Seventy Five Days To Lift The Hammers

With the promise of a bulging war-chest, a stream of new players and a new enterprising style of football what can Manuel Pellegrini realistically achieve in the next seventy five days?

It has been an interesting week down in the East End as for once the club moved with uncharacteristic efficiency to install Manuel Pellegrini as West Ham’s seventeenth manager, and the sixth in the last ten years.

The ink was barely dry on his £5m/ £7m/ £10m per year contract (delete as applicable) before reliable journalists and in-the-knows close to the club were headlining a rag-tag assortment of new recruits for the Chilean to bring to the London Stadium.  Typically, these included any player that Pellegrini had previously worked with during his managerial career, as well the usual pick of players that were not good enough to prevent their own team being relegated last season.  Of all those names mentioned so far that fit the hill (Toure, Hart, Rondon, Cazorla, Shaqiri) none of them fill me with great excitement.

Pellegrini was initially reported as saying that he wanted to bring four or five new players into the squad (leaving us still at lease three short of a comfortable top ten side) but subsequently extending his shopping list to seven new faces; presumably after watching re-runs of some of last year’s matches.

The change of manager has certainly lifted the mood around the club and it will be fascinating to see how long the positivity lasts once the nature of summer recruitment starts to reveal itself.  At least we can draw a veil over the 2017/18 season and pretend it didn’t happen.

There has been a good deal of speculation about the size of Pellegrini’s transfer war chest with a figure of £75m being bandied around, while others are reporting that this could be even higher depending on the proceeds of player sales.  One assumes that the new manager has some assurances regarding what he is able to do but it is always a little bit fuzzy on what war chests are meant to include.  Is it only for transfer fees paid or does it also include agent fees, signing on fees, loan fees and player wages?  It is rare for a club to pay the whole of a transfer fee in one lump sum and wages add a significant extra over the course of a contract.  Take Andy Carroll for example who was signed for £15m in May 2013 but has probably been paid somewhere in the region of a further £20m in wages during his time at the club.

David Gold said on Talksport something to the effect that “we will probably spend more than we have ever done during the transfer window.”  Now that is a bar that is not set very high and we could have done without the ‘probably’ in there as well. If the club does not better its transfer spend record then there could well be mutiny.

There has been some speculation as to whether the protest at the Burnley game in March  spurred the Board into action.  Perhaps it had some effect but it was more likely the dwindling season ticket waiting list that set their alarm bells ringing for the two Daves.  I have been told that those who were number 22,000 on the list a year ago are now being asked exactly where they would like to sit!

My recollection of transfer windows during the summer of major tournament is that they become a little fragmented as clubs, players and agents hope that a Gary Breen like performance can inflate transfer fees, wages and commissions.  There is not too much West Ham interest in this year’s finals although Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate, Javier Hernandez, Edmilson Fernandes and Joao Mario (who I guess is still shown as a Hammer until his loan expires at the end of June) may all play a part.  I wonder how many of them will still be with us by August?

A number of backroom staff have cleared out their lockers at Rush Green but I have yet to see confirmation of any new appointments or what that means for the structure of the club going forward; particularly for player recruitment.  Although David Sullivan has made noises about keeping his nose out of transfer business it is difficult to believe that he will not be there in the background jealously guarding the only copy of the West Ham United cheque book and seeking to impress players with a tour of his tasteful Essex mansion.  I would predict that, in the circumstances, it will take several more weeks for Pellegrini to get settled in London, organise his support team and find a hairdresser to tend that magnificent head of hair before he focuses on bringing in new players.

If, as expected, we are to get a style of football that requires our players to keep the ball more then most of the past five years needs to be unlearned.  If that also involves a more athletic and intense approach then it is younger, fit players rather than Manchester City cast-offs that are needed – unless they are prepared to let Aguero, De Bruyne or Fernandinho go.

What would be very disappointing is if we lost either Marko Arnautovic or Lanzini during the summer and I think both players are likley to attract interest.  Whether either is of the quality required to be a regular at a top six side is a matter of opinion but they would certainly be useful squad additions for a number of top clubs.  I am somewhat ambivalent regarding Hernandez as it is difficult to see where, despite his undoubted goal poaching ability, he fits into a side that is set up to graft for each other.  No matter who you are in the Premier League, skill and technique has to be backed up by organisation and hard work.  All of the league’s current top scorers offer more than simply hanging around the six yard box.

