IT all seemed a bit fishy right from the start. When West Ham United announced the double signing of two of the world’s most coveted young players to a stunned football world, the pundits were soon pontificating on the finer details and ramifications of the deal.
Argentine World Cup stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano were unveiled to the press as the newest members of the Hammers squad on this day in 2006.
But how had the club pulled off such a coup? And why had the young players with the world at their feet chosen the Boleyn Ground as their new home when they could have had the pick of any of Europe’s top teams?
As the opposing footballer/manager refrain goes, no disrespect to West Ham, but they were not one of Europe’s biggest clubs at the time. Indeed, they had only won promotion back into the Premiership a season earlier.
With Alan Pardew at the helm the club had finished an excellent 9th in the Premier League, and been just a few penalty kicks away from lifting the FA Cup in their first season back in the big time, but they were still some way short of the very top of the football tree.
A West Ham spokesman said: “The pair have been signed for an undisclosed fee and put pen-to-paper on permanent contracts with the club this afternoon. All other aspects of the transfers will remain confidential and undisclosed.
“The transfers represent a massive coup for the Hammers, who have beaten off some of Europe’s biggest clubs to secure the services of the duo.”
As it turned out, there were very good reasons why “all other aspects of the transfers will remain confidential and undisclosed,” namely, that the players’ ownership was not entirely above board, which would come back to haunt the club later with a £5.5m fine from the Premier League – though many thought they were lucky to avoid a points deduction which would have meant certain relegation.
Meanwhile, the new signings explained their reasons for joining the club, with Tevez claiming he was already a West Ham fan, thanks to his friendship with Lionel Scaloni.
He said: “Other clubs in the Premier League and Europe were interested in us but when we met Alan Pardew he made us both really feel wanted.
“I had followed the club quite a bit last season because I am a close friend of Lionel. We watched every West Ham game in Argentina because of our friendship and he spoke very highly of the club, its supporters and the manager.”
Mascherano was also keen to stress his knowledge of his new club, but perhaps stretched it a bit far when he said: “I know of Anton Ferdinand – he is talked about a lot in Argentina as a great player of future.”
Having been blindsided by the whole transfer, football’s so-called experts began having their say on the deal, with speculation rife that the players would be moved on to bigger clubs after just one season with the Hammers.
Hammers media spokesman Phil Hall rejected this saying: “There is no way West Ham would act as a feeder club for others,” before leaving the door just slightly ajar: “These are exciting signings for us but, of course, if we were offered major fees for the players in the future we would have to consider it – just as we would with other players.”
The new players were supposed to take West Ham to the mythical ‘next level’ that every football fan believes their club should be aspiring too, but the dream quickly turned sour. Amid rumours that squad morale had been crippled by the high-profile arrivals, West Ham’s form nose-dived after they turned up, with eight consecutive defeats.
Mascherano was not even being played, and after a takeover of the club Pardew was sacked, with Alan Curbishley brought in to try to keep the team up. Despite the earlier claims of Phil Hall, Mascherano was shipped out on loan to Liverpool in January never to return, barely six months after joining the club.
Tevez meanwhile stayed on just long enough to secure Premiership survival with the only goal in an unlikely 1-0 away win at Manchester United on the last day of the season. He left for Old Trafford soon after to bring to a close one of the strangest transfer deals ever seen in English football.
Here is Tevez scoring the goal that kept the Hammers up, and we will be back tomorrow with memories of a really rather good night in Munich. Also on this day, a young scouser was proving loyalty in modern football really is just for the romantics.