Feels like there are no wheels on the West Ham wagon any more. Things look bad, the fans are mad, and nobody wants to sing a happy song. Whether that is to be our fate now depends on whether owners, manager and players can collectively get their ideas sufficiently bucked up in time to sort matters out. They may have to wait until the weekend, however, before making a start.
There have been some truly terrible seasons at West Ham (Roeder in 2002/03 and Grant in 2010/11 rapidly spring to mind) and this one is only part way through – but it is among the grimmest in living memory. Possibly, this is because it started with such high expectations. On those previous two occasions the team barely made it out of the bottom six all season; this time we were actually pinching ourselves in third place for a fleeting moment.
We had expected better. After all, Pellegrini had enjoyed a solid first season in charge; a top of the range striker had been recruited from the Bundesliga; an exciting young Spaniard was to take his place in an exciting Latin triumvirate ready to tear through opposition defences; and Wilshere and Yarmolenko, back from long term injuries would return like even more new signings. How wrong could it go? How wrong could we be? Even if early performances rarely reached the heights, we were still picking up points and any thoughts of relegation were left to the terminally anxious.
Yet, by early November it was clear that something was seriously wrong. A good, hard look beneath the covers revealed a squad that was slow, unbalanced, ageing and far too thin to cope with the inevitable injuries that come with a West Ham Premier League season. We had, somehow, despite the millions spent, assembled a squad that required major surgery rather than running repairs.
As ever, where spending money is involved, the owners were slow to react – with them it is always a case of waiting until events are ominously bad before taking any action. Planning is an alien concept at the club – amateurs tinkering in a professional sport. They left it too long to replace Pellegrini, just as they have left it to the very last minute to bring in fresh faces during the transfer window.
It was interesting to see Joe Cole speaking with some passion about the situation at West Ham on Sky Sports. He made a point about player recruitment that I have mentioned several times previously – that the club have a history of signing players with the wrong attitude – attracted by the bright lights of London and looking for a guaranteed, all-expenses paid holiday in the capital for the duration of their contracts. The type of players who would have no interest in slumming it in the backwaters of Leicester or Wolverhampton. For me, it was merely an observation; from him, it was circumstances that he had experienced a number of times – although he fell short of naming names.
David Moyes made an immediate impact when he took up the managerial reins with a rousing win against Bournemouth, but the bounce was short lived in the extreme – and the gloom has only deepened after an awful FA Cup exit last Saturday. Moyes would not have been many fans pick for manager, but he cannot be blamed for what has gone on before. He has been making lots of sensible noises about taking a new long term approach to player recruitment but then again …… Jordan Hugill!
Quite what the last frantic days of the transfer window will deliver is a known unknown. Having no discernible scouting network, the club are left at the mercy of predatory agents. Apparently, West Ham’s scouting department comprises one man and a dog – and the dog (appropriately called Scout) is only part-time. “Good boy, Scout, what do you think of that Carlos Sanchez?” “Ruff!”
Which brings us to tonight’s mismatch against Champions-elect Liverpool. What chance does a team soundly beaten in recent weeks by Leicester and then West Bromwich Albion reserves have against the all-conquering Liverpool team? None, that’s how much! The best we can hope for is that once the visitors have cruised into a two-goal lead, they are happy enough to take it easy and keep their powder dry for more demanding battles. At least that will keep us out of the bottom three – for now!
There are many who would not welcome a first ever Premier League title for our Liverpool friends. The thought of the sporting airwaves being overrun with celebrating Scousers and their ‘one-third Irish, one-third welsh, and one-third catarrh’ accents is an unpleasant one. Yet they are by far and away the best and most attractive team to watch in the league right now. Jurgen Klopp has worked wonders at Anfield and their success is well deserved. Good luck to them, I say. Just steer clear of all TV and radio for best part of May.
There is a certain inevitability about tonight’s game – that the result will end in an away win for the record breaking Merseysiders. But can West Ham, the only Premier League team yet to lose to Liverpool this season, set a few records of the their own: no shots on target, no corners, most popcorn sold at half-time, enjoying less than 15% possession? I suppose for appearances sake we should show a shred of belief. Burnley once beat Liverpool 2-0 in a game where they had only 19% possession. Maybe the footballing gods will again show that they have a sense of humour and repeat the performance – with a little help from VAR to right the wrong for last season’s blatant offside blunder.