Tribute

Francois Van der Elst 1954-2017

Former West Ham United forward Francois Van der Elst has passed away at the age of 62.

Francois Van der Elst was born in Opwijk, Belgium on the 1st December 1954 and joined Anderlecht at the age of 15, winning two national titles and four cups between 1971 and 1980. He also won the European Cup Winners’ Cup twice, in 1976 and 1978. The first of these finals was against West Ham United with the 21-year-old ‘Swat’, as he was known in his home country, scoring twice. Van der Elst scored 20 goals in 43 European games for Anderlecht and was widely regarded as the best forward in the Belgian league.

At the age of 25, Van der Elst left Anderlecht to sign for New York Cosmos where he played with the likes of Dutch midfielder Johan Neeskens and German legend Franz Beckenbauer. He also helped Belgium to second place in the 1980 European Championships and was part of the World Cup squad at Spain ’82. He scored 14 goals in 44 appearances for the Belgian national side having made his debut on 31st October 1973 in a 2-0 win over Norway played on his home ground at Anderlecht. Eight of his caps were won during his time at West Ham, with his final appearance for his country coming as a Lokeren player on 9th November 1983.

After a year in the States, the 27-year-old Van der Elst moved to England and to West Ham United for a fee of £400,000. He made his debut on 16th January 1982 as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Brighton in the First Division and scored his first goal for the club in his sixth appearance, in a 2-1 loss at Stoke on the 6th February 1982. That was the first of a spell that saw the Belgian score five goals in ten matches before the end of March 1982.

His only full campaign in claret and blue was a memorable one – he played 47 games, scored 12 goals and the Hammers finished eighth in the First Division. He notched four goals in as many games between 11th September and 2nd October as the Hammers thrashed Birmingham 5-0 at home, won 2-1 at West Brom, beat Man City 4-1 and won 3-2 at Arsenal. ‘Frankie’ also scored a hat-trick in the 3-3 League Cup fourth round draw at Notts County on 7th December 1982. His signing and goal at Tottenham is covered at the 1:27 mark of the video below.

Frankie scored in each of his last two matches at the Boleyn Ground, in a 2-0 triumph over Notts County on 7th May 1983 and in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal three days later. His final Hammers appearance came at the age of 28 in a 4-2 win at Coventry on the 14th May 1983. After 70 appearances and 17 goals in all competitions for West Ham United, Van der Elst returned to his homeland, signing for Lokeren, with whom he stayed until his retirement from playing at the age of 30 in 1985 due to a fractured leg.

After his career, Van der Elst owned a snooker and billiards bar in his hometown of Opwijk. He still attended Hammers matches on occasion and had close ties with the Belgian Hammers supporters group. On New Years’ Day he collapsed and was resuscitated by a medical emergency team before being placed in an induced coma. After a period in intensive care, he eventually died from the sustained heart damage.

Former team-mate Sir Trevor Brooking said: “John Lyall managed to bring Francois in the season after we won promotion, adding to what was already a very good side. Technically he was very good and his style of play suited the way that John wanted to play. He was also a popular lad among the squad, well-liked by everyone, and obviously had an affinity with the supporters who saw him as the type of player suited to West Ham. It’s sad to hear of his loss, and obviously my condolences go to his family at this time".

Ex-Hammer Tony Cottee stated: “Francois was a lovely guy. He was in the team when I made my debut against Spurs, so I’ve obviously got great memories of that, and he was great to play with – very creative and skilful. I also remember him breaking my heart in the 1976 Cup Winners’ Cup Final though, when he scored two great goals for Anderlecht. There were a few tears in my house that night! It was a bit surreal to be playing with him just over six years later. He wasn’t at West Ham for too long but he made an impact and was a big favourite with the fans. He was one of those who paved the way for the future foreign players to come in – a genuine top player who was a success here and he won’t be forgotten”.

Former Iron Ray Stewart also paid tribute to his friend: “It’s terribly sad news and tragic for his family to have lost him at the age of just 62. Frankie was a great player and a great guy, too. I got really friendly with him as we lived near each other in Brentwood and used to travel in to training together. I used to drop him off at the airport if he was heading back to Belgium for whatever reason, and he’d let me use his car while he was away! We just clicked as pals, he was very easy to get along with and we spent a lot of time together. As a player, he was wonderful to play with, very intelligent, skilful and really fitted into the way that we played under John Lyall at West Ham then. I’d not spoken to him for a good few years but I still thought about him and all the good times we shared – I have so many great memories from that time”.

