Though West Ham have outlaid extensively for a squad upgrade this summer, the signings they’ve made, impressive though they are, do not compare to the standard of talent brought in by Alan Pardew on the cusp of the 2006/07 campaign.
Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano would go on to collect multiple Champions League titles, playing alongside some of the greatest players of their era and under coaches who’ll go down as some of the most brilliant the game’s ever seen.
So how the hell did they wind up at West Ham?
While underhand tactics and shady behaviour is often portrayed as something that’s recently crept into the sometimes-not-so-beautiful game, there’s been skulduggery and subterfuge in football since the first mud-caked remnant of a work boot’s leathery sole scraped down the heel of a stiffly-moustachioed, consumptive inside-right.
What’s changed since those sepia-tinged days is the stakes.
Nowhere have they been more starkly outlined than in the Tevez-Mascherano affair, which saw West Ham avoid a points deduction on grounds shakier than the finances of your average Icelandic biscuit manufacturer, and Sheffield United relegated in a place that, under Premier League rules, could’ve easily belonged to the Londoners.
That summer, both players were 22-years-old and playing for Corinthians in Brazil.
They were both highly sought after too, but many of Europe’s top clubs were wary due to obscurity around who exactly owned the two players.
Super agents like Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola were just developing their profiles and portfolios of players back then, so the prominence of “investor” Kia Joorabchian in the ownership wrangle was a new phenomenon for many.
Joorabchian had come to own a stake in both players following a number of moves by various companies he’d worked with. Premier League rules now forbid third-party owenership, but at the time it was allowed in principle provided the third party did not retain the right to withhold the player services – meaning basically that they could not sell him to another club against the wishes of his current team.
Once the nature of the ownership structure became public knowledge – the transfer was rushed through on the final day of the transfer window – the Premier League launched an investigation that established Joorabchian could do just this, and the Eastenders were landed with a £5.5m fine, but, crucially, avoided any points deduction that would’ve sealed their relegation because the club had since been sold and it was deemed unfair to punish them.
But wait, how in the name of Sir Trevor Brooking’s amiable tone was a team with these two fighting relegation anyway?
By April, when the judgement was handed down, it was no longer two but one, as Mascherano couldn’t force his way ahead of Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker in Alan Curbishley’s plans and was loaned to Liverpool.
With or without his compatriot, Tevez couldn’t hit a Boleyn Ground brick wall with a bucket of Joorabchian’s cash for much of the season anyway. His first goal for the club came on March 4th, when Spurs somehow stole away from Upton Park with a 4-3 win despite Bobby Zamora 85th minute strike giving the home team a 3-2 lead.
That barely believable loss summed up the Hammers’ struggles all season. After opening with a 3-1 win over Charlton, the Claret-and-Blues collected just two points in from the next eight fixtures, and went through a nine-game streak with the same points return between Boxing day and St Patrick’s day, March 17th.
That they weren’t relegated by the time the Premier League panel made their negative findings in April was an achievement given these runs.
The Spurs game also marked the turning point in their season, however. Tevez would strike six more times in the remaining nine games, forming as unlikely a strike partnership as the Premier League has seen with former Brighton and Fulham target man Zamora.
The Hammers won seven, including the final four games to lift themselves from second bottom – Watford occupied the basement spot all year – on April 20th to 17th on the final day of the season, plunging Sheffield United into The Championship, from which obscurity they have never returned.
That relegation dog fight went to the last day, when Tevez, naturally, scored the only goal of a 1-0 away win against a Manchester United team who’d already sealed another league title. Meanwhile, the Blades were losing at Wigan, Neil Warnock was fired and they drifted out of the league.
A legal battle between the clubs led to a £20m settlement agreement two years later, but, with the value of Premier League involvement multiplied since, the true cost to the Yorkshire club is incalculable, and an enmity has grown between the clubs.
Tevez would go on to to line out at Old Trafford the following season for the home team, pick up a European Cup in Moscow, and then fall into disrepute with the red side of Manchester by pursuing a move to Man City and helping them establish themselves as the Premier League super power they now are.
How much Joorabchian made from these moves we can’t say, but we’re sure it had at least one digit for each of Carlito’s seven priceless West Ham goals.