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Letís act like a big club


Filed: Thursday, 8th November 2018
By: Paul Walker


We want to be big time, donít we? So now is the moment for our Board to start acting that way, and that means handling in the correct manner the two difficult contract issues at the opposite ends of our squad.

Pablo Zabaleta, 33, the one true next level player in our squad, and Declan Rice, 19, the exciting youngster who seems to have all the aces in his hand.

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For whatever reason, and I am sure you lot could come up with a few, our owners are seen to be a reactive Board rather than a progressive, proactive one. Some of that assessment is rather sweeping, I know and not always true, but fans I believe feel they do not have a clear, cohesive long-term plan for our club.

So now is the chance for them to give the impression that they are a joined-up, mature board who will do the right thing for the future of our club over the Rice and Zabaleta issues.

Both have been front and central again this week, and both players seem to be in the driving seat over any negotiations about their futures, regardless of the club spin that surrounds the issues.

Our Board are making quiet noises that we should not be worried about Riceís future, it will be sorted. Itís all in hand. They also seem to think that Zaba has a couple of years left in him.

What they should be doing, I believe, is making sure the uncertainty is removed from both situations, to think in terms of the clubís future and what both players can offer, show some class, because both are in the driving seat.

Take Zabaleta. He knows his worth and has made it pretty clear in the past few days that he has plenty of options, knows his own body, and he will chose the best option available. I donít think he is bothered about playing in the Middle East, where frankly you just get forgotten in the desert.

He does fancy a swansong in Italy, where the pace of the game is vastly slower than the Premier League. His former Manchester City colleagues Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko were both surplus to requirements at the Etihad but have gone to Italy to forge useful careers there.

Zaba knows he could do the same. And thereís a coaching job open for him at City in their Academy, and a house in Cheshire he still owns. So that move would be very easy for him.

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So we have to do something to make him want to stay. He has an apartment in Canary Wharf and enjoys the London scene, where he has several friends.

What we should be saying is that we are very aware of his contribution to the current squad, the mentoring he is doing with Rice and Grady Diangana, his help is priceless to those kids and could be for the rest of the bright youngsters emerging from our Academy.

Someone, surely, can see the benefits of making him an offer he cannot refuse? Heís had more than a decade of European club football, won titles and played in the 2014 World Cup Final. Just look around our squad and see how many players we have that can come close to that level of experience. Thatís the next level we an aspiring to.

Zabaleta is taking his coaching badges so clearly has eyes of a future in management. Three years down the line, when Manuel Pellegriniís contract is up, we may need a replacement. Why not have one from in-house who has learnt the ropes, and has great contacts the world over? We would even have Mark Noble around to be his assistant.

OK, so thatís all a bit Ďrosy glowí isnít it. Too easy. But maybe, just maybe, the club can see some merit in utilising talent and experience already in the squad. Be positive, talk to the man about a long term plan, donít just find yourselves punting around for a successor when the managerís job becomes available.

Zabaleta can do exactly what he wants now. His contract is up in the summer and we have no hold over him. If you want him, then make him an offer. Our fans can see the value of the man, I am sure he has clear ideas anyway about how the players are trained, how they prepare, what they eat and certainly what they drink!

He holds all the cards, which may not be the way the current Board like to operate. But just look at how Liverpool and Manchester City handle new contracts and keep players happy, you donít know about it until they announce a lucrative new deal for one of their star players.

And that brings me to Rice. From a different perspective, he also holds the upper hand, whether the Board really realise it or not. They are talking big about him at the moment, comparing him to Reece Oxford and doubting whether they should be paying big contracts to teenagers.

And there seems to be a stand-off with an agent they donít like dealing with.

But Rice now knows his value. He and his advisers were unimpressed by the leaking of the details of the latest offer. And yes, we all know there is a contract option which can hold him to the club for one or two more years.

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Do you honestly believe that will help the situation? Nobody wants an unhappy young man around the place, particularly one who knows full well that half a dozen bigger clubs than us would pay him what he wants.

Yes, I could see and understand the reluctance to give him the higher basic wage he wants. Kids do go off the rails. But to say that because Oxfordís career has gone nowhere the same will apply to Rice is rather insulting.

If we want to sign a 20-year-old from outside the club, we would pay the going rate. We have done that with Issa Diop, whose wages dwarf what Rice wants. So why, and I am sure the kid feels this way, do the club not value him as highly as our bright new centre-back?

Of course these figures are vast, and from ordinary society they are obscene. But if you worked for a company doing the same job as the guy next to you, you would want parity of wages. Thatís what Rice wants.

There have been a couple of well connected folk on KUMB today saying just that about Rice. He wants what everyone else is getting.

At the moment we are holding him to his £3,000 a week kidsí contract and giving him something like £20,000 when he plays. And telling the world how much he is losing. He will cope on that, heíll be a millionaire by the end of the season.

But the board will know that Rice and his belligerent agent have the club over a barrel. They will get what they want in the end or the club will eventually lose the best player to come through the ranks in a decade.

It could get messy, but I fail to see how we can impose our terms on the lad. I feel the options we have are meaningless. Try making a player of his calibre and prospects do what you want against his wishes, that approach is never going to work. Attitudes will be hardened and heíll be gone eventually.

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So letís start acting like a big club, seeing the bigger picture and making sure Riceís future at West Ham is secured. I have never actually swallowed the bit about us not talking again until the end of the season if the current offer on the table is rejected, that doesnít seem to be very grown up as if you are treating the boy as your property. I am sure there is still dialogue.

The world is not like that any more. To keep him we will have to pay the going rate for a Premier League midfield regular. Show him the money.

As for his international future, I have never agreed with this complicated regulation that allows someone to switch from country to country, call me old fashioned. I know that duel nationality is an issue, but he has played for the Republic from schoolboy to senior level, when did he stop being Irish?

For me the nonsense about competitive internationals is just that, nonsense. Were the youth international tournaments and the under 21 UEFA tournaments not competitive? I believe that once you have played a full international, competitive or otherwise, that should be it.

But I sense he will opt for England, because that is where the money and the exposure is. Heís been poached, for want of a better word, and England should not be too smug about that. I believe England tried to get Ryan Giggs all those years back, because despite the fact that all four of his grandparents and his mum and dad are Welsh, he qualified for England by residency. He had none of that. He was Welsh.

The FA used to say they didnít do that sort of thing, it was what the smaller countries did. But there are plenty of players with England caps who were not born here, so the Republic can ignore all this stuff about being born in Surrey so he is English.

England are not beneath such things. You have to ask yourself how, for example, John Barnes ever played for England (answers on a postcard, please).

But Rice must decide now, heíll have a long international career somewhere, letís just hope his club career is with West Ham. I would just like to see our club show a bit of class, a bit of forward planning, and get Zaba and the kid signed up.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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