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

Friday, December 15, 2017

West Ham 0 - 0 Arsenal (And Other Ramblings)

"Yeah but be careful what you wish for friend
'Cause I've been to hell and now I'm back again
But I feel alright, yeah I feel alright tonight"
- Steve Earle, "Feel Alright"


All the pieces matter

One of my long held dreams is to write a script. Lots of people have the same idea, and while I'm hammering out three thousand words a week on West Ham's lack of either any defensive midfield cover or transfer strategy, then I'm unlikely to ever get round to it. I did write a few for FourFourTwo and once described a match at Hull through the medium of a screenplay, but mostly I start them, don't finish them and they sit unread on my hard drive. 

But what led me to want to do this was my love for the seminal TV series, The Wire. Set in turn of the  century Baltimore, it covered the never ending drug war between gangs and the police before detouring into social commentary about the school system and the effect of modernisation on such eclectic groups as stevedores and journalists. Even today, it remains the gold standard for interconnected storytelling and opened my eyes to the power of a brilliantly constructed storyline and supporting screenplays. 

(By the way, I made a flippant offhand comment about my love for this show in a previous column and was forced to run a poll to confirm that Season Two is indeed the best, so that is now decided and there is no need to contact me to tell me you wrongly believe otherwise). 

None of which should really be of any relevance to West Ham playing Arsenal. Except that as I watched us gamely battle for a point here, I kept returning to the central tenet of The Wire - namely that all the pieces matter. From the lowly drug addict to the mayor, by way of the Polish dock workers and the inner city teachers, there is a role for everyone and everything in the hands of the right author. 

And without waxing too lyrical about a man who has won just once in his six games, you can see elements of that holistic approach to what David Moyes is doing at West Ham. For so long we have become accustomed to watching a team that is very obviously less than the sum of it's parts. And yet now I feel that even as I watch us struggle to contain Arsenal, there is something happening. Players who, just two weeks ago, looked like Baltimore junkies are now bursting about the pitch with newly discovered energy and drive. 

From towels on the side of the pitch to aid Michail Antonio's long throws, to the resurgence of Marko Arnautovic, there is the overriding feeling that this is a team finally being given a sense of structure. Witness how many times in this game a recovering defender was in the right place to stick out a leg or make a vital block. It might be tempting for Arsenal fans to write that off as a bad night at the office, but what I saw was a Premier League team organised into a unit that is, finally, hard to break down. 

***

"You wait for it to happen
Like it will fall into your lap
An unbreakable habit"
- Hundred Waters, "Wave to Anchor"

After this game started, and Arsenal had come flying out of the traps like Sam Allardyce sprinting into a Toby Carvery Happy Hour, we struggled to get a foot on the ball. At one point, after a series of dangerous raids, I looked up to see how long we had to go until half time and realised we'd only been playing for seven minutes. That's not a great sign. I usually reserve such clock watching for when Mrs Shark makes me watch films starring Katherine Heigl. 

I have little doubt that under Slaven Bilic we would have conceded in this period and gone on to lose the game 4-1. I've watched The Wire a few times over, but I've also seen us get tonked at home by the big boys plenty of times too. This game had all of those warning signs, but here is where all of the pieces did their job. Shots were blocked, tackles were won, saves were made and the post was rattled but we survived. We got through it. 

And then suddenly we had the ball in the net, and although it was ruled out because Arnautovic had criminally allowed himself to stray offside despite looking down the line, it did prove that for all the focus on defence Moyes does seem able to conjure up some pretty decent chances.

As usual the Caley Graphics shot map pretty accurately matches my recollection of things as it shows Arsenal having lots of low quality chances that were so high in volume that you figured one would eventually go in, but actually they never got too close. We reserved most of our attacking for the last five minutes when we suddenly burst into life and Chicharito rattled the bar with a great chance that would have given us an undeserved win. To be honest, the only difference between this game and Chelsea is that we took our chance on Saturday.



What struck me about this game is how frustrating it must be to watch Arsenal all the time. I do admire them, and I like Arsene Wenger, because they are one of the few English teams with a true footballing identity but they seem almost impervious to the realities of modern football. Wenger has refused to equivocate and continues to have his teams pass the ball incessantly, which they did here again tonight to the tune of having the ball 70% of the time. But what is also noticeable is how much of that play was in front of our defence. They rarely got behind us and so for all the laser guided precision of their passing and movement, there wasn't a huge amount of substance to those attacks. 

Indeed, Arsenal remind me of the show homes you see when you go to a new development. Your initial impression is likely to be one of great desire, but it is important to ask yourself - "Is this practical? Does this actually work? Will this be of any use in the real word?"


The Arsenal - Looks lovely, that's about it

And this is where Wenger's masterplan falls apart. A limited but spirited West Ham team, with a new manager and a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder from this fixture last year, were able to repel his team with some ease. I have no dog in the fight beyond the fact that Arsenal are one of the few other Premier League teams I will watch in a game not including us, because their football is so enjoyable to watch. But at some point it surely has to be worth asking whether that show home is really any use. Because in real life the fact you've got two dozen boxes of books and your sofa is slightly too big and the kids leave their bags everywhere and the washing machine is in an open plan room all really matter. 

The difference between them and Manchester City is palpable, but that's true of every other team. But they also don't compare all that well to Spurs or Liverpool either. I don't think either of those teams play a scintillating, easy on the eye style like Arsenal but I reckon they are both better because they are simply more clinical. The Gunners seem to think that goals will eventually come simply through the repetition of those lovely passing patterns, without ever apparently getting round to determining how. 

At the heart of the Arsenal display here was Jack Wilshere who has long been linked with a move "back" to West Ham, as we are his childhood club apparently. Watching his first half performance here it was impossible to imagine that Wenger would let him leave, as he was the best player on the pitch. His movement was delightful, and he has that high class ability to look like he has time when he really doesn't. It was tempting to see all that and dream that he'd be the perfect January addition, sitting alongside Manuel Lanzini and adding some sorely needed creative spark. 

But we can't take the risk. If we have learned anything in the last few years it must surely be that paying players to sit in Whipps Cross Hospital is a waste of time. It's bad enough that Andy Carroll now has his own MRI suite at home to save time, but Antonio is also beginning to look like he too is catching the bug. I remain unconvinced that he is over his hamstring injury from last year, which is an incredibly debilitating injury for a player like him, and as such he is essentially a passenger from sixty minutes on in any game he currently plays. 

Against the backdrop of our small squad and horrendous record with injuries I just can't see that Wilshere makes any sense for us. I should also add that we've also been linked with Olivier Giroud and that's just fine with me. If nothing else, we'll appreciate his tonsorial expertise more than those North London heathens. 

***

"We are always running for the thrill of it, the thrill of it
Always pushing up the hill, searching for the thrill of it"
- Empire of the Sun, "Walking on a Dream"

Much has been made of the newly acquired fitness of the team under Moyes, and the resultant increase in our miles covered. In a sense it seems obvious that simply covering more ground is a good thing for a football team, but it also has to be acknowledged that they need to be doing it for a reason. If not, then we might as well just put non sentient beings out there like robots, Dyson vacuum cleaners or Robbie Savage, and just let them cover ground unthinkingly. 


