Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Everton 1 - 3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Throw those curtains wide!
One day like this a year would see me right"
- Elbow, "One Day Like This"

Act 1 - Rarely Seen Moments of Joy


Frantically googling synonyms for "happy". Frantically trying to remember what time Match of the Day 2 is on. Our season starts today, folks!





The most coordinated we have looked all year


***

"Don't get sentimental, it always ends in drivel"
- Radiohead, "Let Down"

Oh, but what a day, What a reward for the hardy madmen and women who ventured to Liverpool on a Sunday when just about anything else would have been more appealing. Fancy going to watch West Ham at Everton. That's like going to the Colosseum to cheer on the Christians for their difficult away fixture with the lions. 




Not the best starting position I've ever seen defensively

But I suppose that these are the slings and arrows that keep us coming back. Without hope where would we be, after all? Well, Stoke is where we would be, but you get my point. For those fans who travel to Everton on days like these, there can be no sweeter or more deserved feeling than this. From the moment that Andriy Yarmolenko loped into the box and fired us into the lead, we never looked in danger of losing this match. The eternal pessimist in every West Ham supporter might well have said "we can get a point here" when Arnautovic made it 3-1, but in truth we were always oddly comfortable even though the home side did create some good chances. Perhaps the reality is that they were so visibly lacking in confidence that it was just impossible to imagine a player like Cenk Tosun taking the chances that came his way. 

Everton were shocking then, but such qualifiers don't matter much when you have lost your opening four matches and looked bad doing it. We needed this win, and we got it through an excellent team display. What was interesting was that we seemed to abandon the wider, more expansive game that was allegedly being tried in the previous games and reverted to a more compact shape, better suited to exploiting the high raiding Everton full backs. And it worked a treat.

Declan Rice returned in the holding midfield role and was the best player on the pitch. He is the epitome of keeping things simple, but as my good friend The Boleyn Beluga once said to me - "simplicity is deceptively complicated". The skill required to take up the positions he did, and the technique required to take the touches he did should not be underestimated. He was superb in that role and outshone his competition. Beside him Pedro Obiang was released further forward and was impressive too, playing a major part in the first and third goals, and generally looking like Cheikhou Kouyate but with an end product. The third Musketeer was Mark Noble, who yelled at the foreign lads last week , and justified his return to the side with a performance that showcased his worth. We know that central midfield is a problem, and that on tougher days against better teams it probably still will be, but this looked like the beginning of a solution. 

Ahead of them Marko Arnautovic was outstanding, and every bulldozing run through the centre should be a fond reminder that David Moyes made some changes in his time here that will long outlast his shortened tenure. Yarmolenko too was very good, sweeping in the first after Arnautovic broke on to Obiang's pass and unselfishly squared it to him, with just nine minutes gone. He doubled the lead before half time when cutting in from the right and curling a beautiful finish into the top corner. It was a lovely finish but scandalously bad defending against a player so obviously one footed. Still, the Ukrainian has always been a goalscorer wherever he has played, and a threat from somewhere other than Arnautovic is going to be vital, especially with Manuel Lanzini currently laid up on the Andy Carroll Memorial Wing. 

We still look shaky at the back sometimes, although perhaps that is to be expected when the defensive set up changes every week. I still feel we have the defensive players best suited to a back five and the attackers for a back four and that mismatch is partially why we have looked so disjointed prior to this game. That said, for today this group held firm, despite the frankly terrifying sight of various Everton youngsters running past Pablo Zabaleta like they were playing in the park with a well meaning but disastrously unfit Uncle. 

I still like the look of Issa Diop in the middle, even if he broke the defensive line to free up the space from where Gylfi Siggurdsson headed Everton's goal in first half stoppage time. But he is mobile and composed and very much worth persevering with. I had initially thought that he might take a year to settle in, and so Balbuena would play alongside Ogbonna until the Frenchman was ready. As things have transpired, it's the Paraguayan who has looked a bit temperamental, but he was good here too and it was his quick thinking challenge that won back possession for Obiang to create our opener. Alongside them Arthur Masuaku was the name thrown up by the Pellegrini magic eight ball to play at left back, and he did an impressively physical job on Theo Walcott - so much so that he was probably lucky to get away with a head high attempt to control the ball that caught his opponent in the face. 

And the calming influence on all of this was Lukasz Fabianksi, who was once again faultless and continues to make a mockery of my suggestion that his purchase was a waste of time and money. 

We won't meet teams this compliant every week, but we won't meet teams as good as Liverpool and Arsenal either. It's a shame that the fixture list continues to laugh in our face by giving us Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs in three of our next four games but there you go. Perhaps with some confidence and self belief hewn from this result, we can eke out one of those famous home wins that used to seem so frequent but probably never were. 

***

"So take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place"
- Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, "Tracks of My Tears"

So what should we make of this in the grand scheme of things? We win at Everton less frequently than David Sullivan pipes insane films into my TV, and yet I'm still a bit unsure. It is early, and there are qualifiers to our poor start, for certain. The fixtures we have faced have been difficult, and by the time we hit nine games we will have played five of the inevitable top six. That is brutal. One also has to allow for the cultural change that is happening, as Pellegrini tries to shift us away from the chaos that remains after a stolid Sam Allardyce team was left rudderless by Slaven Bilic's lack of a plan, and then moulded into something more necessarily functional by David Moyes. When you view it like that, we can't be too surprised when the players seem slow to adapt to whatever new ideas the Chilean has brought with him. 

I will admit that I had hoped for a greater consistency of selection at this point. I'm bemused by why Ryan Fredericks keeps appearing then being dropped from the squad altogether, unless Pellegrini really is going to rotate his fullbacks every week. Fredericks and Diop are my two favourite signings of the summer because I like their speed, and both are young enough to actually command a transfer fee in the future. That is actually a genuine step forward for us in terms of acquiring players.

I was nonplussed about Fabianski, reasoning that his marginal upgrade over Adrian wasn't going to be worth many points to us and, in fairness, after four games I was right - we literally couldn't have been any lower in the league if the Spaniard had been playing. 


