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, April 20, 2018

West Ham 1 - 1 Stoke (And Other Ramblings)

"Well, 'round here baby
I've learned you get what you can get"
- Bruce Springsteen, "Tougher Than The Rest"

Not every win comes in the form of a victory. On a night where we had the contemporaneous sense of wild joy at a late equaliser, and coursing disappointment at the failure to truly separate ourselves from the relegation quagmire, it is worth noting that the main success here was what we did to our opposition rather than anything we did for ourselves. 

After this game, we sit with a 3% chance of relegation according to the folks at FiveThirtyEight. Football games aren't played on hard drives, of course, but it's comforting to know that the nerds have trained their gaze elsewhere, even though you do get the sense that a 3% relegation shot could be a very "hold my beer" moment for a kamikaze club such as ourselves. By comforting comparison, however, Stoke have a 93% chance of going down, which is the kind of thing you would generally only write about members of the Trump administration. 

Chicharito wins "Best Gladiator Impression"

But in truth, these are the amnesiac nights of the football season. Consigned almost immediately to the long term memory and only recalled years later when someone reminds you of the time our Vice Chairman once advised everybody to watch her new show on ITV and forgot we were playing at the same time.

These are the least glamorous inches on the mediocre road to safety that we now seem to tread so routinely, with the honourable exception of the 2015-16 season. These are the points that are so necessary for survival and simultaneously so damaging to the notion that this club is going anywhere soon. It's not even that we played that badly, and in fact it might be the opposite; we played reasonably well but still didn't have the guile or craft to put away a side who are deservedly going to be relegated.

It's fine to respect the point, and I doubt that many fans are struggling to see the bigger picture here. Stay above the stragglers and get through to the next transfer window when everything will be magically resolved by the people who messed up the last five. This time next year, Rodders.

But I wonder if there isn't a fatigue setting in among the fanbase. The underwhelmed reaction to this point, and the generally directionless nature of the club has lent the place an air of terminal decline. We will survive this year due to the bottom half of the Premier League being as good as that Robbie Williams Rat Pack album, but it's not fooling anyone anymore. We can only limp along for so long before one day taking a permanent stumble, especially when almost every lower league club is now run better than us.

We are in dire need of a change.


"And I know, and you know it too, that a love like ours is terrible news
But that won't stop me cryin', no that won't stop me cryin' over you"
- She and Him, "Thieves"

Which brings me neatly to David Moyes. 

Slaven Bilic took just 9 points from his 11 games this season which would have put him on pace for a 31 point season. That is not good. I looked it up. 

Moyes, meanwhile, has presided over 22 games and swept up 24 points. Over a full season, that would give us 41 points and a nice relegation battle to fret over and ultimately win. This is an imperfect and only minimally useful comparison because of the nuance involved but it does at least highlight that Bilic was woeful this season. It is also unfair on Moyes because Bilic had five transfer windows to build his own team and used them to construct the second oldest squad in the division. Moyes has had one window during which he got drunk, went to Preston with £10m and woke up with Jordan Hugill in his squad. We've all been there. 

I find the nostalgic pining for Bilic baffling on many levels, and I haven't even got into comparing the difficulty of their respective fixtures, but let's just say I think that they almost had to fire Bilic before we went to Man City just to stop us being the first ever Premier League team to concede ten goals. 

Kept it in single figures, lads!

But being better than Bilic isn't really the point here. The question is whether Moyes would actually be a good appointment or not, and that's a more difficult query to answer. I think most fans are starting to wake up to the fact that the biggest issue with the Premier League is not a reliance on foreign managers, but the endless fascination with mediocre British types. This is probably a little unfair on Moyes as he has been demonstrably better than the likes of Pulis, Allardyce and Pardew throughout his career, but that's the perception of him now. A stolid, average manager for middle of the road clubs. Be still our beating hearts. 

And the wider context is that West Ham is currently a febrile, uncertain beast. The board are despised for sins both imagined and real, and while the Directors presumably crave a boring, steady season where we bounce around in eleventh all year, the truth is that they probably need something more to regain some of what has been lost. And Moyes is not that. He would be a Roundhead appointment for what is currently - rightly or wrongly - a Cavalier fanbase. 