There are just seventy-five days until the new season’s curtain raisers on August 11.  It is a relatively short time in which to overhaul the squad, sort out the coaching staff and instil a new style of play that all of the players can master and understand.  It is certainly going to be an interesting summer.

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss?

Will we all get fooled again by a Board big on promises but low on delivery?

If there was any intention to keep David Moyes on the list of managerial options for next season (as suggested by David Gold) then it was handled in a typically ham-fisted way by his partner in crime, David Sullivan.  Perhaps tact and sensibilities do not come into play when you are casting for Saturday Night Beaver but trying to attract high calibre football managers is a totally different proposition.  It is no surprise that Moyes opted not to throw his hat into the ring.

Whether it is right to have parted company with Moyes will only become apparent in the longer term with the hindsight of ‘what happened next?’  He is not a particular exciting or progressive manager but then he was dropped into a less than exciting or progressive club; one that was already in crisis.  He inherited a lopsided, ageing, unfit and unmotivated squad (assembled with no thought as to how they might play together) and got them successfully, if stutteringly, across the finishing line.  Whether or not he was complicit in the stupidity of the January transfer window is difficult to know.  What is certain is that it was an awful season but he achieved the task he was set to do.

If anyone believes that by changing manager all of the problems at the club will disappear then there glass is not merely half full it is close to overflowing.  I have heard people argue that we have the nucleus of a good squad but the only way that can be said to be true is if a nucleus can be as small as three or four players.  With well below average training facilities, an under-performing academy, an amateur meddler as director of football and no discernible long term strategy the club requires major surgery.  What would a Guardiola or a Klopp make of it all?

Like it or not survival will continue to be the over-riding priority for the foreseeable future.  The holy grail of expansive football, cup runs and exciting youth prospects looks a long way off from where we now sit.  A knowledgeable and visionary manager can certainly be part of the solution but not in isolation.  Investment in the squad and facilities and keeping the Chairmen locked up in the Boardroom and away from the day to day action is a must,

The leading contenders at time of writing, at least according to the bookmakers, are Fonseca, Pellegrini, Benitez, Emery and Silva.  There is some debate as to whether Fonseca has already ruled himself out and there is also the fact that the same names are likely to feature on Everton’s shopping list as well.  Given a straight choice I wonder which employer most would choose?  Of the five names mentioned three (Pellegrini, Benitez and Silva) have the Premier League experience which, depending on which way the wind is blowing, is inexplicably raised as an essential criteria by our Board.

The problem is that any veteran of previous player transfer windows will immediately start to smell bullshit.  As Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young?) might have put it “we have all been here before”.  It is a path much travelled in Gold and Sullivan’s tenure, promising high and delivering low.  Stories will emerge of burning the midnight oil, working twenty four hours a day, leaving no stone unturned only to find that Newcastle won’t allow us to take Benitez on loan.

Experience suggests that one by one the targets will either sign new contracts at existing clubs or be tempted elsewhere by decisive boards with wads of cash.  By then it will be the World Cup and everything is put on hold while attention is focused on the violence in Russia.  Come July it will be back to pre-season training with the same squad (apart from those that have been sold) and with no new manager until the club reveal the return of Alan Pardew.  Even then there will be some mug on twitter explaining that he would take him back in a heartbeat because he has passion and a nice line in T shirts.  It would be miserable to go through all this and end up with another from the pragmatic manager’s stable that has given us Allardyce, Dyche, Hughes, Bruce, Pulis & Co in the past.

Perhaps cynicism is getting the better of me and that the turmoil of the past season will have been a ‘road to Damascus moment’ (without the chemical weapons) for our leadership.  Maybe they have listened to the gripes of supporters and are finally prepared to act.

Personally, I would be happy with any of the above mentioned names.  Whoever gets the nod deserves to be given a chance. I just hope that there is a quick resolution and not a repeat of the long drawn out transfer fiascoes that we have become so used to.

Come in number 9, your time is up?

