Matches Made in Heaven: The Fixtures Computer Has Its Say

Next seasons fixtures have been belched out by the computer with just 59 days to go to kick-off.

The Fixture Computer has completed its complex computations, the lights have stopped flashing, all whirring and clicking has ceased and floppy disks have been dispatched to the anxiously waiting media.

True to form, West Ham have been scheduled to play every other team in the league two times during the season but despite this certainty there is plenty of opportunity to agonise over the order of games.

The season kicks-off on 12 August (TV schedules permitting) with a visit to the Theatre of Defeats where Jose will be unveiling several hundred millions of new talent. The following weekend is meant to be a home game against Southampton but as the retractable seating will yet to have been bolted back together after the World Athletics Championships then this match will need to be rescheduled; I assume by swapping it with the Saints away fixture in March 2018.

The first game at the London Stadium will be against relegation fodder, Huddersfield Town on September 9 while they are still in the Premier League honeymoon period of insane effort and optimism. At least the transfer window will have finished by then and all the last minute loans will be in place.  A good start to the season is always welcome as it serves to relieve any early pressure or uncertainty but it would be a surprise to earn such a luxury this coming season. Still there is always the odd early season surprise.

Injuries, suspensions, fixture congestion, cup runs and loss of form are all more likely to impact the progress of the season than the order in which the games are played. Nevertheless, if we do experience a repeat of last season’s poor performances the run-in is not the one you would have chosen; featuring as it does four of the big six (plus Everton) in the last eight games. Fingers crossed that we have accumulated forty points by Easter.

To date it remains pretty much as you were at West Ham and at this stage the Hammers must be regarded as at least a metaphorical twenty points behind in the polls. Never say never, though, and all that is required are inspired signings, better tactics, sharper training, improved fitness and a more objective approach to team selection and we could end up as contenders.

The fixtures in full:

Saturday 12 August

Manchester United v West Ham United

Saturday 19 August

West Ham United v Southampton

Saturday 26 August

Newcastle United v West Ham United

Saturday 9 September

West Ham United v Huddersfield Town

Saturday 16 September

West Bromwich Albion v West Ham United

Saturday 23 September

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur

Saturday 30 September

West Ham United v Swansea City

Saturday 14 October

Burnley v West Ham United

Saturday 21 October

West Ham United v Brighton & Hove Albion

Saturday 28 October

Crystal Palace v West Ham United

Saturday 4 November

West Ham United v Liverpool

Saturday 18 November

Watford v West Ham United

Saturday 25 November

West Ham United v Leicester City

Wednesday 29 November

Everton v West Ham United

Saturday 2 December

Manchester City v West Ham United

Saturday 9 December

West Ham United v Chelsea

Tuesday 12 December

West Ham United v Arsenal

Saturday 16 December

Stoke City v West Ham United

Saturday 23 December

West Ham United v Newcastle United

Tuesday 26 December

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United

Saturday 30 December

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

Monday 1 January

West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion

Saturday 13 January

Huddersfield Town v West Ham United

Saturday 20 January

West Ham United v AFC Bournemouth

Tuesday 30 January

West Ham United v Crystal Palace

Saturday 3 February

Brighton & Hove Albion v West Ham United

Saturday 10 February

West Ham United v Watford

Saturday 24 February

Liverpool v West Ham United

Saturday 3 March

Swansea City v West Ham United

Saturday 10 March

West Ham United v Burnley

Saturday 17 March

West Ham United v Manchester United

Saturday 31 March

Southampton v West Ham United

Saturday 7 April

Chelsea v West Ham United

Saturday 14 April

West Ham United v Stoke City

Saturday 21 April

Arsenal v West Ham United

Saturday 28 April

West Ham United v Manchester City

Saturday 5 May

Leicester City v West Ham United

Sunday 13 May

West Ham United v Everton

The West Ham “You’ve Been Done” Deals

Past transfer performance is not an indicator of future cock-ups!

There is a general consensus that the two transfer windows last season constituted largely abysmal business by the club.   It is hard to disagree with that assessment where the shortcomings were amplified by what was viewed as a relatively successful recruitment campaign during the summer of 2015.

If you were to peer further back through the rear-view window, however, it would not be difficult to conclude that, as unquestionably bad as last season’s incomings were, they were fairly typical of West Ham’s transfer dealings over the years, and that rather it was 2015 that was the exception to the rule of unspectacular recruitment.

