Hammers’ Limitations Exposed At Tottenham but we are still outside bottom three! Just!

I have written frequently about West Ham’s limitations and there is no need to continue with them here. We were second best to a Tottenham side that had more attacking ideas than we did, but nevertheless we were unfortunate to go behind when VAR once again failed to do its job in spotting that the ball came off an attacking arm before the unfortunate Soucek deflected the ball into his own net. Apparently our manager is in trouble for remarks he made about the VAR referee, but I find it absolutely incredible that the handball was not seen. When you think back to our game at Sheffield United and the decision that went against us there when the ball brushed Declan Rice’s arm in the build-up to an equaliser, you have to say that we haven’t had the benefit of dodgy decisions this season, despite VAR being there to correct them. The second Tottenham goal came as a result of us pushing forward when Kane broke away to score, although in all honesty, we rarely looked like scoring.

Yes the lively Bowen was unlucky with his shot that came back off the post, but for the second game running Fornals missed by a mile when he should have scored with a little composure. Antonio also managed to balloon one over the bar when leaning back as he was clear on goal. But apart from Bowen and Rice, who was once again magnificent, few of our players finished this game with much credit. The manager was also culpable in my view for the way he set us up, and his poor choices and timing of substitutions.

Yet we are still outside the bottom three. But only just! Two tough games to go against Chelsea and Manchester United, who have both resumed after lockdown in good form, but five games remaining that we can certainly get something from against Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and a potential last day decider against Aston Villa. Three of those are at home, although in the current circumstances home advantage is not really what it was beforehand. And if we don’t get the results then of course we deserve to go down anyway.

Unlike so many on social media I don’t believe that we will be relegated. Brighton may have done enough to pull away, and their odds on being relegated are now a fairly longshot at 14/1. Norwich are 1/50 to go down and it will take a miracle for them to survive, so it looks like it will be two from Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and ourselves to join them. Despite our shortcomings, I still believe that looking at the games remaining we will have enough to save ourselves. I agree with the bookmakers in that Villa (2/9) and Bournemouth (2/5) will go down because of the difficulty of their fixtures. Our relegation odds are 11/8 and Watford are 5/2.

Liverpool were deservedly confirmed as champions today when Chelsea defeated Manchester City although it was inevitable wasn’t it? They won it with seven games to spare, although by clinching it on June 25th it must be the latest date by a long way. The race for European places is still in force which will keep some of the top teams interested in the remaining games, and I’m confident that they will all be doing their utmost to gain the necessary points. Once again the tussle to stay up will produce the most interesting football for the remainder of the season.

We will need to improve in the remaining seven games, and I believe we will. But I am afraid that next season will be another of the same unless there are radical changes at the club. And I’m not confident of that.

Jeux sans spectateurs: Premier League mini-marathon could be knockout blow for West Ham?

Games without spectators may a thing for many months to come. Being able to adapt quickly to new circumstances in the next 6 weeks will be crucial for the Hammer’s survival chances.

Very little has gone to plan during the coronavirus crisi but, if nothing unexpected happens in the coming days, the 2019/20 Premier League season will make its much anticipated restart. Next Wednesday, relegation candidates, Aston Villa, kick off proceedings by playing their game in hand, against Sheffield United, at a spectator-less Villa Park. The Saturday after that, West Ham resume their own campaign, in a punishing schedule that will take in 9 matches over a 36 day period.

The news coming from the club over recent days has been generally positive (not the coronavirus test results, thankfully) and the Hammers are said to be raring to go with an almost injury free squad – although how it will hold up to the demands of such a frenetic schedule is a huge concern. Keeping key players as fit as possible, in what remains an unbalanced squad despite the January recruitment, will be crucial to a successful outcome . The relegation battle will ultimately come to resemble a sudden death knockout affair and the last thing that we need is for David Moyes to have to play jokers.

It would appear that Jeremy Ngakia will be playing no part in the remainder of the season following his (or his agent’s) refusal to agree a contract extension. In mitigation, fellow academy right back graduate (and arguably a better defender) Ben Johnson has now recovered from injury and is available. Elsewhere the situation with outward loanees is that Jordan Hugill will stay at QPR; Nathan Holland has returned from Oxford United; and I cannot find any update on the latest position with Grady Diagana at West Brom.

One player who will be staying in claret and blue for the time being is Tomas Soucek; his loan spell extended until the conclusion of hostilities at the end of July. Although Soucek has only appeared 4 times in a West Ham shirt, he is widely regarded as a much needed and energetic addition to the problematic central midfield area. We must hope he can deliver on that promise.