Fans want to dream. West Ham is ripe for a generational change and never has a club been more ready for a visionary manager to arrive and sweep all before him. We're sick of looking at Pochettino working the oracle at Spurs, as their impressive new stadium springs up around them, and wondering why it's not us. Here we are with 50,000 season ticket holders, the best catchment area for youth players in the country and an enormous wage bill and yet nobody at the club seems to have any idea how to harness all of that. There is such a person out there for us somewhere, but it requires judgement, knowledge and courage to go and find him, and none of these are qualities possessed by the decision makers at West Ham. 

Thus it comes to pass that Moyes is probably the best appointment for West Ham. He's here, he knows the squad, knows who he needs to keep and who to move on and, perhaps most importantly, seems prepared to take the job despite knowing that he would be working for the worst run club in the country. It's easy to dream on Nagelsmann, Favre, Tedesco and my secret love - hear me out here - Joachim Low, but those are not realistic. We are too badly run, with too tarnished a reputation to get such luminaries through our door. 

So, given such an ultra realistic appraisal I can find no better candidate than Moyes because I don't think anyone better would come. He's probably the best appointment we can make, and yet I strongly doubt he is actually a good choice. There is an outside chance that he might repeat his Everton trick and turn us into something decent over a long period of time, but even that chills the heart a little. We didn't move to this stadium for a rebuilding project. This was supposed be the culmination of a long term plan and instead we arrived at the restaurant for dinner and found out that the chef had forgotten to turn the oven on.


"Help me out of the life I lead
Remember the promise that you made"
- Cock Robin, "The Promise You Made"

Having said all that, I think Moyes would probably be a decent choice as Director of Football, except for the fact that this morning David Sullivan revealed he is now planning to renege on his promise to hire anyone for that role. Leaving aside for a moment the blunt force stupidity of allowing a job applicant to set the parameters of their position, it's a fascinating development. Sullivan made the promise under the duress of fan protests and the white hot focus of the national media. Everything he said about the role strongly suggested that he didn't understand it, although that's rather par for the course these days, but to go back on such a promise will only further cement his reputation as a liar.

In fairness to Sullivan his counter argument is that he never actually promised a Director of Football, but instead an "entirely new way of signing players". As far as I can tell this looks very much like the old way, where a Chief Scout - this used to be Tony Henry before he redefined the word "mayhem" - finds players and the manager signs off on them. Brilliant. There is no acknowledgement that a proper Director of Football would bring all sorts of other benefits to the club, because Sullivan doesn't understand what the role should entail.

What's particularly bemusing, is that having spent the season blaming Bilic for assembling this hopeless squad, he is now handing over the reins to allow Moyes the freedom to do exactly the same. If this is true we can all look forward to another squad constructed solely to meet the whim of one person, who is one six game winless run from losing his job, and with Sullivan having further destroyed what little credibility he has left with the fans. Oh well - I suppose that going back on such a well publicised concession to supporters would be a fairly significant "fuck you" to those who have questioned his leadership (ie: everyone), but it's a remarkable piece of backsliding from where we were just two weeks ago. Whatever your thoughts on the fan protests, it should be acknowledged that the toothpaste is well and truly out of that tube if the board are already comfortable enough to start rewriting history.

What's also magnificent about this is the timing, as it comes just days after Sullivan wrote an angry piece in the programme demanding that fans acknowledge that he has sanctioned far higher spending than "the so called experts" would have us believe, and then trotting out the biannual line about strengthening in the next transfer window, which by now should really be the club motto. Sullivan was keen to "dispel a myth" by writing the piece, although he wasn't so keen that he felt the need to include any actual numbers in there. The curious thing about all of this is that he appears not to realise that spending loads of money on a terrible team isn't actually a good thing.

I used to read stuff like this with a rising sense of anger. How could these useless charlatans have taken over my club and why aren't more people angrier about their incompetence? I still have that dull ache at the back of my mind, but it's been replaced somewhat by a more mystified feeling. I watch them now in the same way one watches a hopeless DIY'er. Like viewing a man changing his wiring while standing in a bucket of water, I no longer despair of the idiocy and instead marvel at the ignorance of it all. How are they still alive? Why is that ladder balancing on a beach ball? Why check a gas leak using a match for illumination? Is he really checking to see if that gun is loaded by peering down the barrel?