A shortage of goals and appearances and a worsening disciplinary record have defined Andy Carroll’s West Ham career. Time to cut the losses?

Just imagine that you have a history of stealing cars. Eventually you are caught and are sentenced to a short term in prison for your misdemeanours. In the week leading up to your release you criticise those people who had supported you for years, because they had had enough and had walked out on you. The prison gates slam shut behind you and you are free. You walk out having served your sentence. You spot an unattended car parked at the side of the road and then immediately break into it and drive away. You have only been out of jail for a matter of seconds and you break the same law again. Luckily for you, although there are many people around that see you do it, the policeman walking by probably thinks that you are getting into your own car and somehow doesn’t spot the fact that you have broken into it, although everyone else can see it quite clearly.

We all witnessed a similar scenario last Sunday in the Watford game. David Moyes could quite easily have been managing a team reduced to ten men after six seconds in his first game in charge. With the benefit of hindsight it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, as even with eleven versus eleven we were totally outplayed. To many it looked like Andy Carroll was determined to get himself sent off, just as he had been in his last appearance for us in the Burnley game for which he received the customary ban. I hope that wasn’t really the case, but his style of play, which a few years ago brought him international caps for the unorthodox attributes he brought to a team, now seems to have become even more physical and is attracting even more attention. Money shouldn’t really come into it, but many on social media liked to point out that the amount he earns in a week is considerably more than that earned in a year by virtually every single person who pays to go and watch him and his teammates perform throughout the season.

I was astonished that the referee Andre Marriner didn’t send him off for that early challenge. Of course I was relieved that our numbers wouldn’t be reduced so soon in the game, but couldn’t believe that he missed it. Perhaps it was because the game had only just started, or perhaps he didn’t see it clearly, or perhaps he thought it was an accidental clash, but whatever the reason he didn’t even book him for that (although he did receive a yellow card later in the half). The media were virtually unanimous in their view that he should have seen a red card, and even many of our own fans were reluctantly in agreement with that view.

For much of his time with us I have been a big supporter of his aerial ability and the potential goal threat that he brought to our team. I don’t know if it is the injuries that he has had over the years but to me he doesn’t seem the player he once was. And when he is in the team the players have adopted a route one style, and the managers have followed a game plan to play to his strengths, to the detriment of trying to play the “West Ham way”.

Many argue that the goalscoring statistics for a record signing England international number 9 are not too impressive. He is now into his sixth season and has played in over 100 games for us in the Premier League and scored 30 goals. He has never once reached double figures for us in a season. His supporters will point to his assists and mere presence on the field of play creating goal scoring opportunities for others, but his detractors are not convinced by this and are a little more doubtful of this benefit to the team. In 85 Premier League games for Newcastle and Liverpool before he joined us he scored 21 times, so his top flight record here is merely on a par with his previous tally.

It would be great if he could turn it around and prove his doubters wrong. Many fans cannot see it happening, and would like to see us play without him, using players with greater mobility and pace in attack, and no longer relying on pumping long high balls up to him to win in the air and knock down for others. How many goals have we scored in this fashion, particularly in recent times?

And finally, just a thought on the standard of poor officiating and inability of referees to see things that so many others clearly see, I happened to catch some on the Brighton v Stoke game on Monday evening. Lee Mason was the man in charge, and he made one of the all-time poor decisions in my view. Glenn Murray of Brighton was in the box heading goalwards when his feet were taken away by Ryan Shawcross. The uncompromising Stoke centre back completely missed the ball, and as Murray fell he grabbed hold of the ball, convinced he was about to be awarded a penalty. The ball did not go anywhere near out of play, yet the referee waved away claims for a penalty and pointed for a corner. It either had to be a penalty (which Shawcross admitted in his post-match interview that it definitely was) or either hand ball against Murray. By giving a corner the referee was perhaps trying to compromise, when in fact it was quite a ridiculous award to make. Astonishing.

Some still believe that Andy Carroll should be involved in the England set-up, as he would provide an alternative tactic, especially if England was chasing the game. But it seems that Gareth Southgate doesn’t agree. Perhaps he feels like many others that he doesn’t score regularly enough, or that international referees would not take too kindly to his style of play. It will be interesting to see if he makes the starting line-up tomorrow night.

