Won’t Get Fooled Again – 5 Takeaways From West Ham’s Rout By Liverpool

Meet the new boss same as the old boss – or just a case of early teething problems for Manuel Pellegrini? What did we learn as West Ham’s new season fails to get off to plan against Liverpool?

Meet The New Boss Same As The Old Boss

OK, so we won’t be playing a team as good as Liverpool every week and it is only two months into Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure at the London Stadium.  But yesterday could easily have been a West Ham performance from any of past few seasons as the team outclassed, out-passed, out-thought, out-fought and out-run by the opposition.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!  The images of Pellegrini looking forlorn and perplexed in the dugout could just as easily have been Allardyce, Bilic or Moyes.  It will be a test of his character and expertise to see the response he gets from the team over the coming weeks.  Against Liverpool, the Hammers were second best in every department albeit to a team (love them or hate them) that will almost certainly be in with a shout at the title come the end of the season.

The Scoreline Didn’t Flatter Liverpool

Pellegrini was reported as saying that the scoreline flattered Liverpool.  It didn’t – perhaps he was desperately scraping from the barrel of managerial excuses – and it must be extremely difficult to face the media in the immediate aftermath of such a hammering.  True that the third goal was clearly offside but at least it had the effect of allowing Liverpool to take their foot off the pedal and start to rest some of their key players.  I just knew that Sturridge would score when he came on – if he could play against West Ham every week the Golden Boot would be no contest.

The Core Of The Problem

As with many games in the Premier League, this one was won and lost in midfield.  The criminally neglected defensive midfield was once again the primary source of our downfall; as it will be against all the other top clubs unless there is a return to the bus parking tactics of recent years.  Yesterday was further confirmation that Mark Noble is too slow of foot and mind to compete at a top level these days and that Declan Rice is blatantly unsuited to the role – to the extent that it could well destroy his confidence.  Liverpool were given the freedom of the park to waltz through at will.  Defensive midfield responsibilities require discipline, strength, stamina, speed and mobility.  They need to win and release the ball quickly and intelligently to the more creative players – particularly against teams that press in the way that Liverpool do. Where are our players that can do this and turn West Ham into a unit that is able to maintain possession?

Looking for Positives/ Rating The New Boys

It is always difficult to pick out positives off the back of a comprehensive defeat.  Łukasz Fabiański comes away with some credit as he was not at fault for any of the goals and made several smart saves without which the score would be even less respectable.  Of the other new boys I thought Andriy Yarmolenko gave the best account of himself; Felipe Anderson showed some flashes (although his going to ground so easily was worrying and he failed to track Milner for the crucially timed second goal); Jack Wilshere looked lively – a promise of more to come without really delivering a great deal; Fabian Balbuena did OK in very difficult circumstances; while Ryan Fredericks had a poor debut which spotlighted his defensive limitations.  It is easy to point a finger at the defence when you have just shipped four goals but with players of the quality of Salah, Mane and Firmino sniffing around, it is the supply that has to shut off – otherwise goals are inevitable.  The poorest performances of the afternoon were Rice, Noble, Fredericks and Michail Antonio.

The Only Way Is Up

Starting the season at the bottom of the table means that the only way is up.  It is no surprise that we left Anfield pointless but the nature of the defeat and the overall performance must have been disappointing to all concerned.  Did anyone feel that we competed (for more than the opening ten minutes) or posed any serious threat to the Liverpool goal?  We are sure to do better as new ideas and players start to take shape and should expect incremental improvement.  The success (or otherwise) of our season will be defined more on performances against the Premier League fodder rather than against its elite – but the minimum we should expect is that the latter know that they have been in a game.  Our ability to dominate the also-rans will be put to the test against Bournemouth next week.  Preventing goals, rather than scoring them, looks like it will continue to be the major problem and with the players available I am not convinced that a back four makes a lot of sense.  Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku are both wing backs rather than full backs and three centre backs can go some way towards mitigating the defensive midfield weakness.  I accept that Manuel is somewhat better qualified than I to sort this one out but it looks like a lot of hard work is going to be needed on the training ground over the coming weeks and months.

Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham Era To Kick Off At Anfield

Another tough opening weekend away fixture for the Hammers but can Manuel Pellegrini’s new look West Ham surprise Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday afternoon?

You can’t accuse the fixture computer of not having a sense of humour as it follows up successive opening weekend away encounters at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United with a visit to Anfield for the new look Hammers.  Whether the performance will mirror the stunning victory witnessed at The Emirates in August 2015, or the tame surrender seen at Old Trafford twelve months ago is, the challenge faced by Manuel Pellegrini as he prepares his troops for battle.

In a side that could show as few as four survivors from that which started the last league game against Everton at the London Stadium three months ago, it will require an instant ‘gelling’ in the squad if they are to come away from this traditional unhappy hunting ground clutching any of the points on offer.

It was a few weeks after that Arsenal victory in 2015 that West Ham recorded their only victory away to Liverpool in the past sixty-five years; and they would go on the beat the Reds three times during the course of that season.  Normal service has since resumed, however, with the Hammers conceding four goals in each of the last three encounters between the two sides.

The 3-0 win at Anfield in August 2015 was one of the events that led up to Jurgen Klopp replacing Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager.  Liverpool finished just under the hammers in his first season in charge, and has followed this up with two fourth place finishes – plus a European Champion’s League Final appearance.  Many pundits believe Liverpool to be the main threat to a Manchester City procession in this season’s title race.

For many West Ham fans, the title that Liverpool are always front runners for is that of most hated rival club.  Personally, I don’t get that and feel that you have to greatly admire what Klopp has done in moulding them into serious contenders. On the other hand, the ongoing media obsession with the Scousers would make it a nightmare should they ever finally succeed in picking up a Premier League title.  Only a Tottenham title win would prove a greater incentive for leaving the country for a few weeks next May.

Early season matches can be difficult to predict but that has not stopped both Lawro at the BBC and Merson at Sky opting for comfortable 2-0 home wins in today’s contest.  With players returning late from world cup duty and integrating new players it may prove difficult for teams to find early season rhythm – something that could affect both of today’s teams.

With Liverpool’s strength based on collective work ethic and cohesion in pressing the opposition (and with several likely injury concerns) my clutched straw is that the Hammers can catch the opposition cold today and pull of something of a surprise. For this to happen would require all of new boys to hit the ground running and show a level of discipline that frequently eludes West Ham sides.  Can Jack Wilshere become one of the better Arsenal imports?  Will Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko adapt quickly enough to the pace of English football?  Is there a resolute defensive formula somewhere within the squad that can resist the Salah, Mane, Firmino triumvirate?

It will be interesting to see Pellegrini’s chosen lineup and I have attempted to second guess him below.  The questions for the defence are who gets the nod between Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena as Angelo Ogbonna’s central defensive partner and who plays left back.  I am thinking Diop, who might just have that extra bit of pace required, and Arthur Masuaku, based solely on having had greater pre-season preparation.

lineup-(2)

In central midfield, defensive responsibilities will fall to Mark Noble with support from either Pedro Obiang or Declan Rice and I would see Obiang’s greater experience swinging the selection.  I am ruling out any place for Sanchez in the immediate future.

The rest of the side picks itself unless Yarmolenko is not fit to play, in which case I see Michail Antonio stepping in.  Another frustrating start of day on the bench for Little Pea.

Regardless of what happens in this tough opener I am convinced it is going to be a very positive season for West Ham once they have a few games under their belt.  Ever the optimist, I will be keeping everything crossed but the best I am seeing today is a 1-1 draw.

Today’s referee is Anthony Taylor who makes the short trip from Manchester.

 

 

We’re Gonna Score One More Than You!

Dusting of my bobble hat and polishing the rattle for a season where attempting to outscore the opposition makes a welcome return over hoping not to lose.