Francois Van der Elst passed away on Wednesday 11th January at the age of 62. I am sure all WHTID readers will join me in sending condolences and best wishes to Francois’ family and friends at this sad time.


The S J Chandos Column

We all acknowledge Payet's importance, but lets not forget Kouyate's value to the side!

Well, what can you say about that ‘performance’ (or rather lack of it) against Man City? Just when you think the team have turned a corner, all the old faults and weaknesses re-emerge. We hoped that the nightmare experienced against Arsenal had been put behind us, then we had to watch that total debacle against City. There were certain similarities between the two matches, in that we were competitive until we conceded and then too many heads dropped and a rout ensued. However, for me the biggest common denominator in both matches was the absence of Kouyate and the power, strength and momentum that he brings to the side. While Payet is crucial to our creativity and forward play, perhaps it is time that there was greater recognition of Kouyate’s importance to the energy, physicality and cohesion of the side. In my last column, I expressed concerns about his month long absence, at the African Cup of Nations, and the City defeat served to cruelly underline the point. Lets just pray that Kouyate returns from the ACON (at the earliest possible opportunity) fit and uninjured.

I had hoped that the combination of Obiang and Noble in midfield would compensate for the loss of Kouyate’s power, industry and drive. Unfortunately Bilic did not start Noble and we fell well short. Kouyate is probably the only player of his sort in the current squad; a tall, powerful player, with natural drive/aggression to his game. He is equally comfortable playing as a centre-back, a defensive anchor or a box-to-box midfielder, who is capable of getting forward to score important goals. Arguably, last Friday night’s result underlines the fact that we need another player of Kouyate’s stamp. And fortunately, we have a firm recommendation from the man himself. Kouyate recently praised Anderlecht’s Kara Mbodji’s qualities and suitability for the PL. Mbodji is 6ft 3 inches tall and is an absolute power house on the pitch. Moreover, like Kouyate, his fellow Senegalese international, can play centre-back, as a defensive midfielder and, further forward, as a central midfielder. If James Collins departs to Crystal Palace this January, Mbodj would be an ideal centre-back replacement and, vitally, provide cover for Kouyate in midfield. Yes, Mbodji is currently also part of Senegal’s ACON squad and that might be a consideration. However, if he is the right option, at the right price (he is likely to be available for c.£5m-6m – subject to January’s inflationary prices), then we would have to muddle through until he is available in early February (and even earlier if Senegal are eliminated from ACON). Alternatively, we should look for another player of very similar physical and footballing qualities.

As I write, it appears that Zaza, Calleri and Tore have (or will have) their loan spells cut short. While it looks as if a move (loan, with a view to a permanent deal) to Roma may be on the cards for Feghouli and the club also look to be open to offers for Adrian. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the club has suffered due to the shortcomings of the last summer transfer window. The recruitment was just not good enough (in total contrast to the previous two summer windows) and the consequences are that we are having to attempt to ameliorate the mistakes this January. And we all know that is not a comfortable position to find yourself in and lets hope that the club are able to do it, even if it likely means recruiting at inflated fees.

The players that we are being linked with in this window are legion, including Defoe, Hogan, Batshuayi, Jenkinson, etc. To date (if reports for to be believed) West Ham have already had three bids rejected for both Defoe and Hogan. And that is the nature of the January window, it is essentially a sellers market and selling clubs are able to play ‘hard ball’ on fees. I would welcome the addition of Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea, but there is a suggestion that they may try to link the deal to a permanent move for Antonio and that is not a price worth paying. Antonio has been one of the positives, so far, this season and we cannot afford to lose him from the squad. If we can get Batshuayi on a stand alone deal then great, but otherwise we should pass on the opportunity.

Who would I like to see us recruit this January? There is talk of a January loan deal for Chelsea keeper, Asmir Begovic, and a subsequent c.£15m summer deal for Joe Hart. Adrian’s fall from favour is a sad and rapid development, but there is no doubting that the erratic nature of his keeping came to the fore this season and it has costs us points. However, he is still one of the best ‘reaction save’ keepers around; it is just a pity that he is not more disciplined and dominating in the box. Can he rectify those faults in his game? I would have hoped so, but it very much looks as if his time at the club is coming to an end. Whether Bilic decides on making a change in January or sticks with Adrian and Randolph until the summer will be revealed in due course.

