Nigel: It Will Take Graft

Nigel Winterburn says that if West Ham keep their players from now on - and are prepared to roll their sleeves and battle - they have every chance of justifying their tag as favourites to go straight back up.

"I will be looking to see if West Ham can get back into the Premiership," says Nigel, whose career effectively came to a close in February when he played his last game of an illustrious career.

"I think there are two main points and one is if they can keep the bulk of the squad together they have a chance - the defence really played well towards the end of last season and if the main body of that sticks together, allied with your Joe Coles, Jermain Defoes, and Michael Carricks, you have still got a good basis of a good team there.

"The other point is about settling straight in to the first division, because West Ham are probably going to be one of the more skilful teams in that division - but there are a lot of teams in there that will fight hard to prove that they deserve the right to finish above West Ham in the league.

"If they cope with that then I am sure they will come straight back up."

Talking of Glen Johnson's sale to Chelsea for £6m, Nigel, who played with him on two occasions, adds:

"I am surprised in one way and not in another; I am surprised he has already left, and for £6m because he only played about 14 games.

"But he has got tremendous potential and if he goes on to fulfil that potential as I am sure he will then £6m won't be a lot of money though it looks quite a lot at the moment.

"At the end of the day sometimes you have to speculate to get something and I think Chelsea have done that and got a good buy."

Nigel hopes that Glenn Roeder can find a striker or two to bolster the squad and explains:

"One of the things we struggled with last season was obviously when we got injuries, especially up front.

"We had to use Ian Pearce up there and I think he did a fantastic job - but it is not like having a natural forward up there who has played there all their career.

"I just hope that they don't get caught short in the forward department because Les didn't sign and Paolo has left, so at the moment I think they may be a little short in that area.

"But it is hard to get forwards in on reasonable money; I am sure Glenn knows that and doesn't need me to tell him."

Nigel reveals that he does not even know if he has offers to carry on for one more season, explaining:

"To be fair I am not really sure; I asked my agent before I went on holiday to see if there was any interest but when I got back I called him and didn't even ask him.

"I just said I was going to retire; I had decided it was time to finish and I didn't really even want to know if there were any offers or not.

"I had made the decision while I was away and I wanted to stick with that; I didn't want to know if anyone was interested or not and at the end of the day it didn't really come down to that."

After such a long, distinguished career, though, does he feel it ended with a bit of a whimper?

His final game was in the 3-0 home defeat by Liverpool, in which he was substituted, and he then had to have a wrist operation.

Sadly, his father died weeks later, and, ultimately, he was unable to return to dislodge Rufus Brevett or play his part in keeping West Ham up in the final run-in.

"I think overall that is one of the reasons I considered carrying on; I didn't play the last three months of the season with the injury and obviously the illness to my father," he says.

"But I am very disappointed that I have finished and West Ham have been relegated because I would have loved them to have stayed in the Premiership as I had three great years there.

"The last year was fairly difficult because we were fighting relegation from day one - but I had a fantastic time there.

"From my point of view I just hope that people realise that when you are getting on people think you are coming for a big pay day - but my aim really was just to prove that I still wanted to play football and that is the reason I joined West Ham, not the money, and if I got that through to people I am reasonably happy.

"I took well over a 50% cut in the last year so I could stay on and play a bit more football; the last year didn't really turn out right for me, but that has gone now and I have to look at new things."

As for the club he came to West Ham from, Arsenal - where he is fifth in terms of all-time appearances - he says:

"It is a massive year for them; there has been a lot written about them and they are walking on a tightrope at the moment in terms of their financial situation and contracts to sort out.

"But I think many people would look at their squad and be very, very envious and it is not all doom and gloom.

"I think Manchester United still see them as their main rivals and I think Arsenal believe they can win the league; I don't see any reason why they can't."

As for the future, he says:

"I don't really want to get involved in any coaching; if I do later on in life then the first thing I will do is my badges and do it properly.

"I would like to do a bit of media work to start with to see if I enjoy that, if it suits me, and whether I am any good at it or not - I might be completely useless.

"But we will see how things go and if I can see how it goes from there we will wait and see; when you are at big clubs and have a good career people probably don't understand that your family gets left behind a little bit.

"So I am hoping now that I can spend a little bit more quality time with them and it would also be nice to have my first Christmas at home for a long time.

"But I hope it won't be Saturday afternoons at the supermarket just yet!