Today’s football news has been dominated by the sad passing of Pele, one of the greatest players and ambassadors to have ever graced the beautiful game. It is futile to compare players across generations where the game has changed so much, but he was right up there with the finest – the very best in the eyes of some. His was a different era – one of robust shuddering tackles, hefty laced-up footballs, ploughed field playing surfaces – and Brylcreem. May he rest in peace!
The Christmas period also saw the demise of yet another of England’s 1966 World Cup heroes with the farewell of George Cohen. It was interesting to read some of the comments in his obituary where he shared the advice received from his first ever manager at Fulham in 1957. It included several gems that are particularly pertinent in the context of the stodgy fare currently being served up at West Ham: “Football is a game of movement, it’s about width and depth”; “… he taught me how to run on to balls, keeping the game fluid, rather than waiting to receive the ball.” Such ancient wisdom is enough to leave us scratching our heads!
Meanwhile, the David Moyes Doomsday clock has ticked ever closer to midnight following his team’s defeat to Arsenal on Boxing Day. He’s now the cartoon character clinging on to the edge of a sheer cliff as the rocks and dead branches in his grasp fall way one by one. It’s only a matter of time. Even the owners must recognise no attempt has been made to improve or change the style of play, despite the huge investment they have made. It must be obvious they have a manager who, despite the relative success of the past two seasons, is no more than a one hit wonder.
It would be considered madness for any manager to carry on peddling the same tired, predictable style once it has been rumbled by every one of his opponents. The shortcomings have been obvious to supporters for many, many months and even the band of backslapping pundits are finally waking up to it. It may have worked for a while but is now well past its best before date. If there had ever been a master plan to develop a more possession based game, there is no evidence that it has left the drawing board.
Moyes may well highlight the failure of the expensive summer recruits to impress at the London Stadium, but equally there is a huge disconnect between the players signed and the style of football served up. If Lucas Paqueta’s first touch defence splitting through balls are meant to be our salvation, was the less than pacy Gianluca Scamacca the ideal striker to be on the receiving end of them? Even if Moyes is capable of change, he has left it too late.
One of the names routinely touted as a future Moyes replacement, until he signed a new contract, was Thomas Frank, manager of today’s opponents, Brentford.
Frank is unusual in managerial circles in that he did not have a professional career as a player. He has done a tremendous job keeping his low budget team competitive since its promotion to the Premier League. Alongside Brighton, Brentford have demonstrated the type of admirable, far-sighted recruitment strategy that West Ham can only dream of.
Personally, I’m less sure that Frank would the right man for a team like ours – one that theoretically has aspirations to be regularly knocking on the door of European competition. He’s better than what we’ve got but not the long-term answer, for me. Maybe I do him a mis-service and he is more than capable of adapting to circumstances and handling teams with greater resources.
There is a romantic halo effect that surrounds plucky Brentford, especially after their recent heroic win at Manchester City. Yet their reality is an aggressive and muscular outfit which favours aerial dominance, long balls, rapid pressing and set piece mastery. There’s a hint of Stoke City about their physical approach except they are more attack minded than the Potters ever were – spearheaded by the excellent pairing of Toney & Mbeumo up front. I was banking on Toney serving a lengthy ban for his betting misdemeanours by now, but it was not to be.
There’s a real possibility that the Brentford front two will rip the Hammers sluggish rear-guard to pieces with their pace, power, strength and running; and that the West Ham midfield will be overwhelmed by the Bees aggressive pressing. It worked a treat against Tottenham last week until they ran out of steam and had to settle for a share of the points.
Going into the game, West Ham have lost five of their last six league games and badly need to stop the rot. It’s impossible to second guess what the dithering Moyes will do given his reluctance to change what hasn’t worked in the past. Another slow and cautious start to a game could be fatal. I have long advocated a style of 4-3-3 where the front three are closer together, more fluid and not over burdened with defensive duties. The midfield three (e.g, Flynn Downes, Declan Rice and Paqueta) must take on the responsibility for cutting off the supply to the Brentford front-men. Unfortunately, the back four, whatever selections are made in the absence of Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd, will continue to have a rickety makeshift look to it. Is it now also time for Alphonse Areola to come into the side?
As we reach the final match of the season all we can look back at is a very unsatisfactory year in league matches. The record for 2022 to date is P 35, W11, D6, L18, GF 39, GA 46 – earning only 39 points. Slightly ahead of relegation form but on a downward spiral. Away from home the record is particularly disturbing. Just 4 wins, 2 draws, 11 points and 13 goals from 17 games – with 4 of those goals coming in a single game against relegated Norwich City. Depressing stuff all round.
The year started with a win, so can it end with one? I feel we might end up with a point apiece, allowing the managerial can to be kicked down the road a little further. Prolonging the misery and uncertainty for a week or two more. All I can offer is COYI and wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!