One of the most pertinent criticisms of the summer recruitment was that it was too exclusively focused on the forward positions, at the expense of addressing our defensive vulnerabilities. It is widely acknowledged that we have insufficient cover at right-back. There are numerous rumours about loan or permanent bids for right-backs such as Jenkinson and Iorfa. There is no doubt that there is a need for cover and competition for Sam Byram, at right-back/wing-back and it has been a problem position at the club for some considerable time. That now needs to be rectified and it is just a question of whether the club go for a more experienced option like Jenkinson or opt for the undoubted potential of a player such as Iorfa. There are strong arguments in favour of both options. Iorfa has the potential to become a top class right-back and he has local/Essex connections, being born and raised in Southend. While Jenkinson is older/more experienced and has previously played for the club. Furthermore, it is possible that Jenkinson could be available on a loan deal, with a option to buy in the summer, which would help the January transfer budget to stretch that bit further.

While we have a quality option at left-back/wing-back in the form of Cresswell, are we really convinced by the cover/competition? The club brought in Arthur Masuaku in the summer, but he has struggled with injuries and looked out of his depth in the PL. Perhaps he needs more time to adapt, and an extended period injury free, before we can judge his ultimate suitability. At the same time, young prospects such as Stephen Hendrie and Lewis Page have failed to impress and have been loaned out or sold. Perhaps Bilic will prioritise a right-back in January and continue with Cresswell-Masuaku until the summer. If Masuaku then exits, recruiting a left-back like Leeds Utd’s Charlie Taylor may be on the agenda in the summer.

At centre-back, we could continue with the Reid-Ogbonna-Colins-Oxford combination. However, as previously stated, there may be a bid for Collin’s services by Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace. At 33 years of age, a decent bid could very well prove successful for the Welsh international. If that is the case, we will need a similiarly powerful centre-back to replace him. Yes, we have the emerging potential of Oxford and Burke, but the most immediate priority is to strengthen our squad for the remainder of this season. Burke will not be back with the club until next season and I suspect that while Oxford will eventually grow in to a top-class centre-back, his best and most immediate first team opportunities will in the defensive-midfield role. For that reason, I would go for a powerful centre-back such as Kara Mbodji, especially if (like him) they can also be deployed as a defensive or central midfielder.

In defence/midfield Nordtvelt has not particularly impressed so far, but it is likely he will be given more time. Generally, we are probably ok in central midfield until the summer, providing that we do not lose anyone. It is just a pity that a young, hungry youngster like Josh Cullen is not currently at the club and pushing established players for a starting place. His performances on loan for Bradford City have been very good and hopefully that will be beneficial for his long-term development. It is just that he is as good (if not better better) a prospect as Harry Winks at Spurs and I suspect he could and should have had PL/cup exposure this season. As stated, the talk of selling/swapping Antonio is a total nonsense, to sell our top scorer would be madness and his pace and strength up front cannot be easily replaced. So, the club must stand firm on that issue, but it is likely that we will lose other wide players such as Feghouli and Tore. So we need at least one wide player and the favoured option seems to be Hull City’s star player, Robert Snodgrass. Snodgrass is a very good player, but has tended to play for less fashionable PL clubs. I believe that Snodgrass could finally realise his full potential with West Ham, playing alongside the likes of Payet and Lanzini. Plus, he has the versatility to play not only on the right flank, but right across the front line. It is all about possessing more class options in the squad, with greater strength-in-depth to promote competition and give quality cover; rather than considerations about ‘who would be selected over who’ in a ideal first team XI. Nor is it a ‘problem’ to have more then one player that is a dead ball/set piece specialist. I am sure Bilic would welcome more of those type of problems! Regardless, whether you favour Snodgrass, or other options, the fact remains that we probably need to recruit least one new wide player this January.

However, the vast majority of media/social media speculation has focused on the Hammers recruiting one or two new strikers this January. As I write it seems that Brentford’s Scott Hogan (on a £12.5m-15m permanent deal) and Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi (on loan) seem to be the favoured options. The speculation around a possible deal for Defoe seems to have abated. Essentially, Defoe was seen by the club as a quick (and short-term) fix up front. However, Sunderland have predictably resisted West Ham’s overtures, because they obviously see Defoe as central to their PL survival chances this season. The only way that a deal might be sparked is if the player himself submitted a transfer request, but that does not appear to have happened to date. Perhaps he fears a back lash from irate Sunderland fans? That is understandable considering the fall out, and continuing legacy, of the circumstances in which he exited West Ham in 2004.

