How El Diego saved West Ham

maradona

At 6.30pm on Sunday January 12, 2014, a repeat of Mrs Brown’s Boys was interrupted to the delight of millions. The BBC cut to East London where David Sullivan was sat behind a desk, his face hanging solemnly like a novelty Ray Winstone nodding dog.

Speculation immediately began to gather on social media. It had been rumoured that defeat at Cardiff was the last straw for West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, and that he had merged with his clothes, shoes and dinner to form one glutinous, sausagey mess. Club spokeschild Jack Sullivan promised “Big news. No, really big, none of that Roger Johnson bollocks”. The nation waited with baited breath.

The co-owner of the club gauged the prevailing atmosphere, discarded a notepad full of inappropriate and probably racist ‘mood-lightening’ jokes, and cut to the chase. Gone was the world’s 13th-best paid manager (yeah, seriously) and replacing him was none other than Diego Maradona.

“Diego was the obvious choice,” Sullivan Sr. lied. “Everyone in the country already hates us, especially after Karren Brady got given a CBE. I mean what the shit was that about.”

“I’m standing right here,” Brady interrupted.

“Fuck you, I stand by it,” Sullivan continued. “So anyway, we’re in the rare situation where we can test out whether two wrongs actually make a right.”

Stunned into near-silence, the press turned their attentions to El Diego. Why had he chosen this job above any others? Speaking through an interpreter who looked suspiciously like Mauricio Pochettino, the new manager spoke of West Ham’s strong tradition of Argentines.

“Carlos Tevez is still well respected here,” began the interpreter, “and Javier Mascherano was an able backup to world-class midfielders like Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker. Then there was Lionel Scaloni, erm, Mauricio Taricco…psst, help me out here guys…was Walter Lopez Argentinean or Uruguayan? How about Pablo Barrera? Mexican? Really? Actually that explains a lot…”

Having successfully bored the watching public into not caring about what he had to say, Maradona set about his task, bringing in Diego Milito on loan until the end of the season. Also, in a controversial move, he swapped Kevin Nolan for an ocelot and 30 copies of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. Fans rejoiced at the news.

The impact was immediate. Enjoying the famed new manager bounce, the Irons beat Newcastle 3-2 in Maradona’s first name in charge. Visiting manager Alan Pardew was furious, claiming a “Premier League conspiracy” and bringing up the previous season’s defeat to Paolo di Canio’s Sunderland.

“It’s unfair that we have to play these teams before the players realise how much of an assclown the manager is,” Pardew complained. Though he said “arseclown” rather than “assclown”, which doesn’t work quite as well.

After a 9-2 aggregate defeat to ManchesterCity, more signings arrived. Goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri was coaxed out of retirement to replace Jussi Jääskeläinen, with the manager under the mistaken impression that you had to “replace all the letters, like in Scrabble”.

The strikeforce was bolstered further with the arrival of Garry O’Connor and Adrian Mutu, while former West Ham winger Shaun Newton also returned to the club. The manager spoke particularly highly of Newton’s “supply line”, before giggling to himself and scratching his nose.

Another player to make his return to Upton Park was Rio Ferdinand, though only on loan as the coaching staff admitted to not being sure about him.

Results from then on in were mixed. Milito ruptured his Achilles tendon scoring a late winner against Swansea, but an improvised centre-back pairing of Roger Johnson and a fit-again Andy Carroll (“he’s good in the air”, Maradona insisted) saw the club enter May just outside the relegation places, only for disaster to strike ahead of the penultimate fixture against Spurs.

Concerned about the North London club’s late-season form, David Sullivan looked to poison the opposition’s pre-match lasagne on the basis that no one would be stupid enough to suspect West Ham of doing the same thing twice. Jääskeläinen, by now sleeping rough on the streets of Newham, was promised a new contract if he injected the Spurs’ hotel’s supply of parmesan cheese with ricin, however he didn’t count on one thing – Tim Sherwood’s aversion to any cheese other than mild cheddar.

Sherwood denied his team a hot meal, insisting they prepare for the game with wine gums and pre-sliced ham straight from the packet, but that was still enough to help them see off a West Ham team who had been out on the piss the night before on the assumption that they just needed to turn up.

That meant a point was needed away at Manchester City in the final game, and with minutes left it looked like that was beyond Maradona’s side, with thunderbolt from the recalled Scott Sinclair sealing the title and wrapping up the winger’s place in the England squad for the World Cup.

However with the clock ticking down, Carroll headed clear a City corner and Newton gathered the loose ball. He sped down the line (geddit) and drove a high cross (ok I’ll stop now) into the box. It went over the head of Mutu but at the back post the ocelot was waiting to leap like, well, an ocelot I guess, and head the ball into the back of the net.

The crowd went wild, and Maradona sprinted onto the pitch to embrace the goalscorer, receiving a near-fatal mauling in the process.

After the game, Neil Warnock, manager of relegated West Bromwich Albion, called a press conference in which he went off on a tirade about the signing of the final-day goalscorer, pointing to an obscure FA rule which he claimed could be seen to forbid cross-species transfers. However the league ruled in West Ham’s favour and they lived to fight another day.

So that’s the story of how Diego Maradona saved West Ham. For more tales like this, you’re probably best writing one yourself. It’s bound to be quicker than getting me to come up with another one.