With the transfer window slamming shut and the Premier League season starting in the course of two days, the scene is set for the mother of all media frenzies – Sky sources will be going beserk.  As usual, the close season has witnessed a host of managerial comings and goings and vast sums of money exchanged for both exciting and mediocre players.  Some are certain to shine while others are sure to fail.  Everyone has spent big, optimism is widespread but ultimately three clubs will still be relegated.  At the top the slate is wiped cleaned, but there is almost universal consensus for a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool.

Meanwhile at the London Stadium something very strange has been happening – as if the owners suddenly discovered the PIN for their ATM card and decided to dip deeply into their pockets.  Even the most curmudgeonly anti-Board critics must find it difficult to complain about the scale of the summer’s transfer activity; although there is still the stadium, the design of the third kit and the sleeve advertisements to moan about.

At last, the much needed and belated squad overhaul has taken place with a vengeance.  Whether this is a one-off reaction to keep the season ticket cash register ticking over or part of a longer term investment strategy remains to be seen.  Rumours persist, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, for several more arrivals before Thursday’s deadline but, even now, looking at the attacking talent available in the squad makes some of us moist with anticipation.

New manager Manuel Pellegrini promises a new expansive approach and style of play that could prove the perfect antidote to the dour pragmatism of recent seasons.  How quickly the Hammers can adjust to these changes (and the new arrivals to the frenetic pace of the Premier League) will only become apparent over time.   Can the new boys hit the ground running, will it take a while to build telepathic understandings, and what is a realistic expectation for West Ham in the 2018/19 Premier League season?

There is a very strong correlation between the wealth of a club and their probable finishing position in the league.  On that basis, the top six places are already spoken for – although it is not unknown for any individual club to experience a wobble in a given season.  That would leave the Hammers fighting it out with the likes of Everton and maybe Leicester (or Wolves) as leaders of the chasing pack.  If it was me setting targets then I would be looking at between sixth (with the most favourable of following winds) and tenth; worse than tenth would be a failure and the idea of another relegation haunted season is unthinkable.

However, I think many of us would prioritise entertaining football, a good cup run and being prepared to give it a go against the big boys above any particular league position.  From what I saw of pre-season I am confident that can look very good in possession but fear a continued vulnerability without the ball – particularly exposed through the middle against marauding or fast breaking attacking sides.  Defensive midfield has become the new right-back where the club and management have been slow or reluctant to address a long perceived weakness.  Perhaps a solution can be found in the next day or so.  In any case we are in a much better position now in attempting to outscore the opposition, even if it means conceding a few in the process.  Hoping not to lose should no longer be the game plan.

From experience, we know that any discussion about the Hammer’s strongest line-up when everyone if fit is a purely theoretical exercise.  Nevertheless, speculation is always fun.

I see little between the two keepers but suspect the Number One spot will be Fabianski’s to lose.

In defence, Pellegrini prefers a back four and I will be interested to see which of the various permutations best suits this set up.  On the left both Cresswell and Masuaku have been better at going forward than in defending and are possibly more suited to a wing back role than as traditional full-backs.  Across the other side of the park, Fredericks looks certain to be first choice and has looked electric going forward (I am, as yet, unfamiliar with his defensive prowess) while Zabaleta is a useful backup.  The centre of defence would then be any two of Ogbonna, Diop, Balbuena and Rice.  It may take some time to establish the optimum pairing but believe it will be Ogbonna and Diop who get the shout from day one.

Defensive midfield options are currently a choice from Obiang, Noble and Rice and I expect Pellegrini to be looking to select two of these.  Each has their own limitations in a role expected to protect the back four, win possession cleanly and move the ball forward quickly.  Noble will continue to be an important figure around the squad but unless he can be fitted with a new pair of legs before the weekend I am not convinced that he can still operate effectively at this level – more than happy to be proved wrong though.  Rice is a great prospect but it would be a case of a central defender playing, out of position, in midfield to my view.

