I can’t remember a time when I have had less enthusiasm for the start of a new football season. Although partly due to the unusual circumstances that we are living through – forcing a foreshortened break and the absence of that slow build pre-season anticipation – the primary reason is undoubtedly the continued chaos and calamity that the club conjures up for itself out of nowhere.
Having finished the post lockdown phase of the season in a relatively positive manner there should have been grounds for optimism in the face of a new campaign. All that was required was careful grown-up stewardship to address the obvious critical deficiencies in the squad, and then building on the hard work and collective team spirit that had been growing during the closing run of games. What we got instead was the worst of all possible worlds – a malignant disharmony that has quickly spread throughout the club alienating owners, chief executive, manager, skipper, players and supporters. What could possibly go wrong with that as a preparation for a new season?
In days gone by, we might have laughed off supporting West Ham as a character building roller-coaster ride – but it is now a curious roller-coaster that travels only downwards. Starting a new season in turmoil; selecting from an even smaller squad of players; glaring weaknesses in defence left unaddressed; and a tough opening set of fixtures leads to only one conclusion. We are faced with yet another season of backs-to-the-wall attrition, where the only hope is there being three even more incompetent sides in division – it is difficult to see who these might be!
This will be West Ham’s ninth consecutive season in the top flight of English football. During that period the club have signed close to 75 players at a combined outlay of over £420 million (in transfer fees) and goodness knows how many millions frittered away in wages. That we have a squad that is little better in depth and quality than a promoted club is damning evidence of a club with no strategy and poor leadership. A board obsessed with short-term vanity signings at the expense of building for the future. As one newspaper article described the recruitment policy:
“And when age finally takes its toll, when the world stops waiting for you to become what it seemed you once could be, when you are written off with a dismissive shrug as a could-have-been then, in England at least, there are really only two places you can go: West Ham or Everton.”
In isolation I was ambivalent about the sale of Grady Diangana. I was not convinced that he would become a consistent Premier League performer but, on the other hand, he is an academy product (which we all love) and he could do no worse than several other of our very highly paid squad members. In a well run club he would have been given time to prove his worth but sadly West Ham is now a make do and mend operation, crippled by knee-jerk decision making and arrogance at Board level. Throwing money at Pellegrini and allowing him to appoint his mate as Director of Football was astonishingly foolish and will take years to recover from without a further injection of funds. The owners have created the chaos and we look to them to repair the damage. Either by shelling out or selling up.
Any pretence of building for another level is laughable. We can all see the king has got no clothes, so please stop telling us he has. It is clear that Gold and Sullivan do not have the competence to run a progressive football club and if they intend to stick around then they must bring in someone who understands what it takes to run a modern football – someone who knows the importance of scouting, recruitment, player development and training facilities – and is not just focused on shifting merchandise.
As for the season opener, West Ham entertain a Newcastle side who had hoped to be starting their own campaign under new ownership. Even so they have been busier in the transfer market than the Hammers (who hasn’t) and will be approaching the game in the more positive frame of mind.
The good news for David Moyes is that both Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are available to start but beyond that he has no fresh options to call on. The famously leaky defence has not been reinforced and it is bare bones right across the backline – West Ham being the only club in the league who regard full-backs as optional extras.
Strangely, for a club that boasts only one recognised striker and little midfield creativity, scoring goals has not been a major problem in the recent past. Much will depend on the tireless endeavours of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio to keep that record going. Maybe we will be surprised and Moyes will find a way to deploy the likes of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko that will justify at least part of their phenomenal wages.
Newcastle can now boast two players in Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson who traditionally thrive in games against West Ham. Throw Saint-Maximin and Almiron into the mix and they carry more than enough threat to cause serious headaches to the West Ham rearguard – even at the best of times. In the current toxic atmosphere surrounding the London Stadium any outcome more positive than a draw is difficult to predict.
This weekend’s game is meant to be the easiest (on paper) of the opening sequence of Premier League games. If West Ham extend their opening day of the season losing streak to five games, then it is no leap of the imagination to suggest that we might find ourselves rock bottom after the first seven games on zero points. Perhaps a late flurry in the transfer window can lighten the gloom but right now there is little cause for optimism. A season of real struggle awaits!