Hammers plan rebuild on and off the pitch

LONDON - Chris Hughton, who spent two seasons at West Ham United towards the end of his long playing career, emerged as favourite to succeed Avram Grant as the troubled club's new manager on Tuesday.

Whether Hughton gets the job or it goes to another "British" manager as co-owner David Sullivan has implied it will, the new man faces a huge task in restoring the club's pride - as well as the Premier League place it lost on Sunday.

To cap a poor campaign on the field, West Ham's end of season dinner, attended by more than 800 guests in a central London hotel, was marred by a brawl between fans and players and the police being called to the hotel before peace was restored.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "We were called to reports of a disturbance at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane... officers attended, there were no arrests."

No-one could arrest West Ham's slide into the Championship either and Grant was sacked within an hour of Sunday's 3-2 defeat at Wigan Athletic which sealed their relegation.

Dropping into the Championship is little short of calamitous in sporting and financial terms for the club who, despite a trading profit, are still tens of millions of pounds in debt following the spending of their previous Icelandic owners.

The current owners, millionaires David Gold and Sullivan, fans since boyhood, bought the controlling interest in West Ham in January last year.

As well as the trauma of their third relegation from the top fligt in the last 20 seasons, West Ham's fans are facing the prospect of a not-altogether popular move away from Upton Park, their home for the last 107 years, to the Olympic Stadium after the London Games next year.

Whether West Ham are a Premier League, Championship or League One team by then is anyone's guess, but right now the club are coping with stark realities.

BAD SELECTION

Sullivan said on Tuesday that choosing Grant as manager last summer was a "bad selection" by the board.

"Avram is a lovely person but the results sadly speak for themselves that it was a bad selection by the board," Sullivan told The Sun.

"We all share some blame for the results - the board, the manager and the team. However, the team can only play the tactics and formation they are asked to play.

"We want a manager who will get the best out of the squad and foster a strong team spirit."

Sullivan tried to put a brave face on things.

"It is not Armageddon but its a huge setback for the club and myself and David Gold as supporters.

"I confidently predict that this time next year ... we will be back in the Premier League."

"The financial burden to us and our families will rise, not the debts of the club. Some players will leave but hopefully not as many as you might think."

STARTED POORLY

The season started poorly when West Ham lost their opening four matches and only spent two weeks off the bottom of the table before Christmas.

If the board had acted decisively in January by sacking Grant and replacing him with Martin O'Neill, things may have turned out very differently.

O'Neill is viewed as a better tactician than Grant and would probably have got more from the players.

O'Neill, who has not managed since leaving Aston Villa last year, is among the contenders to be new manager along with Hughton, the 2-1 favourite, former Blackburn Rovers boss Sam Allardyce, Paul Lambert of Norwich City and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Martin Jol.

They could well inherit a side without Footballer of the Year Scott Parker, England goalkeeper Robert Green or England striker Carlton Cole who are all likely to be sold while West Ham begin to rebuild, a resurrection as much about a rebirth on the field as off it.