And David Sullivan did gaze with great pride upon his handiwork

I have said this before, so please excuse the repetition, but the biggest danger this club faces is apathy. Fans speak often about turning our back but that is usually just the post match disappointment talking. Come season ticket renewal time, when the sun is out and the red tops have been laced with false promises, it is never a chore to summon up enough misplaced faith to sign up once more. But this time feels a bit different. It's not so much that the team is bad - and it is very bad - but that there is so little for us to connect to as fans. The club has no vision, Upton Park has gone and been replaced imperfectly, and the people in charge didn't seem to care when fans were being threatened if they protested against them.

It's been a dismal season and I find it hard to believe that David Moyes is the right man to lift us out of that, even if I greatly admire some of what he has done. We need a Director of Football more than any other team around, and appointing one would at last have been a nod to the realities of the modern game and an admission that the era of running the team like we were in a DeLorean and it was 1983, were over. Instead, no. They took the barrel of that gun and aimed it squarely at their own feet.

Godspeed, David. I think you're going to need it.


"You say you saw him laughing, I hope it's true
I'd like to see it happen. I hope it's true."
- Belly, "Seal My Fate"

Even as this game was minutes from starting, our Karren was on Twitter urging people to watch her new show starting on ITV at the same time. It's called "Give It A Year" and involves her visiting struggling businesses and then returning a year later to see what progress they have made under her watchful eye. It is powered mainly by irony, presumably.

It sounds delightful because there is hardly anything that needs doing at West Ham and even though she earns just under a million quid a year for her role as Director in Charge of Not Listening To Fans, it's nice that Karren can stave off poverty by adding another string to her bow. I didn't see the show but apparently there is a bakery in Oxford who signed Robert Snodgrass and are now thriving, and a dressmakers in Carlisle who now wave loads of flags around outside their premises and all their issues are fixed, so that's good. If this series goes well it will apparently return next year when Theresa May is going to help Commonwealth countries fix their immigration policies. 

Anyway, for those who resisted the allure of watching Karren destroy the concept of satire, there was a game to watch. And what a game it wasn't, as Caley Graphics shows above.

Stoke arrived with their familiar brand of earthy physicality, elbows and constant fouling and allied that with the late season desperation of a team on Death Row. Moyes countered with his now standard 3-4-3 variant setup and has been slaughtered for such negativity despite the fact it looked pretty similar to the team that beat Southampton so easily.

One major difference between then and now was that Stoke actually brought a defence with them, but also our key players were a little off the boil. Marko Arnautovic huffed and puffed without ever quite hitting the heights of that day, while Edimilson Fernandes wandered around lost and bewildered by what was unfurling around him.

We therefore played nicely but without much urgency, and struggled to break the enormous line of Terracotta Soldiers that Paul Lambert deployed to keep us at bay. Such physicality needs to be played around, but we lacked the necessary invention or guile to do so, and even though Mark Noble probed and prodded intelligently from his deep lying position we were missing too much ahead of him. No Antonio or Lanzini to draw attention from him, and although we passed the ball well enough we couldn't really free a subdued Arthur Masuaku or the Ancient Mariner in our wide positions.

For all their time wasting - Ryan Shawcross apparently ties his boots with stinging nettles - and repetitive fouling that went ludicrously unpunished, Stoke were actually creating some reasonable half chances, and Mame Biram Diouf blazed over the best opportunity of the game in the second half. As it was, they eventually scrambled a lead when Joe Hart Joe Harted a shot from Shaqiri and Twitter personality Peter Crouch popped up with a tap in. I missed the Chelsea game and I'm now wondering if I'm going to go the whole season without seeing Joe Hart play well. He looked like a burst balloon, his confidence whistling out into the night sky.

At this point, Moyes did what he should have done far earlier and threw his reinforcements on. Lanzini arrived and then shortly after, so did Carroll, who was slung into the fray like a fireball catapulted into a medieval battle - with the knowledge that he might just destroy everything but what the fuck, we're losing anyway.