The thinking mans' vacuum cleaner

What was evident under Bilic was that players weren't doing enough running, but it also seemed to me that at least part of that was down to the lack of clarity over what their roles were and what they should be achieving through their running. There is a reason that each Jose Mourinho player gets a dossier before each game talking him through every aspect of his role, and why Sam Allardyce spends the entirety of his Friday training sessions literally walking his team through their defensive alignment. It is because footballers respond well to clear, pointed instructions, particular when they implicitly trust the person giving that guidance. 

The more I see what Moyes has achieved in six weeks the less I am impressed by Bilic and his staff. After all, Moyes has taken more points from games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal than Bilic did from his fixtures against the promoted teams. Perhaps it can be argued that Moyes was weirdly fortunate to get those fixtures consecutively, because it allowed him to set up defensively without needing to worry about the reaction of fans. Ultimately, I don't know if West Ham fans are any more or less knowledgeable than any other group, but it seems clear to me that we have collectively decided to hold our nose and accept that this season will be a turgid scramble for safety, and if that means 5-4-1 at home to Arsenal then so be it. File that away under "Necessary Evils".

As it was, we were slightly more adventurous than that as Arnautovic and Antonio were deployed as kind of rotating strikers, with a brief to drop back when necessary. As such, we alternated between 3-5-2 and variations on the theme, before going to 5-4-1 to see out the game. 

I have no issue with any of that. Look at the state of this squad. Moyes had four strikers on the bench - none of whom he trusts - and two defenders. I would argue that we could have done with some fresh legs in midfield to see out the game, but all that was available was unscrewing one of Carroll's false ones and chucking that on. And so Noble played two high intensity games in five days and did just fine. Good on him - two fingers to the doubters, as he continues to rage against the dying of the light. 

And once again, it was possible to see the little pieces mattering. I like to think that I'm a man of science, and sceptical of the intangible, but I loved the way that Noble and Arnautovic jogged over to slap Antonio on the back as he went off. Or the way Noble buys free kicks when he clearly has nowhere to go. Or Adrian yells to the crowd and raises the decibel level ever so slightly as we all take a break from gnawing our fingernails down to our elbows. Maybe I'm a fan who reads too much into these things, but stuff like that seems to me to be the invisible mortar that has to sit between the bricks if we're going to repel the hidden dangers of the future. If nothing else, I think there is a difference between looking at a team mate and hoping you can rely on him rather than knowing you can. If players like Noble and Adrian make that happen, then they carry a value not immediately visible in possession statistics or xG shot maps. 

So godspeed to Moyes and his emphasis on the basics, because Christ knows it's been a long time since we have seen them. He hasn't got much to work with but he's wringing every last drop from them, and there is much to admire in that. Perhaps we should ask a question about why the team with the 13th highest wage bill in Europe should be playing fixtures like this in the style of a lower league team drawn away in the League Cup, but let's do that another day. It's not the fault of Moyes, after all. 

***

"We're reeling through an endless fall
We are the ever living ghost of what once was"
- Band of Horses, "No One's Gonna Love You"

What has been evident over these last three games is that there has been a clear focus on a defensive system. We have reverted to the three centre back system that does seem to be the only way we can defend these days, and does raise concerns about the future when we try and go back to a four, but for now it's consecutive clean sheets and some glimmers of hope. 

Central to this resurgence has been the return of Adrian, Angelo Ogbonna suddenly remembering he's Italian, and Aaron Cresswell converting effortlessly to a central role. Between them the latter pair made seventeen clearances here, and generally seemed to be everywhere when Arsenal broke through. There was one moment late in the second half when it looked like Danny Welbeck might get away and cause us a problem but Ogbonna simply ushered him wide and physically dominated him to win possession back easily. This is the Ogbonna of Juve and the Azurri and if he's back for good then we have an elite centre back around which to build. 


Adrian - better on crosses than Jesus

Cresswell is perhaps the bigger revelation, as he had lost his form totally after a very bad injury last season. In watching him here, with proper protection in front of him from Obiang and Noble, it did make me wonder how much of his travails were down to the fact that Bilic seemed to frequently offer him about as much cover as the London Stadium roof does to anyone in the front ten rows. A season spent with a sulking Payet in front of him, followed by the likes of Feghouli and Arnautovic is enough to grey the hairs of any full back. This guy is a serious player, and credit to Moyes and his team for identifying a way to get more from him. In a world where central defenders no longer need to be Easter Island statues, it is vital that we have someone who can distribute the ball intelligently and with purpose, and he is our best option.

The acid test for this system will come, however, when we play weaker teams. Sitting back here and soaking up the pressure of Arsenal and Chelsea is fine, but we will need to be able to throw a few punches back in our next few fixtures. Stoke, Newcastle, Bournemouth and West Brom is a run of fixtures from which we simply have to get some points, because for all the encouragement of these performances we still remain in nineteenth place and are just two points ahead of a Swansea team who are now giving playing time to staff in the ticket office to try and save money on overheads. This is basically the only remaining plausible excuse for Renato Sanches, by the way. Bilic might have been right on that one. 

The concern is that with the set up as it currently is, we will struggle to get forward in sufficient numbers to support our front men, whoever they may be. I think that is slightly overblown as it's hard to overestimate the cumulative impact of three consecutive games like we've just had. We will have more than 30% possession on Saturday and that will help the legs, especially in midfield. Key to all of it, however, will be Lanzini who will need to be more influential than he has been lately to give us a chance. Pushing the wing backs forward will be key, as they offer our width in this system, and then trying to get Lanzini and Arnautovic on the ball in the final third. If we can do that, and Antonio can finally demonstrate greater aerobic capacity than the American tourist from In Bruges, then we have a shot. 

These are the pieces that haven't really mattered in these last three games, but they will have to in the immediate future. Our season rests on the fixtures between now and the end of January, and we will need to score at a greater rate than we have so far this season to survive. It was for that reason that Chicharito's late miss was so frustrating, given we bought him for exactly those sorts of opportunity. That said, if I have a criticism of Moyes it's that he leaves his substitutes very little time to have an impact. It's tempting to wonder whether an extra five minutes on the pitch might have helped the Mexican get into the game before he rattled the bar.

***

"Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say"
- Neil Young, "Harvest Moon"

Talking of bars, I decided to chance a drink in the stadium before this game for pretty much the first time ever. I also suffered a brief malfunction of my hippocampus and decided to take up the splendid meal deal offer of a hot dog and a pint for the knockdown giveaway price of £9.50. As I handed over my money through my watering eyes, I noticed that I was being charged £9.85, leaving me with the option of deciding whether to let it go or be a dickhead over 35p. 

Reader, I am a dickhead. 

So I asked about it and the woman on the till looked at me like I'd asked her for one of her kidneys. After a minute or so of staring at each other (my eyes still weeping) she informed me that the meal deal didn't work on her till. I think I'm beginning to see how the Mayor is planning to reduce those £10m a year losses. 

