Tony Cottee: West Ham must not sell Matthew Upson

Tony Cottee insists West Ham must reject offers for Matthew Upson - even �20m

Matthew Upson was on target in our opening day win at Wolves on Saturday, but most of the headlines are asking whether he'll be sold before the end of the transfer window.

In my view - and this goes for all our best players, not just Matthew - it's vital that we keep hold of our top stars. The club made good progress last year and now I want to see us kick on and get into Europe.

To do that, we simply can't afford to sell players such as Upson - we've got to dig our heels in. These next two weeks until the transfer deadline will be a crucial period for the club.

Everyone has got to be pulling together to make sure we keep our best players and hopefully after the window is closed, there'll be a takeover and we won't have to worry about our best players leaving.

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Matthew is the club captain, he's probably the third-choice England centre-half at the moment and aside from his qualities as a player, you've got to wonder what sort of message it sends out if we were to sell him.

Even if Manchester City offer �20m, it's all well and good saying we've got that money to replace him, but there's a knock-on effect in the dressing room.

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Players like Parker, Rob Green and Carlton Cole will be looking around at a club that's willing to cash in on its best player and wondering about the ambition at Upton Park.

I've heard some fans discussing the possible sale of Upson and pointing out that we've got a lot of cover at centre-half with James Tomkins, Danny Gabbidon, James Collins and Jonathan Spector, so why not sell Matthew and use the money to strengthen some of the areas where we're weak - namely up front and right-back.

I can see the logic in that way of thinking and yes, if Gianfranco Zola turns around and says he wants to offload Upson and use the money to bring in three players who will raise the quality of the whole squad, I'll be completely behind him. He's the manager and it's his prerogative to decide who comes and who goes.

Going back 15 years or so, I remember Harry Redknapp selling Julian Dicks, who was our best player at the time. But Harry used the money from Liverpool to bring in three players in Mike Marsh, Lee Chapman and David Burrows and it was a great move because it probably kept the club in the Premier League.

If Franco wants to do the same with Upson, who's our best player and most valuable player at the moment, that's fine. But what worries me is that it's not his decision and it's people right at the top telling the manager that we need to sell him.

That's what is most frustrating about the situation, because there's a lot of good work being done at West Ham, but the new owners have made it clear they're not going to invest in the club.

It's not an easy situation for Upson either. He's on record as saying that he wants to be playing Champions League football and with the World Cup coming up this summer, I can see where he's coming from.

It's a massive year for Matthew and he knows he'll be in the England squad if he's playing regular football.

But if he goes to one of the Big Four or to Manchester City, he's not going to be guaranteed a first-team spot.

At West Ham, he's the club captain, he's probably the first name on the teamsheet and he knows he'll be playing week-in, week-out.

He's also getting good money from the club and while it's true he could probably make more from a club like City, sometimes when you're family are settled and you're enjoying your football, you don't want to be moving around in search of a bit of extra cash.

Of course, he might decide that he needs to leave West Ham because playing for a bigger club in a World Cup year could cement his place in the England squad. I can understand that because I just missed out on the squad for Mexico '86 when I was at West Ham and you do wonder if playing for a higher-profile club would've made a difference.

But I've also had it the other way. Four years later, I lost my place in the Everton team and wasn't in contention for a place at Italia '90.

That's the issue for Upson - if he moves to Manchester City, for example, what happens if Kolo Toure and Richard Dunne strike up a great partnership? Or Micah Richards recovers his form? Because Matthew's not going to get in the England squad if he's third choice at Eastlands.

If you go to a Champions League club, you're taking a big risk and to join a Big Four club in a World Cup year is a bit like playing Russian Roulette, because Matthew will never have as good a chance to play in a World Cup again.

If Matthew decides he wants to leave and Franco sanctions it because he wants to spend the money on improving the squad, I'll support the decision.

But if it's a case of Matthew being sold to balance the books, then we're in real trouble.

I had to leave West Ham when things weren't progressing 20 years ago. If we're now forced to sell Upson, fans will be asking themselves if anything's changed.

Tony Cottee was talking to Jonathan Clegg.

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