It will be interesting to see in the next dew weeks how the new match-day experience pans out for both players and spectators alike. To what extent do players rely on a passionate crowd to provide that extra lift and carry them over the line? Or to what degree does spectator frustration seep into player’s minds and create panic? To maintain social distancing (at least outside of the penalty area) stadiums will be split into red, amber and green zones to reflect the limits to be imposed on the maximum numbers of players, coaches, officials and media who can be granted access – previously, stadium zones were known as denial, anger and delusion.

According to reports, the TV viewer will be presented with a range of additional camera angles, backstage access and sound effects designed to distract attention from the eerie echo-ey atmosphere on the pitch. To recreate the full authentic stadium experience, you will need to scatter peanut shells on the floor beneath your feet, and perhaps ask a friend to sit (2 metres) behind you to hurl abuse and shout drunken obscenities.

Taking a look back in history for reassurance, I could only find six competitive games that West Ham have played during the month of June, all during the first two seasons of world war two. This does, of course, include their finest hour (and a half) when the Hammers beat Blackburn Rovers to lift the 1940 Football League War Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Despite the threat of Luftwaffe attacks, and a goalkeeper called Herman, West Ham triumphed with the only goal of the game scored by wing-man Sam Small. Apart from this, the record in June is not impressive, comprising 3 defeats, 2 wins and a draw – with 2 of those defeats coming in home fixtures against the dreaded Millwall.

For the nostalgic, here is a brief film report on the War Cup Final introduced by the legendary Brian Moore.

In accordance with modern algorithmic trends, we have been mining the data, following the science and making stuff up in order to derive the patented Under The Hammers ‘R’ (or relegation) value for the bottom six clubs. Our super computer has been evaluating key performance factors such as previous form, remaining fixtures, player’s birth charts and potential paranormal activity to come up with the chances of Premier League survival. Currently these values (the closer to 1 the more trouble you are in) indicate the following: Norwich (0.98), Villa (0.95), Bournemouth (0.94), West Ham (0.92), Brighton (0.92) and Watford (0.90). All very tight and lots to play for.

One of the greatest risks that West Ham face, given their relatively tricky initial run of games, is the season restarting but then stopping again due to a second wave of infections. Dropping into the bottom three at any time during the next five weeks, not just at the end of the season, presents formidable danger should relegation be decided on positions at the time of suspension.

A phenomenon that could not be controlled during the recent lockdown was an uncontrolled outbreak of highly contagious transfer stories. Those media outlets that rely heavily on transfer speculation recognised long ago that every story generates many, many posting opportunities: making up or repeating the original rumour; cut and pasting outraged and/or ecstatic reaction from Twitter; vehement denial by club insider; eventual report that the target has actually signed for Barcelona. West Ham player recruitment is generally haphazard at the best of times but, in a situation where we don’t know which division we will be playing in, and where the immediate future of football finances is a complete unknown, rumours of multi million pound deals are even more fantastical than usual.

Right now, it is impossible to predict when crowds will be allowed to return to football grounds. Even if it can happen sometime within the next 12 months, restrictions are unlikely to be lifted before the start of next season. Continuing to play games behind closed doors with games shown free-to-air on TV is certain to have significant medium to long term implications for the structure of the game as we know it, at all levels of the pyramid. No-one can know what the new normal will be for football, but it is not going to be the same as it was.

Project Jumpstart: Can West Ham Create The Spark And Energy For A Positive Surge Up The Table, Or Will It Be A Relegation Shocker?

Football’s Coming Home – but this time in an ambulance and driven by a man who is only out to test his eyesight

I had what I consider to be a Nostradamus moment in my preview of the Southampton game on 28 February when I suggested that West Ham’s best hope for avoiding relegation was for the season to declared null and void as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Less that two weeks later the Premier League had called a halt to all matches following revelations that several high profile managers and players had been tested positive for the virus, including Mikel Arteta, whose Arsenal team had faced the Hammers on the previous weekend (7 March). On 23 March, the UK government finally imposed the nationwide lockdown which is tentatively easing today.

I admit that I felt at the time that restarting the season would be impossible but, barring a significant change in circumstances, that is exactly what will happen commencing on 17 June. The restart may be driven by commercial imperatives (getting hold of TV revenues to splurge on inflated transfer fees and wages) and by political distraction (a rare good news story to fill the back pages and social media ) rather than for the integrity of the game, but the latest plan envisages all remaining 92 games being completed during a hectic six week festival of football window.

