West Ham are quite rightly concerned with propagating the West Ham United brand on a global basis. Not least because merchandise/commercial income streams are unrestricted and allow the club to circumvent FFFP constraints and thus boost their transfer/salary budges. So, maximising overseas income could eventually help transform the financial position of the club. In English football, the pre-dominant club internationally is undoubtedly Manchester Utd, with an instantly recognisable brand, world-wide shirt sales, lucrative overseas tours and income streams to match. While Chelsea, for instance, are very visible in Africa and their coaching and charitable schemes are particularly strong in West African countries such as Ghana.
They are two leading examples, but of course, most of the PL clubs will have their own international strategies. For West Ham’s part, they have an existing tie-up with the second tier of US football and, in the past, have had partnership arrangements in Australia. This has served to raise the profile of the Hammers in those countries and also supplied football talent such as Stan Lazardis, Richard Garcia, the Tombides brothers and Sebastian Lletget. Those existing international links need to be radically expanded. And, of course, there are enormous potential financial rewards to be had in the emerging markets of China, the far east and the Indian Sub-Continent. Within this context, the club, and its charitable Trust, need to continue not only to connect with the sizeable Asian communities in local boroughs like Newham and Tower Hamlets, but also explore the possibility of overseas charitable/coaching activity in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There is a powerful symmetry in pursuing a dual strategy of combining engagement work with the Asian communities in East London (as part of delivering the 2012 sporting legacy) and coaching/charitable activity, further a field, in their countries of origin. With each strategy reinforcing the other to produce some very positive long-term outcomes in one of the key regions that the club should prioritise.
The English PL is an amazingly powerful product, eagerly consumed world-wide. It gives English clubs a great deal of positive exposure to a huge international audience. The clubs seek to build upon that with pre-season tours to their target continents/countries. This was obviously the thinking behind the current tour to New Zealand. And judging by the sizeable Hammers support at both matches it is clear that there is a strong foundation to build upon. Unfortunately, those Kiwi and Aussie fans, and the travelling UK contingent, were badly let down. Furthermore, it has to be said that the ineptitude of our performances on the pitch probably undermined the core commercial objectives of the tour. It is all well and good ‘winning friends and influencing people’ off the pitch, but those gains must be accompanied by positive performances on it. To be outplayed and defeated by two local teams (equivalent in standard to English League 2) does nothing to advance the club’s popularity in New Zealand and Australia. Quite the opposite, it holds us up to ridicule and probably affords the likes of Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea even more of an advantage in the region than they already possess.
The club’s board have made real efforts to improve the squad this summer and give the Manager the pre-requisite tools to play a more expansive game. The key question was always going to be whether the manager was capable of responding to the challenge? As I asked recently, can a leopard change his spots? Now, apparently, we are being told that the transition from one style of play to another takes time and it is the attempt to be more attacking/expansive that is making us vulnerable defensively! Funny that we were at our most attacking/expansive against Spurs, in the final match of last season, and yet still retained our defensive solidarity. Yet we (apparently) try the same approach in New Zealand and it causes a defensive shambles against far weaker opposition! The truth is that in the two matches in New Zealand there was no discernible new approach, it looked very much like the same abject tactics that we suffered for the majority of last season.
There are presently clear tensions within the club. Not only with respect to playing style, but also last season’s transfer strategy, the decision (allegedly) to buy Zarate and the issue of whether to try to retain the services of Ravel Morrison. The compromise reached, at the end of last season, was clearly designed to paper over board room differences on the wisdom of continuing with the present management. However, there was always the probability that this would flounder as a result of old inclinations/propensities re-asserting themselves. And we have arguably started to see that occur, albeit it more quickly than one might have anticipated. The obvious example being the managerial declaration (presumably without prior consultation?) that Ravel Morrison was not part of the club’s first team plans this season. It was interesting to see David Sullivan respond so swiftly to confirm that the board do actually see Morrison as an part of their plans and the manager’s subsequent public climb down.
Can board and manager (to one degree or another) continue with the uneasy compromise reached in May? Or will the tensions lead to managerial change sooner rather than later? In my opinion the board must hold their line on playing style, getting Morrison signed to a new contract and ensuring Zarate is not marginalised. If that results in a parting of the ways with the manager then so be it. West Ham cannot afford to continue with last season’s one-dimensional football, as they gear up for the move to the OS. That will not fill 60,000 seats on a regular basis nor win new international support/commercial income. To help change their style they need to deploy the vision, skill and technique of a player like Zarate. His goal in the first match in NZ was excellent and an obvious example of the type of flair, skill and lethal finishing we have been lacking. They also need to persevere with a talent of Morrison’s magnitude. The idea of him leaving and fans having to endure the spectacle of him realising his potential with another club is horrendous to contemplate. Morrison’s PL career may ultimately fall short of expectations, but there is also a very good chance that he could mature and realise his potential. The club should definitely make every effort to sign him to a new contract. It would be a great pity to lose a major young English talent on the assessment of a manager who is almost certainly in his final season with the club.
It is a myth that we have to play like last season to survive in the PL. We are at a stage now where we not only need to survive, but move forward and prosper. The signing of Enner Valencia (subject to a work permit) is a very good move. David Sullivan, from his reported comments, obviously sees the signing of one or two extra strikers (adding extra height) as a priority following Carroll’s injury. And that is probably the correct call, but I would be fascinated to see how Zarate/Valencia/Downing can combine, as a front three, with Morrison playing just behind them. However, for that strike force to work, we need to pass the ball and employ an approach a bit more sophisticated than launching aimless high balls in to the opposition box. Which neatly brings us back, full-circle, to the question of playing style and whether the current management can deliver on the board’s ambitions? And if not, when it will finally be decided that enough is enough?