whufc.com sat down with Chief Executive Scott Duxbury this week to review the year and assess how the club are approaching 2009. With the transfer window opening and the management team settling in, there was plenty to talk about...
How would you assess the fortunes of West Ham United in 2008?
Scott Duxbury: It has been an interesting year to say the least but things are going very well. I appreciate there is a level of concern among our supporters about certain issues but can assure them that West Ham United are a club on the up. Off-the-field legal matters such as Sheffield United are being dealt with by our lawyers and we are doing our utmost to ensure that this will have minimal effect on the day to day operation of West Ham United and will not deter the club or our intentions for the future. With all the uncertainty surrounding the Sheffield United claim we have taken the opportunity to delay publication of our annual accounts until the end of March 2009.
The club has an outstanding squad full of internationals, including a number around the England squad, and the crop of youngsters coming through has shown outstanding potential. These are all secured on long-term contracts and are our future.
Above all we have a manager and staff that have firmly embraced what we are trying to achieve and share the club's long-term vision. We have a realistic ambition to keep moving forward and to give the fans what they deserve - a West Ham United side built on the right foundations with the right philosophy that can compete in the Premier League and the cup competitions.
The transfer window opens this week. What can you say to reassure fans worried about the make up of the squad?
SD: I know the papers are full of speculation at this time of the year - it is the same for many clubs but the situation is quite clear. We have no intention of selling our best players, nor are we telling the manager to do so. Gianfranco Zola will rightly not comment on speculation but as he has said, he, Gianluca Nani and myself are working closely together and this month will be no different. It may be that some players are allowed to leave but no one will be going unless the manager thinks it is in the best interests of his team and it is right for the club.
As a club, we will look at every single approach rationally and at all times have in mind the further development of the playing squad.
We must not be afraid of interest in or bids for our leading players. Each approach will be considered in terms of fee, fitness, form and where the manager thinks the player is in his career. Similarly we have to consider the will of the player and whether he is committed to what we are trying to achieve. This is the only way to operate.
It may be that we have an offer that makes perfect sporting sense on all these factors but even then it will only be accepted if we have a replacement lined up who will improve the squad. A bid may be evaluated by the manager as allowing him to significantly improve his team. If he believes that the player in question cannot be replaced, he will not be sold.
Do players have to be sold?
SD: No, players don't have to be sold but it has been clear since the arrival of Gianfranco that he is keen to have a smaller first-team squad based on quality over quantity. As I say, he looks likely to move on some fringe players in a bid to achieve a smaller squad of players that he can work closely with on a day to day basis. This will be supplemented by a pool of reserve-team players that he can call upon to complement his first-team work. This will be mainly made up of young players who have graduated from the academy but are perhaps not quite ready to take the next step.
There is a lot of talk though about international players like Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy leaving?
SD: We can do nothing to stop the press speculation and I can understand why the fans are concerned about what they read.
We all know how it works. Newspapers see players performing well, think that we are interested in selling, perhaps given the club's past, and then link them to any clubs that might have a need in that position. I will say it again, we are determined to strengthen this squad and keep it moving in the right direction so that we can challenge in the top half of the table.
For example, I have had several offers in excess of £12m in the past six months for one our key players and have turned down every single approach. No one will be sold unless it is right for West Ham United.
Similarly, we acted efficiently to secure Dean Ashton on a new long-term contract at the start of the season and have followed that up with extended terms for Carlton Cole, Freddie Sears and Jack Collison. We have a systematic approach to player contracts and review them when the time is right. Also, I should say that we have first option to sign our loan players on very good terms should we decide to do so next summer.
We are committed to improving this squad and it may be that Gianfranco will use any funds generated to do just that. Our fans should be concerned only with who we bring in rather than worried about who leaves the club.
What is the situation regarding the sale of the club?
SD: Nothing has changed and I can reassure all fans that the club is strong and in a healthy position - although obviously all in football will be feeling some impact from the global economic situation. The current climate reinforces my belief that we need to be self-sufficient. If the club is well-run - and our current business plan and the progress being made on the commercial and corporate side support this - then we can remain fireproofed to an extent from external events.
It may be that more investment comes in but that will only bolster what we are all working hard towards on a daily basis. The future success of this football club will be based on sound principles - such as developing homegrown players or identifying and attracting potential world-class talent - regardless of the funds available. We have a long-term vision that has to keep to the traditions of the West Ham way we and the fans hold dear while also ensuring this approach can bring success in the future.
Will there be money to spend?
SD: Having invested significantly in the club, the owner will not be in a position to add funds this transfer window but regardless we believe January is not the best time to be making any significant investments. As we know from experience, it is an inflationary market with teams paying top prices out of necessity. We have confidence in the current squad and, like many leading clubs, will look to confine our spending to the summer months when it is easier and more prudent to assess the market. That said, if Gianfranco identifies a particular need or circumstances dictate it - then we are always ready to act.
Gianluca Nani and the manager have already identified potential new players for every single position in the team and are determined to be one step ahead of the market in the months and years to come. Any players coming in will always be viewed as an improvement on the ones making way.
Can you clarify the situation regarding Lucas Neill's contract talks?
SD: Without commenting too much on an individual case, Lucas is the captain of this club and no one can question that he is fully committed to West Ham United - as his shown by the excellent way he leads the first team on and off the pitch. His future will be discussed when appropriate for all parties but I can state that he has made no demands about more money.
How do things work with you, Gianluca Nani and Gianfranco Zola?
SD: As CEO, I am charged with ensuring the best possible future for West Ham United and I take this responsibility very seriously. My appointment of both Gianluca Nani and Gianfranco Zola was made with this firmly in mind.
Away from our business and commercial aspirations, we have established a clear 'football project' that sees the three of us in regular contact. We are building up the medical and scouting infrastructure to ensure that our efforts on the playing side have the best possible chance of succeeding. I know some have regarded us as a 'selling club' in the past but my intention is to hang on to our best talent - not just by developing the squad but by giving the players the very best set-up and surroundings.
What can you say to reassure fans that the club is still moving forward?
SD: We finished tenth last season which was steady progress after the 'great escape' the season before and have steadily improved the squad. We have a management team that are committed to developing and promoting our young talent, and who understand the importance of the Academy as well as having the knowledge of the global market.
As we speak, we are tenth in the table and well placed to push on in the second half of the season. We have broken our run without a win at home and are unbeaten in five matches away.
We only have two long-term injuries in Danny Gabbidon and Dean Ashton, with both on the way back, while Kieron Dyer is on the verge of his comeback. The FA Cup is about to start, we have a management team that has the respect of the players and everyone at the club is fully committed to bringing success to West Ham United.