According to the information available on the Soccerbase website West Ham have signed a grand total of 224 players (excluding loans) in the years since their first promotion to the Premier League .  An assumption as to what makes a good signing might be where the player has gone on to provide dedicated and commendable service to the club or else has been subsequently sold at a generous profit following a period of development at West Ham.

Of the 224 signings, over half (114) went on to make less than twenty starts for the club and although some may have been considered a gamble for the future this appears to be a damning level of success; recognising that a handful are still on the books and may yet establish solid careers in the claret and blue.  A further forty three players made less than fifty starts while just twenty six reached the milestone of a hundred starts or more.  Three transfer signings stuck around to earn the long service award of 200 starts (Green, Lomas and Sinclair) while the rest of the top ten is made up of the mixed bag that is Reid, Repka, Mullins, Carlton Cole, Etherington, Dailly and Moncur.  James Collins, one of seven players regarded as so good we signed them twice (Bowyer, Hutchison, McCartney, Hislop, Sealey and Feuer) would have made the top ten but his two stints at the club have been treated as separate careers.

Unsurprisingly, West Ham’s biggest money signings have been in the more recent years as transfer fees increased alongside TV and other revenues.  The club’s thirty most expensive signings (again according to the Soccerbase stats) have cost a combined total of £220 million and averaged just over 50 starts each.  Among this select group, five managed to make over one hundred starts (Repka, Upson, Parker, Kouyate and Faubert) while only two of this top thirty (Payet and Bellamy) were sold on for any meaningful profit.

The conclusion that I am left with is one of an underwhelming history of transfer business by the club and one which requires a huge improvement if it is live up to the billing of either the fifteenth or eighteenth biggest club in world football (depending on whether you believe Forbes or Deloitte).  So far our transfer powder has been kept mainly dry this summer as we anxiously news of those done deals.  As eternally optimistic supporters we all hope to dream regardless of the contrary evidence that history has generally delivered nightmares.

A body that calls itself the CIES Football Observatory (part of the International Centre for Sports Studies ) have come up with what they say is a science based algorithm (!) to estimate the transfer value of the top 110 players in Europe’s top leagues, each with a value of at least €40 million.  Their computations take account of factors such as performance, age and length of contract and lead to the conclusion that Neymar (at €210 m) is the current top transfer banana, followed by Alli (€155 m) and Kane (€153 m).  Even more comical entries in the list include Raheem Sterling (€98 m), Eric Dier (€85 m), John Stones (€71 m) and Nathan Redmond (€60 m).  Needless to say, no Hammers appear in the list and there is not even a place among the also-rans for a certain Mr Payet.

West Ham Transfer Sensation

Club remained tight-lipped on impending summer transfer revelation.

At the beginning of this month I wrote about the transfer speculation in various media outlets regarding potential West Ham signings in the summer transfer window which officially opened this week. Unlike last year when there were bullish reports coming out of the club in respect of marquee signings, breaking transfer records to land players, especially a top striker, the sensational news is that this year we appear to have learned our lesson, and are keeping quiet about our potential targets! This would seem to go completely against what has happened in the past, perhaps because the season ticket sales went better than many dared to hope, and we should comfortably sell out the 52,000 seats available.

The players that we were being linked with via the media at the end of May were the following names, and some of these have continued to appear during the past few days, especially Joe Hart, the current England keeper, who let in two free kicks from outside the box against Scotland at the weekend, which won’t have increased his value in the market:

Goalkeepers: Hart, Pickford, Ruddy, Szczesny, Krul.

Defenders: Clichy, Semedo, Gibson, Maguire, Keane, Raggett.

Midfielders: Asamoah, Tadic, Barkley, Wilshere, Sigurdsson, Mertens.

Strikers: Batshuayi, Gray, Iheanacho, Braithwaite, Long, Sturridge, Mitrovic, Mboula, Selke, Ibrahimovic, Bacca, Slimani, Perez.

In the last couple of days some new names have emerged which we can add to the list of supposed targets, although pleasingly West Ham appear to be remaining coy about all speculation, and are refusing to confirm any of them. That is good news!