Having eventually bought my pint I then couldn't find anywhere to put it down while I tried to put some ketchup on my hot dog. This was karmic retribution for me shaking my head and muttering at every report back from the meetings with Karren Brady where people complained about this very point rather than asking about why our Director of Football doesn't know he's our Director of Football. 


Mate, it's 35p, calm down - we've got to pay Carroll's medical bills somehow

And you're not paying for this content so, yeah, I am going to describe my hot dog purchasing experience. 

But all of that is a roundabout way to ask - just how much should football clubs be listening to fans? My initial thought is that confidently run clubs don't really need to, because they know what they're doing, and have confidence in their plans that is informed by an industry specific intelligence that large groups of fans simply won't have. But that is an opinion about fans wanting to be listened to on the strategic vision of the club, not around the day to day experiences of being a fan. 

And so then as I was stood there with my beer on the floor as I struggled to put some sauce on to a hot dog of indeterminate composition, I did have some sympathy with the alternate view. Our fan experience is quite a long way from that of our peers at other London clubs. As an example, there is absolutely nowhere on the concourse where it isn't cold on a night like this, because it isn't enclosed, presumably due to the cost. Athletics, after all, doesn't take place when it snows so we don't need to consider spectator comfort in that sense. 

There are all sorts of meetings between the club and various fan groups at the moment and I really don't know what to make of it. My preference is that WHUISA represent fans as they are a democratic group, but I get that others don't have the patience for that type of engagement, even if things are a little bit "Peoples Front of Judea" at present. And there is no doubt that the club clearly need to hear about certain things - like the frankly haphazard application of meal deal protocols - but I can't help feeling that is really below the pay grade of the Vice Chair of the club. 

With that said, it's perfectly reasonable for fans to complain that the facilities at the ground simply cannot cope with the half time crush that comes with football games. I also understand that the club only have a limited ability to control some of that, because they are tenants and not owners, but they really ought to be listening to that feedback and working with us to fix that. (Just put the bloody TV's on for five minutes either side of half time, by the way. It's not a crime to want to finish a drink and watch your team play).

I'm not really offering up any particular solution to any of this, but it might be worth those who have an audience with the club separating out their complaints around day to day working issues from bigger strategic and structural problems. And the club should also be prepared to hear those complaints too - after all, we actually are the pieces that matter the most. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

West Ham 1 - 0 Chelsea (And Other Ramblings)

"You're part of the plan
For a new man, to come through"
- Van Morrison, "A New Kind of Man"

Yeah, so Match of the Day hasn't improved much since I last watched it in 2016.

Still, this might not have been a victory hatched hatched in Skokie, Illinois by a barbershop quartet, or required the services of a lawyer by the name of Kobayashi but this was a game won with a plan. And I am not used to that. We are a team that tends to win with the inexpert deployment of freewheeling chaos and lose with similarly spectacular implosions. What we have seen in these last two games has been something a bit more akin to precision engineering, as David Moyes has convinced his men to wed themselves to the notion of becoming hard to beat, and trusting in moments of quality to get a foothold in the game. 


Five at the back isn't a new idea

And so it came to pass that Moyes established himself as our very own Verbal Kint. The man with a plan. The Cockney Keyser Soze by way of Glasgow, who turned to the customary names - Adrian, Reid, Noble and Cresswell, to drive us through. And maybe at the end of the season it won't be enough and, like that, he will be gone but for right here and now there is much to admire about what he is doing, even if you've never seen the seminal The Usual Suspects and are wondering if the simple act of winning has pushed me into writing gibberish.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

Anyway, perhaps the best thing about this victory was that it wasn't an "event" game. This wasn't Friday night at home to Spurs to end their title challenge. This wasn't a desperate save-the-bosses-job rearguard action against some fellow denizens of the depths of the Premier League. Instead, this was a big game, for sure, but it was more ordinary than the usual games we've tended to win since moving to the London Stadium. This was a derby, but not a vitriolic one, played in the low morning sun of a freezing December Saturday and without that frisson of something that hangs over such games when the lights are on. 

But what happened here was that the team gave us a lift. By scoring early and then by looking competent, hard to beat and organised they gave us something to latch on. It's hard to be bang up for a game when you've only been up for a couple of hours after a heavy Friday night, but it's a whole other plate of biscuits when Marko Arnatouvic has scored after five minutes, Arthur Masuaku is pirouetting past their wing backs like Darcey Bussell and Adrian has brought his wall shaped gloves. 

Above all, what this reminded me of was a game at Upton Park. We arrived with a bit more hope, by virtue of the Manchester City performance and left with the cast iron knowledge that this team can actually compete, and with a bit more trust in the men in the dugout. The crowd were dragged into it, and stayed with the team even though our second half attacks were little more than speculative punts in the vague direction of Antonio and akin to lobbing coins at fighter jets. And when the final whistle went there was a feeling that, in some strange indefinable way we had got back a little of what we lost by moving ground. That will mean different things to different people, of course, but if I had to describe it I would say that by showing us he is a credible candidate to lead this fight against relegation, Moyes has successfully united everyone behind him. And that's a pretty good start. 

***

"When you're lucid, you're the sweetest thing
I would trade my mother just to hear you sing"
- Camera Obscura, "The Sweetest Thing"


This sort of thing. More often, please. 

I don't want to go too far overboard about a single victory, but there was much to be enthused about there. Certainly, if Moyes can extract this level of performance in the majority of the remaining games, and instil this level of discipline into our defensive efforts then we will stay up. If nothing else, this team should be able to get points at a greater rate than the likes of Swansea or the freefalling promoted clubs.

We won here by virtue of a lovely effort from Arnautovic, who exchanged pinpoint passes with Lanzini before curling home delightfully past an unsighted Courtois. He then jumped in the crowd with a Gene Kelly style sidekick, which at least reminded us all of the Golden Age of Hollywood while he was getting booked.


Arnautovic gets a yellow card

The Austrian was perhaps a surprise recall given that the Manchester City performance was largely built on hard work and defensive endeavour, but he performed admirably here, and served the important function of giving us an outlet further up the field. He played just behind Antonio who was the lone striker and was excellent in harrying the Chelsea back line with his pace and physicality. It was also a healthy reminder not to write off players too soon when injuries, illness, confidence and even unwelcome comments from chairmen might be affecting them.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

What was so different here to the rest of the season, was that the team had more than one option when they looked forward. Either Arnautovic was drifting out left and looking to exploit the space ahead of Masuaku, or Antonio was running in behind Cahill and Christensen and forcing them to deal with a mobile threat. The contrast to those long afternoons of watching Andy Carroll play Musical Statues, or of Chicharito marooned out wide was stark. Indeed, watching these last two performances against two of the best teams in Europe should really be hammering home to people just how badly Bilic did in those first few months of the season.

