When Shaun Newton replaced Yossi Benayoun after 66 minutes of West Ham’s magnificent 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Highbury last month it gave the line-ups a very interesting appearance.
Newton’s arrival meant that all 10 of Hammers outfield players were British born and bred, while on the other side of the coin the Gunners, after Kerrea Gilbert and Sol Campbell had been replaced by half time, consisted entirely of foreign players.
Alan Pardew has built his team around the best of British talent, it is something that he feels is vital to the game in this country, but his views have certainly landed him in hot water with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger in the last few days.
The West Ham manager has looked to up his profile in the game this season and so when the opportunity came to comment on Arsenal’s victory over Real Madrid in the Champions League last week, he did not hold back.
“I saw a headline saying Arsenal are flying the flag for Britain in the Champions League, but I had to wonder where that British involvement was when I saw the team,” he said after Arsenal had put out the Spanish outfit with a side consisting again entirely of foreign players.
“The foreign players and coaches have added massively to the game, but we are losing the soul of British football and English players should be integrated into the teams.”
It was a valid point from the West Ham boss, but it brought a stinging response from a Gunners’ manager who is more used to verbal jousts with the likes of Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.
“It is really disappointing for two reasons,” snapped the Frenchman. “First we are trying to kick racism out of football and I think racism starts with that sort of remark and second, when you’re a manager you want to accept a technical opinion but not remark.
“It’s very, very disappointing to hear that because it’s a regressive way of thinking.”
West Ham striker Bobby Zamora added to the argument by insisting that the team spirit at Upton Park was so much better than in his time at Spurs, simply because just about the entire team can speak English, but Wenger was quick to pour cold water on that view as well.
“I would never like to say to a player you are better but you do not play because you don’t have the right passport,” he said. “When Alan Pardew calls me at the beginning of the season and asks for Jeremie Aliadiere on loan, he doesn’t check if he’s English or not—he just checks if he’s good or not.
“When you represent a club it’s about values and qualities, not about passports.”
When you think about the performances of Aliadiere at West Ham, it is perhaps not surprising that Pardew prefers the blood and guts of an English player, but the West Ham boss was stung by Wenger’s remarks and after Saturday’s crushing defeat at Bolton, he took the opportunity to back track on his views.
“I’m disappointed with Arsene Wenger’s comments,” he confirmed. “It sounds like I’ve taken some esteem out of their victory and that is the last thing I wanted to do.
“My comments were neither xenophobic nor racist. It was just my genuine passion for British football.”
He continued: “I don’t want to get into a war of words about it. I’m very disappointed about it all and perhaps in my press conferences in future I will steer clear of talking in general terms.”
Whatever Pardew’s motives for his remarks, they have certainly started some interesting debate about the amount of foreigners currently playing in the Premiership.
The West Ham boss has proved that he can do the job with a team of British stars and if that suggests that he is eyeing a shot at the national job, then he will have done his chances no harm at all with comments like those.