We’re Gonna Score One More Than You!

Dusting of my bobble hat and polishing the rattle for a season where attempting to outscore the opposition makes a welcome return over hoping not to lose.

With the transfer window slamming shut and the Premier League season starting in the course of two days, the scene is set for the mother of all media frenzies – Sky sources will be going beserk.  As usual, the close season has witnessed a host of managerial comings and goings and vast sums of money exchanged for both exciting and mediocre players.  Some are certain to shine while others are sure to fail.  Everyone has spent big, optimism is widespread but ultimately three clubs will still be relegated.  At the top the slate is wiped cleaned, but there is almost universal consensus for a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool.

Meanwhile at the London Stadium something very strange has been happening – as if the owners suddenly discovered the PIN for their ATM card and decided to dip deeply into their pockets.  Even the most curmudgeonly anti-Board critics must find it difficult to complain about the scale of the summer’s transfer activity; although there is still the stadium, the design of the third kit and the sleeve advertisements to moan about.

At last, the much needed and belated squad overhaul has taken place with a vengeance.  Whether this is a one-off reaction to keep the season ticket cash register ticking over or part of a longer term investment strategy remains to be seen.  Rumours persist, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, for several more arrivals before Thursday’s deadline but, even now, looking at the attacking talent available in the squad makes some of us moist with anticipation.

New manager Manuel Pellegrini promises a new expansive approach and style of play that could prove the perfect antidote to the dour pragmatism of recent seasons.  How quickly the Hammers can adjust to these changes (and the new arrivals to the frenetic pace of the Premier League) will only become apparent over time.   Can the new boys hit the ground running, will it take a while to build telepathic understandings, and what is a realistic expectation for West Ham in the 2018/19 Premier League season?

There is a very strong correlation between the wealth of a club and their probable finishing position in the league.  On that basis, the top six places are already spoken for – although it is not unknown for any individual club to experience a wobble in a given season.  That would leave the Hammers fighting it out with the likes of Everton and maybe Leicester (or Wolves) as leaders of the chasing pack.  If it was me setting targets then I would be looking at between sixth (with the most favourable of following winds) and tenth; worse than tenth would be a failure and the idea of another relegation haunted season is unthinkable.

However, I think many of us would prioritise entertaining football, a good cup run and being prepared to give it a go against the big boys above any particular league position.  From what I saw of pre-season I am confident that can look very good in possession but fear a continued vulnerability without the ball – particularly exposed through the middle against marauding or fast breaking attacking sides.  Defensive midfield has become the new right-back where the club and management have been slow or reluctant to address a long perceived weakness.  Perhaps a solution can be found in the next day or so.  In any case we are in a much better position now in attempting to outscore the opposition, even if it means conceding a few in the process.  Hoping not to lose should no longer be the game plan.

From experience, we know that any discussion about the Hammer’s strongest line-up when everyone if fit is a purely theoretical exercise.  Nevertheless, speculation is always fun.

I see little between the two keepers but suspect the Number One spot will be Fabianski’s to lose.

In defence, Pellegrini prefers a back four and I will be interested to see which of the various permutations best suits this set up.  On the left both Cresswell and Masuaku have been better at going forward than in defending and are possibly more suited to a wing back role than as traditional full-backs.  Across the other side of the park, Fredericks looks certain to be first choice and has looked electric going forward (I am, as yet, unfamiliar with his defensive prowess) while Zabaleta is a useful backup.  The centre of defence would then be any two of Ogbonna, Diop, Balbuena and Rice.  It may take some time to establish the optimum pairing but believe it will be Ogbonna and Diop who get the shout from day one.

Defensive midfield options are currently a choice from Obiang, Noble and Rice and I expect Pellegrini to be looking to select two of these.  Each has their own limitations in a role expected to protect the back four, win possession cleanly and move the ball forward quickly.  Noble will continue to be an important figure around the squad but unless he can be fitted with a new pair of legs before the weekend I am not convinced that he can still operate effectively at this level – more than happy to be proved wrong though.  Rice is a great prospect but it would be a case of a central defender playing, out of position, in midfield to my view.

This year’s attacking options provide some mouth-watering options.  Pole positions (subject to any late additions) must be Wilshire, Anderson, Yarmolenko and Arnautovic with Hernandez and Antonio (if he stays) as backup.  There may be a case for starting with Hernandez as part of a two up top on some occasions but only in matches where one of the two defensive midfielders can be sacrificed.  A prediction from all of that is for Arnie to set a new Premier League goals in a season record for the Hammers – eclipsing the current 16 by Di Canio in 1999/2000.

Of the departures it was sad to see Reece Burke go.  He is the modern day Eliot Ward and I can see him making a return to the top level later in his career. It was also time for Kouyate to move on, even though he was nowhere near as bad as some made out – who will replace him as the whipping boy?

I have very high hopes for the season but then again this is not a brand new sensation.  This time, more than any other time, maybe they can be at least partially fulfilled.

2018-19 – A new campaign for West Ham to move to the next level?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and let us hope for a better season. But is it enough to move on to the next level? What are the odds?

We ended last season at the London Stadium in style with an emphatic win over Big Sam’s Everton. It was the end of Big Sam and also signalled the end of David Moyes following his short tenure as our manager. He did what he came here to do (to ensure we were not relegated) and was no doubt paid handsomely for it. The owners felt that we needed a change to “take us to the next level” and Manuel Pellegrini was installed as the new boss.