I sense that while Moyes is determined to build from the back, he has decided that Arnautovic is a project worth pursuing, and you could see why today. He didn't have huge amounts of defensive responsibility but worked hard and, crucially, did enough in advanced areas to keep Chelsea occupied. What is encouraging is that against weaker teams, you can see how this set up can be progressive too. Masuaku can be pushed further forward, and Lanzini can be freed to get closer to the front two and we won't spend entire second halves frantically bailing water in the face of a continual onslaught.

Selecting Arnautovic does cause a certain problem for Moyes because he traditionally hasn't had too many of those mercurial types in his teams, and seems a bit distrustful of any one who doesn't get up and run five miles before breakfast, but if he can successfully integrate our record signing then you sense there may be more days like this ahead.

***

"Did you ever have to finally decide?
And say yes to one, and let the other one ride?"
- The Lovin' Spoonful, "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?"

It might have only been a few weeks but Moyes already seems to have made a few seismic decisions about this squad. His insistence that the players weren't fit enough might have just been the standard new manager schtick, but we are five games in and Joe Hart and Andy Carroll are on the bench, and Aaron Cresswell is a centre back, so I think it's fair to say that he's now forging his own path.

The goalkeeping decision was straightforward in terms of form, but not in the sense of the profile of the players involved. Hart's World Cup ambitions are what led him to us, and with typically short sighted hubris we lapped that up and forgot we already had his equal here. Quite apart from the cost involved, it's not difficult to imagine the raised eyebrows that might have caused among the strong Spanish speaking contingent in the squad.


Pashun, or PASHUN as we yell on the Costa del Sol

So Adrian deservedly kept his place here while Winston Reid undeservedly reclaimed his, and both were excellent in repelling an off colour but still dangerous Chelsea. In fact, calling them off colour is probably unfair to us - it's weird how both City and Chelsea both had off days when confronted with our well drilled back four isn't it?

In front of them Mark Noble returned at the expense of Edimilson Fernandes, which I initially thought was a mistake as the latter's mobility was a crucial factor last week, but once the game started and it became clear that Chelsea don't play at the pace of City you could see the merit.

Noble may be slowing like Damian Green's computer, but he still possesses the experience to manage games like these. Even in the first half when he misplaced a few passes and the crowd began to "weerrrrrr" he still kept playing, because he realised the crucial value of getting out of your own box and stretching these sort of teams. So it was that most of our better moves had Noble involved somewhere, and in the dying moments it was he who did most to keep the team from exposing our backline to the kind of rapier quick counter attack that did for us here last season, as astutely observed by Michael Cox at ESPN. 

While Chelsea dominated the ball they really didn't do a huge amount with it, instead choosing to pass it round a lot before losing patience at our surprisingly resilient defending and attempting something extravagant. Kind of like when your local decides to become a gastropub and then googles the price of quinoa and admits defeat.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

What was also noticeable was how differently referee Anthony Taylor treated the fouling of the two sides. Like Manchester City last week, Chelsea are the masters of the sly foul to prevent teams breaking on them quickly. They tend to allow four or five seconds to recover the ball and if they don't they foul. The likes of Cahill and Fabregas have it down to a fine art. What's really interesting is that because these transgressions are generally so far from the goal and so innocuous, referees rarely book players for them, especially if the team in question is trailing. However, when a team is defending a lead, then it seems to me that players will almost certainly be booked immediately for any kind of foul, as officials seem to view these all as cynical attempts to slow down play. And so it was that while both teams committed ten fouls, we picked up six bookings and Chelsea managed just one. Must be nice.

But despite that we held firm for ninety five minutes, and should even have had a penalty when an Arnautovic flick was fairly obviously handled by Christensen. As it is, we are now a team who have conceded twice as many goals in our games against Watford and Everton as we did against Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester. Welcome to East London, Moyesy, it's mad here.

Reid and Ogbonna were in their element today, however, as Chelsea started looking to hit Morata with crosses, and whenever they were absent then Cresswell was there to help out, as his positioning and passing were excellent. It is noticeable how much better we look when we pass out through the left with Cresswell and Masuaku then when it goes the other side through the Hit'n'Hope twins Zabaleta and Reid, who combined to make less accurate passes in this game than Cresswell on his own.

But for all that, the system worked and we funnelled plenty of attacks out wide and away from goal, and that showed up in the fact that Chelsea mustered just two shots on goal all day and both were in the first half. And so the Caley Graphics xG map might show a slightly fortuitous win, that doesn't tell the whole story. We battled, blocked and battered our way to a win, and what a feeling it was.


This was genuinely the first time I have a left a game all year where I couldn't really identify a poor performer in Claret and Blue. I could have picked any of them as Man of the Match and not been wrong. Drink up these days, for they don't come often enough.

***

"Get on yer dancing shoes
You sexy little swine"
- Arctic Monkeys, "Dancing Shoes"

On a day of claret cheeks and blue fingers, it was a bit of a surprise that our best performer was a twinkle toed African left wing back, but Arthur Masuaku has been defying expectations quite a bit recently. He has always looked comfortable on the ball but has generally displayed all the energy and drive of a traffic warden in his previous performances. But, somewhere at the end of last season he began to run with the ball, and he hasn't looked back - quite possibly because if he did he'd just see a massive wide open gap and Aaron Cresswell on his knees, weeping.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

In this game Masuaku was exceptional, as his runs repeatedly gave us an option and a way out of from Chelsea pressure. Most fans were purring at his dragbacks and turns, but I just enjoyed seeing one of our players look like he could carry the ball into those rarefied advanced positions without getting a nosebleed, and his quick interplay with Lanzini and Arnautovic was a big part of our first half performance.


Call me after, yeah?

He also did his bit defensively, especially after Victor Moses came on, and it is to the credit of Moyes and his team that he didn't choose to make the Creswell/Masuaku decision a binary one and instead found a way to accommodate both. I could do with Masuaku toning it down a little bit in his own half, but given then he successfully went past 11 opponents in this game - a season high for the anyone in the Premier League - it's probably churlish to argue.

What I have also enjoyed about Moyes is that he seems to have got the team to buy into a concept bigger than themselves. We fans tend to view games as single, discrete events but there is little doubt that the confidence from the Manchester City performance bled across here. Now the players had some belief in what they were doing and that was never more evident than when Masuaku had the ball and we were going forward. With Antonio running the channels, and Noble and Obiang intelligently covering behind him we just looked so much more solid as a unit. This must have been what it was like when they finally fixed the Hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon.

And as much as I'm loathe to say it loud, we have done most of this without Cheikhou Kouyate, who is perhaps the best example of a player who had deteriorated physically and tactically under Bilic, and seemingly has so much more to give then we have seen lately. I'll never not believe in the Senegal captain, in the same way as I will never accept that TJ Hooker was anything other than world class television programming, but when he comes back he is going to have to match this level of work and decision making to hold down his spot. Which is as it should be.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

***

"Do you remember when the ship went down, you left me on the deck?
The Captain's corpse jumped up
And threw his arms around my neck"
- The Pogues, "The Turkish Song of the Damned"

There are other things I could talk about here - that very bizarre Antonio substitution, the general tendency Moyes is showing to make his replacements too late or the bird that literally died half way through the first half and fell from the roof to the athletics track after a particularly wayward Fabregas effort. But no, instead I'll address the elephant in the room - David Sullivan has given an interview everyone!