A key aspect, of course, of the re-start plan is that matches will be played behind closed doors, with the majority of games played at the usual home venue. The exception to the latter is a number of Liverpool games which the police have asked to be hosted at neutral venues. There seems to be twisted logic here for me. Liverpool will eventually and inevitably win the title and when they do their fans will not celebrate in groups of six at a time (nor would the fans of any club, in fact). So rather that they celebrate, and confine the risk, to Liverpool, the authorities want to follow a path that spreads it around the country.

In a second of my visionary moments, I once posted about a time in football’s future when the presence of bothersome fans in stadiums was outlawed and where their role in generating noise and atmosphere was replaced by CGI and sound effects.   Expect to see some experiments in this direction if the ban on spectators is extended beyond this season and when the TV companies find it difficult to generate the appropriate level of hype in the absence of an enthusiastic or frustrated crowd. (If it turns out that I didn’t predict any of this I will simply edit an old blog post to make it look like I did.)

I have already seen one experiment at an event in South Korea where inflatable sex dolls were dotted around the stands in lieu of spectators – something that would seem ideal for our own chairmen, if they need to clear out any old stock not snapped up during the lockdown.

There is another way of looking at it, however. From my brief 45 minutes of an eerily sterile, crowd-free Bundesliga match on TV, it was apparent that without crowd involvement in the ground football is a far less attractive proposition to broadcast on the small screen. Thus, if fans are an essential part of the product then they should be paid to attend matches rather than the other way around.

Those longer in the tooth Hammer’s fans amongst us will recall a European Cup Winners Cup second leg tie in October 1980 against Castilla which West Ham won 5-1 (after extra time) to advance through to the next round of the competition. This was a game that had to be played behind closed doors at Upton Park due to crowd trouble in the first leg in Madrid. Clearly it is a good omen that the club has previous in overcoming home disadvantage.

As a West Ham fan, I admit to being very apprehensive about the restart. Back in early March, I felt the team had started to look more together, despite defeat at Arsenal, and would be more that capable of finishing above three worse sides. Now that tiny slither of momentum has been lost and we are back to square one. The elapsed time since the shutdown is equivalent to a normal close season and yet the players have just three weeks to get match fit. It applies to all teams but with the Hammers being notoriously slow starters, and one of the least energetic teams in the league, it does not bode well. Are we trust that our often complacent players have had the discipline to keep themselves in the best possible shape during the recess? Reports from the Bundesliga indicate a greater incidence of strains and tweaks since their restart. With West Ham’s history of injuries, that is not encouraging sign – especially for a team that relies on the contribution of a few key individuals rather than on collective effort.

“Too slow to catch a cold” was one of my dad’s favourite put-downs when I perched on his shoulders as a boy in the West Enclosure. If the same applies to coronavirus then we can count that as a positive for certain members of our squad.  With no allowances being made for depleted squads due to sickness and injury, it will be a case of all hands on deck for the duration. Are we up to the task?

If, and when, games do re-start, the motivation of mid-table teams will be interesting to watch. Even during a normal season there is a falling away in effort once there is nothing left to play for. Expecting players with no hope of European qualification and no fear of relegation to get back to match fitness, after a three month lay-off, for a handful of games, is a big ask.

Another concern is the situation where the league restarts but is subsequently cancelled in the event of a second wave of the virus. If the intention is to regard the league as complete should this occur (on a pro rate points basis) then it would mean that slipping into the bottom three at any point creates inherent danger – you cannot rely on an easier run in the games to come. Very much like a game of musical chairs!

I have not checked what the current odds are for relegation, but my sense is that, apart from Norwich, each of the bottom six face an equal chance of the drop. There is nothing we can do as fans, no chance to make a difference as the twelfth man in the stands, other than to put our faith in David Moyes to prepare his players properly; to hope the players step up; and that together they dig out the performances needed. Interesting times. Stay Alert, Hammer’s fans.

Too Many Snakes And Not Enough Ladders. Pellegrini Does Not Have The Skills To Fix West Ham’s Problems

Can’t afford to get rid of him, can’t afford to keep to him? When will the tipping point be reached where even the Board realise that sticking with Pellegrini will end in disaster?

At this time of year, it is compulsory when commenting on football to mention that the games now come ‘thick and fast’ – even if the schedule is nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Most West Ham followers may associate more with thick than fast, however, when thinking about the Hammer’s recent struggles.