Premier League clubs voted for a shortened transfer window this time around, and may have shot themselves in the foot with the window elsewhere remaining firmly open whilst the weather remains warm until the end of the month, enabling foreign raids on our clubs until then. The general consensus among Hammers fans is that this has been one of our better windows, and the owners certainly seem to have dug deeper in their pockets this time around with the hope of avoiding the calamities of the last two seasons. Who would have thought when the last season ended that West Ham would buy more players than there would be days when it rained in the close season?

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!

Colossus, Enforcer and Powerhouse Wanted. Apply: London Stadium

With less than six weeks to go to the start of the new Premier League season there is still some way to go in Manuel Pellegrini’s transformation of West Ham.

With just 40 days and 40 nights until the start of the new Premier League season it is time to dust off the Under The Hammers almanac and begin to contemplate what the coming months might have in store for us.

The known knowns are that West Ham have a new manager, director of football, a state of the art backroom team and, at time of writing, three new players.  The known unknowns are which of the hundreds of players that have so far been linked with a move to the club are more than just a media or agent’s fantasy; while the unknown unknowns are just how deep will the Board really dig into their pockets in order to freshen up and maintain the quality of the squad.  The reality being that squad investment and renewal is a never-ending journey not merely a once in a lifetime spree.

Now that Manuel Pellegrini has named his backroom team there is a very Hispanic feel around El estadio de Londres that promises a new brand of tippy-tapas football for us to feast on and the prospect of David Sullivan swapping his Soviet hat for a sombrero.  As the players prepare to embark on the start of pre-season training it will be an education to see how they adapt to the new regime.  No doubt there will be a few bumps ahead in the road if transitioning our current crop to a more possession based style of football is to be expected.

The role of Mario Husillos as Director of Football is an intriguing one and it will be enlightening to see how it evolves.  Is he just in charge of recruitment or does he have a wider remit to introduce a more consistent footballing culture at all levels of  the club and to instil a degree of planning into previously chaotic and haphazard recruitment practices?  Revitalising the academy and making it productive once again would be a major breakthrough and essential for future development.

On the playing front there will be at least three new faces at the club when the season gets underway in the form of Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop and Lucasz Fabianski.  All three appear to be decent signings even if, individually, they are unlikely to be game changers.  Fredericks will provide useful competition for Pablo Zabaleta’s ageing legs and offer a greater threat going forward; Diop comes highly rated and could either be so good that he will be off to greener pastures within two years or he will be unable to adapt to the English game and return to somewhere warmer; Fabianski may or may not be an upgrade on Adrain.

General consensus is that Pellegrini is looking to sign another four of five players before the transfer window closes.  Whether these include any of the many players that have been the subject of consistent speculation in the media remains to be seen.  If those involved really are keen to keep their cards close to their chests for a change it would be unlikely that so much information would find its way into the hands of reliable journalists and insiders.

This absence of real news, however, will never dampen the appetite of the online transfer speculation industry.  This remains in overdrive during this most productive time of year when punters, desperate for information, will happily click away all day long to drive website traffic and advertising revenue for even the most fanciful stories.  Each spurious rumour is able to generate an initial story which can then be followed up by others that summarise the polar extremes of fan twitter reaction, explain how the team might line-up next season with said player in the side, provide in-the-know insights into the ongoing haggling over price and finally the epilogue revealing that the player has now signed for someone else.

When posting a transfer rumour writers will use smoke and mirrors to craft an enticing headline that remains as obscure as possible as to who the target really is while, at the same time, creating the illusion  that this is not the same story you have read a dozen times over already.  The trick is to never use a name but feature the player’s age, height, expected transfer value, other physical attribute or an reference to a playing style – the most popular this window being: colossus, enforcer and powerhouse.  Thus ‘Hammers Linked To 34 Inch Inside Leg World Cup Enforcer – Pellegrini Must Move Quickly With £25m Bid’ would produce a typically seductive link.

Accepting that 90% of what we read is probably nonsense I do have an outstanding concern that little of what is written seeks to address the obvious weakness in the centre of midfield.  No amount of colossi (or is it colossuses) at the back will be much use if defensively the midfield offers little resistance to opposition attacks. Introduce as many attack minded flair players as you like but if we continue to rely on Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate as the springboard for rapidly transitioning defence into attack then we are doomed to more disappointment.  Perhaps Declan Rice might be considered as a defensive midfield alternative but, great prospect that he is, I’m not convinced he has all the attributes needed for that role – it would be an Eric Dier-ish alternative, competent in dropping back to help the defence but not offering enough offensively.  The modern game at its most effective has moved beyond the water-carrier role.

As well as new arrivals there are sure to be further departures.  I would be very unhappy at losing Marko Arnautovic (and Rice as an outstanding prospect) but other that I wouldn’t be too disappointed whoever else left if better options were available.  The big money modern game leaves no room for sentimentality.  According to reports those possibly heading for the departure lounge include Michail Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna.  Both have their plus points but both are also not without flaws.  With Manuel Lanzini due to miss most or all of the season it leaves an big gap in attacking midfield and I can’t see that Joao Mario is the person to fill it – he only really shone in those few games where West Ham were dominant and I would see little value in making the move permanent.

It would be a surprise to me if Winston Reid and Noble saw much game time in the coming season.  Both have been fine servants to the club but their future role is now as squad players as they see out the remainder of their lucrative contracts.

Of course, all this recreational speculation takes place in the shadow of a World Cup that still has some way to run in Russia.  With Spain now joining Germany and Argentina back in their respective homes, the list of potential winners is now shortening to one where you might be tempted to include England.  While that might still be a stretch it is not entirely impossible – as long as Harry Kane doesn’t score a hat-trick in the final.

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.