The HamburgHammer Column
Let me start by thanking you all for reading my column throughout this weird and bewildering season just gone and bearing with my endless musings, puns and rants at our board. There was (still is, of course) a pandemic running wild which led to the PL calendar and football all over the world (except Belarus) grinding to an unexpected halt for several months, then there was the little matter of Supergrassgate on here (which kept Daz and me away for a short while), but then, thankfully, football finally returned and West Ham very belatedly turned on some style and swagger to secure league status for another season, especially important in these unpredictable times. I hope that I will be able to continue with my column again next season/when the new site is up and running. Let’s hope it will provide us with more wins, better football (maybe even fans returning to the stands) and plenty of inspiration for me to find some more jolly puns for my headlines. COYI!!!
Thank God this season has finally run its course, I don’t need a repeat of all this either. If you had predicted that kind of season to happen, putting a tenner on it in your local betting shop last summer, you might consider yourself well minted now.
Who would have thought Pellegrini would be sacked halfway in ? Who would have thought that the backup goalkeeper we had brought in for Adrian should turn out to be a textbook example of “How not to come out for the ball when you’re a goalkeeper in the Premier League” ? Who could have predicted that a pandemic would stun the world and almost lead to the football season being voided altogether ?
And who would have thought we’d make two January signings destined to turn our season around with a gusto and impact reminding Hammers fans of the arrival of John Hartson and Paul Kitson midseason in February 1997 ?
Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek were key factors in making sure we will still see PL football at West Ham (at least on the telly) in the 2020/21 season.
Our final league game wasn’t much to write home about. We didn’t really need a result and it showed. In the end a 1:1 draw was a fair result maybe, but the longer Villa managed to get away with dirty little fouls without getting booked, the more I was wishing for us to beat them and send them down. Luckily for Villa, goal-line technology enjoyed a refreshment break in their game against Sheffield United, helping the Villa(i)ns to a crucial point.
I bet lawyers are rubbing their hands in greedy expectation already with the prospect of a court case or two coming up…
It’s the first Monday after the end of the season and the transfer window is now open again. I’ll just say that again: THE TRANSFER WINDOW IS OPEN AGAIN!
It will be a very short break now, next season will start in seven weeks already and that now means hectic wheeling and dealing in the world of football, with a plethora of phone calls ensuing between agents, clubs and players, maybe the odd fax machine will get a recall too and clubs all over the country will try to get rid of their deadwood while bringng in new and exciting players, finding targets according to current team weaknesses – and all of this in a financial climate of most clubs struggling to find money, some probably to a degree they will be very reluctant to water their training pitches out of fear of rising water utility bills.
The thing here is this: I can and will name you a few players I would be prepared to let go, trying to generate some funds to invest in new players. But my musings will be largely irrelevant. Does the club want to sell these players ? Are there other clubs willing to make an offer, paying the wages in full ? (Which in our case sometimes veer towards ridiculous levels when put in relation to contributions of said player on the pitch.)
Does the player agree to the move or prefer to see out his contract ?
I wouldn’t mind allowing Lanzini to leave. Our #10 (literally) has, as we all know, scored some wonderful and crucial goals for us, but that knee injury has massively dented his confidence in his own body, affecting the way he moves and the ability to influence games. In these situations a fresh start elsewhere might prove a win-win scenario for everyone. His role can be filled by Fornals, Noble or Jack Wilshere.
I would keep Wilshere as it’s unlikely we’ll find a buyer for him anyway, so let’s ride out the final year of his deal and see if he can keep healthy and contribute. I am sure a player like Wilshere will be licking his lips at the prospect of playing on that same pitch with the likes of Bowen, Antonio, Rice and Soucek next season.
Roberto is an obvious choice, he will be staying in Spain now, the same country where Pellegrini will manage a club again, coincidentally. So two of the main protagonists of our downfall this season just gone will be plying their trade under the Spanish sun. Who else ? Balbuena. Moyes doesn’t seem to trust him and he should still warrant a halfway decent fee from a club in Spain or South America.
Ajeti (who I think is a fantastic young player, but Moyes seems to disagree) needs a fresh start elsewhere too (with Celtic his rumoured destination), but will his new club take the risk and sign him on a permanent deal immediately or start with a trial run of a loan with an option to buy ?
Winston Reid is a really sad case. Last ever goalscorer at the Boleyn, but since then incredibly unlucky with injuries. I just hope he can continue to play his football somewhere, but he’s not gonna earn West Ham much of a transfer fee, here, unfortunately, we have got a long-term deal on our hands gone massively Pete Tongue.
As for positions we need to fill: Definitely a LB, maybe a versatile type who can play on both sides almost equally well. Another young CB for sure to challenge (and help out) Ogbonna and Diop would be a great idea too. Also a new striker replacing Ajeti, preferably one that fits our system and has a chance of actually playing occasionally. And if a deal can be struck for a decent midfielder/winger from the Championship, why not ?