Don’t Throw Your Moyes Out Of The Pram

It is hardly the most welcome appointment in history as West Ham look to bring in David Moyes as Slaven Bilic’s replacement.

In true West Ham style the eviction of Slaven Bilic from the manager’s office at the London Stadium turned out to be a long drawn out affair.  By the time the axe finally fell anyone who had been even remotely following the dramawould have been fully aware that Slaven was on his way and that his apparent successor would be David Moyes.

Having resisted the temptation to dismiss Bilic in the summer, when time and options were more plentiful, the owners had effectively painted themselves into a corner by tolerating increasingly desperate performances until even they must have known that the team were certain relegation candidates unless immediate changes were made.   Although by the end most were in tune with Bilic’s departure (no matter how much of a nice guy he was) it would be difficult (or should that be impossible) to find any supporters who would have had Moyes at the top of their wish list for replacements.

The options at this stage of the season are clearly limited and the attractiveness of the task to anyone already in a job was not worth breaking a contract for.  I don’t subscribe to the view that cheap was the key criteria although would dismiss talk of sounding out names such as Ancelloti, Mancini or even Mario Silva as the same fanciful pipe-dreaming that we hear about alleged top striker targets during each transfer window.

West Ham has always liked to represent itself as a family club but increasingly it has the look and feel of one of the many dysfunctional families that regularly turn up in Albert Square; at least if you take notice of the angry brigade that dominate social media.  If what we read is true there now exists the perfect storm of disgruntlement on the Twitterverse that encompasses owners, stadium, players and both outgoing and incoming managers.

During my time supporting West Ham I don’t recall there ever being owners that were loved or respected by the majority of supporters.  Maybe there have been brief periods of optimism such as the start of the Icelandic Age; but we all know how badly that ended, eventually creating the conditions that allowed Gold and Sullivan to ride in as our ‘saviours’.  The club is no doubt in better shape financially under the stewardship of the two Dave’s but it is no more professional on the footballing side that it has ever been; very much stuck in the last century.  Although it may not necessarily be for the better but the game has changed immensely over the years.  Stumbling along from season to season and crisis to crisis (with the occasional relegation) is not an option for a club hoping to sustain a 50,000 plus stadium no matter how loyal its fan base.

The greatest negligence at the club is in failing to create a structure that provides continuity between the frequent changes of managers/ coaches (which have become inevitable) and to deliver an infrastructure, in the form of competitive and professional training facilities, which will attract and get the best out of their players.  West Ham have been left badly behind in both areas.  David Sullivan playing at Director of Football is a nonsense and Rush Green is way behind what should be expected at one of the world’s top twenty football clubs.

Despite the shortcomings (!) of the owners, the terrible performances on the pitch were clearly down the manager.  Anyone who has regularly watched over the past year and a half must have observed the problems with fitness, tactics, team selection, formations, application and motivation.  I don’t profess to understand how our transfer business works but the assumption has to be that the manager has the final say before any player puts pen to paper (even if the board are not prepared to pay the asking price for some of those at the top of his wish list).  Working within a budget is a reality for almost all managers and I don’t go along with the view that Bilic was starved of cash, or that he was undermined during his time at the club.  It is unfortunate that money has been wasted in paying over the top on wages rather than making that money available for transfer fees.  A focus on recruiting experienced (e.g. old) players, an inability to discover young talent from lower leagues and a reluctance to develop youth have all played their part in assembling a squad that, although theoretically talented, is unbalanced  and poorly deployed.

What impact Moyes can have (assuming he is the chosen one) is anyone’s guess.  Many seem to want him to fail before he has started which is difficult to understand even if he does come across as a miserable bugger.  After successful stints at Preston and Everton his career has taken a decidedly downward turn over recent years.  The time spent at Manchester United, as Ferguson’s chosen successor, was always going to be a difficult gig and it was a relative failure rather than an absolute one.  He was dismissed from Real Sociedad for being average rather than terrible but it was his spell at Sunderland which is the greatest cause for concern.  He seemed to make little impression at the Stadium of Light where his apparent defeatist and morose attitude guided the Black Cats to a tame bottom placed finish.  The only possible mitigation is that Sunderland was and is a club in massive disarray and irreversible decline; a look at the current Championship table would appear to confirm this.