As stated previously, I would gamble on Hogan and happily take Batshuayi on loan (providing Antonio is not part of the deal). Hogan has excelled as a goal scorer in the Championship and he could join Cresswell and Antonio as excellent additions from the 2nd tier. The only proviso is that there is no long-term issues relating to his previous knee injuries. We must not recruit another injury prone striker, whether that is Hogan or a more established PL striker like Sturridge. The issue with Batshuayi (apart from the Antonio link) is his match fitness and form. His match time this season has been very low at Chelsea and it has obviously affected his fitness, confidence and form. However, if he is sufficiently fit, only game time will rectify those other issues. If all goes well, we could recruit a classy striker and with an hunger to prove a point about his ability to excel in the PL. And that would only be a good thing.

If he does excel for us, it is unlikely Chelsea would be open to a permanent deal in the summer. But, on the other hand, knowing Chelsea, if they recruit another mega million pound super striker and they might just decide to cash in on Batshuayi. If that happened, we would then be in pole position to seal a permanent move. Alternatively, Batshuayi goes back to his parent club in the summer and we try to secure a big deal for a top striker like Inter-Milan’s Mauro Icardi.

Maybe the Hogan-Batshuayi emphasis is a false one and other options will emerge out of left field, who knows? What we do know is both Bilic and Sullivan have confirmed that, ideally, in January there will be (1) a emphasis upon recruiting British/UK based players and (2) a minimum of three new players recruited. I agree with the policy of recruiting a majority of British/UK based talent in this window, as they have the best chance of quickly settling and having a maximum positive impact. As for the target figure of three recruits, that is likely to translate in to a right-back, a wide midfielder and at least one striker. However, will three recruits be enough to address all the needs/lack in the current squad? Almost certainly not. To do that we would probably need to recruit five or six. With a central defender and a second striker being added to the wish list. While the factor x in the equation is the goal keeping position? Will other pressing priorities see the Adrian-Randolph combination continue until the end of the season, with a big goal keeping addition being planned in the summer?

Three, four, five, six ….. this would be the required scale of signings to address all of the issues in the squad caused by a bad summer recruitment. However, the likelihood is that the difficult nature of the January window will actually see recruitment of three or less new players. If that is the case, we must prioritise the most pressing positions, get by elsewhere for the remainder of this season and then address the remaining substantive issues in the summer.

I just hope that the club’s management and board have learnt the lessons of last summer and ensure in future they get the recruitment right at that juncture and just use the winter window to make minor adjustments/sign players of quality that unexpectedly become available. Also, from next summer, the emphasis must be firmly upon quality over numbers and ultimately that costs. Hopefully, the quality of our youth system will produce more high quality home grown talent and make some transfer expenditure unnecessary. Although the best possible policy is to strike a successful balance between the two strategies (quality youngsters and top class signings).

But first lets complete good and effective business in this transfer window, get through the remainder this season (ideally with a top ten finish) and then re-group and refocus our ambitions/targets in 2017-18.

S.J. Chandos


Talking Point

Searching for a solution

First, let me start by wishing everyone a happy new year. Work and family commitments haven’t allowed me to write as much as I hoped for recently, but I’ll be doing the best I can to contribute on a regular basis again.

The problem

Our issues have been widely reported and well covered by the writers on here. Moral, effort, passion, concentration, consistency are all under scrutiny and the team seems disorganised and uninspired far too often.

Too many players have become passengers and it feels like the squad lacks in leadership and discipline.

The questions about Payet’s commitment and motivation can’t be ignored, neither can the impact they are having on the team. Bilic has publicly backed Payet as our best player, consistently praising his ability in press conferences and various media outlets. With Payet appearing disinterested at times and with several questionable interviews where he fails to show commitment to the club, how does that affect the team? I wouldn’t feel too pleased if I was part of the squad and felt that our talisman was looking to jump ship.

One question I’ve been asking recently is, “is Bilic too nice?” An impossible question to answer, I know, but it does worry me. Are the best managers disciplinarians? Conte, Mourinho, Koeman, Diego Simeone, Guardiola, Klopp (the most charismatic of the managers but still a disciplinarian), Ferguson; you wouldn’t want to cross any of these would you?

At the start of his tenure, Bilic exiled Amalfitano for apparent disciplinary issues. This set the tone and as an unknown entity, Bilic demanded respect. Since the end of his first season, his image became considerably softer, especially over the Euros with his charismatic and unorthodox style of commentary.

Is this a factor in our recent struggles? It’s very hard to say, but Bilic’s demeanour this season has seemed repressed, and it could very well be an issue.

