Hammer blows make depressing viewing for glum EastEnders

IN THE dangerously addictive fantasy world of the Championship Manager computer game, I once bought the temperamental Brazilian wunderkind Carlos Alberto for West Ham United.

Life may be about to imitate electronic art for Alan Pardew, below. While he plays the skipper of the Titanic, the putative new owner Kia Joorabchian sees salvation in a South American prima donna who has fallen out with the authorities at Corinthians.

Yes, another one.

Now West Ham fans are second to none in their appreciation of black comedy. But somehow you suspect that Joorabchian's attempts to woo them with another egotistical playmaker with a tarnished reputation might suffer from poor timing. West Ham's dismal start to the season lurched into the realms of the disastrous with a Carling Cup defeat at Chesterfield on Tuesday. It wasn't so much the result as the manner of the performance: this wasn't a spot of spirited giant-killing by the League One side, this was Chesterfield giving West Ham a goal start and comprehensively outplaying them. Some West Ham players should have been chastened by the realisation that, at the end of this season, the league table could inform them they are no longer Premiership class.

Pardew, perhaps because the present and future owners haven't allowed him the option, has resisted the temptation to blame the upheaval caused by the arrival of Argentines Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. Instead he has questioned the commitment and concentration of the players who took West Ham to ninth in the Premiership, a minute from winning the FA Cup, and European qualification last season. If the players were already piqued by the South Americans' arrival, Pardew's reaction won't have mollified them.

The most conspicuous under-performer has been the captain Nigel Reo-Coker, whose form last season brought him to the fringes of the World Cup squad and serious interest from Manchester United. This season he has been shunted to the right wing to accommodate Mascherano, a position he doesn't enjoy because it marginalises him. This has had the effect of shifting Yossi Benayoun to the left where he is less effective, and leaving Matthew Etherington, another Hammer touted for an England call-up last season, often on the bench.

Disgruntlement was bound to ensue. It hasn't helped that Anton Ferdinand's form is going through one of those patchy periods that seem to run in the family, and Marlon Harewood, a forward who operates entirely on confidence, finds himself without any. The ebullient Dean Ashton, the key player for West Ham towards the end of last season, has been injured, although given the arrival of Tevez, you wonder how many starting opportunities he might have had, even if fit.

Rumours that Pardew will be sacked if West Ham fail to end that eight-match losing sequence tomorrow against Blackburn are probably wide of the mark, but only because the club's ownership is still in the balance. If, as seems increasingly likely, Joorabchian is destined to be the new owner, Pardew will be a dead man walking.

Other rumours suggested that Sven-Goran Eriksson would be unlikely to dine out in Tel Aviv with Joorabchian's backer Eli Papouchado unless there was a job offer in the pipeline. Connections of both parties dismissed the possibility swiftly, with Joorabchian supposedly more likely to offer the job to the unemployed graduate of the West Ham academy Alan Curbishley.

Traditionally-minded Hammers fans may regard that as a slight pity. The cerebral Swede shares a few character traits with Ron Greenwood beyond the mild manners and high forehead. Greenwood's England was making a tame exit from a World Cup after a limp 0-0 draw a whole 24 years before Eriksson's but the Swede might be closer in spirit to West Ham elegance than the pragmatist Curbishley. But Curbishley has more of the sort of stuff required to battle against relegation.

West Ham's danger is once again believing they are too good a squad to go down. They managed to be relegated four seasons ago with a squad including Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole, Paolo Di Canio and Michael Carrick. Life in the Championship is not the sort of future Joorabchian is about to invest 70 million in securing.

I can't imagine Carlos Alberto would exactly enthuse about a trip down to Southend for a tricky Essex derby either.

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