New girl Helen casts a tentative eye over the new England striker on whom Alan Pardew’s future may rest.
When Alan Pardew paid what everyone, not least his own board, agreed was over-the-odds money for Dean Ashton in the January transfer window, he said that it was a â€˜statement of intentâ€™. It said that he wanted West Ham to compete and be in the business of buying, not selling, young, England-bound talent. Six goals in sixteen games and a fantastic performance in the Cup final later, heâ€™s West Hamâ€™s prize asset and Pardew has spent the summer fending off the Geordie vultures, deluded as they are that theyâ€™re the big club West Ham arenâ€™t.
Now Ashtonâ€™s in the England squad and become McClarenâ€™s â€˜statement of intentâ€™: the name he leaked to the newspapers five days before announcing his squad and the one that says, â€˜Sven was insane about Walcott.â€™ I bet by next summer that Rooney and Ashton will be Englandâ€™s forward line. By the time that Owen is (temporarily) fit again, McClaren will have discovered that an unselfish player with two feet who can hold the ball up and use it intelligently as well as score goals is worth keeping, especially as a foil for Rooney.
But Ashtonâ€™s success is going to be West Hamâ€™s burden this season.
In moments of deranged optimism, I can believe that this time it will all be different, that West Ham players getting in the England team is good for West Ham and for England just like it was forty years ago. But todayâ€™s football facts are not made for dreamers. Liverpool have inferior strikers (Bellamy and Crouch) and Fergusonâ€™s apparent faith in Saha will surely be tested before too long. And unlike Ferdinand or Reo-Coker I canâ€™t see Ashton having dark nights of the soul about leaving. Losing Ashton would be horrible, but when an offer from the north-west comes, itâ€™s how Pardew reacts that really worries me.
After all, buying Ashton was also Pardewâ€™s personal statement of intent about his ambition ,and the terms on which he is gracing it at Upton Park. Like Arsenal resisted Chelsea, keeping Deano at whatever price should be West Hamâ€™s next time someoneâ€™s wanting to pay over the odds for Englandâ€™s next centre forward.