Another area under the microscope is Bilic’s efforts in turning the new training ground into a family friendly environment. Is this sending out the right message? Are we implementing tried and tested methodology here or are we breaking new ground in untested areas? The same could be asked of our fitness coaching and methods. With such a high number of injuries, and players almost consistently appearing far from full match fitness, does this need addressing?

It’s possible to go on all day speculating, and I really don’t mean any of this to come across negatively. They are just areas that stand out to me.

The players

There’s not enough time to evaluate each player individually, but it’s fair to say that aside from Reid, Randolph, Obiang, Fernandes and Antonio, the players have struggled to varying degrees.

Some have struggled with form, others with effort and some with both. Too many need to look inwardly and demand more. This comes down partly to Bilic and his ability to motivate and get the most out of his players. It doesn’t appear at present that he is, but with new arrivals in January and some departures, he has the perfect opportunity to catalyse change.

The club

Arguably the biggest overhaul needed is within the club. The owners, the engagement with the fans, the stadium, our image and our PR all need considerable work.

Again, I won’t go into this now, but it’s clear for all to see that our image needs improving as well as our conduct in the media.

The solution

This is my personal view on what steps we should take to move forward successfully.

Become humble. Our owners have to understand the damage that some of their conduct is causing. We are a family club and there is no problem with ambition, but it has to be plausible and build on a solid foundation. We can’t just brand London on the badge and roll into a new stadium – which itself is a bone of huge contention within the media – and start claiming we’re a big club. Like most things in life, success has to be earned.

Reconnect with the fans. The transition to the new stadium has been handled very poorly and steps need to be made to address the numerous issues. Other than the stadium itself, none seem insurmountable and this will provide an opportunity for the board to show the fans that they’re making positive steps in the right direction.

Outs and in’s

A shake-up in the squad is necessary and an injection of talent, coupled with an ejection of deadwood, can provide a huge confidence boost.

It’s been widely reported that Feghouli cold move on. If the rumours of a £10-11million sale to Roma are correct, then that represents a good return on a player that came in for free in the summer. I personally think that he has more to offer than we’ve seen but if that money can be reinvested wisely, then it represents good business.

I’m a big fan of Robbie Brady and a player with his experience and grit would add a lot of fighting spirit to the squad. He’s capable of playing anywhere down the left and even centrally or on the right wing if needed.

I also think it’s important that we have a left winger in the team. Payet dominates this spot but I think we need to bring him central, behind the striker/strikers. He is an expert at playing in-between the lines and he wouldn’t need to track back as he does on the wing. He would need to defend from the front but this is different and he would be afforded more freedom in this role.

With Zaza, Tore and Calleri looking certain to depart, we free up £110,000-140,000 in wages and three spaces in the squad. If Feghouli departed then we will need three to four new faces, but will have another £35-40,000 in the kitty.

Another player under question is Ogbonna. For me, he has failed to improve sufficiently since signing and although I don’t think January is the time, should a suitable opportunity arise, I would consider selling him and bringing in another centre back. Next season will be Collin’s last, if he remains, and with Oxford and Burke pushing for the first team, a one-in-one-out should be ample over the summer.

Right back

The first area we need to address is at right back. Jenkinson on loan to the end of the season seems sensible. Trippier would be a great buy, but I cannot see Spurs allowing him to leave, especially to us.

Jenkinson would bring experience and stability. Arsenal seem happy to sanction a loan or permanent deal, so we would have the option to make it permanent in the summer should he impress. He would also settle quickly, having spent time at the club previously.

Other options would be Debuchy, Iorfa (Wolves) or an attempt to bring in Glen Johnson or Sagna who are both reaching the end of their contracts.

Striker

The second area we need to strengthen is up front. Defoe would be a superb signing, but I cannot see this happening. He is arguably Sunderland’s only hope of survival, and I’m not convinced that he will try to force through a move.

Scott Hogan appears to be an exciting prospect and I like that fact that he has Championship experience. Both the Championship and Premier League share a similar level of physicality and this can help players, especially strikers, adapt quickly.

This transfer comes with risk, of course. A high fee, reported to be £12.5-15million, and an inconsistent injury record leave cause for concern, but there’s something about this I like and it’s another home grown, British player that will hopefully bring plenty of fighting spirit.

Another player that I rate highly is Shane Long. For around the £10million mark we could get a proven Premier League striker and a player that ticks most of the boxes we need. He’s a poacher, he plays on the shoulder of the last defender and his pace unsettles defences. He could realistically be our best and safest option in January.

