West Ham squad 'out of control'
Reckless gambling ruining morale
Player won £38,000 from team-mates
Curbishley 'not talking' to big winner
Sunday March 4, 2007
A culture of reckless high-stakes gambling is causing division within West Ham and rupturing morale to such an extent that the first-team squad, already riven by cliques, is 'spiralling out of control' - and the players, manager and directors already know that they can do nothing to stop the club being relegated. That is the damning view from inside the dressing room at the Premiership's most troubled club.
Players are haemorrhaging vast amounts of money to each other at the card table, as much as £50,000 in one sitting. They have won and lost these staggering sums on the team coach to matches. 'How can they be in a good frame of mind for a match after that?' says one first-team player, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The player said: 'I've never seen anything like it in my career. It's one big mess here, the atmosphere is terrible, people don't talk to each other. Players are losing 30, 40 and 50 thousand pounds sometimes. By the time we arrive one player owes another and it's terrible for the team and morale. They are always playing cards.'
One senior player, an established international, is said to have won £38,000 from two of his team-mates in one afternoon recently. The losers had to pay up and manager Alan Curbishley is no longer speaking to the player who won the money. Two members of the squad have undertaken counselling and treatment for gambling addiction, and a third player is also believed to be seeking professional help.
The disillusioned player also identified a catalogue of other problems. These include spats between rival cliques within the dressing room over territory and wages; divisive tension between Curbishley and his players; doubts over the decision-making of new chairman Eggert Magnusson; and the widespread admission, privately, that the club will be relegated. He also said that one recent signing was amazed when he was asked to a meeting to discuss club affairs with senior management in a lap-dancing club, though the club strongly deny that any such meeting took place.
Added to West Ham's list of woes, as they prepare to take on Tottenham today, is the Premier League charge for alleged irregularities in the signing of the Argentine players Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez last August, which could result in the loss of points if the club are found guilty; and the pending trial of defender Anton Ferdinand on charges of assault and violent disorder following an alleged brawl outside a London nightclub last October.
It is the depth of the club's gambling problem, which has already caused winger Matthew Etherington and goalkeeper Roy Carroll to seek help, that most concerns Curbishley, according to our source. A West Ham spokesman said: 'The club is aware of the fact that gambling is an area of concern and the manager has made clear that it must stop. Steps have been taken to eradicate this in the team environment.'
It is believed that Curbishley's first attempt to stop the card schools some weeks ago failed, but gambling is now banned in situations where he is responsible for the team, such as on journeys to matches. But he has been unable to stop the poker sessions when training is over, and one recent session is said to have continued until 4am.
The former England striker Teddy Sheringham spoke about gambling earlier in the season when promoting the online poker site 888.com. 'I can see why it [gambling] does become a problem, especially for young players who have so much money and so much time on their hands. I've always enjoyed a drink, but at the right times, and I play poker at the right times. Some people take it to extremes. You've got to keep it under control.'
The gambling culture is one more headache for former Charlton manager Curbishley, who took over at Christmas, since when West Ham have won only once. Curbishley's predecessor, Alan Pardew, had taken the club to within a minute of winning the FA Cup last May, but then oversaw a dramatic slump this season. West Ham are now bottom of the table and 11 points adrift of safety.
According to a well-placed source at Upton Park, the players are 'certainly not a unit and haven't been for a long time. It began at the end of last season during Pardew's time. There is a huge division. Nigel Reo-Coker, Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood and Shaun Newton all hang out together. And Reo-Coker is constantly saying he is too good for the club, that he should be at Man United or Arsenal.' Team spirit is also damaged, according to the representative of one long-serving player, by the level of resentment about the wages paid to Matthew Upson and Lucas Neil, who were signed by Curbishley in the transfer window and are being paid big money. Neil is thought to have turned down Liverpool to keep a £60,000-a-week salary.
'It's not rocket science,' said the agent, who represents some of the biggest stars in the Premiership. 'If the established players who have achieved for the club see new ones come in enjoying a lot more money for doing not very much, it's obviously going to cause problems.' Upson and Neil have been injured and have made three appearances between them.
Curbishley is said to have 'given up' on some of his players. 'He often stays in his office with his assistants. Sometimes we see him, other times we don't,' said the insider. As for Magnusson, the players 'think he is clueless and a bit lost. He gives off the wrong messages and only talks to certain players in the dressing room - those he brought here. And he has accepted Curbishley's admission that they are already down.'
Curbishley said ahead of today's game that he does not fear the sack. 'Performances have to improve. We have to win as many as we can from our last 10 games.'
Source: The Observer