We expect football to be a game of ups and downs. It is part of its charm. But when the ups (intense and committed performances) are so few and far between, and when the downs (apathy, disorganisation, lack of effort, mistakes and surrender) are so commonplace, it becomes impossible to see an acceptable outcome. There is no light at all in our tunnel right now, and a target of 40 points looks way beyond reach unless drastic changes are made.

Yet, here we are with the Hammers hovering just above the relegation places (and potentially in the bottom three by the end of Sunday round of matches) and the Manuel Pellegrini sacking clock has reportedly been reset to zero – the manager once again has two games to save his job. Quite what return is required from those two games to earn a reprieve being a mystery known only to our can kicking Chairmen. In hindsight, it might have been kinder had West Ham lost at Chelsea.

I read elsewhere that the Board were ‘keeping their powder dry’ on the Pellegrini situation, whatever that is supposed to mean. To me, this would suggest waiting for a better time to act. It doesn’t mean dithering about until wholesale panic becomes an absolute necessity. Was nothing learned for the Avram Grant experience? Probably not, is the answer.

When Leicester sacked Claude Puel in February 2019 it wasn’t because they were in danger of relegation but because the football was poor and the players had clearly lost faith with his tactics. It was a decisive act from which the Foxes have not looked back. To write off season after season just to allow manager’s contracts (and compensation) to run down is indicative of owners who prioritise only money – and preserving the value of their investment. They do not have the financial or intellectual resources to run and develop a football club beyond keeping it afloat.

There are plenty of things wrong at the club – which we have previously written about at length as the team have steadily sunk towards the bottom of the table. While, the owners are clearly implicated for the lack of any true desire to reach ‘another level’, the Hammer’s current plight in the relegation mix is 100% down to the manager. Never mind the old net-spend chestnut, West Ham have an expensively assembled squad in Premier League terms – especially when the not inconsiderable wages are taken into account.

Chief scapegoat at the moment is Mario Husillos and while the director of football’s involvement in picking talent has been underwhelming I doubt it was he who instructed Pellegrini to: play someone who had scored prolifically in a front two as an isolated lone striker; persevere with two wingers playing on their wrong foot; keep faith for so long with a goalkeeper who is patently petrified of crosses; maintain a rigid attachment to the same formation week in week out, even though it clearly doesn’t suit the players available; only ever change the personnel and never the system;  not work hard enough in training on fitness or organisation; create the slowest team in the league who are incapable of moving the ball quickly; and refusing to budge on his inflexible tactics of the high back line and a patient build-up, regardless of circumstances or opposition. Standing on the touchline looking confused and admitting that you are baffled does not inspire any confidence – in players or supporters.

It was no surprise following the win at Chelsea that the performance level was not maintained at Wolves a few days later. Fitness levels are just not up to it, and with the one-man press, Michail Antonio, missing it was always going to be a struggle against a disciplined and hard working Wolverhampton side.

There are several obvious gaps in the West Ham squad (central midfield and full-backs in particular) but it is still good enough to stay up with proper and astute management. That is not to say that our recruitment has been smart. Not enough emphasis has been placed on unearthing developing talent – both from within the academy (which has a dismal record in recent years) and from outside. We have become a mirror image of pre-Pochettino Spurs who would sign random big name players – those who were not quite good enough for the truly top sides, but who acted as if they were – and hope they would magically gel into an effective team.

Our next manager needs to be all about discipline and team building, as well as delivering a touch of style. He is out there somewhere!

Speculating on what might happen on Monday night is difficult. Arsenal also find themselves in something of a predicament. They are also a team lacking cohesion; with a suspect defence but they do, at least, have pace and carry a goal threat. No doubt there will be the odd personnel change in the Hammer’s side but little else will be new. While Antonio is on the pitch and before he runs out of puff we may be able to compete and unsettle the visitor’s defence, but beyond that there is little that provides cause for optimism.

As someone who is now desperate to see the back of Pellegrini, I am conflicted as to what I want to happen. I never want to see the team lose but possibly it could be for the best. A new broom installed prior to the winter transfer window is a must in my eyes.

The game will be a third meeting this season with referee Mike Dean from the Wirral – he previously presided over the thrashing by Manchester City and also sent off Arthur Masuaku at Villa Park. His friend at VAR central will be Kevin Friend.

Lawro seems to have made his predictions during a drunken Christmas party binge and has gone for a 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas sees it going the other with a 1-3 away win. The best I can hope is to stay on the fence with 2-2.

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.