aIt's been a miserable seven days for West Ham United. A Carling Cup semi-final first-leg victory over Birmingham last Wednesday should have lifted the spirits of the players, fans and their under pressure boss Avram Grant. But it didn't. The whispers surrounding the future of Grant only got louder, reaching crescendo on Saturday morning when some news outlets began reporting that the Israeli would be fired regardless of his side's result against Arsenal.
That an approach for former Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill rapidly became public knowledge rather than remaining a behind-the-scenes negotiation is a damning indictment of the willingness of West Ham insiders to feed every detail of what happens at the club to the media. Grant himself has cryptically suggested for the past few weeks that rumours about his position had been leaked from inside Upton Park, while the club were forced to issue a denial that vice-chairman Karren Brady had been texting players to ask them their opinions on their boss.
O'Neill was backed into a corner and wisely chose to reject the opportunity to join the West Ham madhouse, leading the club to issue an embarrassing 'vote of confidence' for Grant, the man that the world knew they had been trying to replace. The incessant recent media coverage of the Hammers has been the subject of much condemnation by the club's fans, and Hammers legend Tony Cottee is equally disturbed by the negative exposure.
Cottee earned hero status during two successful spells at West Ham, scoring 145 goals in 335 games for the club after progressing through the Upton Park academy, but has been appalled by developments at the club over the past decade. ESPNsoccernet's West Ham blogger Billy Blagg recently went as far as describing the Hammers as "a club in terminal decline" and Cottee found it impossible to disagree with his assessment.
"I totally agree with him," Cottee tells ESPNsoccernet. "There there have been a lot of mistakes made, not just in the last year since David Gold and David Sullivan took over, but for the last ten years going back to the moment Harry Redknapp left the club. Sadly it's led us to where we are now and the spectre of relegation is looming large, everyone can see that. The club is certainly in decline.
"While I think Gold and Sullivan deserve credit for taking over the club when lot of people were talking a good game but didn't put their money on the table, but I do feel they've made quite a few mistakes. They didn't really help Gianfranco Zola, I think they could've given him a bit more time and a bit more support and once they did get rid of him they appointed the wrong man in Avram Grant. That was a mistake as well and more recently, the way they have gone about trying to get Martin O'Neill while Grant is still in a job is wrong as well.
"There seems to have been a publicity bandwagon revolving around the club of late. Traditionally West Ham have always done their business on the quiet and I just don't think fans want to hear and see a quote or story coming out of West Ham every day. It can only come from within the club. Obviously people at the club seem to think it's beneficial for West Ham to be in the news all the time but I totally disagree and think the only thing you want to be in the news for is what's happening on the field."
The public nature of West Ham's pursuit of O'Neill has been widely criticised, but while Cottee echoed those sentiments, he is most frustrated about the club's conduct because it led to them missing out on the Northen Irish boss. And Cottee, who played under O'Neill at Leicester, feels that the Hammers' failure to land his former boss may have grave ramification.
"I don't know what Grant is like in the dressing room as all I see is his interviews and his mannerisms at the side of the pitch, but I look at him and he wouldn't motivate me. You need to get the best out of the players and he doesn't seem to be doing that. In my opinion, West Ham is a special club and the fans deserve a manager who is going to inspire and motivate them. I said I didn't think he was the right man for the job at the time and sadly that's been proved right. The owners are coming out and backing him now but you wonder if the damage has been done and if the club are now on the slippery slope to relegation.
"Martin was my manager at Leicester for three years so I know exactly how good it is. I think if he had got the job then West Ham would have stayed up this year. He gets the best out of players, he inspires players and you want to play for him. I believe he would have been the right man for the job but the way things were handled Martin was put in a very difficult position where he couldn't be seen to be plundering someone else's job.
"If the club had sacked Grant after the Arsenal game as they probably should have done, it could have all been done and dusted but they dithered and now they've had to publicly back a man that they don't really want to back. It's crazy what's been going on there. I think now that they've kept Grant in charge there is a good chance they will go down because I just don't think he's the right man for the job.
"I've been critical of the manager, but the players need to stand up and be counted as well. There are some decent players at West Ham and really they should be in mid-table but there are players at the club who have been underperforming and under-achieving. It's a two-way thing, we can criticise Gold and Sullivan but on a Saturday they are not involved in the game, it's the manager and the players."
As West Ham's fifth all-time leading scorer, Cottee has a bit of previous when it comes to getting goals for the Hammers, and he has become concerned by the club's failure to find a prolific striker to lead their line in recent years, with Grant's side particularly struggling this season. The Hammers have found the net just 21 times in 22 games and their strikers only contributed nine of those goals, Frederic Piquionne scoring five, Carlton Cole three and Victor Obinna one.
"Goalscoring has been a real problem and no-one has got near 20 top-flight goals for a very long time. We had a wonderful goalscorer at the club in Jermain Defoe but he was only there for a few years and we perhaps didn't see the best of him in a West Ham shirt. But where do you find these strikers? Someone has got to step up to the plate in the next 15 games, whether it be Carlton Cole, Piquionne, Obinna, [Zavon] Hines or [Freddie] Sears and start banging a few goals in otherwise the club is going to be in massive trouble."
Having been given his opportunity as an 18-year-old - one he grabbed with both hands, scoring on his debut for the club against Spurs in 1983 – Cottee has been particularly pleased to see the likes of Hines and Sears given an opportunity, and he backed the club's youngsters to show what they are made of.
"They have both been given their chances at a young age, but unfortunately there was a lot of pressure piled on Freddie Sears early on. He scored on his debut and he was compared with me and other top players that have played at the club. That was a bit unfair and it took him a long while to get his next goal. But he works hard in whatever position he plays and he's still finding his feet at the moment. He's a local lad so I really hope he's successful and has a good future at the club.
"I've been very impressed with Zavon Hines too since he came into the team He was one of our best player last season up until he had a really bad knee injury and he's only just coming back to fitness now. He's only just come back to fitness but potentially there's two very good young players there who can hopefully lead the line for West Ham over the next five to ten years. They've got real potential and they're still developing but It's not easy for the young players when they are in a relegation dogfight."
Despite the doom and gloom around the Boleyn Ground and Cottee's dismal appraisal of West Ham's chances of survival, he does admit to having some hope that the club will be able to avoid the drop.
"Looking on the positive side, there are still 15 games left and there are a lot of other poor teams down there who could get relegated. They have got a chance but the players and the manager have got to prove their worth. The players have got to start performing, the manager has got to start inspiring. Whether they can do it, I'm not so sure but they've got to start getting some results."
Tony Cottee and Phil Parkes were talking ahead of the Carling Cup semi-final second leg between West Ham vs Birmingham. Tony and Phil will be watching the game in one lucky supporter's front room, as part of Carling's drive to improve fans' home viewing experience. For more information, log onto www.carling.com