Defoe volunteers to lead the exodus from West Ham

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The Independent Online

The implosion of West Ham United began yesterday, just hours after relegation from the Premiership, as their striker and star asset, Jermain Defoe, handed in a transfer request.

The implosion of West Ham United began yesterday, just hours after relegation from the Premiership, as their striker and star asset, Jermain Defoe, handed in a transfer request.

The 20-year-old issued a statement through his agent, which may soon have a familiar ring to it. "As much as I love West Ham United I feel that now is the right time for me to move on in my career," he said. "This is very much a career decision. I am very ambitious and hungry to achieve at the highest levels of the game for both club and country. The club, staff and especially the fans are very dear to me and have been unbelievable in the early part of my career. It will always be a special place for me to play."

A fee of £12m has already been mooted for a player coveted by Manchester United, although that may prove to be an optimistic price, especially as West Ham have to sell. By asking to go, Defoe will also not have to be paid a bonus.

Understandably, the timing of Defoe's announcement angered fans. Tony Fowles, editor of the fanzine Ironworks Gazette, said: "We are all still a bit numb at the moment and so the timing stinks. You can understand why he might not want to play in the First Division next season, but you'd have thought he'd have waited until relegation had sunk in." The departure will not be the last, despite protestations by West Ham's managing director, Paul Aldridge. "We have to sit down and carefully do the sums but the banks have been very supportive and there will be no fire sales," he said.

Nevertheless the club will have to work extremely hard to avoid administration. They will lose £20m in television money and an estimated £5m in commercial revenues (merchandising and ticket sales – top-price season tickets were to be £700, now they will be £620). In addition, the so-called "parachute payment" of £5.5m for relegated clubs will only, in effect, cover the difference between finishing seventh, as they did last season, and finishing 18th.

In an attempt to manage this deficit, of up to £25m, West Ham will cut an immediate £10m from their wage bill – at £33m it was the Premiership's sixth highest – with nine players out of contract from a 39-man squad. They are Paolo Di Canio (£38,000 a week), Lee Bowyer (£35,000) Les Ferdinand, Gary Breen, Scott Minto, John Moncur, Raimond van der Gouw, Nigel Winterburn and Edouard Cissé. None can expect to stay. The club will hope that Titi Camara (£30,000) continues out on loan. Bids will have to be listened to for Frédéric Kanouté, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. Others, who may indeed be encouraged to go, are David James, Don Hutchison and Trevor Sinclair.

The balancing act for the West Ham board is just how many offers it can accept, especially in a depressed transfer market in which values have plummeted. But the club will be under pressure to reduce their wage bill further, especially from the three banks from whom they have borrowed £33m to rebuild the Boleyn Ground. Even if they do reduce their costs sufficiently, West Ham will still have this debt to service.

The net effect is a club on the brink. Survival in their present state is untenable. West Ham are also paying the price for being an established Premiership club. They have been there for nine years and contracts were geared solely towards the top flight. Bolton Wanderers, had they gone down, would have been able to reduce their wage bill from £20m to £6m because of the way they had structured their deals. They would also have lost 15 players. It is a scenario West Ham have to quickly get to grips with.