If West Ham get the Everton era Moyes then he will bring far better organisation and greater levels of fitness to the team.  It may not be brilliant to watch but it should be good enough.  There is an old joke about two hunters being attacked by a bear where one stops to put on his running shoes.  “You can’t outrun a bear” say his partner.  “I don’t have to” he replies “I only have to outrun you!”  Likewise our task is not necessarily to storm up the league but to do enough to finish above three other sides.  In fact, those not wanting a long term engagement with Moyes might prefer our escape to be as narrow as possible so that no contract extension is triggered.  For me, anyone who is hoping for failure and relegation (and I have seen some comments to that effect) has a rather twisted outlook; even if the motivation is to bring about a change of ownership.

At the time of writing the other rumour doing the rounds is the possibility of Stuart Pearce coming in as a coach to support Moyes.  I don’t have a strong impression for Pearce as manager material but he could have a strong impact in delivering the much needed rocket up the player’s collective backsides.  Pretty much anything has to be an upgrade on Bilic surrounding himself with his mates to a point where there was no viable caretaker to step in even on a temporary basis

It looks like Moyes is going to be appointed today and it is only right that he should start with a clean slate whatever the reservations.  Can he work wonders in the next three games before we embark on the December of death?  It will be a tall order but he deserves our backing and support until experience proves otherwise.

Curbing Our Enthusiasm at The London Stadium

Hope generally trumps expectation but is it time to forget the promises of next levels and accept our role as Premier League also-rans?

The story behind the naming of the hit TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it was a reaction by creator, Larry David, against the many people who lived their lives projecting false enthusiasm and also to urge viewers not to raise their expectations too high.  Regrettably there is no connection to former Hammer’s manager Alan Curbishley!  False enthusiasm and the managing expectations do, however, play a large part in the current undercurrent of discontent that continues to surround West Ham and the London Stadium.

My personal view about the current board is reasonably ambivalent.  It makes no difference to me how our owners originally made their money; suffice to say that they have been successful business people which allowed them to take control of the club at a very uncertain time of it’s history.  Nevertheless, they cannot dine out on their reputation as the club’s saviours forever.  I do not subscribe to the view that their tenure has been synonymous with penny pinching yet do not feel that they have spent their money wisely; the value of their asset has undoubtedly increased but on the back of the money pouring into the game rather than as a result of their own efforts in develop the footballing side of the club.

Expectation management is the biggest concern in particular the misleading naming of high profile transfer targets where we have little hope of persuading the player or deep enough pockets to meet the demands of his current employers.  Supporters often focus only on net transfer spend but in reality there is no such thing as a separate transfer budget.  Clubs will focus on total expenditure (against revenues) which includes transfers, wages and agents fees.  That West Ham were ranked sixth in agent fees paid last season and have several players (with limited re-sale value) earning more than anyone at Tottenham just doesn’t seem to make any long term sense.

Many of us were no doubt carried away a little by the prospect of a new golden era of prosperity following the move to the new stadium even if there were differences of opinion as to how many years this would take.  Fine talk of regular European football and an assault on eventual Champion’s League qualification is a commendable dream (and there is nothing wrong with having a dream) but a dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish.   The structure of the club in terms of footballing direction, scouting, coaching, fitness, youth development and training facilities are way behind other Premier League clubs and leaves the impression of muddling for the sake of survival rather than with any loftier ambitions.  To borrow from The Waterboys, the Owners had promised us ‘the whole of the moon’ but have, so far, we have only seen ‘the crescent’.

It will be no surprise when the end of season Premier League table is almost identical to the amount of money that each club rakes in.  The outlier my well be ourselves in finishing well below the 7th or 8th position that our revenues would suggest.  Despite the Leicester blip, money has increasingly become the determining factor to league position.  As I see it, there is even a split in terms of financial muscle in the so-called big six with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea now well ahead of the remainder.  Large external investment is the only way to get onto the top table on a regular basis.  Arguably the Premier League is more competitive than other European leagues where one or two horse races have become the norm.  The dilemma for top Premier League clubs is does this relative greater competition diminish their chance of Champion’s League success.