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Branching Out

Mesut_Özil,_Germany_national_football_team_(03)

 

For any regular readers remaining (I’ve seen the stats, there aren’t many of you), you might have missed some stuff I’ve contributed to other stuff recently. So, without further ado, here’s a selection of articles I’ve written recently for other sites.

 

The Rapid Decline of Collins John for BeNeFoot

Ilan – West Ham’s Brazilian Moon Landing for The False Nine

Big Test for Arsenal Against In-Form Everton for Betting Instinct

 

Enjoy!

Late bloomer Diamanti has his chance to shine

Alessandro Diamanti converting the winning penalty against England

West Ham United’s 3-0 win over Hull City in February 2010 is not a game which will live long in the memory for those without an attachment to either of the two teams involved. It is probably most notable for a stirring individual performance from Julien Faubert which helped the London club edge clear of their relegation rivals and earn dead man walking Gianfranco Zola a few more months in his job. However there is one facet of that match which has stuck with me to this day.

With the score at 2-0, just minutes after Carlton Cole rolled home an immaculate through-ball from Faubert, West Ham’s Italian forward Alessandro Diamanti won the ball five yards inside his own half, by the left touchline. Then he looked up, saw no viable passing option, and therefore decided to shoot from a good 60+ yards out. The shot had Hull goalkeeper Boaz Myhill scrambling, but he ultimately managed to palm the ball just wide of the far post. The game continued, Faubert added a third goal in injury time, Hull were relegated, West Ham stayed up by one place, and the world kept turning.

That moment of illogic from Diamanti was characteristic of a season in which he provided the Upton Park faithful with a new cult hero. A relative unknown when brought in from Livorno in a move viewed by many as having necessitated the sale of defensive mainstay James Collins (by now the Icelandic money-bubble had well and truly burst and the club was in ‘sell-to-buy’ mode), Diamanti struggled for goals from open play but clearly bought into the forward-looking if sometimes naïve approach of the club’s Italian manager. Two years after the departure of Carlos Tevez, West Ham had another maverick in the #32 shirt to call their own.

It helped that his enthusiasm and commitment was followed by the kind of moments even the armchair fan could draw upon when asked about the man from Tuscany. The late penalty to earn a point against Arsenal, the strike against the same opposition in the FA Cup which evoked fellow countryman Paolo di Canio’s beating of the offside trap at Old Trafford nine years prior, and of course the inch-perfect free-kick on a cold Wednesday night to beat Birmingham’s Joe Hart and breathe new life into a season that looked certain to end in relegation.

 

Diamanti finished the season with eight goals, seven in the league, and was named runner-up in the club’s Hammer of the Year award behind Scott Parker. However just months later, as he stood waiting to come on against Aston Villa on the opening day of the 2010-11 season, he was barely recognisable. Gone was the unique haircut – a kind of mortar-board/dreadlock hybrid – and the shaven-headed figure on the touchline just seemed to carry himself differently. It was far from clear what had caused the change, but those who saw him step onto the Villa Park pitch that day knew they were looking that a lost man, looking for an exit.

Gianluca Nani, the technical director who brought him to the club, had been forced out in February by new owners David Gold and David Sullivan, and in retrospect Diamanti’s exit carried an air of inevitability about it. A number of other Nani signings, both good (Valon Behrami) and bad (Savio), have also since been disposed of, with Diamanti being joined at his next destination – Brescia – by promising full-back Fabio Daprela.

However while Daprela remained with the club as they dropped back into Serie B, Diamanti moved to Bologna and an impressive maiden campaign with the club earned the 29-year old a shot at a competitive debut for his country after he was a shock inclusion in Cesare Prandelli’s Euro 2012 squad.

His surprise pick evoked memories of Cristiano Doni’s call-up to the 2002 World Cup Squad. A similarly late bloomer, Doni was also in his late 20s when handed an international debut and like Diamanti had shone for a relatively unglamorous side, in his case Atalanta.

 

After failing to feature in the games against Spain and Croatia, Diamanti was given his bow as a substitute against Ireland, and in an instant recalled everything which had endeared him to the claret and blue masses of E13. Displaying urgency and drive to carry his team forward in search of the goals needed to give the Azzurri breathing space in their quest to escape Group C, he was not afraid to mix in the outrageous as shown by the optimistic volley on the run which even the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic would dismiss as over-ambitious.

And then there was the dead-ball form, the one constant amid the highs and lows of Diamanti’s time in East London. First the corner from which Mario Balotelli netted his first of the tournament, and then the cool-headed conversion of the winning penalty to knock out England at the quarter final stage and show up the BBC commentators who dismissed him as a ‘West Ham reject’.

Diamanti has no guarantee of a starting place in tonight’s final against Spain, but he appears to have earned the trust of Prandelli, becoming the coach’s port-of-call when Antonio Cassano’s waning fitness necessitates a change. The Spanish have dealt by-and-large with everything thrown at them so far, with the invention of the Italians the only real exception, and a touch of the unorthodox could be just what is needed to end the world champions’ phenomenal run. Three years on from coming off the bench to replace Junior Stanislas at Wigan’s DW Stadium, Alessandro Diamanti is potentially 90 minutes away from European glory, and he has done it his own way.