This year’s attacking options provide some mouth-watering options.  Pole positions (subject to any late additions) must be Wilshire, Anderson, Yarmolenko and Arnautovic with Hernandez and Antonio (if he stays) as backup.  There may be a case for starting with Hernandez as part of a two up top on some occasions but only in matches where one of the two defensive midfielders can be sacrificed.  A prediction from all of that is for Arnie to set a new Premier League goals in a season record for the Hammers – eclipsing the current 16 by Di Canio in 1999/2000.

Of the departures it was sad to see Reece Burke go.  He is the modern day Eliot Ward and I can see him making a return to the top level later in his career. It was also time for Kouyate to move on, even though he was nowhere near as bad as some made out – who will replace him as the whipping boy?

I have very high hopes for the season but then again this is not a brand new sensation.  This time, more than any other time, maybe they can be at least partially fulfilled.

2018-19 – A new campaign for West Ham to move to the next level?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and let us hope for a better season. But is it enough to move on to the next level? What are the odds?

We ended last season at the London Stadium in style with an emphatic win over Big Sam’s Everton. It was the end of Big Sam and also signalled the end of David Moyes following his short tenure as our manager. He did what he came here to do (to ensure we were not relegated) and was no doubt paid handsomely for it. The owners felt that we needed a change to “take us to the next level” and Manuel Pellegrini was installed as the new boss.

Premier League clubs voted for a shortened transfer window this time around, and may have shot themselves in the foot with the window elsewhere remaining firmly open whilst the weather remains warm until the end of the month, enabling foreign raids on our clubs until then. The general consensus among Hammers fans is that this has been one of our better windows, and the owners certainly seem to have dug deeper in their pockets this time around with the hope of avoiding the calamities of the last two seasons. Who would have thought when the last season ended that West Ham would buy more players than there would be days when it rained in the close season?

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!

Colossus, Enforcer and Powerhouse Wanted. Apply: London Stadium

With less than six weeks to go to the start of the new Premier League season there is still some way to go in Manuel Pellegrini’s transformation of West Ham.

With just 40 days and 40 nights until the start of the new Premier League season it is time to dust off the Under The Hammers almanac and begin to contemplate what the coming months might have in store for us.

The known knowns are that West Ham have a new manager, director of football, a state of the art backroom team and, at time of writing, three new players.  The known unknowns are which of the hundreds of players that have so far been linked with a move to the club are more than just a media or agent’s fantasy; while the unknown unknowns are just how deep will the Board really dig into their pockets in order to freshen up and maintain the quality of the squad.  The reality being that squad investment and renewal is a never-ending journey not merely a once in a lifetime spree.

Now that Manuel Pellegrini has named his backroom team there is a very Hispanic feel around El estadio de Londres that promises a new brand of tippy-tapas football for us to feast on and the prospect of David Sullivan swapping his Soviet hat for a sombrero.  As the players prepare to embark on the start of pre-season training it will be an education to see how they adapt to the new regime.  No doubt there will be a few bumps ahead in the road if transitioning our current crop to a more possession based style of football is to be expected.

The role of Mario Husillos as Director of Football is an intriguing one and it will be enlightening to see how it evolves.  Is he just in charge of recruitment or does he have a wider remit to introduce a more consistent footballing culture at all levels of  the club and to instil a degree of planning into previously chaotic and haphazard recruitment practices?  Revitalising the academy and making it productive once again would be a major breakthrough and essential for future development.

On the playing front there will be at least three new faces at the club when the season gets underway in the form of Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop and Lucasz Fabianski.  All three appear to be decent signings even if, individually, they are unlikely to be game changers.  Fredericks will provide useful competition for Pablo Zabaleta’s ageing legs and offer a greater threat going forward; Diop comes highly rated and could either be so good that he will be off to greener pastures within two years or he will be unable to adapt to the English game and return to somewhere warmer; Fabianski may or may not be an upgrade on Adrain.