And so here we go - an H List within an H List. Kind of like Inception and dreams within dreams, except that Tom Hardy isn't riding around on a snowmobile shooting anyone and maybe you'll be able to understand this after just one viewing. Although I'm not promising anything.


"Oh excellent - the Chairman has been speaking to the Press. I foresee no issues at all"

If you haven't read the interview, you simply must stop what you are doing right now and click on the above link to do so. It is by The Guardian journalist, West Ham fan and friend of The H List, Jacob Steinberg, and I think it's a brilliant piece because it isn't confrontational but draws so much out of Sullivan.

Some might feel that focusing on this after a victory isn't the done thing, but it's timely and in some respects, more relevant to our long term future than any single game. Perhaps the easiest thing to do might be to take some of the comments and explore them in a little more detail. I accept that we can't be entirely privy to the tone or context of each of these statements, but I keep hearing about how Sullivan's spent thirty years in football, and therefore I'm going to assume that he understands how dictaphones and, you know, interviews work. Albeit, that's not a conclusion you would draw from actually reading any of it.

"I work my socks off, but sometimes it's not good enough"

It starts like every bad appraisal meeting I've ever had to take. It is such a common thread among poorly performing professionals that they equate how hard and how long they work with being good at their job. This isn't unique to Sullivan, by any stretch, but when you're in your office at 2am and all your peers are home in bed there's a reasonable chance it's not because they're less dedicated than you and far more likely that they are simply better at their job than you.

I should add here that the overriding feeling I had when I read this piece was one of sympathy. It's never fun to watch somebody try and do a job they care a great deal about, but don't really have any idea how to do. But sympathy can only go so far - I wouldn't be that understanding of a surgeon who was stood in an operating theatre quickly reciting "...the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the hip bone!..." before cutting open my patella. And so my empathy for Sullivan only stretches so far - he might be finding it harder than he imagined and he might be at a loss as to how he's ended up here but that's tough. There is another option available to him whereby he steps aside for someone competent, and every day he doesn't do that harms our club a little more.

"David Gold is 81, it's is whole life. He has nothing in his life except West Ham. He has no hobbies. He has a family but he has one granddaughter"

Excuse me a moment while I load up my shotgun and just blow a few of these fish out of this barrel.

(fires)

*In the distance Alvaro Morata falls over*

I have to imagine some of this has been lost in the translation. To talk so dismissively of an old friend and business partner is just odd. To insinuate, even unintentionally, that having a granddaughter is somehow worse than having boys is also a bit of a misstep, shall we say. The following morning Gold then "liked" a Tweet from a fan commenting that he felt sorry for Gold having Sullivan as a business partner.

(sighs)

*Loads up shotgun again*

"Jack's learning his trade, he was desperate to do it. He worked in every department at West Ham for a week. He knows everyone. He has opinions on everyone....He or Dave could possibly be chairmen in the future"

Leaving aside the rather obvious point that nepotism isn't generally a great trait for any business, this is still such a bizarre thing to say. I don't have any particular issue with Sullivan's two boys wanting to follow him into the family business, but I certainly have an issue with them doing it in such a public way. Wouldn't be nice if they were instead sent off overseas for a year or two to learn their trade at progressive, well run clubs overseas? He could find them internships at Bundesliga or MLS clubs and they could learn how different organisations operate, and gain crucial knowledge of overseas markets while they do it.

Instead they've done a week putting names on the back of shirts in the Club Shop and now Jack has just fired his first manager. Get up Morata, I want to shoot you again.

Perhaps even more galling is that Gold's two daughters - Vanessa and Jacqueline run large multinational, successful companies already. Giving people jobs because of who they are related to isn't generally ever a good thing, but we can't even get the bloody nepotism right.

"We're about £10m a year better off - it's not going to change our lives...I just think we feel like a big club. Not a tinpot club."

So, in the week that the Mayor set his sights on West Ham for having a one sided deal involving public finances, our owner decided to announce that a £10m a year profit wasn't all it's cracked up to be. I get that the context was probably vastly different, but it does rather highlight the constantly tone deaf nature of Sullivan's public utterances. E20 - who run the stadium - have a best projected annual return in the next decade of a £10m loss. The tabloids are circling. The mayor is fuming. Your local council are out £40m in a time of eye watering austerity. There's a time and a fucking place, man. 

But even that pales next to the notion that our Chairman feels like we are a big club. It inadvertently says so much about where we are now that our owner, presiding over a team with the 13th highest wage bill in Europe and the largest season ticket holder group in the country only "feels" like he's in charge of a big club. 

"I'm sure there's a hundred things I've said that I regret"

Today? In this interview? Have you ever considered not saying them? No? OK, as you were. 

"If we go down, we'll come straight back up. We always do...(but)...I should have got rid of him in the summer, but beating Tottenham in the last home game and beating Burnley was just enough. My family gave me such grief for not doing it"

So. Many. Things. 

Going down and coming straight back up isn't a skill you want to acquire. Spurs wasn't the last home game - we played Liverpool and lost 4-0 immediately after. We beat Burnley at a fancy dress funfare where a game of Premier League football broke out. Sofiane Feghouli played the whole game in a mankini and still scored. Basing any decisions off that result would be like deciding to hire me to direct the next Star Wars film because I did a great job capturing the cake cutting at a wedding on my iPhone. 

Your two teenage boys were giving you grief? And you care? And you think we care?

Where's that gun? Morata you better get back up again cos I'm definitely going to put one in your right foot, son. 


Every Google image of Morata looks like this

"I'm not really the Director of Football...I'm not involved in the strategy. The manager said he wanted Fonte and Snodgrass. My kids begged me not to sign them"

What's really noticeable at this point is how little the interview is really about West Ham, and how it's much more about Sullivan. Here, in two sentences, he throws five people under that bus we parked at Chelsea a few years ago. Bilic, Fonte, Snodgrass and his kids - all traduced in order to preserve the image of Sullivan as an innocent bystander. So, while he may have started by saying that he hadn't done well enough personally, we have really arrived at the meat of it here. Now he is upset that he's given Bilic too much rope, and is blaming Fonte and Snodgrass, two men he still employs, for the simple sin of accepting his stupidly bloated contract offers. You know, I begged you not to sign them too David, but once they joined I kind of expected that we would at least give them a chance to show what they could do before trashing them in a national paper. 

I wonder if the Board will ever be able to draw a straight line from comments such as these to their constant failure to hire the people they want to hire as managers, coaches or indeed players?

As for Sullivan not being Director of Football, let's just gloss over the incorrect statement from our Vice Chair in her annual report for the accounts, and simply gaze in wonder at the fact that we apparently have a huge gap at the centre of the club structure. Who is dealing with all those things that don't include coaching or recruitment? Who is looking at analytics and youth development? What about the link into the sports science department? Remember when Allardyce led that initiative to check the players teeth a couple of years ago? Or how about making sure there is sufficient language support for new foreign players? 