Making me look stupid - not hard, admittedly

But Fabianski is more than a marginal upgrade, I think. Adrian has had to fight for his place under four consecutive managers and the fact that none have truly committed to him as a number one does suggest that there is something there that I am not seeing. Fabianski has shown an ability to make excellent saves, and generally exudes an air of calmness that you don't tend to get from Adrian, who frequently resembles a puppy going mad in a hall of mirrors. I wouldn't have signed the Pole, and I would have been wrong. Score one for David Sullivan. 

But you can immediately deduct that good mark for the signing of Jack Wilshere. Leaving aside concerns about his ability - and again, to be fair, this was the formation in which he should have been playing all season - he has now had a thoroughly predictable surgery and will be absent for six to twelve weeks. It's as tedious for me to say this as it is for you to read it every week, but our transfer policy is just Brexitly stupid. Signing a player with a long history of ankle injuries and hoping that he will be magically cured by the healing gale force winds of Rush Green is insane. Giving him a three year contract is just full on Caligula. 

Elsewhere, I felt Anderson was at least the right profile of player, even if he seemed extraordinarily expensive. He was decent in this game, offering a constant outlet on the left, and generally looking like a highly dangerous prong of our attacking trident. On the other side was Yarmolenko, who has a touch of Chris Waddle about him with his languid gait, 80's haircut and lovely left foot, and he finally looked a bit fitter here, although he does appear to be one of those guys for whom the very act of existing seems to be exhausting. 

He is also bordering 29, and thus won't have long with us before the legs go, and thus needs to make an instant impact. At £22m he has a lot of work to do before he has repaid that fee, but two goals at Goodison is a very nice down payment. 

But drip feeding all of these new players into the team is no easy task, and while I think there might be some doubts about Pellegrini's hunger - do elite managers really just pack up and head for China mid career? - he has a big job on his hands here. I'm nervous, because there is much at stake and trusting that Sullivan has done his due diligence is probably not a good idea, but there can be no argument about his pedigree. I would like to see this shape and formation given a chance now. We need some stability and a pattern of play, and perhaps this is the blueprint to giving us a nice peaceful rest of the season. 

***


Act Two - Standard Misery Addendum, Because West Ham

"So before you take this song as truth, you should wonder what I'm taking from you
How I benefit from you being here"
- Villagers, "Becoming A Jackal"

But there can be no peace, not really. If you're in London you're always five feet from a rat, and if you're a West Ham fan you're always two days from a crisis. And so, before this game The Times ran a piece about Manuel Pellegrini being unhappy about the culture of leaks that surrounds the club. It wasn't attributed to Pellegrini, and he later denied it was true, meaning that it was a leak about leaks. Get the fuck outta here Newcastle, the professionals are in town. 

The focus of the story was well known Twitterer @ExWHUEmployee who, the article claimed, had revealed the team early on his account for sixty successive games. Ex denies this element of the story, but there can be little argument that his is the account to follow if you want the inside track on what is happening at the club. Although I have never met Ex, we have swapped messages in the past, and I have urged him to put less information in the public domain. His response was that he feels he has a right to publish his information as would any other journalist utilising his sources, and furthermore that he does actively filter out stories that he believes are damaging to the club. I take him at his word in that regard, and I also cannot deny the truth of what he says. If I have a right to post these articles every week, then he has every right to post his. 


I should also add that Ex and his site, The West Ham Way, have done sterling work in raising significant funds for Isla's Fight, host a popular Pre Match Event and radio show and generally are representative of the views of an awful lot of West Ham fans. That matters because it adds the context that most of what I am about to say has already been rejected as irrelevant by a lot of supporters. Additionally, none of this is a personal attack, but I feel I can't leave it unaddressed if The H List does indeed purport to be an accurate journal of what it is to be a West Ham fan. 


All of this led to a bit of a shitstorm where Ex ended up on various radio shows defending his position, and then social media went wild as lots of people jumped to Ex's defence, pointing out that leaking a team an hour before it goes public really doesn't make much difference as the opposition is already prepared. And in that very strict context, I agree. 


Now, in the interests of balance I ought to say that I think Ex used to leak the team or suggest possible changes quite a bit earlier than that, until fan pressure got him to do it a lot closer to kick off. Still, while I agree that naming a team on a Saturday really doesn't make much difference to a game, I think it's also fair to say that there is literally nothing positive that can come out of it for West Ham. 


As part of his defence, Ex conducted a Talksport interview that bordered on the farcical, where he claimed that he wasn't a leak and that he actually just guessed the team. Sixty times in a row. I'm a bit disappointed that he took that route as I don't think you can spend years on Twitter demanding acknowledgment for your inside man status, and then suddenly pretend that you've just been cleverly guessing all along. It takes us for fools. 


But for all of that, the broader point is being missed here. None of this is about the leaking of the team, or indeed about Ex, because he is far from the only person on the web with seemingly inside information coming from high places within the club. No, the broader point is that information is being leaked at all. Why do we know that the chairman offered Jack Wilshere a one year deal and was overruled by the manager, just four games into his West Ham career? Why do we know the details of what Declan Rice wants in his new contract? 


This. Is. Not. Normal. 


Properly run football clubs do not leak like this. Properly run football clubs do not have family members placed into positions of authority with no qualifications for the role. Properly run football clubs do not have every aspect of their transfer business widely published before it happens. Properly run football clubs do not release emails detailing their transfer business in order to refute accusations from other clubs that they have lied. Properly run football clubs don't entertain allowing large, undemocratic supporter groups to have back channel access to the chairman. Properly run football clubs don't allow managers to hire their own boss. Properly run football clubs don't canvas the opinion of fans about managers and players. Properly run clubs don't have their own Insider column on their website to discuss gossip and leak their own transfer plans. Those are things you expect from despotic third world regimes, not Premier League heavyweights. 



And that's where Pellegrini sat when he signed his contract

But all of this speaks to the totally unprofessional culture round West Ham. The shitty training ground, the malfunctioning Academy and the fact that managers are routinely bemused by the way that private details of the club keep ending up in print are all sides of the same coin. And while I don't doubt that Ex and others like him have kept a lid on certain unsavoury stories (and just imagine how mental they must be when you consider what is in the public domain) that isn't reassuring to me. Ex, as he says in his Talksport interview, isn't a journalist and that matters. He has no editorial policy or requirement to provide counterbalance in his reporting. He may try, indeed I'm sure he does, but what if this information ends up with the hands of someone who isn't putting the clubs best wishes first? Ultimately the Board are standing by while fans exercise their own discretion and put this information out there against their manager's wishes and they do nothing to stop it. Why is that? I mean, really, why is that?