And so it was that just a few minutes later Aaron Cresswell swung over a hopeful cross and the pissed Geordie Wicker Man performed his yearly Chun Li Spinning Bird Kick and rescued us a point with a superb finish. On such nights, it sure is handy to have such a weapon on the bench and this was a near perfect deployment.

Shawcross tying up his shoelaces just out of shot

As it was we could have had a winner just moments later when Chicharito beat an abysmal Jack Butland dive from twenty yards but Carroll was penalised for handball, despite clearly being fouled by Shawcross at the time. In fairness to referee Michael Oliver, he's had a bit of a bad week with last minute penalties.


"And now the future's definition is so much higher than it was last year
It's like the images have all become real"
- Father John Misty, "Total Entertainment Forever"

One thought that seems to have been successfully inculcated into the collective groupthink of West Ham fans is that Moyes is somehow misusing Javier Hernandez. The Mexican is now a regular on the bench and was deployed to dramatic effect at Chelsea when his laser precision finish salvaged us an unlikely point.

But for all that, I see him as little more than a luxury that we can ill afford. As a central forward he offers nothing - no link up play, no mobility, no running the channels, no physical presence, nothing except a world class penalty box finishing ability. And that's the rub. How can a team as bad as us pass up any player with that level of skill?

Well, for an answer to that, one has to look at the games we've played where Hernandez was anonymous. Spurs away, Arsenal in the cup - we may as well have played with ten men. For all that it's easy to criticise Moyes and demand that he find a way of playing to suit Hernandez, I can't see what that actually would be. His time at Manchester United and Real Madrid was marked by those teams playing around him and dominating the opposition. The ball was frequently in that penalty area for him to latch on to, and tellingly, he was still a substitute for most of the time.

Fans need to let Hernandez go. A mid table team can't afford the extravagance of sinking £100,000 a week into a player who only plays fifteen minutes a game, and Hernandez shouldn't be doing much more than that. Tactically our best moments this season have come when Arnautovic has been deployed as a striker and freed up from doing any defensive work. Playing Hernandez pushes him deeper, and so too Antonio if he is fit, where their total lack of defensive effort is badly exposed.

This chain reaction through the team is what precipitated the move to three centre backs, as Moyes desperately sought ways to make us a bit more solid while still allowing him room to deploy his attacking players. This, in turn, pushed Zabaleta to a wing back role and badly exposed the fact that our central midfielders are way below average. An interesting thought experiment is to ask yourself which players from this squad you would keep if you were building a team from scratch.

I would take Ogbonna, Rice, Lanzini and Arnautovic. Cresswell and Masuaku are borderline, while Noble and Adrian would be valuable squad members. Beyond that I wouldn't be bothered about keeping any of them particularly and would be willing to load Joe Hart into a wheelbarrow and walk him back to Manchester. Clearly there are young players like Fernandes and Oxford who might mature into decent players in the future, and it's worth remembering that Ogbonna looked a busted flush at the start of the season so one has to ponder the effect of injuries on the likes of Obiang, but I can't see any other particular value in the squad.

Reid, Carroll and Antonio are too injury prone and the rest simply aren't up to it. Every time a West Ham fan demands a contract extension for James Collins a fairy is brutally butchered in the Welsh valleys. So stop it.

It's not much. Moyes has much work to do and not much time in which to do it. He might come to regret not having an experienced Director of Football to help him with a task of this size. If it's true that he has won that argument with the club, then he is taking a huge responsibility on to his shoulders. It might be worth remembering that not every win is a victory. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A depressingly accurate and insightful analysis of the current state of the club.

    Relegation still looms on the horizon.

  3. This time next year.

  4. As ever, the best piece on our train wreck of a club.

  5. Excellent H list again. Midfield mobility has been an issue for quite sometime. Like to see a more steel in the midfield middle and defence. Attack wise I think we're alright

  6. Absolutely. Spot. On. Best one so far, HHS. Absolutely agree with the assessment of the game and a brutally accurate summing up of everything else.
    (Oh, except my sister really liked that Robbie Williams album and you wouldn't want to mess with her.) Well played.