As TV and commercial revenues become far more dominant to the wealth of clubs it is impossible to see how a next level can be achieved simply by year on year incremental and organic growth.  If Gold and Sullivan intend to pass on ownership of the club to their families there can be and never will be a new promised land in east London football.  Perhaps we should just accept our place in the scheme of things to make up the numbers.  An occasional tilt at a Europa league place or a domestic cup every few decades is, maybe, the best a West Ham man can get.

The status quo leaves West Ham in a difficult position leaving the club as it does as the fourth largest in London.  I have long wondered whether it is this factor of geography that makes a large contribution to our recurrent under achievement.  Proximity creates far greater competition for the signature of the brightest and best youth players; and from clubs with better facilities, as evidenced by the poor productivity from the academy over the last ten years or so.  On the other hand established players signing for a London team, with the attraction and distraction of the bright city lights, may well become complacent big-time Charlies now that they have made the big time; without the need for the hard work that a more competitive squad would require.

An interesting blog from When Saturday Comes published in the Guardian by a Swansea supporter questioned whether, for teams with limited resources, perennial struggle in the Premier League was better or worse than being reasonably successful in the Championship.  Certainly the allure of the Premier League is great but does it wear thin after a while It is an intriguing dilemma for supporters as to whether the chance to see world famous footballers in live action makes up for the disappointment of regular defeat.  (For me, the article was spoilt by the cheap, needless and irrelevant swipe at the London Stadium – it is fine for own support to slag off the club but others should keep their unsolicited views to themselves; particularly where it is not pertinent to the point in hand.)  As the Premier League becomes more polarised around money there should be no circumstances where mid ranking clubs such as West Ham or Newcastle ever get relegated and even to flirt with it is a sure sign of mismanagement.

We have the worst of all worlds at West Ham at the moment.  A manager who, with no chance of a new contract, few tactical ideas, regularly prepares teams with questionable fitness and deployed with no overall system or plan, is limping along from week to week in an attempt to scrape together enough points to avoid the sack.  It is a sorry state of affairs. At least the team will not this time have a hangover from a warm weather break in Dubai to disadvantage them when Premier League action resumes at the weekend.

The highlight of the international break was seeing Iceland qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time.  With a population of around 330,000 (just a few thousand less than the borough of Newham), this is some achievement and a great example of producing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps part-time manager (and dentist) Heimir Hallgrímsson could do a job at West Ham even if it is only filling in until the end of the season!

The Enduring Problem With West Ham

The long term lack of professionalism that continues to frustrate at West Ham both on and off the pitch.

A lot has changed in football since the days when I used to pay two-bob to get into the North Bank and listen to Bill Remfry for an hour or so before kick off.  Admission prices have rocketed, booking is essential but you can now turn up with a few minutes to spare. On the pitch the game has lost crunching tackles and sideburns as well as muddy pitches that are devoid of grass after the first frosts of winter. Players have become celebrity multi-millionaires who no longer pop into the local for a light and bitter after the match. Sponsorship is everywhere, ramshackle stadiums have been gentrified (in most cases) and news, gossip, conjecture, analysis appears in a constant stream, twenty four hours a day.  For those of us who resist change the crumb of comfort is the knowledge that West Ham, as a club, remain as accident prone and unprofessional as they have always been.  If there were an Opta stat for ‘shots into own foot’ then the Hammers would be in a class of their own.

Perhaps it is my memory playing tricks but back then football, although a matter of life or death, was very much a match-day activity.  Once the elation or disappointment of Saturday afternoon was out of the way and the Sunday papers had been read there was little to concern yourself with until ‘On The Ball’ was broadcast the following week.  The excitement of watching mainly local lads playing for the local team, that all the family supported, made up for any frustration caused by the lack of success.  In any case we did have our own mini-golden era with four cups in sixteen years to keep the bubbles blowing.  There were excellent West Ham sides in both the mid 1960’s and early 1980’s and yet, even then, a failure to invest and an absence of imagination led to missed opportunities.

West Ham’s record of having only five managers in eighty seven largely barren years up until John Lyall’s departure gave credence to the Hammer’s family club legend.  That there have been ten (plus caretakers) in the twenty eight years since, though, tells another story as the clubs make-do-and-mend muddle through strategy has failed to adapt to the cash rich era of modern football.  When managers only last an average of three years it is negligent and shortsighted not to have someone separately looking after the football strategy of the club.