Ultimately the only conclusion to be drawn is that either they don't think it matters or they are aware of, and approve the leaking. Marvellous. 


Because here is what all of this stuff does. It degrades the culture and reputation of your club. It allows your stewards and your office staff and your youth team players and your ground staff to know that this isn't an elite professional working environment. And gradually that becomes baked into the skin of your club and doing things "not quite right" becomes good enough. And then eventually "good enough" degrades to "it'll do", and then suddenly you are Blackpool or Coventry. 

And our managers know this and hate it. Two have had this to say on the matter:


Sam Allardyce: “You pull your hair out at the beginning and in the end you have to accept it for what it is and move on and accept that it is going to happen.”

David Moyes: “It makes it very difficult. There are so many things at football clubs that can happen daily, whether it be transfers, dealing with players or team selections, and you hope you get a bit of trust.

I’m sure every manager who has come in has tried to change it.”


And I return to something I said last week. What has been the constant during this last seven or eight years when the club has gradually slipped into this state of disrepair? Hint; it ain't the managers or the players.

So really, none of this is about Ex or Sean Whetstone or Hugh Southton or any of the others who get regularly accused of being stooges for the Board. It isn't about team leaks or the fact that managers have to give the team to the chairmen before the players. It is all of that and none of it. It is about the culture of West Ham United.



Not sure we'll see his like again

I leave you with this. Imagine you are a professional footballer, and an agent acting on behalf of West Ham approaches your agent. You think that is a bit weird because usually that would be a club representative, but they are offering a massive wage increase so you agree to hear them out. You ask your current manager about the move and he tells you that he interviewed for the West Ham job previously and the owners teenage son was in the meeting, and that was a bit weird too but, still, big money. So you move forward and in the end your agent hammers out a deal and you sit down to discuss it over. But something is nagging at you - maybe you are gay. Or maybe you have an illegitimate child your wife is unaware of. Or a huge gambling debt. Or you are concerned about your wages being made public because of societal pressures in your home country. Or maybe you have none of those issues but you are just a regular person who is bemused at why so much of the club's business is public knowledge.

Ask yourself this - would you move to West Ham in those circumstances? The club that can't keep it's team secret? The team where any wage negotiation is public knowledge? The club that resides permanently on back pages for everything other than footballing reasons? The club where managers leave and smile ruefully when asked what it was like?

Clubs with this type of unprofessional culture either don't get very good players, or they pay through the nose to get them. And at this point I feel I should remind you that we pay our squad more than Roma and Dortmund.

Now, I am not suggesting that any of those people I listed above would out a gay footballer, but that's not the point - it's illustrative. The point is that it shouldn't really be in their power to even consider it. And yet it would be, and that is the problem. And. It. Is. Not. Normal.

The Board could end this right now if they wanted. They know who Ex is, as Jack and David Sullivan Junior have been guests on his radio show and his Twitter account. Sean Whetstone sat on the Supporters Advisory Board, and indeed took over leaking the team on Sunday from Ex - something that concerns me greatly given that he now sits on the board of WHUISA and he really is accountable to a code of conduct.

Let's wrap this up - it's had more false endings than Lord of the Rings so far.

This is a long, rambling set of thoughts, but it comes down to a simple point. I follow Ex on Twitter, I pore over his articles like anyone else, and for that I guess I am a hypocrite. But I also want to see this stop because of what it says about the club. I want West Ham to be better, to be ultra professional and a football club that other teams aspire to emulate. That is absolutely, definitively not the case right now.

Be better, West Ham.

Because of the nature of this piece, I felt it only fair to allow Ex to have a right of reply. His response was this:

***

ExWHUEmployee - 

"Firstly, I would like to clarify some of the things that I said in the TalkSport interview here and dispute the fact that they are farcical.  When I said I guess the starting 11 it is obviously meant as educated guessing which I did try to explain in the interview.  The way my information works is that I hear different bits of news which I then piece together to “predict the team”.  For example you hear of injuries/illnesses, you hear of how the team sets up in training, you hear of certain players being told they are starting and certain things make sense as fans as to who would be playing.  Geo Mackie of Hammers Chat would often send me his “predicted team” which he based with less inside hints then I would get and most weeks he would be right or out by one player which proves it can be done.  It is very rare anyone of any note will message me and say this is the team from 1-11.  When it comes to things like transfers I am not predicting because I am told directly things from scouts, agents, players, people in the media but again it is a case of putting it all together and working out what is accurate and what isn’t and this is where my comments about not being a journalist but being better than most comes from.  

A lot more work goes into doing what I do than people will credit especially those that wrongly assume I have a direct line to David Sullivan.  As I have maintained I only put out stories that I believe to have no harm to the team and have helped the club many a time to quash stories that I have heard of before that reach the mainstream.  Whilst I admit it is pleasing to get stories right if what I did was solely based on ego I would also put the negative stories out because those are the ones that get the most attention too but I don’t because I am a massive fan and want the best for this club. 

This article says that it is only West Ham that have these social media leaks and that is quite simply not true. Newcastle recently commentated on having leaks and I am in a few Twitter groups where myself and other people in the know from other clubs swap information and then you can piece a story together.  An example of this was our possible signings of Fabianski and Mawson where most of the information that I got on the deals came from the Swansea end of things rather that West Ham.  The difference between it is that as West Ham fans we do not search for other clubs’ news so we are not aware that it also happens and is an indication of the social media age that we live in.  Even when I was growing up there was the pay per minute service TeamTalk that operated for every club and charged you a fortune to get the inside scoop from your club and they were a company with multi million profits because fans like to hear the news from within the club and it also explains why I have over 50k followers on Twitter, if the majority of people didn’t like it these numbers wouldn’t be achieved.  There are thousands of transfer based social media accounts with millions of followers who leak transfer news for all clubs and back up my point.  

