Written by Varun Kumar
The atmosphere around West Ham is one that any football club in the world would pay to avoid. The club’s position in the league table coupled with off-field protests by the club faithful has led to dark and gloomy days in East London. The fans turn up to their massive new home, the London Stadium, but with almost zero expectations every week and the on-field performances personify this sorrowful situation. Are we witnessing one of the typical modern-day problems of club mismanagement? Today, we analyse this dreadful situation under the microscope.
Lack of Identity
One of the major shortcomings that West Ham have had to deal with is being unable to create an identity for themselves, both on and off the pitch, ever since the move to the London Stadium. The stadium, which was built with a vision to take the club upwards and onwards, has instead turned into a happy hunting ground for the opponents who travel to play the home team.
The club has not been able to recreate the buzz that they had about themselves at Upton Park. The crowd seems to have lost its voice and the identity of West Ham United left behind, during the ambitious transition. The reason for this turnaround poses questions at the top management of the club. Is the recruitment – manager and player – been up to the standard? If so, why is this not reflected in the results?
Let’s look at them one at a time.
When the Hammers first moved to the London Stadium, Slaven Bilic supervised the first team. However, he was replaced by the current West Ham manager, David Moyes, for the second half of the season. The summer of 2018-19 saw the appointment of Manuel Pellegrini, the former Manchester City manager. The arrival of a Premier League winner in Pellegrini gained the confidence of the supporters. It acted as reassurance from the board about the club’s ambitions of playing in Europe.
Pellegrini reciprocated the support and faith shown in him by promising the fans an attractive and attacking style of play. He tried to create an identity for the team which was different from what it was under previous managers. The traditional low block defence that past managers played was replaced by a mid-block defence with the full-backs joining the attack whenever possible. Long balls were replaced by intricate passing as the style of attacking progression and build-up play became increasingly popular in their matches.
The Chilean had a decent comeback to the Premier League, guiding his team to a 10th place finish in the 2018-19 season. However, the Hammers had a shocking start to the 2019-20 season with just 19 points from 19 games. This run of poor form led to the sacking of the Chilean and reappointment of their former boss, David Moyes.
This recurring replacement of managers every 6 months or so, does not bode well with their ambitions of becoming European contenders and has frustrated the fans as well as the players.
On the other hand, was the player recruitment to support the managers successful?
The hierarchy at West Ham United do not have an explicit position called “Director of Football”, the position that many modern-day clubs turn to, in order to obtain expert solutions in areas of player transfers. However, the players who were brought into the club over the last two summer transfer windows seem to somewhat satisfy the requirements of the manager.
The big-name signing in the summer of 2018-19 was Felipe Anderson. The Brazilian winger was a good fit to Pellegrini’s requirement of wingers, being pacey with a box of trickery to beat defenders.
This was followed by the signing of former Dortmund winger, Andriy Yarmolenko. Although he possessed the skill and mentality to play as a winger, the fans were on the line with this signing owing to his age and history of being prone to injuries. The midfield duo of Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sánchez were signed with an aim to provide defensive solidity at the centre of the pitch. The defensive line was reinforced with the signing of a young ball-playing centre-back in Issa Diop and Ryan Fredericks was brought in to add competition to the full-back position.
The former Swansea shot-stopper, Łukasz Fabiańskii, was also signed and that rounded off the summer which saw troops coming in at about every position except the centre forward. Despite the injury worries, West Ham finished the season in 10th position which was seen as respectable and progressive compared to the previous season’s finish.
The summer transfer window of 2019-20 saw the arrival of a big-name striker from the German League, Sébastien Haller, from Eintracht Frankfurt. The French forward was accompanied with the signing of the attacking midfielder, Pablo Fornals from Villarreal. The two big transfers looked like the missing pieces in the team from the previous season. However, their season so far has rather had a contrasting narrative.
Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko suffered injuries that have kept them out for major portions of the season played so far. Haller has been starved for goals with Fornals not being successful in displaying his full potential. The majority of the goals have come through penalties and set – pieces from the veterans, Mark Noble and Angelo Ogbonna. An injury to Fabiański compounded their misery as back up goalkeeper Roberto had an awful time in between the sticks. He was regularly at fault for many errors and lacked confidence throughout. Manuel Pellegrini has recently also hinted at Roberto’s form being the catalyst to his sacking.
The local players in Declan Rice and Michail Antonio seem to show more fight and fire in their bellies than the big-money signings. Robert Snodgrass, the 32-year-old, who was sent on loan to Aston Villa a couple of seasons back, seems to act as the primary creator of chances. The academy graduate Grady Diangana, who broke into the first team with his pace and trickery last season and impressed quite a lot has been loaned to West Brom.
If this seems to be the case, should West Ham consider looking at their recruitment policy again? The players being brought in might fit the requirements of the gaffer on paper, but do they fit the culture of the club? The West Ham board have quite a lot to answer and the underperformance of their new signings have not helped in the slightest amount with their current position – 18th, in the drop zone.
End of PL times?
The drop for a club of the stature of West Ham may turn into yet another tale similar to Sunderland. The football at the Championship level has become more competitive than it used to be with clubs like Swansea still struggling to find a path to the top. The drop may also result in many of the star names forcing a move away from the London Stadium, resulting in a significant financial loss for the club that once aimed for the glorious European nights.
Does this justify the fans turning against the board?
There seems to be an air of nervousness clouding the stadium and this was clearly on show when they blew away a 3 – 1 lead to Brighton this weekend. With teams like Watford and Wembley – bound Aston Villa who are placed around them in the table gaining form and fixtures against West Ham, the players and the manager have a monumental task at hand.
Will David Moyes and his men survive the ruthless axe from the Premier League? Only time will tell.