Reo-Coker takes centrestage

Nigel Reo-Coker moved to West Ham in 2004 after coming through the ranks at Wimbledon, the London club that relocated to Milton Keynes later that year, writes Andy Hampson.

Nigel Reo-Coker, a highly rated midfielder, was linked with top clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal last summer and tipped for future international honours. An all-action energetic player, he moved to West Ham in 2004 after coming through the ranks at Wimbledon, the London club that relocated to Milton Keynes later that year.

Reo-Coker was born in Southwark, London, in 1984 but spent six years in Sierra Leone, where his father Ransford was a doctor, as a child. He moved to London with his mother Agnes-Lucinda, who is a nurse, and his older sisters Natalie and Vanessa when his parents split up in 1990.

He was spotted by Wimbledon at the age of 13 playing football for local club Croydon. He moved to the Dons and progressed through their junior ranks to the first team, making his senior debut on the final day of the 2001-02 First Division — now Coca-Cola Championship — season. Already a junior England international, he became a Wimbledon regular the following season as he impressed with his vitality and maturity in midfield. Such was his progress that he was handed the captain's armband at 19 and drafted into the England Under-21 side.

The player looked to be on his way to Portsmouth in March 2003 after a deal was agreed but the move collapsed because of Wimbledon's financial problems. He continued to shine and eventually left Wimbledon in January 2004 when a switch to West Ham was agreed upon.

His debut came in a 2-1 win over Rotherham and he made 18 appearances for the club that season. His first goal came in a 5-0 win over former club Wimbledon in March.

His growing influence saw him play a huge role as West Ham clinched promotion to the Barclays English Premier League via the play-offs in 2004-05. He even ended the season as captain due to injury to senior players Christian Dailly and Teddy Sheringham and lifted the play-off trophy at the Millennium Stadium after victory over Crystal Palace.

With Reo-Coker at the heart of their play, West Ham were superb in their first season back in the top flight, playing with a freshness and vigour that saw them finish ninth and reach the FA Cup final. He was established as both club captain and England Under-21 skipper.

The summer brought speculation of moves to Arsenal and Manchester United but neither materialised and he remained at Upton Park. His form slumped after that and West Ham lost their way at the start of the 2006-07 campaign, the situation eventually leading to the sacking of manager Alan Pardew.

Reo-Coker hopes to win a full England call but is still eligible to play for Sierra Leone. He was singled out as one of the reasons for West Ham's decline this season. He had struggled to recreate the form of last year and many observers attributed that to the failure of a big-money move elsewhere to materialise. There were other factors behind the Hammers' toils, such as the disastrous double signing of Argentinian pair Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, but so many fingers were pointed at Reo-Coker when Pardew was fired that he even received hate mail.

"It got to a boiling point for a young man," said his agent Tony Finnigan. "I told him to stick it in the dustbin and get ready to go to war against one of the best teams in Europe."

Reo-Coker did as suggested and responded by scoring the winner in a dramatic match against Manchester United — West Ham's first game under new manager Alan Curbishley.

A number of West Ham players were embarrassed recently when accounts of their Christmas party at a London nightclub made the press. The players reportedly mocked Pardew after his sacking. It was reported that when the club DJ proposed a toast to Pardew, Reo-Coker and others booed and laughed. Reo-Coker was later seen chatting up girls by inviting them to see him play. It was claimed there were a number of glamour girls there as well as Big Brother TV stars Aislyene Horgan-Wallace and Makosi Mumbasi.

Reo-Coker owns a black Mercedes CLS 500 but is banned from driving it for six months after being caught speeding in Burgh Heath in November. He was doing 59mph in a 40mph zone and the three penalty points accrued took him to the 12-point limit. He attempted to have the ban reversed, arguing that he could not trust a chauffeur because of his status as a footballer.

"I would not know if I can trust that person," he said. "We are targets. There are criminal gangs who wait and follow you before making a move." The reason for his concern was not unfounded. He was robbed of a GBP32,000 necklace and GBP5,000 watch at knifepoint while on a night out with team-mate Anton Ferdinand last January.

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