Parker holds key to Avram's family values

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The Independent Online

Working at his first two English clubs, Avram Grant found an interesting contrast: no expense spared at Chelsea, none available at Portsmouth. In the occasionally dysfunctional family of West Ham, life has been closer to that on the south coast than in west London, regarding results as well as finances. Yet the veteran Israeli manager has had cause to thank owners David Sullivan and David Gold for preventing the sort of fire sale that became necessary to keep Pompey in existence.

In the summer, Tottenham made little secret, to Sullivan's annoyance, of their desire to sign West Ham's dynamic midfielder Scott Parker and Liverpool coveted the less predictable Carlton Cole, a striker too old to be described as "coltish" but yet to turn into a thoroughbred.

All interest was rebuffed, since when Parker has confirmed his position as much the most influential player in the squad. He was the undisputed man of the match yet again in last weekend's 3-1 win over Wigan, which the owners took the gamble of labelling a "Save Our Season" game; then Cole belatedly hinted at a return to the qualities first shown several frustrating years ago in Chelsea blue, by scoring two fine goals in the rapturously received 4-0 Carling Cup drubbing of Manchester United.

Those victories have engendered a new sense of confidence ahead of today's trip to Sunderland, where a West Ham team littered with reserves won an earlier Carling Cup tie. "Sunday will be a different game but it was a good game because they played with their strongest side and we played very good with more than half the team changed," Grant said on Friday. "It showed we are stronger than people say."

A chest infection may sideline Parker, for whom Grant has the highest praise. "Even defensive midfielders need to attack sometimes and cause problems to the other team, because if you look at the game five years ago it's physically more quick, and you need intelligent players to think quickly. I think that's one of his qualities. Teams are more organised than before and you need someone that can come from the back. He's intelligent enough to know when to do it."

Good enough for England, who need a holding midfielder but have not used Parker for four years, even when he was called into the provisional World Cup squad of 30? "He'd be very good for England," says Grant. "He's not easy to play against because he knows how to tackle, to block, to play very physically and also to cause problems to the other team. Look at all the midfielders in Europe, there's not many like him that can do many things. I was a national team manager [of Israel]. Sometimes you need to look."

As for his new home amid the East End family: "It is our target, to be a family club with everybody, including the supporters. First because I believe in this, and second because we don't have the money that other London clubs have. So we want to put here an environment that the players like to come to, that players will get a chance here and a family feeling."

It is worth recalling amid the new optimism that West Ham are no longer at the bottom of the table. "Football is for results," he said. "Although it's a long season, we don't want to wait till the last moment."

Sunderland v West Ham United is on Sky Sports 1, kick-off 4pm

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