James Lawton: West Ham's deal of the decade is loose change from football's casino culture

Unfortunately, the alarm bells ringing over the signings sound somehow quaint
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They call it a transfer window but whatever happened to the guy with the ladder and a bucket of water? He appears to have been replaced by the spokesman of West Ham United who far from offering any insights into two of the most extraordinary signings in the history of English football suggested, straight-faced, that the acquisition of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano was pretty much routine business.

It was not of course. It was as opaque as it was sensational. It was another stage in the sense that the average football fan can no longer hope for anything more than fleeting pleasures and a fraction of the truth at any one time.

The spokesman said: "These are exciting signings for us but of course if we were offered major fees for the players at a later date, we would have to consider it... as we would with other players."

How much later? The no-brainer consensus is just one season but then why would any supporter complain at even such brief exposure to such dazzling young talent? Because it changes utterly the nature of the football club. As one long-time season ticket-holder said yesterday: "Ere, how do you sing 'Forever Blowing Bubbles' in Spanish?"

Such problems have been around long enough, no doubt, and some years ago they were officially installed when the then Chelsea manager, Gianluca Vialli, failed to pick a single native player in a match against Southampton. But then West Ham were not Chelsea. They might embrace passing exotica like Paolo di Canio, but there was always going to be another local hero, another centrepiece for local passion; until yesterday it was an article of faith as you filed by the statues of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters outside the Boleyn Ground.

Yet hard though it is to say, the truth is that if the alarm bells ringing over the background to the signings of Tevez and Mascherano, and an accompanying takeover move, were entirely valid, they were also somehow quaint - almost as if the Grand Admiral of the Spanish Armada was already sitting down for dinner in Greenwich just as the warning beacons were being lit.

Of course it is disturbing that the club which once provided a substantial base for an England World Cup victory now takes the role of a provincial theatre, testing the Tevez-Mascherano show for a run in the West End or somewhere in Europe. But then after registering concern over another huge dent in the old edifice of the game we used to know, where do we go?

Surely not to chest-beating demands for legislation which would return a degree of independence and competitive integrity to the great clubs of our national game? The time for that is long gone. Did the Premiership do anything, in practical terms, more than wave through the arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea three years ago? How many hours was he required to spend explaining the nature of his fortune, his antecedents and his plans for his new possession when he became the tsar of Stamford Bridge?

Where was the help for the rebelling fans of Manchester United when an American businessman, Malcolm Glazer, borrowed vast amounts of money to take over Old Trafford last year? There wasn't any because there couldn't be. The club and its operating rules had changed, utterly, and Martin Edwards, the former chief shareholder, had walked away with his profits, as had Sir John "Mr Newcastle" Hall at St James' Park and Sir Alan Sugar at White Hart Lane.

Who can blame West Ham for grabbing at the sweetheart deal offered by football speculator Kia Joorabchian, whose hopes of taking over at Upton Park entered the stage of preliminary negotiations yesterday? The West Ham manager, Alan Pardew, gets the chance to widen his horizons, at least for a season, with the talent of a virtuoso striker who has been likened to Diego Maradona and a young midfielder who for many produced the most complete body of work in the recent World Cup, and when the players are inevitably sold on, the club will receive a share, albeit a minor one, of a staggering profit.

It means that West Ham have received a windfall and in the prevailing values of today's game they would have been mad to step over it. However, they should immediately gag that spokesman who launched an attack on the intelligence of the club's fans. He was saying that everything is as it was; the bubbles can still be blown into the air, the dreams can go on as ever before, and that Tevez and Mascherano represent nothing more than inspired work in the transfer market.

One of the ironies is that if the young Argentina stars have in a material way moved an age ahead of a Tom Finney or Johnny Haynes, sublime players who were reminded by the directors of Preston North End and Fulham respectively that they were club property, body and soul, in one respect the South American prodigies are in the same place. After the World Cup their destination seemed to be one of the peaks of the game. Instead they are ordered to a season in the foothills with the admirable but still relatively modest Hammers.

That might change under the weight of major investment, and Alan Pardew's impressive team-building, but some certainties have flown away from West Ham. The idea of continuity is one of them, and so is the old idea of identifying strongly with your heroes. At a time when such as Ashley Cole, Jose Antonio Reyes and William Gallas finally got their way, the arrival of Tevez and Mascherano in the East End was both startling and exciting. But then whatever they do for West Ham, it will be impossible to forget they are merely passing through. They are stars on a fixed schedule, which at their moments of greatest success will surely bring the sharpest of sadness. West Ham, after all, is one place on the football planet where bubbles are supposed to burst only in their own good time.

Woodward wise to retreat from an unequal battle

Sir Clive Woodward's rather sad exit from the day-to-day cares of football management is surely a cautionary tale for all those who seek to spread their knowledge and their aura a little too thinly.

Woodward's folly was to believe he could, with minimum adjustment, move from one sports world to another and the extent of his mis-judgement was most apparent when his ambition tangled with that of one of the more knowing denizens of the football jungle, Harry Redknapp.

Redknapp's scepticism was barely concealed before he left Southampton for Portsmouth and immediately re-established his working familiarity with the game to which he had devoted his life.

None of this is to dispute the scale of Woodward's contribution to the cause of English rugby. The winning of the World Cup was a prodigious act of will and no doubt Woodward created both the framework and the dynamic required to produce historic success. But he didn't know football and, if the price of his mistake has been high personally, it does leave a valuable lesson. It is that of the old soldier, which says that, if you have to fight, by choice only do it on your own ground.

Agassi serves up ebullience on and off the court

Retirement tributes to Andre Agassi have been many and rich and have stressed both the extent of his natural talent and his passion for competition.

It is also true that his ebullience, however briefly encountered, is not something easily forgotten. I know this from spending an afternoon with him on a public golf course in Florida. He had agreed to an interview but time had run short, he had been under great pressure. Would I mind driving his golf buggy while he played a few relaxing golf shots in between telling me about the subtleties of his relationship with such as Barbra Streisand and John McEnroe?

It was an extraordinary round of golf. He spoke with arresting warmth and in staccato bursts, explaining at one point how, after beating Goran Ivanisevic in the Wimbledon final, he had filled the private jet that flew him home to Las Vegas with every available newspaper and read countless times each account of his triumph.

Periodically, he snatched a club and played his shots at a speed which Nick Faldo would never believe.

One of my duties was to record his score. He was three under.

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