The strongest rumour appears to be a 19 year old Nigerian, Onyekuru, who was joint top scorer in the Belgian League last season with 24 goals. More than one report (although it is impossible to say if it was just one report copied by many others) suggests that he is due to have a medical with us on Tuesday.

Other reports suggest we are interested in Kruse of Werder Bremen, a 14 cap German international, who scored 15 goals in just 23 games in the Bundesliga last season, and has a supposed £10.4m release clause.

Apparently, Giroud of Arsenal also interests us, and would be available for £20 million. He is allegedly unhappy about his lack of game time with the Gunners, with Arsenal seemingly preferring pace up front, something I would like to see in any strikers that we buy, too.

Another German on the radar is Modeste of Cologne who bagged 25 goals in the Bundesliga last season which helped them to qualify for the Europa League. The suggested fee would be around 30 million euros, although quite why he would want a switch to the London Stadium is unclear to me.

Two other attacking players are quoted by some media outlets as being of interest to us, firstly Traore of Chelsea, who has been on loan at Ajax, and secondly Munir of Barcelona who spent the season on loan at Valencia.

And finally there are two England internationals that we would want to bring to West Ham according to some reports; Delph of Manchester City, who is unlikely to get too many opportunities of playing in the first team at his current club, and the best one of all, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, who some outlets claim would be available for £17 million. I don’t believe any of the rumours that I’ve mentioned above, but this one at the price is the most ridiculous of them all, and would be a fantastic buy for us. Sadly, I think that this rumour is way off the mark.

So there you have it. Another eight names to add to the 30 quoted a week ago, making 38 potential signings. The rumour industry is in full swing, but I am pleased to report that the club seem to be keeping very quiet this time around. That is how it should be. Let us hope they keep it that way and then surprise us by announcing that one or two top players that would improve the team significantly have signed for us. I won’t hold my breath.

Part Two Of The Top Ten West Ham Sick-Notes

Concluding our look at the unfortunate West Ham players whose careers have been blighted by injury.

Today we conclude our look at the top ten players whose potentially sparkling careers at West Ham were cut short, curtailed or stopped before they even really started by the Hammer’s injury curse.  Part One Of The Top Ten Sick-Notes can be found here.

5          Paulo Futre

When he signed for West Ham on a one year deal in the summer of 1996, Paulo Futre was nearing the end of a distinguished career that included a man-of-the-match European Cup win with Porto in 1987.  Originally scheduled to make his debut in the season opener at Highbury he withdrew from the squad at the last minute upon discovering that he had been allocated the number ‘16’ shirt rather than the coveted number ‘10’ that his contract apparently stipulated.  Some days later a swap deal had been arranged with John Moncur; the number ‘10’ for free use of Futre’s villa in the Algarve.  Futre made a substitute appearance (as number ‘16’) at home to Coventry and then his full number ‘10’ debut in an enthralling home game against Southampton at Upyon Park where the Hammers came from behind to win 2-1.  Futre showed same wonderful touches in a West Ham side that included Bilic, Raducioiu and Dumitrescu.  His introduction to English football was completed on the day by a trademark Benali tackle which earned the Saint’s full-back a red card.  Sadly Futre’s dodgy knees got the better of him with his West Ham career fizzling out by November 1996, having played only a handful of games.

4          Diafro Sakho

Signed from French Ligue 2 side Metz, most believed that Diafra Sakho was yet another in a long line of cut price strikers who would be passing through West Ham.  To everyone’s surprise he hit the ground running with a return of eight goals from his first ten appearances, including six from his first six starts.  Sakho then started to experience a run of problems with his back (which may have been a pre-existing condition when he signed) and which led to a dispute between the club and the Senegal national team; this followed his withdrawal from the African Cup of Nations and his subsequent involvement in a cup tie at Bristol City for the Hammers.  He finished the 2014/15 season as top scorer with twelve goals from twenty six appearances.  The following season repeated the pattern with an encouraging start interrupted by injuries, limiting his participation to twenty four matches amid rumours of a fall-out with the management.  Further injuries in 2016/17, whether to his body or his pride, resulted in Sakho turning out on just occasions.  With a relatively creditable twenty goals from his fifty or so appearances it is unlikely that he will be seen in a West Ham shirt again.

