FROM THE ARCHIVES
When I first decided to start this series of West Ham teams of the last five decades, I rather thought the team of the Noughties would be the most difficult to pick. And so it has proved. As you will see below, it is virtually impossible to choose between some players. It was a decade when more players played for the club than in any other decade. In some seasons in the 1970s or 1980s only 18-20 players appeared for the club. During this decade, it was sometimes well over 30. And of course in this decade, some of the best players only played for the club for a season or two. Or in Carlos Tevez’s case, only 26 games. But what a 26 games!
This is possibly the only position I found easy to pick a winner in. And that is Robert Green.David James might have had a claim, and indeed, he impressed us all during his three years wearing the green shirt in 91 games, and Shaka Hislop also has a claim with his two spells, totaling 121 appearances. But Rob Green triumphs partly for his longevity – six season, 219 games – but also for his consistency. I think he played 170 consecutive games at one stage, but not only was he reliable, he was a great saver of penalties and was a great shot stopper. So Robert Green wins, even despite the manner of his departure, something I suspect he too regrets now.
Had Stuart Peace joined West Ham a little earlier in his career, he would have gone on to be an Upton Park legend. He only played 42 games before leaving to finish his career at Maine Road. But he certainly made his mark. His rivals for this position include Paul Konchesky, a West Ham fan himself, who scored that memorable goal in the 2006 FA Cup final. He had one fantastic season for us, but then was never able to recover that rich vein of form. Herita Ilunga was the same. In his first season he was simply outstanding, but something happened and he was never the same player again. The other contestant for this position is George McCartney. He arrived from Sunderland and to be frank we didn’t expect a lot, but his understanding with Matty Etherington down the left was a joy to watch. They were dynamite. In the end, though, I have to ask myself, if I had to watch this side play together, which of those players would I most like to see. And the answer has to be Stuart Pearce.
Right back has a wealth of riches to choose from. One of my favourite players of all time – and this will astonish you – is Sebastian Schemmel. He was another of these players who have one outstanding season and then something happens and they never regain their form. Indeed, after he left Upton Park he only ever played 20 more top flight games for Portsmouth and Le Havre. Glen Johnson is another contender. As soon as he broke into the team in 2002-3 we just knew he was a star in the making. And had we not been relegated he would no doubt have played many more than the 15 games he did for us. What might have been, eh? Can he really be picked in our team of the Noughties on the basis of 15 games? Tomas Repka, when he first signed, was the personification of the word erratic. He had a great talent for getting sent off, but he also had a great right foot. He also played in central defence and was a phenomenal header of the ball and a cracking tackler. Repka came to love the club and I well remember the tears he shed as we clapped him off the pitch in his last game before returning to the Czech Republic. Julien Faubert might be a surprise contender and some will say we never really saw the best of him. I have some sympathy with that, but at times he showed what an outstanding player he could be – especially in his final season. Our final contender is Lucas Neill. Neill picked us over Liverpool purely because of the idiotic amount of money he was offered by Eggert Magnusson. He was a mercenary, but not a bad player. He was reliable rather than flamboyant. Had Glen Johnson played more games I would have certainly picked him, but in the end I’m going to plump for Tomas Repka.
We didn’t have a bumper crop of central defenders in this decade. That’s probably an understatement. The contenders are Christian Dailly, Manuel Da Costa, James Collins, Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson and Ian Pearce. I loved Da Costa as a player and was gutted when he left. He’s another one who hasn’t exactly become a household name since leaving us. I’m going to go for James Collins and Ian Pearce. Neither are what you might call exciting players, but they always gave their all and never let you down. Collins is a far better player now that when he left us for Villa in 2009. Ian Pearce was a mountain of a man. He certainly wasn’t the fastest, but he was deceptively skilful, and also scored nine goals in his 142 games.
Now comes the tricky part. I’ve narrowed the choice for two central midfielders down to six possibles. Michael Carrick, Scott Parker, Frank Lampard, Nigel Reo-Coker, Mark Noble and Valon Behrami. I loved watching Behrami. He was all arms and legs and on his day was unplayable. No one quite knew what he would do next. He only scored 4 goals in 58 games at Upton Park, but I was disappointed to see him leave and go back to Italy. We all like to dislike Nigel Reo-Coker because of the manner of his leaving, but for a couple of seasons he was one of our best players. He’s another who, had he stayed put, could have become a West Ham all time great. But he thought he had outgrown us. How wrong he was. I am also excluding Frank Lampard on the basis that he left in the summer of 2001. So it’s come down to three from Carrick, Cole, Parker and Noble. Scott Parker was a revelation for us and I only wish he had never left when we were relegated. For me he is one of our all time greats. Michael Carrick could also have achieved that accolade, but he too joined the exodus in the summer of 2003. What a disgrace it was that we only got £2 million for him. So my final midfield place goes to Mark Noble. Even now, there are those who don’t ‘get’ Noble. They clearly can’t see the immense contribution he has made to our team over the last decade. I can. His passing is superb and he leads from the front. He doesn’t get forward as much as he used to but plays the role of holding midfielder superbly. And his penalties are sublime.
Trevor Sinclair was in my 1990s team as was Joe Cole. Both have just a strong a claim to be in the Noughties team. Alessandro Diamanti only played 28 games, but provided some memorable moments. Yossi Benayoun scored some spectacular goals in his 2 years at the club, but is another one who was attracted by brighter lights. The other contender is Matty Etherington whose 165 games looted 16 goals. In the end I’m going for Joe Cole and Matty Etherington. The latter might provoke a few raised eyebrows, but there were a couple of seasons when he and George McCartney played almost telepathically. If Matty hadn’t developed a gambling problem he could have developed into an England international.
And now for the most difficult one of all. How on earth is it possible to pick two strikers to fit into this team from this list? Jermain Defoe, Paolo Di Canio, Frederic Kanoute, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora, Teddy Sheringham, Dean Ashton, Craig Bellamy, Carlton Cole … and Carlos Tevez? I’ll cut straight to the point. Paolo Di Canio is the greatest player to pull on a West Ham shirt since Trevor Brooking hung up his boots. So he gets the first slot. The second is a toss up between Carlos Tevez and Dean Ashton. Ashton was the real deal and it was a tragedy his career was cut so short. He was bought to play alongside Craig Bellamy (or maybe it was the other way around) but in the event I am pretty sure they only ever appeared on the pitch together once. Ashton played 46 games, twenty more than Tevez, scoring 15 goals, to Tevez’s 7. But without those goals West Ham would have been relegated. So what I am now going to do is pick both of them to play in a front three alongside Paolo Di Canio. Dean Ashton would play through the middle with Paolo Di Canio playing down the left and Carlos Tevez down the right. So sorry Matthew Etherington, I have just relegated you to the substitutes bench.
So the Team of the Noughties is: Robert Green, James Collins, Ian Pearce, Stuart Pearce, Tomos Repka, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Joe Cole, Carlos Tevez, Dean Ashton, Paolo Di Canio.
And the subs: David James, Christian Dailly, Glen Johnson, Frank Lampard, Craig Bellamy