General consensus is that Pellegrini is looking to sign another four of five players before the transfer window closes.  Whether these include any of the many players that have been the subject of consistent speculation in the media remains to be seen.  If those involved really are keen to keep their cards close to their chests for a change it would be unlikely that so much information would find its way into the hands of reliable journalists and insiders.

This absence of real news, however, will never dampen the appetite of the online transfer speculation industry.  This remains in overdrive during this most productive time of year when punters, desperate for information, will happily click away all day long to drive website traffic and advertising revenue for even the most fanciful stories.  Each spurious rumour is able to generate an initial story which can then be followed up by others that summarise the polar extremes of fan twitter reaction, explain how the team might line-up next season with said player in the side, provide in-the-know insights into the ongoing haggling over price and finally the epilogue revealing that the player has now signed for someone else.

When posting a transfer rumour writers will use smoke and mirrors to craft an enticing headline that remains as obscure as possible as to who the target really is while, at the same time, creating the illusion  that this is not the same story you have read a dozen times over already.  The trick is to never use a name but feature the player’s age, height, expected transfer value, other physical attribute or an reference to a playing style – the most popular this window being: colossus, enforcer and powerhouse.  Thus ‘Hammers Linked To 34 Inch Inside Leg World Cup Enforcer – Pellegrini Must Move Quickly With £25m Bid’ would produce a typically seductive link.

Accepting that 90% of what we read is probably nonsense I do have an outstanding concern that little of what is written seeks to address the obvious weakness in the centre of midfield.  No amount of colossi (or is it colossuses) at the back will be much use if defensively the midfield offers little resistance to opposition attacks. Introduce as many attack minded flair players as you like but if we continue to rely on Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate as the springboard for rapidly transitioning defence into attack then we are doomed to more disappointment.  Perhaps Declan Rice might be considered as a defensive midfield alternative but, great prospect that he is, I’m not convinced he has all the attributes needed for that role – it would be an Eric Dier-ish alternative, competent in dropping back to help the defence but not offering enough offensively.  The modern game at its most effective has moved beyond the water-carrier role.

As well as new arrivals there are sure to be further departures.  I would be very unhappy at losing Marko Arnautovic (and Rice as an outstanding prospect) but other that I wouldn’t be too disappointed whoever else left if better options were available.  The big money modern game leaves no room for sentimentality.  According to reports those possibly heading for the departure lounge include Michail Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna.  Both have their plus points but both are also not without flaws.  With Manuel Lanzini due to miss most or all of the season it leaves an big gap in attacking midfield and I can’t see that Joao Mario is the person to fill it – he only really shone in those few games where West Ham were dominant and I would see little value in making the move permanent.

It would be a surprise to me if Winston Reid and Noble saw much game time in the coming season.  Both have been fine servants to the club but their future role is now as squad players as they see out the remainder of their lucrative contracts.

Of course, all this recreational speculation takes place in the shadow of a World Cup that still has some way to run in Russia.  With Spain now joining Germany and Argentina back in their respective homes, the list of potential winners is now shortening to one where you might be tempted to include England.  While that might still be a stretch it is not entirely impossible – as long as Harry Kane doesn’t score a hat-trick in the final.

Seventy Five Days To Lift The Hammers

With the promise of a bulging war-chest, a stream of new players and a new enterprising style of football what can Manuel Pellegrini realistically achieve in the next seventy five days?

It has been an interesting week down in the East End as for once the club moved with uncharacteristic efficiency to install Manuel Pellegrini as West Ham’s seventeenth manager, and the sixth in the last ten years.

The ink was barely dry on his £5m/ £7m/ £10m per year contract (delete as applicable) before reliable journalists and in-the-knows close to the club were headlining a rag-tag assortment of new recruits for the Chilean to bring to the London Stadium.  Typically, these included any player that Pellegrini had previously worked with during his managerial career, as well the usual pick of players that were not good enough to prevent their own team being relegated last season.  Of all those names mentioned so far that fit the hill (Toure, Hart, Rondon, Cazorla, Shaqiri) none of them fill me with great excitement.