3          Dale Gordon

Allegedly the love child of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden, Dale Gordon (or Disco Dale) joined West Ham for a fee of £750,000 in the summer of 1993 as West Ham’s prepared for their inaugural season in the Premier League.  Gordon started his career at Norwich before a big money move took him to Glasgow Rangers where he experienced mixed fortunes with injury limited his contribution to a brace of Scottish Championships and several cup wins.  On joining West Ham he claimed that his injury woes were behind him and secured a place in the record books by scoring the Hammer’s first ever Premier League goal, in a one-all drawn game against Coventry.  Best known for his moustache and fancy step-overs, Gordon played in a run of ten games at the start of the 1993/94 season until injury stepped-in.  In his autobiography, Stevie Bacon claims that although Gordon’s injury was reported as a ‘training incident’ it actually happened when he overturned a buggy on the golf course.  Regardless, Gordon spent most of the next two years on crutches missing the whole of 1994/95 and playing just twice the season after.  He retired from football in February 1997 having played just eleven times in three seasons.

2          Andy Carroll

Until recently West Ham’s most expensive signing, Andy Carroll initially joined West Ham on a season long loan at the start of the 2012/13 season.  Carroll made an immediate impact on his debut, against Fulham, setting up two goals before having to leave the field due to injury.  There was a further long injury lay-off over the winter months and he finished his loan spell with seven goals from twenty four appearances; despite the fact that he had picked up a heel injury in the final game of the season, this was felt to be sufficient evidence for West Ham to offer him a permanent six year deal.  Carroll missed the first half of the next season, returned to action for the run-in but then suffered an ankle ligament injury during the 2014/15 pre-season, once again restricting his game time.  Groin problems during 2015/16 meant that he was again used sparingly, and usually from the bench, but he was able to feature in a total of thirty two games overall.  In 2016/17 it was the knee’s turn to cause him grief, this time restricting his contribution to eighteen starts.  In total Carroll has appeared for West Ham in 110 games over five seasons scoring thirty goals. Although past performance is not an indicator of future results it would be a brave or foolish man that decided to build a team around Mr. Carroll.

1          Kieron Dyer

One of the many players to arrive during the mad Icelandic spending spree in the summer of 2007, Kieron Dyer made his debut for West Ham in an away win at Birmingham before featuring for England against Germany at Wembley just a few days later.  Unfortunately, his West Ham career had peaked very early as a double break to the leg, following a bad tackle in a League Cup tie against Bristol Rovers, kept him out for the remainder of the season.  Rehabilitation was slow and it was not until January 2009, after seventeen months out, that Dyer featured again as a substitute in an FA Cup tie against Barnsley.  A series of hamstring injuries continued to plague Dyer during both the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons where he made a combined total of nineteen appearances but failed to play an entire ninety minutes at any time.  It was more of the same in the 2010/11 although he did finally get to play a full game once more; a two-two draw with West Bromwich Albion in which he earned the penalty, converted by Piquionne, to give the Hammers a temporary lead.  Dyer was finally released in June 2011 at end of a four year spell at Upton Park, where he was reportedly the top earner at around £80k per week, having appeared in thirty five games with no goals.

Top Ten West Ham Sick-Notes Part One

Part One of a retrospective on players whose careers at West Ham were or have been blighted by injury.

West Ham seem to have had more than their fair share of injury prone players over the years, something which has been frustrating for both players and supporters alike.  Strangely some fans get very angry about players being injured, as if spending most of what should be a glamorous and lucrative career on the sidelines has been a conscious career choice.

Today, we take a look back at the first five of ten Hammer careers that were prematurely ended or seriously curtailed through the misfortune of injury.

10        Jack Collison

An immensely popular player at West Ham, Jack Collison had signed as a seventeen year old from the Cambridge youth setup and made his Hammers debut in a game against Arsenal in January 2008.  By the second half of the following season he had established himself in the West Ham midfield until a freak incident during an away game at Wigan in March 2009 saw him dislocate a kneecap when attempting to trap the ball .  Despite the horrific nature of the injury he was able to return to action for the final four games of the season.  In August of the same year Collison entered West Ham folklore by playing in the infamous Millwall League Cup encounter just a few days after his father’s fatal motorcycle accident.  Over the next five seasons he continued to suffer consequences from the injured knee including a long layoff between February 2010 and May 2011.  He was, however, able to make a significant contribution during the 2011/12 promotion season, including the successful Play-Off series, but was subsequently limited to occasional substitute appearances before his release and retirement.  He is warmly remembered for his poignant farewell letter to fans.