I suppose it is possible that disaster has struck other clubs with equal regularity but because I have not be looking out for their news it passes me by.  Yet even a cursory trawl of the memory banks throws up enough gaffes and blunders to make a decent mini-series. In no particular order I give you: the Bond scheme, Mannygate, Tevezgate, the treatment of Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, the Icelandics, Brown sacking Redknapp in a fit of pique, Pardew’s philandering, Curbishley’s constructive dismissal, transfer business conducted by twitter culminating in the unseemly spat with Sporting Lisbon regarding William Carvalho.  There are probably some I have missed and it is difficult to imagine anyone matching this hall of shame.  If it was any other business than the unconditional devotion of football then the loyal customers would have deserted long ago.

Thankfully, the club has (to date) avoided the type of massive financial meltdown or fall from grace that has been witnessed at clubs such as Leeds, the Sheffield’s and Portsmouth.  Arguably we came very close after the Icelandic’s collapse and that we do, in fact, have Gold and Sullivan to thank for saving the day.  Those brownie points, however, do not last forever and now is the time for them to demonstrate a better balance between the interests of their pockets and the interests of the club and its supporters.  While all West Ham’s owners in my lifetime have demonstrated an absence of true ambition, the current board, somehow, manage to combine this with contrary delusions of grandeur; at least in their public utterances.

It is quite apparent that there can be no next level in the current financial environment of the Premier League without massive external investment.  Consolidating as one of the best of the rest should be eminently attainable (for the 15th richest club in the world) if only it were better managed on the footballing side.  Brian Clough regularly complained that football chairmen didn’t know what they were doing when it came to football matters and David Sullivan has proved this point perfectly.  Of course he is entitled to an opinion (he is signing the cheques after all) but it is time he took a step back, as far as his little legs will allow, from his role as self-styled Director of Football.

I do not pretend to understand how transfers work at West Ham but, from what has been written, it is allegedly a joint effort between Sullivan, Slaven Bilic and Director of Recruitment, Tony Henry.  It is said that the players we signed in the summer were all at the top of Bilic’s wish-list which is good (in the sense of due process) but worrying if that is the extent of his vision.  I doubt that any of the signings are bad but are they the best a Slav can get, and what about the ones we didn’t sign to fill the obvious deficiencies in pace and athleticism throughout the team?

Having started the season so badly, the self-back-slapping euphoria that followed almost universal approval of a successful transfer window had started to look a little premature, prompting the supposed pursuit of Carvalho.  I am sure that some sort of approach was made, whatever Sporting Lisbon may say, but whether it was a serious one is debatable.  Would the Chairman who claims to be working sixteen hours a day on transfers really go on holiday for the last days of the window if there was more business to be done?  It would not be the first time that a lot of noise has been made about signing a player who is knowingly beyond our budget.  The Board had done better up until then in maintaining a lower profile on transfers and so it was disappointing that Sullivan was so thin-skinned when criticism arose that he felt the need to shift the blame to the manager as soon as possible; not a great advert for teamwork or collective responsibility!  The excuse about a bid finally being accepted for Carvalho but no time for a medical is pure hogwash.

Carvalho would have been an excellent signing and just the type of player needed to protect a porous defence.  Bilic was reported as saying that such a player had been his priority for the last two years but if that was the case why did he persist with his campaign to buy as many wingers as possible instead?

We now have to make do until January, at least, with the named twenty two man squad plus any youngsters that Bilic elects to trust.  That this squad includes Doniel Henry and Moses Makasi plus the ever injured Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho leaves little room for manouevre on match-days.  With a manager (described in one national newspaper as a tactical dunce) in the last year of his contract he is a dead-man walking and unlikely to command any respect from his players.  At a club where players have typically done whatever they please it would take an eternal optimist to expect Bilic to turn this round.  Players need to be shown discipline, be at the peak of fitness and be thoroughly drilled in what is expected of them; sadly Bilic (and his coaching pals) are not at all equipped to deliver this.