We also have some promising youngsters being around the fringes of the first team next season, chaps like Nathan Holland, Abijola Alese, Gonçalo Cardoso, Conor Coventry, Josh Cullen and Xande Silva. They will not all be sitting on the bench on matchdays at the same time of course, some may feature quite a bit, some just once or twice, others on the list will probably not make a single appearance for the first team next season.
But surely they will be providing additional options for David Moyes to have a butcher’s at in preseason training. There’s no better (and ultimately cheaper) way for a club on a limited budget than to bring through youngsters from your own U23s.
Finally, my main topic for today – an obvious one, potentially a painful one but one every West Ham fan is acutely aware of, maybe frets over or worries about: The immediate future of freshly crowned Hammer of the Year 2020, Declan Rice.
Make no mistake: Declan Rice is a “once-in-a-generation" type of player, an outstanding footballer, both physically/technically, but also character wise. Mature way beyond his years.
HOTY at just 21 years of age, future captain material, for both club and country. Brilliant at CB, probably even better at DM. Still very young, meaning there is so much more to come from him on the football pitch.
Almost frightening to think that his current level is probably merely slightly above the floor of hisability, with his ceiling being two or three metres further above.*
The sad truth is that such a player is not meant to spend his entire career at a club like ours (insert dig at previous and current owners here). So let us all agree that eventually he will be wearing a different club’s shirt.
An image that makes my stomach turn and a few drops of salty liquid running from my minces, then again I could just be chopping some onions…
I really hope a transfer doesn’t happen THIS summer already. One-club players seem to be becoming relicts of the past in football, not just in England.
Players who stay with their club for longer than ten years are now almost extinct like good old Brachiosaurus and his Jurassic mates.
We managed to hold on to Bobby Moore for a long time (16 years), but that was 50-60 years ago – if Bobby was playing today he’d be tapped up in no time so he could play for mega money at Manchester City, Liverpool, maybe Barcelona or Milan.
I know that, strictly speaking, Bobby Moore wasn’t a one-club player at all, he played for Fulham too, plus some teams in the USA while also running out nine times for a club in Denmark at the end of his playing days, but you know what I mean.
Moore was, is a West Ham legend. When you mention Bobby Moore, people immediately think West Ham and England.
Mark Noble is pretty much a one-club player too (apart from a brief loan spell), but, no disrespect to Nobes, he was/is nowhere near the level that Rice is going to reach eventually.
Rice appears to be happy right now, enjoying his development at West Ham (and how could you not be impressed with that?), enjoying a new way of playing now that Soucek is in the engine room with him. Rice knows he has the PL world at his feet at West Ham, he knows he would be our skipper for years to come, he’d be playing every minute of every game (injury permitting), he’d be the undisputed main guy, the first name on the teamsheet, Bobby Moore reborn. A potential West Ham legend.
But will all of the above be enough for Declan Rice ? When there is a bigger world out there, with Champions League football, with medals and trophies waiting for him ?
Where he will be sharing the pitch with 10 other superstars playing for the same team, rather than be one of maybe 2 or 3 quality players at West Ham ?
Where he can play for his boyhood club Chelsea with his mate Mason Mount ? Where pundits will be talking about him a lot more regularly than they ever would about even the most accomplished West Ham player ?
I could make all kinds of witty puns now, with rice as the main protagonist. You know, like rice being the main food staple in all them Asian countries. How to never break another man’s rice bowl.
How giving rice to someone will feed that person for a day, but teaching them to grow rice will keep them fed every single day. But this is serious.
Declan Rice is important for the future of West Ham.
Chelsea may put a price on Declan Rice that may seem adequate and fair to THEM. It is likely to be a price that isn’t fair to West Ham.
Or represent his true value to our club. Let me elaborate.
Declan Rice is worth FAR more to us simply by playing for US than being sold. Because of the way he makes every teammate of his look and play better out there. Because of his contagious enthusiasm. Because he represents what West Ham have always been renowned for: Bringing players through the ranks to one day be a regular first team player and maybe even a legend. Or, more likely, be sold off to a bigger club once they have reached a certain level of consistency and greatness.
$ay Chelsea give us 80m quid for Rice next month, just for the $ake of argument. A lot of legal tender that, I know. But some players are worth so much more than something as trivial as money. Knowing West Ham, part of the fee would be used to balance the books (thanks in part to wealthy owners who are always cash-poor when it suits them, especially after the Pellegrini experiment going pear shaped), maybe to pay back the most recent payday loans, transfer some interest payments to the owners, maybe do up the training facilities a bit. That then leaves, what ? £40m ? £50m ?
How do you even begin to replace a player like Declan Rice with £50m ? Especially a club like ours who has a history of being hit (sometimes) and miss (significantly more regularly) when it comes to new signings ?