The culture of leaks within the club is not the case of it just being one mole or one high profiled person leaking to me.  My news often comes from third parties from West Ham such as media outlets, friends of friends within the club and so when people call for the mole to be outed and sacked it isn’t one person and sometimes the person may not know they are even doing it.  There is one site in particular who has an open line to all of the board members and are told things to publish and this site is not mine.  If all board members are prepared to tell people things then you can understand why others within the club may not see it as a huge issue.  

I understand why some people do not like what I do but the ironic thing about this is those that are most vocal against it are two well known forum based West Ham sites of which I used to read to get inside information and team selections which is fine for them to do but not for others.  This links to my point that if my account didn’t exist many other would and still do now.  Every transfer window new “transfer accounts” occur and there are other West Ham accounts who do put the starting 11 out days in advance they are just not as well known as mine.   

This story has been blown massively out of proportion because Pellegrini has already stated that firstly he wasn’t aware of the leaks and even if it is true he isn’t bothered.  If the manager of the club isn’t bothered about it then why does it need this much attention which when you look at it was a poor journalists attempt to make another negative story about west ham in a slow news week.  

Every newspaper does a predicted team at the weekend for each club and does their best to get any story on the club most of which are inaccurate.  Look at how much negativity has been put out recently even on Sunday when finally winning a game Sky falsely claimed that Perez refused to warm up and within minutes most of West Ham’s social media were calling for him to be sacked.  I do the same yet I put a positive slant on it and I am more accurate that is the only difference.  Whilst I do not wish to blow my own trumpet and has been kindly pointed out by the author of this article I also use the account to promote positive causes and raise money for a variety of charities as well, whilst I am not using this to hide behind I do find it odd that some people refuse to look at the good that can be achieved and will find anything to knock the account, you would have to speak to them for the motives of it.

I am old school and I miss the old days where you would only hear news on deals in the paper the next day but for good or for worse social media has changed the face of football and whether you like it or not there will always be many ExWHUEmployee equivalents".

***


And there you have it - both sides of the argument, debated civilly on the internet. Who knew. I'll let you decide which side of the fence you fall on. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

West Ham 0 - 1 Wolves (And Other Ramblings)

WARNING: This is not going to cheer you up. 

"I resist what I cannot change, and I wanna find what can't be found" 
- The War on Drugs, "Pain"

Friends, Romans, countrymen! I have left you alone for a few weeks and, er, what exactly did you do in my absence?

All was well when I left. We were being encouraged to thank the Board for providing us with the "best transfer window ever", and everybody was wondering whether it was too soon to start exchanging our money into Euros ahead of our inevitable European run next season. I return and this is what I find - the ghost of Jack Wilshere wandering aimlessly round our midfield. 


The pain of carrying this team since January

I kind of wondered if it might make sense to watch the new signings play before we declared the summer a success, but July is the time of endless possibilities and the realm of the dreamer. I suppose if you can't get excited then, you never will. And I'm prepared to accept I never will. 

But here is a thing that I have been thinking a lot about this summer. David Sullivan promised us the following back in February, when he was rocking on his heels and the waves of fan protests were lapping at his feet:

"I'm going to delegate the whole thing to a huge analysis and scouting system with a new Head of Recruitment. We'll have a massive video analysis department, increase the scouting department, every player will be looked at five or six times, we won't be signing a player when the manager's never even seen him play. The manager's going to go and watch him play and we hope we'll spend our money better"

Remember that? Because I do, and I'm never going to let anyone forget it. 

Where am I going with this? Well, as far as I can tell, none of that has been implemented. And so while fans were placated with the amount of money being spent, nobody apparently stopped to question how it was being spent. And this is my main problem with the activities of this summer, namely that the idea of spending £100m is great, but if you spend it in the same way that you wasted the previous £50m then all you're doing is pissing our money up the wall.

And let us be clear - this is our money. David Sullivan isn't spending his own money, he is spending the television money received by West Ham, which he chose not to spend in previous windows. And he charges substantial interest on the money he lends to the club so I think we can strike altruism off the CV. 

So how many times do we reckon that Manuel Pellegrini went to watch Ryan Fredericks then? Because Pellegrini was in China and Fredericks was in the Championship, and I'm struggling to think that it was as many as five or six. With Pellegrini being unveiled on 22nd May and Fredericks being signed on 5th June it doesn't seem to leave a lot of time to get a complex deal like this done. Indeed, Fredericks himself has admitted the discussions around his move were ongoing for a long time before he moved, which leaves us with one of two scenarios:

a) David Sullivan, who was let down by Rafa Benitez hours before his unveiling, was negotiating with players on the say so of a manager he had yet to employ, or;

b) David Sullivan was negotiating with players that he intended to buy irrespective of who the manager was going to be. 

I WONDER WHICH ONE IT COULD POSSIBLY BE?

It is the leadership style du jour, of course. If you present thunder and lightning as par for the course, then people will invariably be happy on the days when it simply rains. But we should put our hands behind our backs and not so readily break out into applause for these guys. Ignore their useful idiots who plague social media with this bizarrely passive approach to requesting anything concrete from the board, and demand a bit more. They don't get to tell us they've been a success before they've actually achieved anything. The best transfer window ever, and there is a very reasonable chance we will now lose our opening seven games? And we're supposed to be thankful to the Board for their work? Do me a favour. 

Look, I know that the story goes that we tied the Pellegrini deal up in January, and he watched all of our games last season but I'm just going to tell you here and now that I don't think Sullivan is, in any way at all, stepping back from transfers. He just isn't. The video analysis team doesn't exist, the new scouting system is a fiction, we still use agents as a primary part of our recruitment function, and the Director of Football was hired by the fucking manager which is the wrong way round, and has a job description on the official website that literally led me to wonder what he does. 

And so we get South Americans, a keeper we don't really need, an injury prone former star who was good in 2012 and is in decline, a soon-to-be 29 year old bought at the height of his value with zero chance he can be sold at a profit, and a load of deals brokered by Unique Sports Management. This Director of Football sure seems to think a lot like the last one. 

But sitting in the Thunderdome on Saturday and watching the crushingly inevitable conclusion to this game, I couldn't help but notice something. 

The scapegoats are gone. 

There is no more Bilic, no Moyes, no Noble, no Adrian, no Zabaleta, no Tony Henry, and it has made absolutely no difference. There is only one constant that I can think of who has remained immovable for the duration of the last few years of torture. 