Pellegrini was initially reported as saying that he wanted to bring four or five new players into the squad (leaving us still at lease three short of a comfortable top ten side) but subsequently extending his shopping list to seven new faces; presumably after watching re-runs of some of last year’s matches.

The change of manager has certainly lifted the mood around the club and it will be fascinating to see how long the positivity lasts once the nature of summer recruitment starts to reveal itself.  At least we can draw a veil over the 2017/18 season and pretend it didn’t happen.

There has been a good deal of speculation about the size of Pellegrini’s transfer war chest with a figure of £75m being bandied around, while others are reporting that this could be even higher depending on the proceeds of player sales.  One assumes that the new manager has some assurances regarding what he is able to do but it is always a little bit fuzzy on what war chests are meant to include.  Is it only for transfer fees paid or does it also include agent fees, signing on fees, loan fees and player wages?  It is rare for a club to pay the whole of a transfer fee in one lump sum and wages add a significant extra over the course of a contract.  Take Andy Carroll for example who was signed for £15m in May 2013 but has probably been paid somewhere in the region of a further £20m in wages during his time at the club.

David Gold said on Talksport something to the effect that “we will probably spend more than we have ever done during the transfer window.”  Now that is a bar that is not set very high and we could have done without the ‘probably’ in there as well. If the club does not better its transfer spend record then there could well be mutiny.

There has been some speculation as to whether the protest at the Burnley game in March  spurred the Board into action.  Perhaps it had some effect but it was more likely the dwindling season ticket waiting list that set their alarm bells ringing for the two Daves.  I have been told that those who were number 22,000 on the list a year ago are now being asked exactly where they would like to sit!

My recollection of transfer windows during the summer of major tournament is that they become a little fragmented as clubs, players and agents hope that a Gary Breen like performance can inflate transfer fees, wages and commissions.  There is not too much West Ham interest in this year’s finals although Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate, Javier Hernandez, Edmilson Fernandes and Joao Mario (who I guess is still shown as a Hammer until his loan expires at the end of June) may all play a part.  I wonder how many of them will still be with us by August?

A number of backroom staff have cleared out their lockers at Rush Green but I have yet to see confirmation of any new appointments or what that means for the structure of the club going forward; particularly for player recruitment.  Although David Sullivan has made noises about keeping his nose out of transfer business it is difficult to believe that he will not be there in the background jealously guarding the only copy of the West Ham United cheque book and seeking to impress players with a tour of his tasteful Essex mansion.  I would predict that, in the circumstances, it will take several more weeks for Pellegrini to get settled in London, organise his support team and find a hairdresser to tend that magnificent head of hair before he focuses on bringing in new players.

If, as expected, we are to get a style of football that requires our players to keep the ball more then most of the past five years needs to be unlearned.  If that also involves a more athletic and intense approach then it is younger, fit players rather than Manchester City cast-offs that are needed – unless they are prepared to let Aguero, De Bruyne or Fernandinho go.

What would be very disappointing is if we lost either Marko Arnautovic or Lanzini during the summer and I think both players are likley to attract interest.  Whether either is of the quality required to be a regular at a top six side is a matter of opinion but they would certainly be useful squad additions for a number of top clubs.  I am somewhat ambivalent regarding Hernandez as it is difficult to see where, despite his undoubted goal poaching ability, he fits into a side that is set up to graft for each other.  No matter who you are in the Premier League, skill and technique has to be backed up by organisation and hard work.  All of the league’s current top scorers offer more than simply hanging around the six yard box.

There are just seventy-five days until the new season’s curtain raisers on August 11.  It is a relatively short time in which to overhaul the squad, sort out the coaching staff and instil a new style of play that all of the players can master and understand.  It is certainly going to be an interesting summer.

Manuel Pellegrini: From Galácticos to Geriacticos

Is the apparently incoming Chilean manager the right man to bring both stability and a touch of flair to West Ham? And will the erstwhile duplicitous Board finally change its spots and allow him to do the job?

