Ask David Gold whether or not fans should expect footballers to remain loyal to their employers and his answer is simply for fans to “stop worrying about it”.
The days where football was graced with the likes of Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds and Matthew Le Tissier are no more, West Ham’s joint chairman claims, and there is only one person to blame. “There was a time when local people played for their local clubs but then a person called Bosman came along and messed it all up,” Mr Gold told editor David Blackmore during an exclusive interview.
“I believe he is solely responsible for loyalty going out of football because it is very hard for somebody that was born and bred in say Senegal, who has never heard of Milton Keynes or Middlesbrough, to come to this country and play football thousands of miles away from his home while missing his family and all we talk about is loyalty. It’s not their fault; it’s Bosman’s.
“Loyalty in football hasn’t completely gone but it’s very limited today. I’ve got players at West Ham who will walk over broken glass for the club but equally I knew players in the past who wouldn’t walk two yards for my club. “We’ve got to, as fans, move on because the days of Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews are gone. The thing to remember is that when you and I die, our children will be the next generation of fans and their children will be the next generation of fans of this football club. This is the heart and soul of any club.
“Players will come and go, managers will come and go and even owners will come and go but generation after generation of fans will continue to support the club and that is why every football club truly belongs to the fans. “The family tradition goes on and on but things change – even stadiums. “The only thing that remains solid forever is the fans of the football club so we shouldn’t focus too much on player loyalty. We have to, as fans, just live the moment because football has changed and it is what it is.
“But I promise you they are out there fighting to win. They want to win for you, they want to win for the football club and they want to win for themselves because they might then get to play for the country or get a move to help secure their financial situation for the rest of their lives – that’s no different to everyone else.”
Asked about the Luis Suarez saga which has led to many columns dedicated to asking if there is any loyalty left in the game, Mr Gold continued: “From an owner’s point of view, you have to try and make everyone happy. “We want to make the fans happy as well as the players, the manager and the board.
“There are some players out there who I would never want to play for my football club but I have to take into account the feelings of both the board and the fans. “You have a responsibility to all these people and also the reputation of the football club is very important but it is very difficult to sit here and criticise the Suarez situation because it could happen to me in the future.
“You can’t say if I was at Liverpool and I had the Suarez situation I would do this and that because there are 100 elements to the debate that we aren’t aware of and without that information it is very hard to stand as judge and jury.” Moving onto how he felt the summer has gone for West Ham from his point of view, Mr Gold said: “It’s been a bit of a problem in the sense that we made a record signing but fans haven’t really benefited from it because they already had Andy Carroll so the fact we converted his loan into a six year contract hasn’t really changed anything.
“You make the club’s record signing but it hasn’t had the impact for the fans that you would get if you brought in a brand new player but to the club and the board it’s been a massive deal.” And asked how the Downing deal came about so quickly, he continued: “Sam came to us and said he wanted Stewart Downing and the reason it was done quickly was a number of reasons.
“Firstly Stewart Downing was happy to move and happy to move to a London club. “Secondly he was happy to move to a club where he believes he is going to play on a regular basis which wasn’t the case at Liverpool and thirdly he is joining his old teammates in Joe Cole and Andy Carroll. “From our point of view, he can play either right or left hand side which is good because we can switch him backwards and forwards with Jarvis and he is a quality player. It was also quite clear, in my opinion, that he wasn’t in Brendan Rogers’ plans and Liverpool want to reduce their wage bill because of the new wage restraint rule and this was an opportunity which suited them.”
He continued: “I’m thrilled with the fact we’ve brought in Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing and I’m delighted we brought in the experience of an international left back in Rasvan Rat. “I think it’s great we’ve also got a ‘keeper in Adrian who is highly regarded and in the few minutes I saw him play in pre-season, I could see he is a very commanding young man with a bright future.
“But the fans will say, and I sympathise with them on this argument, that we need a striker. We need a striker to play when Andy Carroll is injured or suspended but it’s hard to get a quality centre forward when you are saying ‘Centre forward required. Not to play but to sit on the bench and maybe get a couple of games when Andy’s injured or suspended’.
“There were a number of players who wouldn’t join us on the basis that they either had to play wide right and be a back-up centre forward or sit on the bench. What we have got to hope is that some of the younger players coming through become that supporting striker. “The bottom line is no striker of any quality wants to sit on the bench so that’s been very hard for us and that’s why we made the decision to go for a quality player in Stewart Downing.”
Looking ahead to the season and Mr Gold said there was “no doubt” in his mind that the squad is stronger and hopes the boys in claret and blue can break into the top 10. “Last season I think we over performed and we were flattered with our 10th finish and I think that’s being realistic,” Mr Gold said. “But this season if we finish 9th I will be absolutely thrilled.
“There are people who are saying we can do better than that but equally you can have a bad run of injuries and you could find yourself struggling. Having said that I think the squad is stronger this season so I think we are more capable of coping with injuries and securing our Premiership status compared to last season.