Saturday, May 9, 2009

West Ham Hammered by UEFA: No Licence Means No European Football

With the season winding down and West Ham on the verge of making the new Europa League, the Hammers have received the devastating news from UEFA that they will not be allowed to compete in Europe unless they acquire a UEFA Licence.

Under UEFA law, a club will only obtain the licence to compete in European football if they meet certain financial requirements, and as of writing this article, West Ham have yet to fulfill their obligations.

The licence can only be granted if West Ham meet UEFA's stringent financial rules, and to do so they must first submit the relevant documents. However, with West Ham currently looking for new owners, they have been unable to do so.

Their current owner, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, has seen his vast financial empire evaporate overnight after the recent financial meltdown in his native Iceland. He has been placed in a position where he has to sell the club, but the problem in doing so is where to find a buyer who wants to take on a club with a debt of £305 million?

The Icelandic businessman has been looking for a suitor since last November, and so far he has failed to find a suitable choice. Gudmundsson, who had a personal fortune of £1.1 billion when he first bought the club, has seen millions wiped from his fortune after the Icelandic banking system collapse.

With West Ham faced with a financial noose hanging around their necks, and the Carlos Tevez affair yet to be settled, it appeared as though everything was set to go wrong at the club. Then they appointed a rookie manager in Gianfranco Zola.

Many felt that all three elements combined would mean that West Ham would endure a long season, flirting with relegation. But under the new management of Steve Clarke and Zola, the Hammers have been one of this season's few success stories.

Zola and Clarke have brought great style to the club, and they have continued the West Ham tradition of bringing players up from the "Academy" and playing football the West Ham way.

Young players like James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Junior Stanislaus, and Freddie Sears have broken through to the ranks of the first team under Zola—he has given youth its chance to shine.

Unfortunately, this new stumbling block could threaten to derail the Hammers' highly impressive season.

A statement from the Football Association read: "The FA can confirm that, following initial consideration of West Ham United's application, the club has not to date been granted a UEFA licence to compete in European competition next season should they qualify.

"In accordance with set procedures, a final hearing will take place on May 26 before a panel appointed by Sport Resolutions—an independent specialist alternative dispute resolution body.

"Due to a number of factors, principally relating to a possible change of ownership of West Ham United, the club has not been able to submit certain financial information, but expects to be in a position to do so by May 26," their statement read.

It means that, if West Ham finish seventh, they will not find out until two days later if they will be allowed in the revamped version of the UEFA Cup.

A Premier League statement added: "The Premier League respects the fact that there are set procedures in the matter of West Ham's UEFA Licence application and that a final outcome will not be known until after the season has finished.

"There is now a clear and definitive timetable and every club still competing for a European position continues to have everything to play for."

West Ham remain hopeful that they will meet UEFA's requirements, and their fans will hope that they hold onto seventh place while heavyweights Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City breath down their necks.

twitter / WillieGannon