It would seem that West Ham’s search for a new manager is close to completion with many commentators predicting that Manuel Pellegrini will sign a three year deal at the London Stadium within the next few days.  Obviously, any Hammer with more than a few seasons under their belt will know not to count their chicken until it has been fried and the potential of a last minute Sullivan bombshell, such as the Chilean not being prepared to accept a 50% wage cut, cannot be discounted.

If the appointment goes ahead then I would be reasonably happy with it and will hope that it is a speedy rather than a hasty decision; letting things drift is simply not an option.  Maybe a younger manager with fresh ideas would have been more exciting but beggars can’t always be choosers, and the queue of those prepared to work with our current owners may not be a long one, even in single file. After Paulo Fonseca decided to play safe and stay at Shakhtar Donetsk, the shortlist was reduced to two, and with Newcastle desperately trying to keep Rafa Benitez the appointment of Pellegrini has become the path of least resistance.  Each of the managers targeted has a very different approach to the game which suggests to me that the selection criteria was ‘find a big name manager to keep everyone happy’ rather than ‘what is the most suitable appointment to support the long term strategy of the club’.

Pellegrini has a long and distinguished managerial career highlighted by spells at Real Madrid and Manchester City.  He was only at the Bernabeu for a year where, despite achieving a then record haul of points, his side was unable to pip Barcelona for the title.  That failure led to him being replaced by Jose Mourinho and upon his departure Pellegrini shared his frustration that the Chairman’s Galácticos policy prevented him from creating a cohesive unit in his team.  We must hope that history doesn’t repeat itself only this time with our own Chairman’s Geriacticos policy of bringing in washed up loan players.

Pellegrini’s time at City was largely successful one boasting a return of one league title and a brace of league cups, as well as laying down the foundations of the current record breaking squad.  Success is measured very differently by City’s owners and, with no Champion’s League success, his contract was not renewed after a three year tenure.  His attacking style of play was much admired during his time at the Etihad.

It is his time at Villareal and Malaga, however, that are more relevant to a club like our own and in both he performed so admirably that is caught the eye of bigger clubs.  During the years at Villareal between 2004 and 2009 the club regularly qualified for the Champion’s League including a second place La Liga finish in 2007-08.  In his first full season in charge at Malaga (2011/12) the club finished fourth in La Liga and achieved Champion’s League qualification for the very first time in their history; a campaign that took them as far as a semi-final defeat by Borussia Dortmund.  Malaga were subsequently hit by UEFA Financial Fair Play sanctions and barred from competing in European competition.  Pellegrini may never have won the Champion’s League, the holy grail of football management, but he has over-performed in taking relatively unfashionable teams to the party.

Most recently Pellegrini has been managing at Hebei in the Chinese Super League where he has one time Hayden Mullins understudy, Javier Mascherano, as part of his squad.  Hebei finished fourth in his first season but are sitting mid-table now as the league enters its mid-season break.  There are only so many noodles that he can buy with his colossal salary and no surprise that a return to European football is on his radar.

It would be interesting to know what sort of assurances might have been given to candidates regarding investment in the squad.  A lot of work needs to be done in clearing out the dead wood and establishing a better balance in terms of ability, athleticism and age.  This will not come cheap and, although net transfer spend cannot be viewed in complete isolation from money spent on player wages and agent fees, significant investment is required to attract better players quickly.

I have read that Pellegrini likes his teams to enjoy a lion’s share of possession; a style that would be a significant change from the last three manager’s preference for mass defence and counter attacking.  It is also a task that would considerably stretch the abilities of the current squad for whom the concept of ‘pass and move’ has been shown to be totally alien.

The transition from attritional, safety first, respect the point football is not an easy one as supporters of Stoke and West Brom would be quick to testify.  Given sufficient opportunity I believe that Pellegrini can provide the type of football that West Ham supporters yearn for, allowing them to take their minds off the move away from the Boleyn Ground at least for a while.  Whether those in the Boardroom are prepared to dig deep enough to fund that opportunity is what will make or break any new manager.