Yes David - I mean you

Maybe you feel sorry for him because every decision he makes turns out to be wrong. Maybe you think the players and the manager ought to be bearing the brunt of this rant given that they are the ones who are currently setting fire to their own feet. Maybe you think this particular record needs to be changed. 

Well, maybe. But here's the thing:

When all your decisions turn out wrong - stop making them and get someone more qualified to do it. When you hire the manager and buy the players and they consistently aren't very good - stop hiring the managers and stop buying the players, and get someone more qualified to do it.

And changing the record would be to let the Board off scot free. A friend said something to me this weekend and I agree with him. His thought is that Sullivan will ruin this club and we will have to rise again. And he is right. It doesn't matter how much money is spent while we are trapped in this cycle of spiralling incompetence. This is only heading one way, and while I have resigned myself to the fact we can't achieve anything while Sullivan is here, it is terrifying to think of West Ham in that stadium, in the lower leagues, with these owners. 

And so we buy South Americans because they were the best players when David Sullivan formed all his opinions about football. We continue to present this image of the manager being omnipotent at the club because that was the model when David Sullivan formed all his opinions about football. And we continue to be caught and passed by smaller clubs with less money and fewer resources because they have more qualified, more intelligent people making the decisions that matter. And eventually the larger, better financed clubs will catch on as well, and that will be a dark day for us because then our extra commercial revenue won't save us. 

I promise you that I thought all of this before I went on holiday. I had a entire season preview drafted which I was going to post on the day of the Liverpool game but then I had no WiFi when I got to the Dordogne, and I was fairly glad of that fact as I followed along on the radio. By the time I got back we had lost three in a row and it just felt very much like posting it would have been me being wise after the event. I can say now that my feeling was that a top ten finish would have been a remarkable achievement for Pellegrini, and I have already adjusted that to simply staying up. 

Another year of treading water then. Another year of fixing our gaze on the stars and dreaming on a spaceship. Another year of fucking mediocrity while our owner plays Fantasy Football with our very real football club. 

It is September. 

***

"Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let's go backward when forward fails"
- Peter Allen, "Everything Old is New Again"

This was my first chance to see the new version of West Ham and to be honest, the main question it raised in my mind was whether anyone had bothered to check whether the reason Pellegrini looks so craggy is because he is really Slaven Bilic wearing an ill fitting Mission Impossible mask?

In fact, this was an absolutely Bilician event from start to finish. The three defeats preceding it adding a frisson of tension to the air before a ball was kicked, the near total lack of an attacking plan, players strolling around as if convalescing, and the strangely inevitable feeling that it was bound to end 1-0. All Pellegrini needed to do was bend over and grab his knees and I swear we could have gone back in time. Sadly, the idea of playing like a Bilic team without either Dimitri Payet or Manuel Lanzini isn't very sustainable and we duly coughed up the late goal we had deserved to concede all day. All of which was made worse by the fact that Wolves comfortably outplayed us without actually playing especially well. 



The 11tegen11 Expected Goals map highlights nicely the dominance of the visitors, and if their centre forward Raul Jimenez wasn't playing in some kind of dream like state we'd have been well beaten long before Carlos Sanchez lost all cortical function and let Joao Moutinho rob him in our half as Adama Traore sprinted past a superbly half arsed Aaron Cresswell to slot in the winner. Traore is a kind of mythical figure among football analysts as he is almost without equal in European dribbling stats but is totally unable to produce any kind of end product. West Ham - still good for what ails you. 

The entire day was a disappointment as almost every aspect of the team looked confused. Pellegrini still claims to be unsure of his best team - despite watching all our games from last season and buying all his own players apparently - and that is cripplingly obvious on the field. 

I actually thought the back four didn't look too terrible, as Issa Diop was very good, and crucially demonstrated the kind of recovery speed that might allow a team to play such a high defensive line as we are apparently going to do. Diop and Fredericks are actually the two signings I like most from the summer, despite being the two who were first in the door, meaning they were most likely Sullivan signings. Both are mobile, and young enough to develop and improve. That said, Fredericks was pretty poor here and didn't utilise his outstanding pace particularly well when going forward. 

He wasn't helped by the dire performance of Michail Antonio in front of him, who was so bad that I am beginning to wonder if someone has inserted two bowling balls into his knees. We had a strangely fluid attacking line up of Anderson, Snodgrass and Antonio who switched positions a lot and as a result spread their uselessness all over the field nicely. Snodgrass was sacrificed at half time - not literally, although the way things are going we shouldn't immediately rule it out - for Yarmolenko who came on and immediately looked exhausted. I'm beginning to long for the days of that 96 year old fitness coach that Bilic used to have. 

After Anderson was pretty effective last week at Arsenal in a central role, he was shunted out to the left where he summarily failed to do anything. Ahead of him Marko Arnautovic had our only real chance very late on, when he got free in the inside right channel and only an excellent, but fortuitous, save from Rui Patricio denied us a thoroughly undeserved win. 


***

"Oh but I can hear you, loud in the centre
Aren't we made to be crowded together, like leaves?"
- Fleet Foxes, "Third of May/Odaigahara"

Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is the same one we have had for three years. We have nothing in central midfield. 

Wilshere's ghost was nominally in there for the first hour but he has neither the mobility nor the defensive attitude to play in such a role. I would never have signed Wilshere simply because of his injury record, but there looks to me to be a real risk that the cumulative injuries have caused quite a dramatic physical decline. It's early and maybe he's still searching for fitness - no rush, lads, it's only September - but I've been shocked at how limited he has looked. He looks like a number ten or nothing, at this point. And we already have about twenty seven ineffective ones. 

Alongside him Sanchez was passable, but is similarly limited, meaning that in the most crucial area of the pitch we are likely to be inferior to every team we meet. And it should be pointed out that this was a new central midfield, so this was actually the attempt to fix this situation. Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez. Where the fuck was Pellegrini watching our games - in an opium den?


Should I not have given it away there?

Things improved marginally when Pedro Obiang came on, as he came actually defend and attack and run and respirate, but we are woefully short in that area. We sold Cheikhou Kouyate for £9.5m to Crystal Palace - which is a mere £3m less than Liverpool got from Leicester for their third choice goalkeeper - meaning we simply have no mobility in the middle of the park. For a manager who wants to pay a variation on 4-4-2, it boggles the mind that he can be happy with the options he has available. 

