Is the gulf in class between West Ham and Manchester City greater or less than that between ourselves and FC Altona 93? This thought occurred to me while watching the Hammer’s struggle in their final pre-season friendly yesterday. Whereas the German fourth division side had been able to produce a spirited display to make a game of it in Hamburg our attempts to compete against City in Reykjavik were disturbingly feeble in comparison.
While I can understand the argument that results do not matter in these friendly matches surely there is some expectation or benefit required from them; or else what is the point? In what turned out to be an exhibition of attack versus defence what did we learn other than confirmation that there is a tower block of next levels between West Ham and the Premier League elite clubs? Was the game an essential step in building fitness? Did we witness tactical experimentation or fine tuning in readiness for next week’s main event? From what I saw I don’t believe so!
To me our performance had all the hallmarks of so many of last season’s disappointments. An inability to keep possession for more than two or three passes, minimal movement off the ball, a first instinct to go sideways or backwards, a side that neither attacks nor defends as a unit and players prone to individual errors.
I may be paraphrasing manager Slaven Bilic but I got the impression from his comments that were it not for individual errors then everything would have been alright. If nothing else changes I think we are in for a mostly unremarkable season, not necessarily a struggle, but where scraping into the top ten would be a reasonable achievement. There may be an upgrade on personnel in the squad but in terms of the basics of formation, fitness and tactics there continues to be cause for concern.
In mitigation the team was without such influential players as Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio and Winston Reid and we were up against a side that traditionally has a storming start to the season. There was even a harshly disallowed goal from Andre Ayew and, at the final whistle, we had fared no worse than Real Madrid or Tottenham against the same opposition.
If there were positives to be taken it was in the second half performances of Javier Hernandez and Declan Rice. Hernandez gave an enthusiastic display and looks to have energy, pace and mobility. We can only hope that Little Pea doesn’t eventually get a little pee’d off by a lack of service and support from his team-mates. Rice looks a very assured player for one so young but I’m not convinced of the wisdom of using him in midfield; better to see how he would have acquitted himself in his preferred central defensive position. It could be construed as typical Bilic thinking that centre back and defensive midfield are inter-changeable activities.
An honourable mention also to Joe Hart, not only for some smart saves but also for not shutting up during the whole game in an attempt to organise the wayward defenders in front of him.
It was strange to see two players brought on as 85th minute substitutes in a friendly game but at least wasting a little time may have contributed to keeping the score almost respectable.
There was a spirited defence of the Board and the debt position in some quarters during the last week. I do not doubt that the debt exists but the club’s position on it seems to be rather selective depending on what point they are trying make at the time. It reminds me of those unfathomable logic problems with two doors (one leading to certain death and one to freedom) that are protected by two guards; one who can only tell the truth and one who always lies. You are only allowed to ask one question.
So, David is it true that you have done a magnificent job in eliminating external debt by replacing it with loans from yourselves while the underlying value of the club appreciates spectacularly? Or is the fact that you have been unable to reduce the debt (which there is no incentive to do in any case) a reason why the club cannot invest more into new players?
I’m not particularly a Board basher but there has tended to be a disconnect between words and actions from the Chairmen that has led to a sense of mistrust or disbelief on their ambitions for the club. In a period of extreme revenue growth there is an understandable sense of frustration that our transfer activity, although widely acclaimed (over hyped even), has been relatively modest. Clearly there is more to football club finances than headline grabbing transfer fees but supporters have yet to see a level of investment action that matches the fine words of next level ambitions.