9          John Lyall

Legendary manager, John Lyall began his honourable thirty four year association with West Ham by joining the ground-staff from school in 1955.  Part of a talented group of youngsters at Upton Park that included Moore, Hurst, Peters, Boyce and Kirkup, he made his league debut in a 4-2 win over Chelsea in February 1960.  In only his second game, however, he suffered a serious knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season.   Fighting his way back to fitness Lyall had a successful 1960/61 season featuring in twenty five matches before injury struck him down yet again.  He was able to play in just four games in each of the next two seasons before being forced to retire aged twenty three.  Lyall was awarded a testimonial in April 1964 (West Ham versus All Stars XI) from which he received £3,797 and was given the job of wages clerk in the office at West Ham.  From there he developed into possible the finest manager in West Ham’s history.

8          Dean Ashton

The best twenty goals per season striker we never had and the most astute January transfer signing in West Ham history.  Dean Ashton was a product of the renowned Crewe Alexandra academy who arrived at West Ham via a year spent at Norwich City.  Unusually, West Ham moved first to secure his signature amid stiff competition from other Premier League clubs as Ashton joined the Hammers in January 2006 for a fee of £7 million plus add-ons.  Fortunately, he had been left out of the Norwich side beaten by the Hammers in the third round of the FA Cup and became an important part of the run that took the club all the way to the final in Cardiff; scoring two goals in the 6th round tie against Manchester City as well as West Ham’s second goal in the final.  Success at West Ham earned Ashton a call-up to an England training camp in August 2006 where a tackle by Shaun Wright-Phillips broke his ankle and kept him out for the whole of the 2006/07 (Great Escape) season.  He had a moderately successful come-back season in 2007/08 and looked to be on-form at start of the following season before the injury curse struck again.  He made no appearances between September 2008 and December 2009 when he announced his retirement aged twenty six.

7          Mauricio Taricco

A player whose West Ham career lasted precisely twenty seven minutes, Taricco was the first Argentine to turn out for the Hammers following his arrival in November 2004.  I’m not sure how Taricco originally joined Ipswich Town, from Argentinos Juniors, in 1994 (maybe he had an Italian passport) but he went on to play the majority of his footballing career in England; first with the Tractor Boys and then with Tottenham, where he became George Graham’s first signing on becoming manager.  Taricco was a fans favourite at both clubs, respected for his attacking prowess and his typical Latin robustness in the tackle.  He spent five years at White Hart Lane where, in typical Tottenham style, he played under a succession of managers including Graham, Hoddle, Pleat (caretaker on two occasions), Santini and Jol before being allowed to leave on a free transfer.  Taricco was signed by Alan Pardew as the answer to a problematic full-back shortage (plus ça change) and made his debut at The Den against Millwall shortly afterwards.  A torn hamstring midway through the first half ended his involvement and with the injury predicted to keep him out for eight weeks he gave the club the opportunity to cancel his contract; “one of the most honest things I have known a player to do” according to Pardew.

6          Richard Hall

One of a gaggle of players bought by Harry Redknapp in the summer of 1996, Richard Hall was a highly rated central defender on the fringes of the England national team.  Hall had begun his career at Scunthorpe but was soon on the move to Southampton where he made his debut in May 1991 as a substitute for Neil Ruddock.  He stayed on the south coast for five years making over 150 appearances and scoring sixteen goals.  Hall signed for West Ham in a £1.4 million deal to strengthen a defence that included current manager Slaven Bilic and Marc Rieper.  True to form a pre-season injury saw Hall sidelined for most of the season before finally making his debut in April 1997 and playing in a run of the games that finally saw the Hammers through to Premier League survival.  Injury kept him out for the whole of the 1997/98 season and he managed just one further appearance in 1998/99; as a second half substitute for Tim Breacker in the third round cup defeat by third division Swansea.  Hall retired from football in May 1999.

To be continued…….

Cut Out and Keep Hammer’s Transfer Speculation Filter

How to separate the wheat from the chaff in the transfer rumour mill? What makes a realistic West Ham signing?

After weeks of fake news, squabbling, outright lies and intense speculation the big day is finally upon us – yes, the summer transfer window opens tomorrow!