At the heart of the problem is the mismarriage of tactics and personnel. Fans are obsessed with high pressing these days, but that isn't feasible for us because we don't buy any attacking players with the ability to do it. So Javier Hernandez comes on to great cheers, and then floats around the pitch as if determined to prove the Hare and the Tortoise is a relatable story. He was hardly alone though as we put no pressure on the ball anywhere, and our failure to do so was so uniform that it actually seemed possible that this was by design. But if that was the case then one would have expected to us to have dropped much deeper and invited Wolves on to smother them with a low block. We didn't do that either. 

So, I don't really think Pellegrini is implementing a high press. I see no evidence of that in our play, but instead I see fairly rigid lines which should, in theory invite opponents on and into the teeth of a well organised and compact side. I am guessing that the high line should compress space and allow us to deny space to the opposition, meaning we recover the ball further up the pitch with greater opportunities to attack. But if that is your plan, you need some central midfielders who can harry the opposition, and then launch quick counterattacks. And we don't have any of those. 

I also think you need at least one natural wide midfielder, rather than a winger, but we don't have any of those either. The nearest is Snodgrass, who is always the first sacrificed when the tide turns and seems a bit lost in this systemless system. It is almost as though having two ex Aston Villa players in the heart of the side isn't actually a good thing. 

I just don't really understand any of it really. Is this really the system which Pellegrini wants to play, and if so why didn't we buy players who better suit it? Rome wasn't built in a day, and all that, but it is also fair to say that they had achieved something at the end of that day. We've gone backwards. David Moyes built a small little Etruscan villa and we've knocked it down. This team is less organised, less fit and less coherent than anything put together by Moyes, and while I wouldn't sack Pellegrini even if he loses all the next three games (who are we going to hire - Allardyce?) I still want to see some evidence of progress. 

***

"I'll brace myself for the loneliness
Say hello to feelings that I detest"
- Camera Obscura, "My Maudlin Career"

I hate this. 

I spent my holiday with my head buried in old history books about West Ham, and rediscovering my love for my club. Such affection seeped away last year, like angry fans streaming out of a half empty stadium, and it was enervating to reconnect again. So I fell in love with Graham Paddon and George Foreman and Johny Byrne and spent hours writing about those who I considered West Ham's Fifty Greatest Players. 

And now this. One fucking game and I'm back in mid season form, raging at Sullivan and the dying of the light, and trying desperately to convince myself that there is hope in the chaos. But I think this is a compound effect of near relentless gloom for the last twenty four months. We haven't had a good transfer window for years, and the jury should still be out on this one. It's entirely possible that things will come good, of course, and Pellegrini will bring his undeniable pedigree to bear and straighten it all out but that still wouldn't lift my mood all that much. I have now reached the point where all I see is incompetence at West Ham. If Pellegrini does turn this round, you can't help shake the feeling that he will do so in spite of our Board rather than because of anything they will have done. 

The decision making processes - David Sullivan ringing up an agent, usually - are a nonsense and apparently not up for review. And so we bob along, floating from one typhoon to another, crashing on every possible rock on the way and shredding the nerves of all aboard. I don't actually know if can write about another season of this fucking madness. 

I took my youngest daughter on Saturday for her first ever game. And like her two older sisters she saw a dismal performance that ended with us losing in the last minute. Worse still was the ennui. I couldn't get her to care one way or another. Nothing about that place grabs children because it isn't designed to. And so she sat up in the high altitude seats, wondering why grown men behind her continued to swear loudly and angrily even with children in front of them, and when I asked up if she would like to come back she said answered with an emphatic "God, no".

You might roll your eyes when I talk of Sullivan ruining the club, but these are the little ripple effects. No Upton Park to carry her home on a wave of atmosphere and uniqueness, no decent team to electrify the pulse and capture her heart. Just a relentless succession of dreary, lifeless home performances every other Saturday, miles from the pitch and made worse by the knowledge that nothing better is round the corner. The only thing that impressed my daughter on Saturday was the neon blue Slushie she got from the kiosk. My cousin's son has been going for two years and still hasn't seen us win at home. I know I'm not alone - I've spoken to other parents who have the same problems. 

And as we left, on the long grey trek back to the station I had a pang for Upton Park that I haven't felt before. I felt we needed to leave to move forward, but now it's becoming clear that only one side of that bargain is being adhered to, I couldn't help but kick the ground in frustration. These fuckers had no right to move us when they didn't have the ability to keep their side of the deal. The best transfer window in our history will be the one that sees these owners leave. 

Anyway, welcome back - I hope you all had a nice summer holiday. 

On a more positive note, check out the Making Memories initiative from the lads at Hammers Chat, which is aimed at giving Hammers fans in need of help some assistance. It's a good idea, particularly if we're going to spend the year playing like this. 



Friday, August 31, 2018

In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 10 to 1

And so we come to it. The ten greatest players to have played for West Ham United, and I strongly suspect that you could name most of them off the top of your head.

10. Johnny Byrne (1962 - 1967)

Appearances: 206  Goals: 108 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (9) WHUFC (26) WHTID (17)

The absolute worst ranking in the clubs list as they somehow put "Budgie" at 26, despite him being arguably the most complete striker in our history. Part of the issue is presumably that he didn't play for as long as others, but few have scored with the frequency he did and with such all round excellence. Byrne was already an established international when he signed from Crystal Palace, and his influence was soon felt as he won Hammer of the Year in 1964, scoring 33 goals and leading us to the FA Cup Final.


This looks promising

When I mentioned this project to my old coach, Steve Cowley, he told me that Byrne was his favourite player growing up not just because of his ability, but also due to the impact he had on Geoff Hurst. As usual, Steve was right. Byrne showed Hurst how to be an all round forward capable of both scoring and providing, with the irony being that Hurst ended up taking the spot in England's 1966 World Cup squad that would probably otherwise have gone to Byrne. In retrospect it seems bizarre that the latter didn't make it having scored a hat trick in 1964 against Eusebio and Portugal, but he suffered a knee injury immediately before the 1965 European Cup Winners Cup Final which seems to have curtailed his season.

