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Magnusson on West Ham

John Simkin

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In also rejecting criticism of the wages paid at West Ham, Magnusson insists that "the figures have been totally distorted. I don't understand it". The discrepancy arises when reputable sources claim that Parker, Bellamy, Ljungberg and, most astonishingly of all, Lucas Neill are paid £70-72,000 a week whereas Magnusson has said in the past that his top players earn £55,000. He hesitates when asked about that £55,000 ceiling: "Well, we have a basic wage structure and we are there or thereabouts and we don't want to surpass that. That is still the case."

"It was very unexpected. We thought we had agreed everything with the club and when he'd had a medical everything was finished but we then just got a message from the owner that he wanted a higher price. This is something I have never experienced before in football, because they had already given us permission to speak to the player. So of course I was very disappointed."

Curbishley, at least, has been spared the prospect of reuniting Dyer and Lee Bowyer after their mid-match fisticuffs while team-mates at Newcastle in 2005. He already has enough to cope with in managing a group of players who often appear as interested in their Baby Bentleys and mid-season holidays as Premier League survival.

"Several factors made us pay last season," Magnusson agrees. "I had to do some drastic things to change them." Yet Curbishley's appointment was far from an immediate success. After one victory in eight games, Magnusson concedes that "I was very worried then. I could tell there was something wrong with the club and it took Alan some time to get it right. But I never allowed myself to give up hope and say, OK, we are going to be relegated. When you are chairman the last thing you want to show is desperation or despair. I might have had my own bad feelings during some nights but I always looked optimistic."

One of the more endearing facets of Magnusson's character remains his footballing passion. He regularly visits West Ham internet chat sites - as an observer rather than a participant - in an effort to "grasp the mood of the fans. It is very important to know what people are thinking. In football you deal with people and emotions. It's a much more sentimental business than biscuits or money-market shares.

"That's why the win at Old Trafford on the last day was my sweetest moment. But at the time I was like a deflated balloon. I couldn't even enjoy it until some days had passed because it was unbelievable. It took almost a week for the joy to sink in and understand what we had done."

Everything was different a year ago. "Last August I had no idea I would become involved in the Premiership," the 60-year-old says. "That only started in September and until then I had been thinking of retiring in America. I have some properties there and while I'd been very involved with Uefa and Fifa, and also the Icelandic Association, I was thinking about [retirement] then."

Yet when Magnusson was approached by a consortium led by Tony Cottee he was transfixed. The prospect of entering a high-profile business as consuming as Premier League football swamped the charms of a quiet retreat to America. Cottee and his original partners were replaced by an Icelandic double act in Magnusson and Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the former footballer turned billionaire banker, as they completed an £85m takeover last November.

"I have a very good partner in Bjorgolfur [who owns 95% of the controlling company, WH Holding]. We have known each other for almost 50 years and this is very important for West Ham to understand - we are together and we have this drive for football.

"It takes time but in two years I think we will be fighting for Uefa and even Champions League positions. The fantasy is that in 10 years we will see the team playing Champions League football regularly in our new stadium. We want to model ourselves on clubs like Barça and Madrid who have great marketing aspects. I think it is possible to compete with this kind of club."

Magnusson barely blinks at the suggestion that a 60,000-seat stadium in London would cost in the region of a quarter of a billion pounds. "That figure is not so far away if you take into account transportation costs. We are waiting at the moment for a decision over a certain piece of land and we will have a decision by the end of the year - but I am sure we will build a new stadium. We have the fan-base to need this capacity."

Magnusson's excitement is palpable. If it sometimes looks as if his bald dome will explode with passion, he insists that "I am in good health because I run whenever I have time. I run for an hour, maybe more. I could run a marathon but I won't - I am so competitive that I would hate it if some youngster passed me. I am going to concentrate instead on being busy with West Ham. This is just the beginning."

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