Javier Hernandez, previously of Manchester Utd and currently at Bayer Leverkusen, is an ambitious target, but worth a mention. An article by HITC mentions that Bild – a reputable and leading source on German football – reported Leverkusen were considering his sale, with a reported fee in the region of £21million (http://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2017/01/09/despite-denials-west-ham-untied-should-try-and-lure-javier-herna/). This would be a long shot, but he’s a proven goalscorer and may be tempted back to a league in which he enjoyed several fruitful seasons.

Winger

As mentioned previously, I’m a fan of Robbie Brandy and think we could do far worse than bring him to the club. He would again inject some steel and fight to the team and provide cover across several positions. He’s got pace, a superb delivery and can score goals. Snodgrass has also been covered by the media and while he is a good player, his lack of pace concerns me.

If we did sell Feghouli then we would need to bring in another winger and Brady could be a good option if we can prise him away from Norwich.

Conclusion

January can provide the foundation for an improved campaign. The squad is disjointed and refreshing the ranks with good quality players has the potential to reinvigorate the players, as well as cover huge gaps in the squad – right back and striker – that have proved costly all season.

The second half of the season can be seen as a fresh start and a new challenge. This psychology can be used to our advantage and with new faces and competition for places, we can really kick on.

The team need to pick themselves up after the City game and prepare for Palace. For the first 30 minutes of the City game we were a well structured, aggressive, potent team. We need to learn from what happened afterwards and focus on what we did right and find a way to replicate this consistently.

Allardyce deserves a warm welcome Saturday, but let’s make sure that’s all he walks away with. Palace aren’t on top form either, but they’ll be well structured and hard to break down. Hopefully, Byram will be match fit and we can start with a full back four for the first time in a long while. This will make a lot of difference and I’m confident that we can kick on from here, with a big piece of the puzzle back in place. The rest needs work, but let’s stay confident and get behind the team and the manager, no matter what.

COYI


Talking Point

Confidence Trick

Blind Hammer looks at the fragile state of West Ham’s Confidence and argues recruitment is the key.

A recurrent theme in analysing our performances this season is the lack of confidence running through the team. Bilic has spoken openly about the problem, describing us as playing with the “cramps”. David Gold has on several occasions addressed the issue in his Twitter account.

The confidence of the owners in Bilic is draining fast if we are to believe the leaks coming out of the club. Apparently Bilic has the Palace and Middlesbrough games to save his job. Quite how these leaks are supposed to help Bilic or the team mystifies me. I suspect Bilic, a highly intelligent and analytical man, does not need to be told his job is under threat, and leaks of this kind will only increase the level of fear in the squad and reduce any personal confidence Bilic retains. What I do hope is that these leaks about shipping Bilic out are backed by a realistic managerial backup strategy. Suggestions that Benitez will dump Newcastle now to move to us are as much fantasy now as the suggestion we would realistically recruit Klopp. As far as I can see the only realistic emergency Bilic replacement would be Pardew which would be ironic from all sorts of standpoints. I certainly do not think they should be taking a punt on an unproven foreign or Championship manager without Premiership experience. Whether Pardew would organise the squad any more than Bilic is a moot point. If they are genuinely looking at Pardew at an option then he needs to be consulted now about recruitment.

However the owners need to also take a look at themselves in their approval of transfer policy. Recruitment has to be the key now for boosting confidence in the squad. There are all sorts of other strategies for boosting confidence but by far the quickest and most immediate fix is to ship out players with confidence shorn, and bring in more resilient players. In this context releasing players is as important as recruiting appropriate replacements.

There is a complex nest of tangle reasons which may underlie our under-performance this season but it is through the transfer window that we can start to address confidence. Although Bilic is under tactical pressure that he is not responding to, it is fundamentally the deficiencies of the current squad which underlies our current difficulties.

At root our recruitment has failed to keep up with the increased competitiveness of the rest of the Premiership. Many, myself included, tended to assumed that the standard of the Premiership would remain at a similar level. Over the summer we approvingly compared our squad with previous West Ham squads, what we should have done was compare ourselves to other squads developing around the rest of the league. We underestimated the impact of the explosion of TV money.

Having said that, I was very unhappy about the Summer Transfer strategy. I am an ignoramus in terms of scouting football talent but in the Summer, simply based on blind observations of players performing against us I wanted to club to recruit 5 players. For Better or worse these are the players I nominated at the time. Christian Benteke, Loïc Remy, Robbie Brady, and Andros Townsend. I obviously knew we needed a right back, as we still do, but did not have sufficient knowledge of the players available and suitable.