While the efforts on the pitch reflect badly on the manager, the Board are also implicated.  It is they who appointed him in the first place and have overseen the direction he is taking us; this is either nowhere or backwards! They must now act quickly to avoid a repeat of Avram Grant but they must also address the deficiencies that continue to impact the footballing side if any long term change is to be forthcoming.  Better training facilities and a dedicated Director of Football to drive strategy are fundamental, not optional, requirements for progression.  It is all well and good generating more revenues with slick commercial activities but it will all be for nothing without an overhaul of the factors that cause a lack of professionalism on the pitch.

A Very West Ham Muddle

Are West Ham sleepwalking to disaster as indecision rules the day?

Having apparently received an overwhelming Vote of Procrastination from the West Ham Board it now looks like manager Slaven Bilic is effectively on a one day at a time rolling contract to save his job.  If reports are to be believed he has until the next international break to prove his mettle as the man to take the club forward; or at least until his contract expires – unless, that is, we lose to Huddersfield in which case he could be straight out of the door.

It is interesting to consider for a moment what would constitute a successful return from those next four games (at home to Huddersfield, Tottenham and Swansea and away to West Brom).  Would a couple of wins giving us six points from seven games be enough to appease the doubters or are our sights no more ambitious these days than getting carried away by victory over Tottenham?  The notion that a manager, who has struggled to organise, prepare and motivate a squad for the last eighteen months, will be able to turn things around over the course of a month has a sense of wide-eyed wishful thinking about it.  Perhaps the Board see it as loyalty but it looks more like recklessness to me.  I can’t believe, as some have suggested, that they “don’t have the balls” to sack him as nobody becomes a multi-millionaire businessman without making difficult decisions.  Surely they must have learned something from the Avram Grant episode.

The uncertainty also casts a shadow over the remaining days of the transfer window as a move to the London Stadium becoming an even less attractive option than it was before.  We are unlikely to hear a player telling us how he was unsure about the move until he was convinced by the manager’s vision for the club; not with Slaven’s current dejected air of calamity.  Furthermore would the Owners, prudent with their money at the best of times, be inclined to back the manager’s judgement to any sizeable degree given his recent track record and our current predicament?

A consequence of having a confused game plan/ style of play is that it makes buying players to suit it very difficult.  Maybe Slaven does have an idea somewhere in his head but it has clearly not been communicated to the players.  The game is not simply about announcing a formation but how those relevant parts interact with each other; full backs supporting attacks, central defenders covering for full-backs, defensive midfielders slotting into defence to fill gaps, wide midfielders tracking back to assist full backs, attacking midfielders supporting the striker. These things are not learned on a white board but must be drilled into players over and over again on the training ground.  I see no evidence of this having taken place with our set of strangers.

Bilic has said that the club will not be buying more players for the sake of it but I wonder if he really knows what is wanted.  Previously it has been said that the club were not looking for defenders or midfield players; but then that all changed with the apparent pursuit of William Carvalho.  It seems very obvious to most that pace and athleticism in central midfield and defence should be at the top of the priorities if we are to compete.  Without that the struggles are set to continue.

For me the jury is still out on the success or otherwise of our transfer dealings to date.  Hart and Zabaleta have yet to cover themselves in glory, Arnautovic has only confirmed that he may be the moody individual that everyone predicted he would be, and Hernandez, although definitely a class act, will find it tough to prosper in the role of unsupported isolated lone striker.

The club’s transfer business has been presented to us as a pragmatic purchase of proven Premier League performers (but then so were Ayew, Fonte and Snodgrass) when in fact it is no more than a short term survival strategy.  Any idea that a new bigger stadium, by itself, was the gateway to success is now clearly an old man’s pipe-dream.  The long established amateurish West Ham ways need urgent reform or we can never fit the apparent ambition of the surroundings; and will end up as just another Sunderland.  With our current set up we fit in the top echelons of Premier League football about as well as the Clampetts did when moving into Beverley Hills (if anyone remembers that).  Perhaps that should be the Pudding Mill-billies!

If I ever come across a genie who grants me three wishes for West Ham they would be: a progressive and disciplined manager, a proper football person to sit between the Board and manager; and investment in fit-for-purpose training facilities.  Without these improvements our seasons will be stuck on repeat for ever.