Just a year or so after the transfer, the effects of the Rice money will likely be gone, evaporated, vanished into thin air. While Declan will continue to progress, making another club play better and look more accomplished on the pitch.
I know it’s just the way how things work in modern football, but I don’t like it. Everytime it happens, especially when it involves our club, my enthusiasm for big league football dies another little death.
Death by a thousand cuts, they call it.
Rice leaving West Ham now would not be your average cut with a pen-knife though, it’d be one ruthless slash with a machete across shoulder, chest and tummy – I’ll just leave you with the gory details of that mental image. No, I’d rather not watch that if it can be avoided.
So, against all hope, I’m still clinging to those scenes of Rice celebrating his Watford belter with his teammates and the gaffer. His satisfied grin when accepting the HOTY trophy from the hands of Sir Trevor.
I’m convincing myself he is grounded enough to listen to the advice of guys like Tony Carr who suggested to him he should stay at West Ham for the time being to further hone his skills and not to put at risk the trajectory of his impressive development by joining a bigger club too soon.
I’m telling myself to believe that he will be attracted to the vision of himself leading out the West Ham side as proud skipper, leader of men and brains of his team.
I may be setting myself up for utter disappointment here of course, but I’ve had plenty of practice with that at West Ham over the years.
Fortune’s always hiding. And all that…
My column may not be out on Mondays without fail during the break, however, if there are news about players leaving or joining the club, I will certainly try to rustle up an impromptu column…
David Hautzig's Match Report
It’s a funny thing, perspective. When the season was put on pause in March and the scale of the pandemic began to come into focus, I wholeheartedly supported calling it quits on the season as so many other leagues did. No, it would not have been fair to Leeds, Slaven, and whoever wins the playoffs. And with our precarious position at the time, or pretty much any time, it would have allowed us to push the re-set button on a truly crappy year on every level imaginable. Life isn’t always fair was my reply to all of that. But now with the benefit of good old 20-20 hindsight, I can see why this was a good idea. No, not from the perspective of “integrity of the competition” or what have you. Personally I didn’t and still don’t give a toss about that. Not when the world is metaphorically on fire. What I mean is, sport is so often described as an escape from the rigors of daily life. And for our kids generation, and even for many of us older folk, this is the most difficult period the world has ever seen. Watching football has been like a portal back into the life I knew, miss terribly, and look forward to experiencing again. And if cricket, or baseball, or auto racing is your thing I suspect it has been equally helpful. In the end, despite all of the controversy surrounding it, it was the right thing to do.
And yeah. We stayed up.
A little social statement to start. I have yet to not be moved by the site of the players, officials, and coaches taking a knee at the start of the match. Particularly because the murder that ignited it happened so far away, yet the consistent solidarity shown by a league across the ocean, playing a sport that is still foreign to many Americans, is remarkable. It’s so common to forget important messages once the next news cycle begins. I hope the message continues next season.
If you want to let a player know he is no longer wanted at a club, David Moyes gave a lesson on the topic today when he put his starting right back the last two games on the left to cover for the injured Cresswell instead of playing his backup left back, Masuaku. If Arthur were a piece of clothing, Moyes would be dropping him off at the thrift shop after the match. On the end of the pitch, if you wanted to see how Antonio and Haller could work together up top wouldn’t today have been the perfect time to take a look? I think Haller will be here in September, so the decision to not give him a proper run out with Antonio today was a head scratcher.
West Ham should have opened the scoring in the 11th minute when Antonio was sent in all alone with a Allardyce special long ball over the top from Diop. In the form he has been in, the ball going well wide was actually a shock. Moments later Guilbert floated in a cross from the right to an unmarked Samatta, but his header had very little pace and was gathered up by Fabianski.
By the time I gave it any more thought, the match was past the half hour mark and Fornals won a free kick 30 yards out after a foul by Guilbert. Noble rolled the ball to his right for Rice to do his best imitation of the wonder strike against Watford. Lightning rarely strikes the exact same spot twice, and maybe Rice will give those long range shots a rest when we return in September. Or maybe he won’t.
Noble won a free kick in the 41st minute near the top of the Villa eighteen yard box, but the captain couldn’t beat the first man so the most notable part of that moment came at Goodison when Everton drew level with Bournemouth. A few minutes later Grealish had a chance to ease the pressure even more when McGinn set him up on the left but his curling effort neither curled nor was much of an effort and Fabianski made the easy save. The missed opportunity became even more problematic when Bournemouth regained the lead just before halftime.
Thank God we aren’t part of this.
West Ham 0
Aston Villa 0
Haller came on to start the second half! But Antonio came off. I guess we will have to imagine what they would look like together for at least seven weeks.