Maybe all of the above is moot and all that stuff happens seamlessly, but the very strong signal from these type of comments is that perhaps they no longer happen at all, or if they do, then nobody is tying it all together. 

I'd just like to point out at this stage that if they need someone to cover the position until Jack has finished his week in the ticket office, then I am available. 

(On a Director of Football) "There is one very good one in the Premier League. I would seriously think about taking him on in due course and I know he would come because he's approached me"

I won't lie - I'm deeply suspicious of anyone who has grown sick of the constant competence at another club and wants to work in our Looney Toons setup. On the other hand, perhaps the West Ham job is the ultimate goal because there is so much demonstrable opportunity. 

Where Sullivan does deserve credit here is for seemingly having the intellectual flexibility to think beyond what hasn't been working so far. Of course, the difference between talk and action is substantial, but perhaps there is a glimmer of hope here. He'd better hope we're still in the Premier League when he finally comes blinking into the modern age, however, or he'll find his options are far less appetising than than they might otherwise be. 

***

"I'm movin' on up now
Gettin' out of the darkness. My love shines on"
- Primal Scream, "Movin' On Up"

So on to Arsenal we go. I feel for Moyes because after Manchester City and Chelsea, he deserved something easier like Brighton or Newcastle but Bilic already wasted those games. Perhaps Wednesday will tell us a lot about the direction of our travel, or perhaps it will simply be a little detour before we crash into reality at Stoke on Saturday. 

But what he has done is instil something in all of the team and the crowd, and Moyes deserves credit for that. Maybe it won't last long, but so far the signs seem to point at us having Everton era Moyes rather than the Grim Reaper who turned up at Sunderland. Indeed, it feels like he's already achieved more here in a month than he did in an entire season in the North East. So, I continue to be cautiously impressed because, if nothing else, he seems to be a man with a plan. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Man City 2 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"So how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose"
- ABBA, "Waterloo"

Well then. How does one assess a match in which your team is at longer odds to win 1-0 than the opposition is to win 7-0? A game in which your team takes a half time lead and defends tenaciously, but ultimately loses late on and drops more precious points? An away fixture in which we have to measure our progress not through tangible rewards like points, but instead through more prosaic measurements such as how long it took to concede? Glorious defeats are still defeats after all, and lots of games like this litter the fixture lists of relegated teams. How can it be then, that I feel somewhat more positive about life than I did this morning? How can it feel like a win when we lost?


Can four people dressed like this really be wrong?

At the most base level, this is simply a result of us not caving and losing by the tennis scores that have been the customary outcome whenever we have gone up against bigger teams lately. In fairness, that hasn't tended to be the case away from home, where there is less onus on us to come out and attack and as such we can keep a better defensive shape. For fifty minutes here, we performed a very impressive impersonation of a top flight football team as we kept Man City at arms length and forced them into ambitious shooting from long distance. In fact, I haven't seen so many shots fly over a bar in such quick succession since I last made the mistake of going for a drink with my Polish mate, Pete. 

But putting aside all of that, I think what was really the most encouraging part of all this was that there seemed to be clear evidence of a plan and a commitment to sticking to it by the players. Ask yourself, when did you last see that? Even the glorious high of that cup win at Spurs seemed to be driven by some kind of magic pixie dust that settled on a couple of players and took the crowd with them and just blitzed us through. And while we might not like to admit it, that can happen in knockout games when opposition players get distracted and start to focus on the weekend and teams can take risks they might not otherwise take. But here, we did it on a day when it really mattered. Whisper it, perhaps, but we looked a little like one of those old David Moyes sides. 

***

"We all disagree, I think we should disagree, yeah
Is this it?"
- The Strokes, "Is This It"

But how excited can we really be about "it" when we lost the game? After all, eight minutes from a point might as well be eighty for all the impact it had on the league table. In fact, as a result of this weekend we are now below Crystal Palace in the league table despite the fact that they played the first month of the season using their ballboys as a back four. 

My take is that we at last displayed some level of discipline in our defensive duties and, crucially, the team were prepared to trust the system and each other to carry it through. It wasn't pretty or terribly ambitious, but when your opposition literally have a billion more pounds than you to spend on their team then I don't really feel like that should be a factor. City players and Pep Guardiola can make all the snide asides they want about time wasting and parking the bus but when we are but a month removed from the nation state of Abu Dhabi demanding that Brighton and Bournemouth give them a larger share of the Premier League television money they can, quite frankly, fuck right off. And when they get there they can fuck off again, as the great Malcolm Tucker might say. 


Parked the bus did we Fabian? Fuckety bye, son.

In fact, Pep, if you hope that more teams will attack you then why don't you give us David Silva and a wage cap? Until then, slip on your hipster Adidas sambas and your Northside t-shirt and piss off on your skateboard back to your cave of oil money bullion and stop telling teams with 5% of your resources how to play. 

As it was, we went into this game in the middle of our customary winter injury crisis and emerged with yet another muscle injury as Cheikhou Kouyate limped off in the first half. All hail Gary Lewin! That withdrawal had a big impact as it pushed Antonio out wide where he was pressed into lots of defensive work, which is usually a prelude to something disastrous like a rip in the space time continuum or a new Robbie Williams album. 

Oddly, Man City looked nothing like the glorious attacking force that we are used to seeing as they huffed and puffed their way through the first half, with lots of possession and territory but very little by way of clear cut chances. Indeed, the best chances of the half came when Antonio got free at a corner and was unable to guide a flick on into the roof of the net and Manuel Lanzini pounced on a loose ball to fire at Ederson. With just a minute to go, however, Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell worked a short corner to allow the latter a better angle with which to hit the first man. Instead, he surprised us all by finding an unmarked Angelo Ogbonna who thumped home an opener that might not exactly have been deserved but did not flatter us. 


I realise that not everybody puts much faith in Expected Goals, but this map from Michael Caley pretty much adheres to my view of that first half and highlights the excellent defensive performance. There seems to have been some view of it as us playing a three at the back system, with Cresswell as a centre back and Antonio as the lone striker. I didn't see it quite that way, as I thought it was a traditional flat back four with the full backs tucked in very tight and the wide players instructed to get back and provide cover at every opportunity. Arthur Masuaku did this pretty well and also managed his customary thing whereby he made several long weaving runs upfield, going past three or four players, and then following them up with periods of play where he looked like he was in a Testimonial. 


Unfortunately, we couldn't keep that level of solidity and eventually we were simply overrun by a team who possess brilliant attacking players at every turn. The winner came just eight minutes from time and was wonderful, as Kevin de Bruyne picked out David Silva at the back post with a ludicrously pinpoint cross, and the Spaniard athletically volleyed it home. Scant reward for all that effort, but evidence enough that the gulf in class was pretty wide. 