As usual, miles of column inches and news feeds have been stuffed full of transfer gossip from the moment the last ball of the Premier League season was kicked just eighteen days ago.  Even though we know that the vast majority of transfer stories never materialise we are powerless to prevent ourselves from excitedly clicking that seductive link “goal scoring sensation close to penning Hammer’s deal” only to discover the story concerns an academy player and a one year contract extension.  The teasing, yet ambiguous, football transfer headline has to be one of the most creative of modern day art-forms.

I have to admit that I have no idea at all about the abilities or otherwise of most of the players linked with a move to West Ham, unless they are already performing in the Premier League.  However, I have developed a filter (or maybe I should call it an algorithm to make it sound more scientific) for the rumours that I want to believe and those that I don’t.

The number one issue for me is who is a realistic target?  I doubt that all players have the same motivation and while wages have got to be right up there much is also made of the appeal of European competition.  My guess, however, is that £50,000 per week in London with no European games would easily trump £40,000 per week in Glasgow notwithstanding the appealing opportunity of being eliminated in the Champion’s League qualifying round.  On the other hand a tug-of-war for a player’s signature where West Ham and Chelsea are both offering an equivalent wedge is only ever likely to end with a decision to go west.

Where a side does not have the lure of European competition to attract top and established talent an effective scouting operation has to be the priority.  Many observers were predicting a great future for Moussa Dembélé during his time across the capital at Fulham and now, after just one year at Celtic, he is being touted as a £30 million target of several major Champion’s League clubs.  That is the type of deal, for a developing player, that a good scouting system should have been all over; not waiting until someone has made a name for themselves and then pretending to be interested by throwing a token bid into the ring via Twitter.

Whenever a potential transfer is mentioned you will also be told which other clubs are circling the same target.  If these include the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Roma or Dortmund then we might as well forget about it.  At the other end of the spectrum, if the competition is Watford, Brighton or Stoke then it is a sign that we are aiming too low.  At least that is what my filter tells me.  Acceptable clubs to be battling it out with are Everton, Newcastle and, maybe, Southampton.  Why is it we can never pick up players like Virgil Van Dijk even though his dad, Dick, was an honorary cockney (chim chim cheroo!)

Then we come to those transfer keywords that set my personal alarm bells ringing:

winger: there is a huge difference to me between a wide midfield player and a winger.  Alan Devonshire was, and Michail Antonio is, a wide midfielder while players like Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend are wingers.  A winger is characterised by a player whose only real attribute is being able to run fast, and is usually spotted haring along the touchline before putting the ball in the crowd.  Paradoxically, wingers will occasionally put in an unplayable match winning performance and this is most usually against West Ham;

free agent:  usually denotes a player that is not wanted by any other club or has become too old to be offered the length of contract that he is looking for.  It might have been expected that there would be more free agents in the post Bosman world but the reality is that the length of a player’s contract is largely meaningless once he wants to force a move.  There are occasional but very isolated exceptions to the free agent rule and can be acceptable in an emergency ;

6 feet 4 striker:  there is a Pavlovian response that whenever a very tall striker could be coming on the market he is linked with West Ham.  The theory being that if only we had a fit Andy Carroll doppelganger then everything in the London Stadium garden would be rosy.  What is most definitely not required by a progressive football team is a lanky, immobile target man whose very presence dictates the tactics of the team;

versatile:  as a point of disambiguation being an excellent holding midfielder who can seamlessly drop into a back three would be a good thing, whereas a player whose major claim to fame is being versatile is to be avoided.  For the latter it is code for not really being good enough in any position.  I would go as far as saying that the modern game is becoming more specialised and that useful versatility is largely limited to subtle variations in deployment rather playing in totally different positions.  Myself and Slaven Bilic may have divergent opinions on this point;

30 year-old:  you may not win anything with kids but you certainly don’t either with a dad’s army.  A little bit of experience doesn’t go amiss but in the frenetic environment of the Premier League it is pace, energy and stamina that are becoming essentials.  Giving three or four year contracts to 30 year old plus players in the autumn (or winter) of their careers is a short term survival strategy only, not a taking-us-to-the next-level one.

