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2013-04-16T15:00:00 Updated 2015-02-19T00:54:45

Keller cherishes Hammers memories

You cannot get much for a quid these days, but last year Marc Keller bought an entire football team and still had some change.

Having purchased Racing Club de Strasbourg for a nominal Euro (£0.85), the ex-Hammer and his band of fellow investors - which includes former Czech Republic coach Ivan Hasek and nine-times world rally champion Sebastian Loeb - are now trying to steer his former side back to the big time.

After being encouraged by the Mayor of Strasbourg to rescue the bankrupt club that had been demoted to the fifth-tier of French football in 2011, Keller now finds himself President of a side that are vying for successive promotions to the English equivalent of League One.

"It was like getting a telephone call from your Boris Johnson!" explains the six-times capped France international, who made 149 appearances for his home-town side in the early 1990s before moving to German side Karlsruhe and then joining West Ham United on a free transfer in summer 1998. "Strasbourg had got into a lot of financial problems so I found ten friends and now we must try to save the club and work our way back to Ligue 1."

Having swapped the dressing room for the boardroom, the economics graduate now combines his time behind his desk at Racing Club's Stade de la Meinau with weekends behind the microphone for French broadcaster Canal+.

That role sees him regularly making a cross-Channel commute to cover the Barclays Premier League, a competition that he still holds in high regard.

"I can easily compare the quality of Europe's top leagues because during the past year, I have worked in France, on Serie A in Italy, the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga but nothing compares to what I see in England," insists Keller, who made 56 league and cup appearances during his three-year stay at the Boleyn Ground. "For me, the Premier League is the most interesting one in the whole of Europe. The standard is very good but what makes it so exciting is that every team has to fight in every single game it plays.

"Manchester United may be many points clear at the top of the Premier League but they will still have to battle just as hard against West Ham as they would if they were playing a team near the top of the division such as Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal.

"Nobody can ever make a prediction of the result of any game in the Premier League because all of the clubs have top quality players and that, for me, is why English football is so interesting."

The 45-year-old pundit was in the Stamford Bridge commentary box in mid-March, where he saw former Hammers team-mate Frank Lampard head the Blues into the lead against Big Sam's side.

"It is incredible that young Frank has gone on to score 200 goals for Chelsea. That is a very special achievement but when I was at West Ham it was obvious that some very good boys had come up through the Academy and I loved working with them in training.

"Rio Ferdinand was already in the team and Michael Carrick was not very far away and now, of course, a few years later they are still both doing really well for Manchester United.

"Joe Cole has now come back to Upton Park, too, and that is really good for the football club because he has always been a very special talent.

"It makes me really happy to see that those young players have gone on to achieve good things because it means that the West Ham United Academy has worked very, very well and very hard, too.

"I have always had a lot of respect for the club's Academy system and back in Strasbourg we know that we must try to achieve similar things with our younger boys because we do not have a lot of money to go and buy any new players."

Fifteen years ago, Keller had arrived in the East End just weeks after agonisingly missing out on France's 1998 FIFA World Cup triumph following his initial selection into Aime Jacquet's provisional 30-man squad.

But he shrugged off that disappointment by helping the Hammers to a fantastic fifth-place finish in his first season in English football.

Keller's versatility meant that he could play on either wing, in defence or attack. He also weighed in with five goals, including memorable strikes at Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Derby County.

"After the Chelsea game last month, I came out of Stamford Bridge and got into a taxi that was being driven by a West Ham supporter. He recognised me and the first thing he said was: 'Do you remember that goal you scored up at Derby?'"

The following year, Keller helped the Hammers make it into the UEFA Cup following their successful European sojourn in the Intertoto Cup, but having scored once in 33 outings, he decided that the subsequent 2000/01 campaign would be his last as a Hammers player.

Making way for substitute Jermain Defoe to come on and score his first-ever senior goal in a Worthington Cup tie at Walsall in September 2000, Keller then joined Blackburn Rovers on a free transfer, before returning to Racing Club de Strasbourg as General Manager.

"I was 33 and had developed a few problems with my hamstring at West Ham and, although Strasbourg wanted me to be captain and carry on playing for another two or three years, I did not want to let anybody down," insists Marc, who still lives in the Alsace region of eastern France with wife Sabryna, son Medhi, 15, and daughter Clara, eleven.

In 2005, he moved to AS Monaco, where he spent five seasons as General Manager before getting that call from the mayor and digging into his pockets for the nominal Euro that saw him take ownership of Racing Club De Strasbourg.

Back in October, with the Hammers facing Arsenal, he returned to the Boleyn Ground for his first visit to the club that he had left over a decade ago.

"That brought back a lot of fantastic memories for me," smiles Keller. "I had a good relationship with lots of people at the club from all my team-mates and coaches all the way through to Shirley, the lady who used to cook my lunch at the training ground. Please say 'Hello' to everyone for me.

"It was also fantastic to hear the crowd sing 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' once again," he concludes, clearly looking forward to his next visit to the Boleyn Ground gantry. "When I got back home to France, I found that song on the internet because I wanted to show Medhi what a fantastic atmosphere there is at West Ham United.

"For me, it will always be a very special place."

Wigan Athletic

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