The equaliser was truly the goal that sank us, as the longer we went without conceding after half time, the more we had to cling to. It came from a free kick awarded for a Fabian Delph dive (Delph, the last bastion of footballing morality) meaning it was a passage of broken play when there are players in the box who aren't normally there. And so it was that Jesus made a run and crossed for Nicolas Otamendi, of all people, to stab it home. Until that point, Adrian had looked fairly unbeatable in a way that Joe Hart has never yet done in claret and blue. 

We still had a couple of half chances to snatch something when Marko Arnautovic broke late in the half but his first cross was too high for Antonio and his second was turned just past the post by Diafra Sakho. By such fine margins can relegation seasons hang. 

***

"We're movin' up, we're movin' up
It's been a lot to change, but you
Will always get what you want"
- Two Door Cinema Club, "Something Good Can Work"

What really needs to happen now is that these brief elevations in performance levels actually need to start producing something. It's tough on David Moyes, who has not had a preseason and has inherited a team that look knackered, unfit and lacking in confidence, but there is no time for sentiment. Turning this around is a huge job, and these are spirited baby steps, but sadly, getting the team to perform to a level just below that of the opposition is still a recipe for going down. It is a sobering thought that for all of these small, incremental gains, we are currently in a worse position than we were under Avram Grant, Patron Saint of the Incompetent, at the same time in 2010/11.

The half time TV analysis of this game was interesting, as Jamie Carragher suggested that West Ham were deliberately not advancing from their defensive shape to engage City's attackers. What this ensured was that we left no space behind our defenders and instead kept them in front of us. This led to lots of pointless passing and those long range shots that Adrian was happy to wave into the stratosphere. 

Now, I'm sure that Slaven Bilic tried to instil those sorts of plans in his players too, but to a layman like me it never looked like they stuck. Yet here was a defensive plan frustrating the worlds best coach and forcing him to switch to a 4-2-4 system that eventually overwhelmed us. While it may not have worked today, what games like this can do is give players confidence in their management staff that they have some workable ideas that will serve them better against lesser opposition in the future. Very few teams have a David Silva to turn to, after all. 


This won't happen every week, Declan

I also have to hold my hands up and acknowledge that Declan Rice was more than worth his starting place. I have generally not joined in the clamour for young, inexperienced players to be thrown into the team, but the Irishman was outstanding here and stood firm against world class opponents. Certainly, Sergio Aguero seems to have gone off the boil - not the first man to pay the price for a long weekend in Amsterdam - but Rice was assured in his defensive work, even allowing for an early booking, and he deserves an extended run, if only because both Reid and Collins are so injury prone that the disruption caused by their frequent absences is an increasing problem. 

The booking for Rice was interesting as referee Mike Dean refused to apply the same rigidity to his decisions for City defenders. Both Otamendi and Mangala should have been booked for first half fouls, which would have at least forced them to be a little more timid in their second half tackling. As they weren't, City just kept fouling us with impunity on the rare occasions we forayed forwarded. It's a little trick that served Ranieri's Leicester well in the season they won the league, and is an oft underplayed element of Premier League defending these days. 

However, where we really lost out in the second half was in the way we dropped deeper and deeper, inviting them on to us with no real way out. Giving Antonio defensive responsibility is fraught with danger, especially when he is such a strong outlet at the other end. There is a dream I have where he and Sakho terrorise less progressive teams with their pace and power. However, even Arnautovic was sucked back into defensive roles and what that meant was we could never relieve pressure by advancing further up the pitch in possession. Lots of aimless balls went into the corners and by the end we were basically putting on a touring version of Zulu

***

"Let me go on, 
Big hands I know you're the one"
Violent Femmes - "Blister In The Sun"

One thing that was also different this week was that we had Adrian in goal. David Sullivan's £4m summer vanity project, known to his mum as Joe Hart and "Good try, Joe" to his defenders, was ineligible as he is technically still a Man City player, although Pep seems to have more time for Nathan Redmond than he does for Hart these days. 

The Spaniard did nothing to deserve being dropped in the first place, and was excellent here again. Neither goal was his fault and he pulled off a number of excellent diving stops to keep us at parity. He has no weakness to his left, unlike Hart, and seems to inspire a certain level of confidence in the team that isn't there when the "England No.1" is between the sticks. It's a bit harsh to blame Hart as the defensive set up in front of him this season has been mostly imaginary, but it was still a vainglorious signing by Sullivan in an attempt to get some big names into his side to deflect criticism from his prior failures. 

The folly of that policy was laid bare here, as it was tempting to imagine how that £4m of wages could have been better utilised as we got to seventy minutes and an exhausted Antonio desperately needed replacing and we had only untried youth players available. 

There is a rumour doing the rounds that Hart has a clause in his deal that demands he is played when he is available, and if so, he'll return on Saturday against Chelsea. I don't blame him for that, by the way, as this is a World Cup year and he couldn't run the risk of losing his England place due to not playing. However, for us to agree to that is ludicrous. He was never anything more than a minimal upgrade over Adrian, at best, and by not playing the Spaniard we have cost him his own chance of regaining his position as 3rd choice Spanish keeper. Given that, he will be off at the earliest available opportunity, and who can blame him. What a nonsense. 

This is the kind of crap that so frustrates me about the way the club operate off the field. A completely unnecessary signing that wasted valuable funds in a transfer window where Sullivan presumably knew he was going to be significantly reducing our net spend. I'm sure it's tedious for you all to hear me vent about this, but we are teetering very close to a catastrophic situation for the club and the hubris of Sullivan in believing he is suited to overseeing the situation is a huge factor in that. Take the injury to Kouyate - the continual loss of first team players to muscle damage should be a huge warning sign to a thoroughly modern club. A qualified Director of Football would be investigating that and demanding an upgrade to performance in that area. Sadly, at West Ham, unless a question can be resolved with a phone call to an agent, it simply doesn't get asked. 

Interestingly, a reader asked me on Twitter during the week what were my criteria for a Director of Football and I struggled to answer because of the character restriction. This in itself is telling, because it should be a huge job that encompasses broad and wide ranging responsibilities across the club, with responsibility for lots of different staff members. 

I would start by saying that the departments of recruitment, scouting, analytics, sports science, medical, player development (Academy) and player welfare should all report to that position. It's a role that requires an ability to manage across a wide area and has a pseudo CEO look because delegation and flexibility seem key to me. Rather than hiring an ex manager who is looking for a short cut back to the dugout, the person would probably be someone with a business background and experience in sport, without any requirement to have played the game at a high level. Perhaps most importantly of all would be the requirement that this person shape the philosophy for the entire organisation. It's hard to overstate how demoralising it can be to work somewhere with no direction and no obvious plan for the future. Employees like certainty and structure - even those at football clubs. 

What I wouldn't suggest is a club chairman with five relegations to his name, who never leaves his house or speaks to junior staff and holes himself up in his office ringing agents until 4am trying to drive down loan fees for players that any reasonable analyst could tell him won't fit his side. 

I'm sorry for continuing to bang this particular drum, but in this odd time we live in where the club appear to be canvassing opinion from every possible corner, the single best thing West Ham fans could do right now would be to turn their attention away from the lack of places to rest their pints at half time on the concourses and demand some proper corporate governance and leadership from those who own the club. 