I am convinced that within the West Ham Squad all these players would have been able to thrive, and have been mystified as to how Palace have managed to hoover up most of this talent whilst we have been left struggling with expensive unproven gambles with no Premiership credentials. At the time of writing it appears that Allardyce is moving in for Brady also.

Palace in fact, despite struggling have done much better transfer business, especially as they have realistically bid for and got Remy on loan from Chelsea, whilst we have been making speculative bids for Defoe which is highly unlikely to materialise.

I am now convinced that last summer we should have paid the money for Benteke rather than saving £5 million to take a punt on Zaza, who would have cost £25 million anyway if he had worked out. My backup choice if we really could not afford was Boni.

Now I am not saying any of these players would have set the Premiership alight, but I am reasonably confident that they would have been better than the gambles we invested in and I am sure we would have been in a better position because what all these players would have brought with them was premiership experience and confidence rather than attempting to find their way in an unfamiliar country /league.
So in this Window we, the Board as well as Bilic, need to redress these shortcomings. Unfortunately our stinker of a record over the summer appears to be repeating already. We have already missed out on Remy who has gone to Palace. We are in direct competition with Palace for Premiership survival but appear to be floundering in their wake in achieving the necessary recruitment. The club have apparently identified Snodgrass as recruitment to boost the squad, which is fair enough. He ticks the boxes of a confident experienced player with premiership experience which may enhance the resilience of our squad. However whilst we have place a joke bid for Snodgrass at £3 million, which Hull will obviously ignore, Palace, according to a report I have read have already placed an initial bid of £9million.

Palace appear to be identifying key targets early and bidding realistically whilst we are messing around trying to grad a player on the cheap.

Talking about identifying players early, I am astonished that we are nearly half way through the transfer window and we have failed to bring in a proper right back. The fact that we have conceded numerous points this season because we have not had proper cover at right back is not a recent revelation. We have known this for months. More importantly we are squandering he talents of our most potent attacking player in Antonio. However I am alarmed that we are apparently, according to some reports, looking to re-recruit Jenkinson. We need another player low on confidence like we need a hole in the head.

I am also worried about us allegedly chasing Hogan from Brenford. Again I hope that they know what they are doing but I am reminded that Carlton Cole and even Sam Baldock could effectively score goals in the Championship, but the Premiership is a completely different proposition. If Hogan was being bought for the future to develop and bring into the team then fair enough but they need a proven forward now rather than one for the future. Hogan smacks of half-hearted desperation; he is a gamble at a time when we should not be gambling.

If you are going to panic buy in January it should be a proper panic. I would be banging on Watford’s door for Troy Deaney and putting a serious bid of £30 million in which would tempt them rather than compete with Watford for Hogan’s signature. Deaney may be a poor man’s Andy Carroll but at
Least he would have proven talents to bring to the table.

This is potentially the most important transfer window in the Club’s history. Relegation in the context of the new Stadium would be a crippling blow, and we must not be under any illusions, relegation is likely to be a threat well into the later stages of the season.

So solid, experienced, if unspectacular recruitment needs to be the key in the next 2 weeks. The players we bring in must be evaluated for the content of their character and personality as much as their ability. The emotional and psychological resilience of the squad has to be increased. We cannot keep collapsing like a disappointed toddler every time we go behind in a game.

Reid clearly has to take over the Captain’s responsibilities from Noble, given his apparent inability to hack it now as a premiership midfielder, but more leaders need to be recruited. Arbeloa in a recent interview in the Guardian complained that the atmosphere in the West Ham dressing room was “too nice”. The struggles ahead need experienced, hardnosed hard guys who have been there and done it before.

This window is too important for gambles like Hogan, go for proven premiership experience. We may have to return to keeping it tight and winning ugly. Needs must for this season, it will not be before next season that the full fruits of a confidence recovery and free flowing football will return.

