When Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa arrived in London amid understandable ballyhoo after helping Argentina lift the World Cup 28 years ago, their first half-dozen games for Tottenham included a 7-0 humiliation at Liverpool, a League Cup defeat by a Third Division team and not a single victory. Fine players and terrific characters that they were, integrating two newcomers from a totally different culture into English football proved much harder than anticipated.
As Spurs' captain at the time, Steve Perryman, put it in one of the best of all football autobiographies: "Initially their inclusion was made at high cost. Almost everything we had worked on and developed over the previous 18 months was jettisoned. We were suddenly trying to integrate two players and change a pattern in two weeks. And that is just not possible."
The lesson for West Ham, after bringing off an equally dramatic and far more controversial transfer coup, is clear: do not expect too much too soon from Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. To his credit, Alan Pardew, already trying to fit another new midfielder into the side in Lee Bowyer, put down a marker right at the start by initially leaving both the new Argentinians in the dug-out for the visit of Aston Villa last Sunday. He was able to claim an improvement in the second half of that game after Tevez came on to demonstrate his undoubted skill in the 1-1 draw, and it was therefore decided to start with both men against Palermo in Thursday night's Uefa Cup tie.
But although Tevez again showed some sleight of foot to complement his natural aggression, and Mascherano patrolled watchfully in front of the back four, there was a cost to the balance of the team, if not the spirit of the squad.
Quite apart from the feelings of players such as Hayden Mullins and Marlon Harewood, stalwarts for the past two seasons now left out for the superstars, Tevez's preference for the left flank caused Pardew to omit Matthew Etherington, the one natural winger, and resulted in West Ham looking too narrow. As the manager acknowledged after the 1-0 defeat: "That lack of width on the right has been a bit of a problem. Tevez likes to work the left, which is a particularly strong side for us. With John Paintsil injured, we have to work on [right-back] Ty Mears and maybe get a striker offering us a little bit more of a threat down that side, like Marlon Harewood did when he came on. The balance of the team needs to be right. It's a difficult thing to juggle, because we've seen these two guys have got talent that could take us to the next level."
First things first, which means a home game this afternoon against Newcastle United, who won 4-2 at Upton Park last season. The temptation three days after a draining European game may be to freshen the team up, but Pardew is inclined to stick to much the same side in seeking a first victory since the opening day: "That's always a tough one for a manager. If we'd have got a positive result, you could be a little more aggressive in terms of changing the team.
"When you've had a defeat like we have, you're desperate for a win and you go with your strongest team, then maybe get the tired legs off and look to win it with some substitutes. It will be a tough call for me. There's part of me wants to give players like Marlon, Carlton Cole and Teddy [Sheringham] run-outs, but I have to play my strongest team, I think."
Suddenly West Ham are high-profile. This will be a fourth successive televised game for a club now finding themselves in the glare of not only the cameras but of investigative journalists and legal authorities accusing MSI, the company who effectively own the Argentinian players, of money laundering.
Nigel Reo-Coker, the young captain, is typical in not enjoying the spotlight. "It's just a little bit uncomfortable because we're not used to such coverage," he admitted. "We've got high-profile players at West Ham now and it has been a bit unsettling, but that's football. That's pressure and attention that we're going to have to deal with."
Then there is talk of a takeover, funded anywhere from the Middle East to Russia, according to your choice of rumour. Pardew, who three weeks ago fondly imagined this season would "only" be about building on the success of the last campaign, said: "I don't feel we can use that as an excuse. I have no doubt that whatever happens, the old regime or the new, it can be successful for us.
"Let's be honest, we know the two guys coming in has been disruptive, and we've had a lot of pressure on us. Two or three results and everybody's going to be looking at us to do something this season. We need to get those results."Reuse content