A larger than life character off the pitch, Byrne returned to Crystal Palace in 1967 without too much joy, as injuries and a life well lived took their toll. Footage of him is hard to find but it shows an outstanding finisher with either foot or head, and a clever link man with his team mates, which led Ron Greenwood to call him "the English Di Stefano". Google it, kids.


9. Jimmy Ruffell (1921 - 1937)

Appearances: 548  Goals: 166 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (36) WHUFC (21) WHTID (N/A)

Splendid left winger who remains fourth on our all time goalscoring list today, and sixth in the list of appearances in all competitions. Signed from the Ilford Electricity Board, Ruffell was part of a new wave of players like Vic Watson and Billy Moore who would take the club to Division 1 and also to the famous White Horse FA Cup Final of 1923.

The uneven spread of talent in those days meant that exceptional players could often be found in lower league teams, and West Ham were no different as several England internationals would appear at this time. Ruffell joined the list in 1926, although he had the misfortune to play in the same era as the great Cliff Bastin and thus was limited to just six appearances.

Nonetheless the goals kept coming and Ruffell eventually scored an astonishing 166 from his wide berth, and became our all time leading appearance maker until he was surpassed by Bobby Moore. Comparing across eras is obviously hard and fraught with danger, but I find it strange that a player this good for this long is not remembered with greater affection by the Club.


8. Phil Parkes (1979 - 1990)

Appearances: 440  Clean Sheets: 146  International: England
Other Rankings: BB (8) WHUFC (10) WHTID (10)

Of all the players listed here, I found Parkes the most difficult to write about. I saw him at the tail end of his career, when his knees were gone and his mobility lost, and it seemed hard to imagine that this player could once have commanded a world record fee for a goalkeeper. His last game was the dismal 6-0 League Cup Semi Final defeat to Oldham on Valentines Day 1990, and Parkes left for Ipswich thereafter.



However, such a final act was unfitting for a player of his stature. Remarkably, Parkes was already 28 when he signed for us and still racked up over 400 appearances. An enormous man, he combined surprising agility with fearlessness and a near faultless positional sense. He is widely regarded to have been good enough to have played for England regularly, but was kept out by the Clemence/Shilton duo who hoovered up all the available caps at the time.

Parkes was instrumental in the 1980 Cup winning run, and kept a remarkable 22 clean sheets in the promotion campaign of he following year. Even at the age of 36 and with his knees failing, Parkes was an integral part of the 1985/86 team, as his solidity kept us in the hunt all season. He was also unquestionably beloved by his team mates.

Despite the excellent claims of Ted Hufton, few would argue that Parkes was anything other than our greatest ever keeper.


7. Alan Devonshire (1976 - 1990)

Appearances: 448  Goals: 32 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (7) WHUFC (5) WHTID (7)

The winger who could run through a puddle and not leave a ripple. It is hard to imagine that the club have ever spent a better £5,000 than that which was laid out to bring Devonshire to East London from Southall in 1976.

The skinny, quicksilver winger would go on to man the left side of our midfield for the next fifteen years and do it so well that there will undeniably be some of you who think he could be even higher on this list. Devonshire won the Hammer of the Year in 1979 and the first of eight England caps the following year. He probably should have won more.

Never a great goalscorer, he took over a year to bag his first goal, but the genius of Devonshire was more in his ability to create for others. It is amazing to see how many goals of that era began with a jinking Devonshire run on the left flank, and there are probably none more famous than the 1980 cup final winning goal as an example.

Despite knee injuries in the two years prior, Devonshire was back in full flow in 1985/86 and was the main creative drive behind our title push, capped with a virtuoso performance and goal in the 4-0 win at Chelsea. Sadly he was never fully fit again after that and eventually moved to Watford in 1990 shortly before retirement. As naturally talented a player as there has ever been at West Ham.


6. Martin Peters (1962 - 1970)

Appearances: 364  Goals: 100 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (6) WHUFC (6) WHTID (8)

The junior partner of our iconic World Cup winning trio, although there are plenty around who felt that the excellent Peters was every bit as worthy of acclaim as the Moore and Hurst.

Versatile enough to have played every position for the first team, Peters eventually nailed down a midfield role that would showcase his intelligent runs and perceptive passing. By the time he moved to Spurs in 1970 he was one of the best in the world in his position, and would win over sixty caps for England.


Top ten player, bottom ten hair

Peters was famously dropped for the 1964 FA Cup Final, but recovered to play in the European Cup Winners Cup Final the following year, and then forced his way into the World Cup squad for 1966. As a goalscoring midfielder he was pre-eminent, and scored 75 goals in the four seasons between 1965 and 1969. In joining Spurs he became the first British player to ever be valued at over £200,000, and Peters should probably be included in the best all time English XI.


5. Geoff Hurst (1958 - 1972)

Appearances: 503  Goals: 249 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (5) WHUFC (4) WHTID (4)

Remarkably, Geoff Hurst began life as a midfielder and was very nearly the bait in the deal which brought Johnny Byrne to Upton Park. As it was, Hurst was pushed further forward to partner with and learn from Byrne and eventually became West Ham's greatest post war goalscorer.

After just one goal in his first 39 games, his break through season came in 1963/64 when he scored 26 goals, including one in the FA Cup Final. He maintained that prolific rate of scoring throughout the decade, with a brief detour as he became the first man to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. As I feel like I have written about so many players on this list, he was equally adept with his head or feet, and scored all manner of goals on his way to second on our all time list behind Vic Watson.

Hurst moved to Stoke in 1972, and as with others there is a palpable sense of "what if" when I look at his career. Quite how Greenwood never engineered a better league campaign out of these players is a bit of a mystery.


4. Vic Watson (1920 - 1935)

Appearances: 505  Goals: 326 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (4) WHUFC (7) WHTID (N/A)

A goalscorer of mythic proportions, Watson's record is unlikely to ever be surpassed for the simple reason that anyone scoring goals so prolifically in this era would be gone before you could say the word "Galactico".

Arriving in the Second Division team of the early Twenties, Watson soon fired West Ham into the top flight, where he continued scoring goals at an absurd rate for years. His bravura year came in 1929/1930 when he scored 50 goals in all competitions and Watson smashed four hat tricks. At this stage Watson was essentially playing FIFA in cheat mode.