So the pressure is as much, as far as I am concerned, on the Board, for this transfer window. We have to perform the trick of buying in the confidence we need.
COYI

David Griffith


The HamburgHammer Column

We've had Payet - I just don't think anyone understood, including our board

Warning ahead: Usually my posts tend and try to be rather positive, but this one may get rather gloomy and our atrocious performance against Man City was merely the latest punch, not the main reason for my downcast demeanour here. Quick positive sidenote (obviously not West Ham related): My Concordia boys won their first football of 2017, a local indoors tournament against nine other local sides. The 300 quid or whatever the winning fee was will come in handy for the clubs finances…:-)

Now then, where to begin in terms of my beloved West Ham (or what is still left of it anyway) ? I will put my neck on the line here and predict that Dimitri Payet, one of the best players ever to wear the claret and blue, will be gone in January. I have no club source and neither do I socialise with Payet’s agent, but I look at Payet’s body language, especially compared to last season’s, I look at current performances and for me it is evident that this relationship is coming to an end. We all know he has signed a long term deal at West Ham, but if a player’s head’s been turned contracts don’t mean a lot anymore these days, they merely add a few millions to the transfer fee.

What I believe has happened is that Payet, like a lot of fans, players and Bilic, bought into the project of moving West Ham into the Olympic Stadium, growing and developing as a club, bringing in better players along the way and subsequently getting to the proverbial next level. Our board had (just like the one after the Boys of ’86 season) a window of opportunity to grow the club and take the next step forward. Instead we have gone cheap on the project though, cheap on the stadium rental deal, cheap on the new players coming in (a lot of them on loan deals, others being unknown quantities or young lads for the future). In that respect the board deceived not only Payet, but also the manager and last but not least, the fans who still forked out for season tickets and merchandise.

Our club has a plethora of issues to deal with and sort out. On various fronts. The matchday experience is still suffering from stewards not being used to oversee football games and subsequently antagonising a lot of fans in the process. The atmosphere is unlikely to improve significantly while the distance between the front row seats and the pitch remains as it is (which also goes for the gaps between Upper and Lower tier). It’d also help if fans were made to feel welcome to attend games as actual football fans, not as audience members going to see a play at a theatre or a West End show.

I know that times have changed and are still changing, also in terms of watching football. We’ve gone from proper football grounds with standing terraces to all seaters, and now we seem to get to an era where West Ham fans are expected to sit all game, politely clap a great pass or a goal and otherwise remain shtum, but still buy loads of merchandise and overpriced food and drink. It’s not a trend I particularly agree with and like others it’ll cause me to make a decision if I still want to go and see games in person or prefer to watch from my armchair or in the company of fellow fans in a pub.

As for our club the cold hard truth is that while us fans are the one constant factor in the ups and downs of West Ham it actually no longer is our club. Our current owners have changed the club on so many fronts that it’s hard to find any reminders of the club most of us started supporting. They seem to have a very clear idea what the club should look like and especially what the new supporter should look and behave like.

I have said it before, but our board appear to be out of their depth of running a club playing in a 60K seater stadium. It requires a certain type of team to fill a stadium like that on a regular basis. Payet was a good start, but Payet cannot do it on his own. I am aware we are not in the financial situation (yet) to buy several 20-30 million players in one transfer window, but the least we could and should have done is to bring in players of a decent enough quality to bring out the best in Payet.
Payet losing interest is an indication we are moving in the wrong direction (coupled with the fact that most of the players who arrived in the summer have already left again or are in the process of leaving West Ham).

We have missed a massive window of opportunity in the summer and that window is closing fast now, Payet was the one to build the club around. If he really decides to leave we are back at square one. I find myself hoping for new owners more and more each day and while I know that we’ll still be stuck with the stadium at least we may be able to find owners who can actually back up their words with actions in the transfer market. How did we end up going from offering 25 or 30 million for Bacca to offering 3 million for Snodgrass (or money plus Fletcher who was supposed to be a great talent for the future) ?

It is yet another crucial game coming up, against our favourite former manager, Mr. Clean Sheet himself and a pretty weak Palace side. Of course I shall be watching and of course I will be rooting for a Hammers win of any sort really. But the truth is: West Ham winning or losing no longer stirs up the same kind of emotions it used to, not for me.
There are just too many things going on at West Ham now that seem to drive me away from the club emotionally. It’s a weird feeling.

I still love the club, of course I do! My interest may still wane further though as long as our current board are still in charge. Should they start to listen to the fans, my interest and involvement may grow again, also if new owners came in showing some respect for the fans, the history and traditions of our club, similar to what the owners at Man City did. I have seen some crap games, players and performances at West Ham in my time so far, but none of them had such a farfetching effect on my support than the current lot.

Let’s hope we get a few convincing wins under our belt to lift the mood. Let’s hope Bilic can turn things around and stay for a few more years. Let’s hope we bring in some decent signings in January to help him with that. And let’s hope we can regroup, even if Payet leaves West Ham. No man bigger than the club and all that!
Will West Ham ever be united again? COYI!

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