Turkish League:  ours is not the only manager who appears to have a fixation with players that he has previously worked with.  In general this is a bad idea and more so when the league in question is, well, in a different league.   In fact, this criteria stretches a little wider and would encompass other minor competitions such as the Mexican or Uruguayan Leagues (so Mexican winger Jurgen Damm would fail on two counts).  As a point of clarification it would be acceptable to consider recruiting an exciting future prospect from outside the major leagues but not an established player expected to step straight into the first team.  After all Manuel Lanzini was plucked out of the UAE Arabian Gulf League.

Finally, a word about the reported season long loan of Reece Oxford to Borussia Mönchengladbach.  This seems to be one of the most ludicrous ideas I have ever heard coming out of West Ham, and it has a lot of competition for that sobriquet.  How is it that a player is not yet ready to play for a middle ranking Premier League team is quite acceptable for a middle ranking Bundesliga club?  It defies any logic.  I have seen reports of a David Gold tweet where he has stated we already have four experienced centre backs at the club, but that includes two lumbering thirty-three year olds.  Now is the perfect time for prospects such as Oxford, Burke and Rice to be given the opportunity to stake their claim.  Or perhaps we do not have either the capacity or the imagination to properly develop our own academy players.

Sadly, nothing over the past few weeks has suggested that we have learned any lessons from the debacle of last season’s transfer dealings.  I am open to persuasion and willing to be wowed when the window slides open!

Infrequently Answered Questions: Football’s Magic Money Tree

Football is awash with money but does funnelling most of it to players and agents improve the game?

An article posted yesterday on this blog posed the question whether we would ever get to see West Ham participate in the Champion’s League and, like many others, I believe that this can never happen without the club receiving significant external  investment.  Unless that is we manage to get into the Europa League again and make it all the way through without meeting part-time Romanian opposition.

Much is made of the money that has flowed into the English game over the years and it is normally presented as a major success story for the Premier League as it has created a global brand on the back of a few major clubs.  With more cash being splashed than ever, however, it also raises a number of questions in my mind.

Who actually benefits most from the magic Premier League money tree?

Without doubt there is a simple answer to this and it is players and agents.  As revenues have increased, mainly from broadcasting and commercial activities, then player wages have risen extraordinarily.  From the last published accounts, Premier League clubs earned combined revenues of £3.65 billion of which 61% went directly to player’s wages, with each of the five wealthiest clubs spending close to or in excess of £200 million on wages.   At West Ham revenues were £142 million (7th in the league) with a wage bill of £85 million (8th in the league), equivalent to 60% of earnings.  As these figures relate to the period before the signing of the new TV deal and before West Ham’s move to a larger stadium then we should expect to see significant increases in future years.

At about the same time that Trevor Francis became the first million pound footballer in 1979, Nottingham Forest also made Peter Shilton the highest paid player in English football, with a weekly wage of £1,200.  Allowing for inflation this would now be the equivalent of £6,400 per week while reports suggest that Manchester United keeper, David De Gea,  is paid £200,000 per week which is still some way behind Paul Pogba at a cool £290,000.  When Frank McAvennie re-signed for the Hammers from Celtic in 1989 (to become our own first million pound player, I believe) he was paid £2,200 per week (equivalent to £5,500) while treatment room specialist Andy Carroll is currently the top earner at West Ham at somewhere around £80,000.

While the players are raking it in the most recent financial accounts show that the clubs themselves made a combined loss of £117 million (although it had been a profit of £113 million in the previous year).  West Ham were one of eight clubs to make a loss when they came in with a modest deficit of £5 million (following a £3 million profit the year before).  Of course, if we can ignore any annual losses the value of the two Dave’s investment has grown handsomely in the money rich Premier League.

Do higher transfer fees mean better players?

West Ham feature twice in the historic progression of British transfer fees.  In 1922, Syd Puddefoot was sold for a record £5,000 fee to Falkirk in Scotland and in 1970 the transfer of Martin Peters to Tottenham (at a valuation of £200,000) also set a British record.  Looks like we have always been a selling club!

West Ham did set a record for a transfer between British clubs when they paid £65,000 for Johnny Byrne in 1962 and then also set a world goalkeeper transfer record on signing Phil Parkes from QPR (in 1979) for a fee of £565,000 (equivalent to circa £3 million today).  Compare these to the recent signing by Manchester City of Ederson for £35 million and last season’s signing of Pogba by Manchester United to close on £90 million.  Closer to home Frankie McAvennie’s transfer in 1989 (£1.25 million) would be the equivalent to £3 million today whereas the current West Ham transfer record is for Andre Ayew at £20 million.