***

"Don't give me love or, no, none of that stuff
Cos, it's yer money I'm after, baby"
- The Wonder Stuff, "Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More"

So as we leave today behind and look forward, we return home for back to back games with Chelsea and Arsenal. The former seem a bit more mortal this year, and probably represent our best hope of getting something even though Eden Hazard's return to form seems a bit terrifying. 

But perhaps the most interesting part of our return back to the stadium is the report that was issued by the Mayor's office last week into the costs around the conversion of the Olympic Stadium to its current state. Jon Lines writes a good review of the situation at Brace The Hammer which fills in a lot of blanks you may have. I've added a few bits here, but where I get anything wrong please let me know. It's a complex area and I have really only skim read the report. But a lack of expertise certainly didn't stop any of the people involved in the deal so I'm not worrying either. 


Cheers lads

The report, by Moore Stephens, should be read through the prism of the political situation in London at present. The games were won under the Labour Mayor, Ken Livingston who made the decision - along with Tory Seb Coe - that the stadium would maintain an athletics track after the games and that no concessions would be made to the desire of Premier League teams to be involved in the process. This fateful decision would end up costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions, as it would become evident in later years that a stadium with no anchor tenant would be the white elephant the British bid had promised not to leave behind. 

Ironically, IOC President Jacques Rogge would later state that there was no firm requirement for an athletics track to be retained as part of the stadium design, confirming that at least in some part, this was an ideological decision on behalf of former Olympic champion, Coe. 

Thereafter, the political landscape changed as Boris Johnson was elected Mayor, meaning that the entire world could watch our opening ceremony and say "My God, he's their Mayor?". Johnson would reopen the stadium issue once again by seeking an anchor tenant to provide a greater legacy than a 25,000 seater athletics stadium that would likely rust in the London rain. In 2011, he selected West Ham as that tenant with an agreement that we would effectively take over running of the stadium, with responsibility for the costs of conversion and maintenance in exchange for retaining all profits associated with the deal. 

This proposal, as revealed in the report, was markedly different to the version we have now and essentially involved West Ham agreeing to play in the Olympic Stadium as was, athletics track and all, with a canvas roof above. I don't know either. 

However, fellow bidders Spurs and Leyton Orient and an anonymous complainant would appeal this decision, quoting EU State Aid rules (oh, the irony). Amid a feverish political climate, Johnson shelved that idea in between insulting some foreigners, and re ran the bid process with the central plank being that the Government would retain full ownership of the stadium and run the business profitably for the taxpayer. This would mean that a tenant such as West Ham would gain access to the ground for a small number of days each year, with the rest of the time being taken up with other profitable events to make money for the taxpayer. 

In reality those appeals from Spurs and Leyton Orient saved West Ham hugely, as the reality of playing in the stadium with next to no money spent on conversion would have been horrendous. What they also did was cost the taxpayer an incredible amount as those costs would later spiral wildly, as West Ham's demands increased substantially now that we weren't paying for it. The decision to rerun the bid process would generate huge costs for the taxpayer - a point that the current Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, was looking to highlight with the publication of this report. 

Even more ironic was that Spurs never had any particular desire to move to Stratford, but instead merely wanted to use it as a stalking horse to get the Mayor to commit to providing funding for their own stadium redevelopment in Haringey. That was successful as they are now receiving tens of millions of public money to assist with their project - you'll remember that irony I mentioned earlier - and had the added effect of convincing Karren Brady to commit to keeping the athletics track as part of West Ham's bid. 

My own feeling is that West Ham were, not unreasonably, concerned that if the Spurs bid were to be chosen and if they were to move into Stratford it could signal the end of our dominance of the East London and Essex catchment area. As such, they sought to differentiate themselves by committing to the track, even though grounds that have done this are usually as atmospheric as morgues. What does become clear reading the report is that the fan experience is not central to anything that has been done with the stadium. 

Fast forward to 2017, and what the report is showing is that the deal West Ham negotiated is so ludicrously one sided that the best projected year for E20 - the company running the stadium for the Greater London Authority - is a ten million pound loss. Much of this is due to the fact that West Ham's annual rent is £2.5m, when the cost of running the ground is closer to £11m. Additionally, the famous retractable seating has proven to be a disaster, with the company contracted to deliver it going bust and the replacement system required at short notice for the Rugby World Cup an expensive exercise. West Ham fans will also realise that it doesn't retract. Johnson's fingerprints are all over that process too. 

The summary of the report is essentially that the current situation is not tenable, with so much public money being used to prop up a poorly negotiated, one sided deal that hurts the taxpayer. The problem with that is there aren't any terribly good options available. Sadiq Khan has announced that his office will take control of the stadium from E20 which I suspect will mean a squeeze on any of the services provided by the landlord. Expect to see stewards, safety officers, security officers and any other staff reduced as much as legally possible by the Mayor. Great news for fans. 

In Jon's summary article above he suggests that West Ham will inevitably end up paying more due to Khan's desire to rescue the situation. I disagree with this, largely because there isn't anything Khan can do to renegotiate the deal unless he offers up something in return. That might be a greater slice of naming rights or a reduction in the amount due to the Treasury in the event they sell the club. Therefore, Khan can talk about a new deal but in all likelihood nothing much will change. There may be an attempt to leave the stadium in athletics mode after the next event, but presumably that will be met with a strong legal challenge from West Ham on the grounds that they will have sold season tickets to fans in those seats. 

Given all of that, and there is a whole load more to this which I'd encourage you to read about on this excellent thread at KUMB, I can only really see a long term solution whereby we take over the stadium. Let's face it - the Mayor could save millions for the taxpayer now simply by giving Sullivan and Gold the keys. Of course this won't happen because the political nature of the situation prevents it, but it does it mean there is going to be a public focus on the costs of the London Stadium. Generally, such PFI arrangements can be loss making forever, but now that Khan has made it so public I do wonder if something will happen further up the line. 

There is then a question as to exactly why Sullivan and Gold would ever bother to take on the ownership of a ground when they could stay as they are and reap all of the same benefits for just £2.5m a year. But while there are plenty who will think that this is a great deal for West Ham, it should be noted that I don't support a balance sheet, and what's good for our owners hasn't generally translated into good things for the team, and furthermore West Ham fans are taxpayers too, and have every right to be as outraged as anyone else about this appalling waste of public funds. 

Should the owners buy or acquire the ground, I don't see them investing in making it the arena for football that we want to be with proper retractable seating and (somehow) a steeper rake for the stands. But, if they were to own it, then it would make the purchase of West Ham a far more attractive proposition for external investors. It's a long way to go from where we are now, but in the longer term I can't really see that it's palatable to the public purse - and those Newham resident West Ham fans who saw their council chuck £40m into the pot - to continue setting fire to ten million quid a year. If they were going to do that they could have just bought us Robert Snodgrass last January and called it quits. Nothing will happen quickly, but something will happen there. Keep an eye on it.