The S J Chandos Column
The Brighton result was disappointing, but we should not get too despondent; yes we started slowly, over-elaborated in our passing (particularly in the first half) and lacked a cutting edge in the final third, but some times defeats like this can prove instructive in the long run. West Ham were riding high after the Manchester United victory and perhaps this was a timely reminder that we need to ‘turn up’ to beat our PL opponents, regardless who they may be. If you do not play with the same momentum and intensity against the likes of Brighton, as you do against Man Utd, then there is a very real possibility that you will come well and truly unstuck. The truth is that we started too slowly and the Brighton goal was very largely self-inflicted, but we really should have scored at least one goal in a second half that we dominated.
I genuinely thought that we would win at Brighton, but perhaps this defeat may prove to be beneficial watershed in the overall direction of our season. Many Hammers fans have said to me that the recent sequence of results is classic West Ham. They get positive results against the bigger teams, but blow it against those sides that they should rightly defeat. One fan stated that it is always the same pattern, regardless of who owns, manages or plays for the club – we are always consistently, inconsistent! It is part of our DNA as a football club. I recognise that observation has a lot of historical evidence to support it, but I am not that fatalistic. Personally, I think that we are on a journey with Pellegrini and it is one that will take us forward to a situation where we can eventually challenge the top six. It probably will not be this season, but we need to be patient and buy-in to his long-term project.
There has been a major over-haul of the squad this past summer and Pellegrini has acquired a lot of the players that are instrumental to playing his preferred system. However, I doubt that (privately) Pellegrini would consider the squad complete and ready to sustain a challenge for the PL title (and for a winner like him that has to be the ultimate objective and destination). I believe that will require a dedicated recruitment/youth development drive over the next 2-3 seasons, sustaining this summer’s level of player investment on a year-on-year basis. Some Hammers fans have an ingrained ‘defeatist’ mentality and would scoff at such a proposition. How many times on social media do you see alleged West Ham supporters stating that such and such a player, Lanzini, Anderson, Arnautovic, is ‘too good for the club.’ Could you imagine a Man U, Chelsea. or Tottenham fan coming out with a statement like that! To those so-called fans I say you really should go and follow Dagenham & Redbridge or Leyton Orient if you want to be a perpetual loser, not worthy of attracting or holding on to top class talent. I do not, I hope to see West Ham win a PL title before I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ and that should be the serious ambition of every single Hammers fan. We are not a ‘small club,’ whatever way you define that, we are one of the great clubs of English football. And, quite frankly it is an embarrassment that we have never won the title. And, to be equally honest, I am also increasingly embarrassed at way that we continually over-hype the valiant failure of 1985-86. We were very good that season and we should have won the title, but the ultimate truth is we failed. We were piped to the post by genuine, perpetual winners, Liverpool, who went on an incredible end of season unbeaten run to snatch the title from our grasp. Much like they snatched the FA Cup away from us in 2005-06, by digging in and being winners.
I am tired of being the classic romantic club, who regularly defeats the top clubs of the day and then capitulates to lesser opponents. In the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s West Ham were widely respected for our philosophy/traditions (regardless of our inconsistency). Now, in the ‘cut throat’ and cynical PL era we are commonly viewed dismissively and disrespectfully. So, much so that there really is no need whatsoever for our own fans to be defeatist/dismissive about our prospects. Its got to stop. We now have the manager and basic squad to start changing perceptions about our club and its future potential. It would be very positive if we could start that process this season by winning a domestic cup and pushing in to the top 10 of the PL (Thereby qualifying for next season’s Europa League). And do it playing the West Ham Way, which is more than possible under Pellegrini.
In short, the ethos of the club needs to be adjusted. This famous club of ours will always aspire to play the right way, but we need to add a winning mentality and a consistency to the mix. When we do that we can finally become the club that generations of Hammers fans have dreamt of following – one that plays attractive football, but is also consistent and seriously challenges for the major prizes of English and European football.