West Ham gamble on the anonymous

Football fans, it has been said, are fond of a punt, and the fact that West Ham are one of six Premier League teams to be sponsored by bookies tells you all you need to know. In Gianfranco Zola, the Hammers have a manager who also likes to punt, only this

Football fans, it has been said, are fond of a punt, and the fact that West Ham are one of six Premier League teams to be sponsored by bookies tells you all you need to know.

In Gianfranco Zola, the Hammers have a manager who also likes to punt, only this time the Italian has made sure that he is gambling with that vital commodity - someone else's money.

West Ham's financial difficulties have been well-documented, and they have not been helped by some expensive flops, notably Savio who headed back to Italy last week after just eight ill-fated months at the Boleyn Ground.

They certainly cannot afford another one, but seeing his squad decimated by injuries, particularly in attack, Zola was forced to take one more roll of the dice, and he has ended up with Alesandro Diamanti, the tattooed playmaker who has never played a top flight game in his career.


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Will be a success? It is hard to know, and the fact that West Ham have borrowed money from a bookie to secure the funds stretches the move's credibility even further.

Or so it would seem.

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Instead, West Ham seem to have found one of the few benevolent bookmakers in the business, with SBOBET not only stepping in after XL Holidays went bust last year, but also advancing future payments to the Hammers so they can strengthen the squad.

Hammers chief executive Scott Duxbury said that they were only able to enter the market following the intervention of SBOBET.

"Their support in advancing a due payment to the club made sure we signed Alessandro ahead of rival clubs looking to secure his services."

Zola added: "It's fantastic that they help sustain us. They believe in what we are doing and have given us their support. We are going to try to do everything possible to match that with what we are doing."

Zola might also be thankful that it was a betting company that he had to approach for extra money as opposed to a bank.

Diamanti hardly represents a sound investment, arriving in England with a reputation as a temperamental player and if he flops, West Ham will be hard-pushed to recoup any of the �6m fee, not to mention his wages, after handing the unproven player a five-year contract.

Nevertheless, if his past is anything to go by, it seems likely that Diamanti's career at West Ham will be fun for as long as it lasts.

Now 26, a few seasons ago Diamanti was doing what so many talented young footballers do - train less and party more.

Starting out at his hometown club Prato in Italy's fourth division he trod water, and while bigger clubs were aware of his ability, few took more than a passing interest.

But then at one of Italy's more salubrious night spots came a chance meeting with Fabio Galante, an aging former Inter Milan defender who was winding down his career at Serie B Livorno.

The pair became close friends, first on a social basis, but then Galante suggested Diamanti go on trial at Livorno.

The rest is history, as in two seasons Diamanti went from nobody to the team's focal point, scoring 16 goals in 2008-9 as the Tuscans made their way back into Serie A via the play-offs.

"The genius of Livorno," claimed one paper, as Diamanti attained hero's status across the country, while Juventus and Roma both prepared bids to sign him.

But West Ham, no doubt aided by their bookies' wedge, came up with a package that tempted the player to east London.

"He is a classic number 10," said Zola after his signing, making it easy for fans to draw parallels with Paolo Di Canio, another extravagantly-inked, gifted Italian.

But Diamanti will wear number 32, not only worn by Carlos Tevez, but also David di Michele, who looked the part, but soon became a waste of space. Which one will Diamanti be? Zola is going for broke.

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