Villa started the second half brightly, with McGinn catching Johnson out of position to find Trezeguet on the edge of the area but he couldn’t find Grealish or Samatta with the cross. Seconds later Villa tried on the left, this time with Grealish looking for McGinn in the box but Diop was there to block the shot. Moments later Villa won a free kick on the right side, but Diop put the delivery out for a corner. Fabianski grabbed the set piece before anyone else could, but Villa asked another question in the 50th minute when Fredericks took down Grealish at the edge of the area. Villa couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, and Bournemouth stayed in the bottom three.
The Hammers won a free kick in the 60th minute when Targett missed his target (had to, sorry) when he tried to tackle Noble near the edge of the Villa eighteen yard box. Yarmolenko stepped up to take it and curled the delivery over the wall, but could only find the side netting. Moments later Rice fouled Luiz 30 yards from goal, and Grealish won a corner when his delivery hit the wall and went out.
Can anyone tell me how and why those sports bra looking things became part of every kit? Not judging. Just don’t understand.
Haller had a sniff at goal in the 73rd minute when Noble one timed a pass from Fredericks to the Frenchman with the 45 million pound price tag in the box. But Haller’s header had no pace and Reina had no trouble. A few minutes later Diop was called for a foul against Grealish, though to be fair Grealish ran into Diop and drew the foul. The delivery of the set piece was sent out by Diop for a corner. Villa went short, and Grealish danced into the box and got off a shot that was deflected out for another corner. Villa couldn’t capitalize, which took on a very nerve wracking tone for Villa because Stanislas put Bournemouth up by two goals at Everton.
And then Lanzini did nothing with a free kick twenty five yards out.
Villa came inches away from securing their top flight status in the 82nd minute when Davis made a good run off the ball, and Grealish found him on the left side of the West Ham box. Davis made a little cut to his right and fired a low shot that just went wide.
Over the past few weeks, I have been called Nervous Nellie by many people. Sean, Nigel, to name a few. The main culprit to this bout of anxiety was Jack Grealish. I said many times, maybe even here, that if we needed the result today it would be Grealish that would put the sword to us. Thank heavens we didn’t need anything today, because when Grealish fired his shot past Fabianski it felt like his destiny.
West Ham 0
Aston Villa 1
The part of the story nobody saw was the looping, deflected effort by Yarmolenko seconds later that somehow found the space between the goal and Reina’s outstretched hand.
West Ham 1
Aston Villa 1
Villa won a corner in the first of the four minutes of added time, and they did what they needed to do. Play keep away, which they did for roughly a minute. Even then they kept the ball in the West Ham half, and the clock kept ticking. West Ham looked utterly disinterested in trying to score a winner. Although a winner would have put us ahead of Brighton and given 2 million pounds to our esteemed board!
West Ham 1
Aston Villa 1
It has to be said that Bournemouth have every right to feel hard done by. I say that because of the goal scored by Sheffield United on the first day of Project Restart that VAR didn’t catch. Obviously we don’t know if the game would have ended 1-0 had VAR not bottled it so badly. Sport doesn’t work like that. But the fact that the video system that was created LITERALLY to make sure that such potentially catastrophic things don’t happen failed. It simply failed. And Bournemouth may never recover.
But to kind of paraphrase my friend Sean Whetstone on Moore Than Just A Podcast, this isn’t a Bournemouth match report. It’s a West Ham match report.
The losses to Wolves and Spurs sounded many alarms in Claret & Blue. Mine included. But the past six games have been good, and as it turned out we bloody well needed it. 39 points is nothing to feel chuffed about. But the performances over the last six matches gives us reason to think we may achieve something we never had under the absurd leadership of GSB.
Moyes has talked about the Red Bull model of buying younger players from lower divisions and developing them into top flight talents. But Red Bull have a plan behind it. They buy specific players with specific traits to suit specific needs. That’s why it works for them. Will our plan be similar? Or will specific players be defined by who is represented by Will Salthouse or some other favored agent? Considering how Sullivan in particular laments the power of agents he depends on them almost entirely. And if the latter is the case, will Moyes be able to shut that nonsense down? Time will tell. Thankfully the new season is only 7 weeks away, so I’d like to believe the good form we ended this season with has a better chance of carrying over to September 12th.
While I sarcastically said that if we go down I at least would get my weekends back since only limited matches are shown here for The Championship. But I would have missed this. The interaction with my friends in the UK has been very valuable to me during this awful time. I’ve been lucky to be able to stay home, and that my wife and children are OK. But chatting with Nigel and others about football was as normal as normal could get for me. Yes, we would have still done that had we gone down. But I wouldn’t have seen that much, so my participation would have been limited. I’m glad I get to keep that.
Take care everyone. Stay safe. Hug your family a couple of extra times, kids especially if you have any. Pets can fill in nicely if you don’t. I’ll be back in September, maybe earlier if I have something useful to say.