Remarkably he was only capped five times for England, scoring four goals, as he had to play second fiddle to the brilliant Everton striker Dixie Dean. Watson scored a remarkable twenty two goals against Leeds in his career, including six in an 8-2 win over them in 1929. Just to highlight that old football was mad, we lost the return fixture 4-1.

Watson remained with West Ham until 1935 when he moved to Southampton. It is very hard to imagine we will ever see his like again.


3. Billy Bonds (1967 - 1988)

Appearances: 799  Goals: 61 International: N/A
Other Rankings: BB (1) WHUFC (2) WHTID (5)

For many this will be sacrilege as, for them, Billy Bonds is West Ham, but I feel I must point out that we have reached a point in proceedings where the difference between the players is negligible.

A man of endless running and relentless determination, Bonds played until the age of 41 and forged a legacy that will echo around the club for decades to come. It would be a very unworldly West Ham youngster that didn't know who "six foot two, eyes of blue" was sung about.

He signed originally from Charlton, and would be so good that he won his first Hammer of the Year award in 1971 and his fourth in 1987. Looking back, the one great sadness is that he missed the entirety of the 1985/86 season with injury. One wonders how much his legendary fitness and will to win would have helped in that late season fixture pile up that denied us the title, even allowing for the fact that Bonds had officially retired by then.

Bonds began life as a right back, before moving infield to partner Trevor Brooking in midfield. The idea that he just kicked people and just did Brooking's running is a myth, as Bonds used his physicality and underrated passing to become a highly regarded player in his own right. The midfield trio that he formed with Brooking and Graham Paddon strikes me as being among the best the club have ever had.

Later in his career, Bonds also played at centre half and it is a testament to his brilliance that he could fit into an all time West Ham XI playing in any of his three positions.

Criminally overlooked at international level, he was an unused substitute for a game against Italy in 1977, and missed a full debut in 1981 when he broke two ribs and had to withdraw from the team to play Brazil. He remains one of the best uncapped Englishmen ever.

Bonds returned to the club as manager in 1990, beginning a four year stint of mixed success that ended with a Borgia-like turn of events that saw his not-for-much-longer best mate, Harry Redknapp, end up with the job. It was a shabby end for a man who remains revered by West Ham fans.


2. Trevor Brooking (1967 - 1984)

Appearances: 643  Goals: 102 International: England
Other Rankings: BB (3) WHUFC (3) WHTID (2)

By choosing Brooking over Bonds, I suppose I reveal my preference for the cavalier over the roundhead. It should be acknowledged that Brooking could not have done the things he did without Bonds there to give him the licence, but let us all also acknowledge the remarkable things he did.



I think Brooking was a wondrous player. He was deceptively big, but what stands out is his grace and composure amid the helter skelter madness that was football in the Seventies, where pitches were terrible and tackling was fine so long as you left the limb attached.

Brooking was a beautiful passer with either foot, and as well as being a great goal scorer he was a scorer of great goals. One need only look at the second leg of the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup semi final at home to Eintracht Frankfurt for a demonstration of his poise and high class finishing.

As with so many others listed here, he demonstrated admirable longevity in playing for as long as he did, before retiring in 1984 when it seemed like he could have easily gone on. For the aesthete, Brooking was everything a footballer was supposed to be, and to watch him play in midfield was to see an artist stood before a blank canvas. That looked like Ypres.

If I could go back and watch just one player on this list who I never saw play in the flesh, at the peak of their powers, I would choose Brooking.


1. Bobby Moore (1958 - 1974)

Appearances: 647  Goals: 27 International: England

Other Rankings: BB (2) WHUFC (1) WHTID (1)

The easiest decision of the lot, and the person who needs the fewest words written about him. While I understand the emotional pull of Bonds and Brooking, to my mind it's not even really a debate about who is our greatest ever player.

Of the thousand or so men to have played for our club, only one - Moore - could be reasonably considered in any discussion about the greatest ever player at his position in history. Whether he was better than Scirea, Beckenbauer, Maldini or Baresi is up for debate, but there is no doubt he belongs in that discussion. In that sense he is unique among West Ham, and indeed England, footballers.


Diverting slightly, I think there is a slightly odd, reverential tone that has sprung up around Moore at West Ham, primarily because the Club feel a sort of institutional guilt about how he was treated after he left. As such, he has now transcended being a mere player and at this point exists as a type of deity, whose name is invoked whenever the Club want to let us know they haven't forgotten the past. Unlike others on this list, I can't imagine Moore's legend ever fading away.

The sad thing is, they never put a decent team around him when they had the chance, and as such he was denied the league honours he deserved. Despite that, there is nothing much more to be said that hasn't already been said a million times elsewhere.

The greatest.

And there you have it. That's my list, or at least it is for today. Please feel free to tell where I have got it wrong, and who I have missed out. I am sure there are plenty. For ease of reference and abuse, here it is in full:



The H List
1Bobby Moore
2Trevor Brooking
3Billy Bonds
4Vic Watson
5Geoff Hurst
6Martin Peters
7Alan Devonshire
8Phil Parkes
9Jimmy Ruffell
10Johnny Byrne
11Frank Lampard Sr
12Tony Cottee
13Syd Puddefoot
14Alvin Martin
15Steve Potts
16Julian Dicks
17Ronnie Boyce
18Len Goulden
19Scott Parker
20Ted Hufton
21Paolo Di Canio
22Mark Noble
23Trevor Sinclair
24Ray Stewart
25Clyde Best
26Ian Bishop
27Bryan Robson
28Ken Brown
29Ludek Miklosko
30Danny Shea
31Joe Cole
32Graham Paddon
33Geoff Pike
34John Dick
35Pat Holland
36Ernie Gregory
37Rio Ferdinand
38Noel Cantwell
39Jim Barrett Sr
40John Bond
41David Cross
42Malcolm Musgrove
43Tony Gale
44George Foreman
45Frank McAvennie
46Eyal Berkovic
47Frank Lampard Jr
48Jack Tresadern
49Dimitri Payet
50Vic Keeble

The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 50 to 41
The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 40 to 31
The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 30 to 21
The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 20 to 11