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Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Pardew had short leash in final days at West Ham


LONDON -- "We can move forward with Alan Pardew leading our efforts on the pitch. I will be continuing talks with him on how he sees the future of the playing side. He has my full support and confidence." -- New West Ham chairman Eggert Magnusson assures manager Pardew his job his safe despite the club's lowly position in the Premiership.

Christopher Davies

Dec. 11: Magnusson sacks Pardew.

Three weeks can be a long time in football, especially if you lose two more games as West Ham did against Wigan and Bolton. Icelander Magnusson's support for manager Pardew cooled to the extent that he sacked him last Monday and appointed former Charlton manager Alan Curbishley on Wednesday.

"After the two games against Wigan and Bolton, there was a lack of motivation," said Magnusson. "It's a very important time now. We have five matches until New Year's Day and we have the January transfer window coming up, and I knew we had to make a difficult decision. I took a decision. It was very tough, as it always is, but I did it in the best interests of this club."

While Pardew can claim to have been treated shabbily after guiding West Ham back to the Premiership in 2005 and reaching the F.A. Cup final, where the Hammers were beaten by Liverpool last May, a payoff of around £2 million ($3.9 million) should help him drown his sorrows. In football, too often nothing succeeds like failure.

Yet it was the fear of failure that forced Magnusson to go back on his vote of confidence for Pardew. Relegation from the Premiership gravy train would derail West Ham -- 18th in the 20-club Premiership -- which is effectively £150 million ($294.8 million) in debt after the complex takeover by Magnusson and fellow countryman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson.

With £25 million (49.1 million) in television revenue lost for a club relegated to the Championship, the new owners decided this week that last month's promise to Pardew could not be kept, and former West Ham midfielder Curbishley, who left Charlton last May, was given the job of keeping the Hammers in the Premiership.

The bad news is that his first game is against Manchester United on Sunday -- United is the only club Curbishley never beat during his 15 years at Charlton, with 12 defeats and two draws in 14 matches against Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

Curbishley is a man whose values of honesty, dignity and loyalty sit uncomfortably next to the Icelandic takeover of West Ham and Magnusson's ruthless sacking of Pardew, but he could not turn down the chance to manage the club he supported as a boy.

"If you'd said to me as a 16-year-old apprentice that one day I'd be manager, I'd have thought it was impossible," said Curbishley. "I never fulfilled my potential here as a player, so I hope I can do as manager."

His beliefs and convictions on how football should be played go to the core of West Ham's tradition. A Curbishley team will never attempt to kick their way out of trouble. Instead his sides play a style based on passing and movement.

Curbishley's strengths have been his meticulous organization, his man-management, a capacity to buy wisely, plus an ability to get the extra ounce from "no name" players who fitted into his tight budget at Charlton. He will be able to strengthen the side during the January transfer window and said, "It just seems the season has not got going, with injuries and the like.

"It is a young side who were on a crest of a wave last year, and everything just went from one week to the next with the results getting better. Those same young players are now being asked different questions, and we have got to find the answers."

* * * * *

THIS TIME last year Portsmouth was 18th in the Premiership, and only the most optimistic of Pompey fans believed they would survive relegation. Harry Redknapp, who had defected to deadly rival Southampton in December 2004, controversially returned to Fratton Park with many of the club's supporters bitterly opposed the second coming of "Judas."

Three wins in its last five games saw Portsmouth finish 17th and 'Arry (as his name is pronounced in his native Cockney) had once again shown what a good manager he is.

The summer signings of defender Sol Campbell and Kanu (surplus to Arsenal's and West Bromwich's requirements, both thirtysomethings) plus Manchester City's 36-year-old goalkeeper David James hardly inspired confidence for 2006-07 among the Fratton Park faithful.

Never underestimate Redknapp's ability as a transfer market wheeler and dealer, though.

Kanu's nine goals make him the Premiership's leading scorer while only Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have conceded fewer goals than Portsmouth. The goals-against improvement has much to do with the influence of former Arsenal captain Tony Adams, who joined the club during the summer as defensive coach.

As the season approaches the halfway mark, Portsmouth is fourth in the Premiership, which constitutes more than merely a "good start." Redknapp's ability to get the most out of aging players and foreigners few had heard of has never been better illustrated than in the rise and rise of Portsmouth.

"I just try to make people in my team feel important. I keep telling them how good they are and, to be fair, they have responded to that," he said.

"Everybody needs a pat on the back now and again. Even Bobby Moore used to say that when I played in the West Ham team with him under Ron Greenwood. Dear old Ron was a fantastic coach -- probably the best I have ever known. But he was never very strong on giving you praise. I just wonder how good he would have been if he did."

Campbell was quick to sing Redknapp's praises.

"He's been back [at the club] for a year now, and he has done a fantastic job for this football club," said the former England defender. "He has been like a messiah reviving something that looked dead and buried."

As well as being a messiah, Redknapp is also a master of the one-liner.

On Kanu: "Kanu's been fantastic. My God we've even got him heading the ball. Well, he is not really heading, more like hitting him on the head."

On Matt Taylor's stunning 45-yard volleyed goal against Everton last week: "Forty-five yards? I don't go that far on my holidays."

On how he decided tactics: "I sorted out the team formation last night lying in bed with the wife. When your husband's as ugly as me, you'd only want to talk football in bed."

On foreign players: "I left a couple of my foreigners out last week and they started talking in 'foreign.' I knew what they were saying, 'Blah, blah, blah b***** manager, f****** useless b******.' "

And, "Samassi Abou don't speak the English too good."



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