It is almost impossible to compare players across eras as the nature of the game has changed tremendously.  Then they played more games, were expected to turn out every week (often twice a week), were less protected from the crunching tackle and mostly played in their home countries.  Today the game is far faster and more athletic but, at least in the Premier League, is both a squad game and an international one.  High wages and transfer fees have brought many top players to England (other than those good enough to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona) but many of them spend their time sat on the bench.  During the same period the development of home-grown talent appears to have stalled although many factors may have contributed to this state of affairs.  The technical skills on show may have improved but possibly not the thrills and excitement.

Last summer transfer spending by Premier League teams topped £1.1 billion with £720 (or 62%) of that going to overseas clubs and largely leaving the English game, although with some transfers monies flowing the other way the net overseas spend come out at £630 million.  The remainder of the money is re-cycled between English clubs. less agent’s commission.

It doesn’t take an insight of Mystic Meg proportions to expect that records will once again be breached in the upcoming window.

Does money makes for a better the Match-day Experience?

Although match day revenues are far less important to top flight clubs these days (less than 20% of total income) attendances continue to hold up well and, with a number of new stadiums and redevelopments underway or completed, the post-WW2 record for average attendance could well soon be broken.  The existing record was set in 1950 with an average of 37,400 per game against a 2013/14 Premier League record of just under 37,000.  By contrast the top flight low was 18,856 per game in 1983/84.  For West Ham the move to the London Stadium allowed them to comfortably set a new average attendance record of 56,972 while our own all-time low was 16,001 in the 1992/93 bond scheme aftermath.

In terms of spectator numbers then the game is as popular as ever but it is difficult to determine any comparative measure for value.  I can remember paying two shillings (ten pence) to stand as a boy on the North Bank and I came across an old ticket stub from 1989 where the cost was £8.50, the highest price ticket band at the time.  Adjusted for inflation this would be equivalent to £21 in today’s terms while, in reality, a top band seat at the London Stadium will actually set you back £70 to £80.

It would be unfair to suggest that none of the new money has gone to improve stadium facilities and seats (marginally more comfortable), toilets (more of them and slightly less smelly) and catering (more options than just Bovril and Percy Dalton’s peanuts) have all been improved to a some degree.  Being able to turn up ten or fifteen minutes before kickoff is also preferable to the hour or so that was required to get the best position on the terraces.  The most notable improvement, however, is in the quality of playing surfaces and the provision of under-soil heating to ensure that games invariably go ahead as scheduled.  But even having said that it is still a matter of opinion as to whether two teams stroking the ball around on a putting green surface is more entertaining than a blood and guts battle on a 1970’s mud bath.  It is a question I’ll have to put to those purists when I finally meet them.

So what is the point of it all?

If we can subscribe to the Olympian view that “it is not the winning but the taking part” then we, and another dozen or so clubs, can put aside the unfortunate fact that there is almost zero chance of winning the competition that we have entered and get on with simply taking part.  Clubs can be satisfied that even the most abject of failures will leave them with a prize money pot of over £90 million.  Supporters can safely put aside any unrealistic hopes and concentrate on having a nice day out, maybe enjoy a pint or two, shout to relieve those little frustrations of life and take pleasure from the occasional unexpected victory over Tottenham.

In the twenty five years of the Premier League there have only been six winners but then  again, in the twenty five years before that, only eight different teams won the First Division; although there was much more variety among the contenders than we see today.  Surprisingly, given the seriousness with which it is sometimes treated, the FA Cup shows a greater consolidation with eight different winners in the Premier League era but fifteen in the same period beforehand.

In West Ham’s history (since election to the Football League) the club experienced forty five years without a trophy, won four cups in sixteen years and have since gone thirty seven more without success.   It is probably reasonable to conclude that any dreams of silverware are the triumph of hope over expectation and that entertainment is the only rational reason for attending or following most clubs.  The problem is that, at the first sign of impending relegation struggle, managers largely abandon any pretence at entertainment to enter survival lock-down mode.  From a financial point of view survival may be seen as success but whether it will always be enough to satisfy spectators in the long run is a separate question.  In some ways it would be like going to watch your favourite movie franchise with no interest in plot or action and only being concerned that the main characters survive the final act in order to make a sequel.