminutive midfielder has already proved himself to be an excellent top flight player since his arrival at the club in 2005.

Without his flair and creativity in midfield, West Ham may struggle to make chances and much will depend on the young Mark Noble to fill his boots. Indeed Noble was a rare shining light in an otherwise dour season for the Hammers last campaign and will certainly be looking to carry his impressive form into the new season.

A player who Curbishley will see as a new signing, having spent nearly the whole of last season injured, Dean Ashton, will certainly be key to the Hammers' chances of success this year.

One of the most impressive young strikers in the top flight, Ashton sat out with a recurring ankle injury last campaign, but has already proved that he is back on track in pre-season by scoring a cracking 30 yard drive against Leyton Orient.

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Often dropping back to link up play, Ashton is a key component of the Hammers' team and was sorely missed, despite the impact of Tevez. Boasting a great first touch and significant aerial threat, Ashton will be pushing to regain the form that nearly saw him capped for England before he was injured and his return can only mean that his club benefits.

The return of the youngster may also benefit Curbishley's other summer signings. Providing a useful foil for the pace of Craig Bellamy, Ashton has the skill to compliment the Welshman's game and, after a fairly unsuccessful spell with Liverpool, Bellamy will be keen to show that he is a dangerous prospect for Premier League defences again.

Scott Parker, another who has a lot to prove in the league after disappointing spells with Chelsea and Newcastle, could also benefit from Ashton's link up play. He will be glad to be back under the wing of former Charlton boss Curbishley and if anyone can get the best out of the verbally challenged midfielder, then it is Curbs. He may struggle to acclimatise new French signing Julien Faubert, who had the temerity to expect that a transfer to Rangers had already gone through before being given an ultimatum to sign for the Hammers, but in Parker, Curbishley has a future captain.

Completing an odd collection of players unwanted by their previous clubs are Freddie Ljungberg and Richard Wright. Ljungberg, who many believe has his best years behind him, will replace Benayoun on the wing and will bring some grit and determination to the Hammers' midfield; but the acquisition of Wright remains a gamble.

Having released former Manchester United stopper Roy Carroll at the end of the season, Curbishley has undoubtedly bought Wright for his top flight experience and contentment to warm a seat on the bench behind Robert Green all season. Attracted by the fact that Wright was available for free, Curbishley opted to give the former Arsenal 'keeper a chance at Upton Park, although how much of an impact he will have remains to be seen.

In addition to Curbishley's new signing, the players brought to the club in the January transfer window will also be keen to impress more than they did in the second half of last season. The likes of Lucas Neill, Matthew Upson, Calum Davenport and Luis Boa Morte were all hindered by injuries and failed to make an impression, despite a collective £20million being spent on them.

With the upheaval that comes from a takeover and the introduction of big-name players like Tevez and Javier Mascherano, one can certainly see where West Ham were distracted last season. Too often concerned with off the field actions the disruption caused by the Tevez tranfsfer before the 2007/08 season doesn't look good.

Losing a player of his calibre is be a blow for the side, although they will be able to point to the return of Ashton as a silver lining. West Ham's signings should guarantee that they avoid the relegation fight this year.

Without a constant barrage of media attention West Ham have the potential to do well, although anything above mid-table would be impressive given the year that they have had. Once the Tevez transfer is complete, the club's new signings will be key to success, although another injury to Dean Ashton and the Hammers may find themselves in trouble and back in the spotlight again.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter