Imagine this. You are the unpopular owner of a struggling Premier League side. You have recently sold a promising academy graduate much to the dismay of your fans. Your team has made the poorest possible start to the new season and are now one of the favourites for relegation. There are well-known and long-standing weaknesses in your squad, but you have failed to invest any money in the transfer market, even though the window is soon to close. What do you do: (A) Knuckle down, identify and recruit the desperately needed reinforcements, find creative ways to raise the necessary finance and hope to restore confidence; or (B) Go on national radio, blame everyone else for your perennial shortcomings and plead financial hardship?
No surprise then, that with a trademark lack of self-awareness, David Sullivan opted for route B. His interview with talkSPORT managed to combine the worst of Prince Andrew, Gerald Ratner, and Donald Trump – “I have so many wingers, literally, eight wingers. I have them all over the place. They’re virtually useless.”
Bottom line is that Sullivan considers himself blameless for the club’s current plight, despite the evidence ten years or more of erratic, short term mismanagement.
In Sullivan’s eyes, in fact, it is the fault of supporters for demanding he appoint a big-name manager and a Director of Football. That he appointed a washed up one with unrealistic ideas on how to compete in the mid to lower echelons of the Premier League – and then compounding it by taking on that manager’s best buddy as DoF – was not, it seems, relevant. He had no control (and, therefore, no responsibility) for the Pellegrini/ Husillos signings. It is now David Moyes fault for the absurd idea of wanting to sign players who would improve the first team, not just to put bums on the bench and allow the club to claim it had been active in the transfer market.
We can only speculate on what was he hoping to achieve by such a PR catastrophe? Did he imagine he would win us over by going on air? Any remaining shred of credibility that remained could now only be found by forensic science. There is no way back from here and it’s about time ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter’ replaced ‘The academy of football’ as the club’s strap line.
Despite frantic speculation, it is still all quiet on the transfer front as the clock ticks down to just over a week to go. As far as the outside world is concerned, the only newsworthy story of interest is whether Declan Rice will be eventually sold to Chelsea. Some news media, notably the Star and Express, are on a mission to make sure this happens. I am under no illusion that Rice will spend his whole career at West Ham, but it would be madness to sell him this late in the window. What over-priced, over-aged replacements would be we contrive to bring in with the money raised?
Elsewhere this week there was a comfortable EFL Cup success at home to Hull City, but not before the drama of Moyes, Issa Diop and Josh Cullen all being sent into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. It’s a long time since the Hammers recorded four positive results in a single week. One anonymous source (@ExWHUtealady) tweeted that the three had previously shared one Ann Summer’s ‘Willy Soap on a Rope’ that are supplied complimentary in the Rush Green showers. All are unavailable for Sunday’s clash with Wolves, although apparently Moyes still intends to deliver his usual managerial address via Zoom. Perhaps images of him prowling the technical area of his lounge can be beamed onto the giant screens.
On Sunday, it will be Chalk versus Cheese at the London Stadium as the downbeat Hammers face an effervescent Wolverhampton Wanderers for the fifth time since the visitors returned to the Premier League in 2018. West Ham have lost all of the previous encounters and failed to score on each outing – with an aggregate score of 0-8.
There have been various comings and goings at Molineux during a close season that saw Jota, Doherty and Costa all leave to be replaced by Fabio Silva, Semedo and Hoever. However, Wolves still have Moutinho and Neves to pull the strings in midfield while Traore and Jimenez will be confident of causing alarm in the shaky Hammer’s backline.
For West Ham, it would be no surprise to see the same formation that performed well, but returned empty handed, from Arsenal. In Diop’s absence, the only alternative is a recall for Fabian Balbuena. Otherwise the back five is likely to be unchanged. Midfield protection will again be the responsibility of Rice and Tomas Soucek.
There could be scope for changes, though, in the forward three where Sebastien Haller and Andriy Yarmolenko made midweek claims for starts by showing they are more than good enough for League 2. I still struggle to see how and where Yarmolenko fits into a Premier League side. Despite his undoubted technical skills and accomplished finishing his lack of pace and work rate (particularly in tracking back) make him something of a luxury.
The situation with Haller is more complicated. In the right setup he will score goals but not unless he gets far better support. In addition to the much discussed defensive problems, we don’t have anyone with the right attributes to play just off the striker. In fact, the team have regularly struggled to get bodies into the box from open play – with only Soucek and Jarrod Bowen providing support to Michail Antonio. I feel that Bowen’s enforced defensive duties have detracted significantly from his goal threat in recent games, a situation that needs to be remedied if we are to see the best of him. Without doubt more goals are needed across the front three and we cannot continue to rely on Antonio’s heroics. Maybe a front three of Bowen, Haller and Antonio can be made to work.
It is difficult to know how much off-field calamity influences what happens on the pitch. It cannot be a force for good to have such disharmony coming down from the top. Own goals are never welcome in football and even worse when you find they are knocking them in in the boardroom. My only hope tomorrow is that the players can isolate themselves from the off-the-field mayhem and reproduce the effort and commitment that was shown at The Emirates. If they can then some sort of result is possible, even if it may not be very probable.
Alright, we’ll call it a draw.