West Ham United – not traditionally the warmest of clubs for a neutral – have won an awful lot of goodwill this season for threatening to break the Premier League’s established order and doing so in an entertaining, sometimes thrilling style.
Which begs the question: why throw away that new-found affection by choosing the ditch to die in as throwing the club’s weight behind Kurt Zouma, a player who has been shown – on video – kicking and slapping one of his cats?
The video emerged at the start of the week. 24 hours later the club’s manager, David Moyes, picked the defender in his starting 11 to face Watford in the Premier League. “He is one of our better players,” said Moyes by way of explanation. This is true. But it also shows how the club was acting in a complete moral vacuum.
Contrast this with neighbours Dagenham & Redbridge, 12 miles and, playing in the National League, four divisions away. They have suspended Zouma’s brother, Yoan, from all competitive matches until the RSPCA have completed their investigation. Yoan is understood to have made the video. “Dagenham & Redbridge FC would again like to reiterate that it condemns any form of cruelty towards animals and fully understands the reaction of many of its supporters,” the club said in a statement.
West Ham, for their part, say “the matter continues to be handled with the utmost seriousness”. This amounts to fining the Frenchman two weeks’ wages – £250,000 – which will go to animal refuges but will barely register with a player who pockets £6.5m a year before tax. He has been dropped by his boot supplier but will probably get by.
The club too are being hit in the pocket. Several sponsors have pulled out, the most recent being Experience Kissimmee. But the club will have made the hard calculation that what they made from a Florida tourist board will be pennies compared to what is on offer if they finish in the Premier League’s top four and play in the rich man’s playground of the Champions League next season. And they have a much better chance of doing that with the undoubtedly talented Zouma in the side (even if, on a purely footballing note, Moyes should have been confident of making light of a hopeless Watford side without him).
Zouma’s colleague Michail Antonio sought to downplay the incident yesterday, asking a Sky Sports presenter: “Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism?”. Antonio is ordinarily a thoughtful player worth listening to, and the football authorities’ history of dealing with racism remains pitiful, but this is a complete non sequitur. It brings to mind the words of another shameless East Londoner, Romford MP Andrew Rosindell who, in defending Boris Johnson’s long list of lockdown parties, said “he’s not robbed a bank”. This is not how we judge crimes.
West Ham have yet to say whether Zouma will play this weekend against Leicester City. It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. Shamed by their lowly neighbours, West Ham were given a choice between money and morality and opted for the former.