The Blind Hammer Column

Moyes Departs – Zola and Grant Revisited?

Blind Hammer questions David Sullivan’s expectations.

Expectations are the most dangerous element in football. Every club should have ambition but the tricky thing is adjusting these ambitions to achieve progress. Inappropriate expectations underlie the disasters which have seen many clubs tumble from the Premiership to protracted periods in the championship or even lower.

Three weeks ago a multi web site poll revealed only a small minority of West Ham supporters wanted to extend Moyes contract. Given he was, at appointment, a remarkably unpopular choice, this was not that surprising. He had much to do to win over some of us.

Nevertheless the picture by Sunday was less straightforward. A strong end to the season saw the Irons pick up a crucial 7 out of 9 points, and equally surprisingly turn on the style in the games against Leicester and Everton.

I give no credence to anybody who downplays these performances. The more I look at the Leicester game the more impressive it seems. This was a Leicester team that West Ham dominated and largely nullified. Our much vilified defence, criticised by me as much as anybody, barely gave them a sniff. Yet this was a Leicester team that, only a few days later, convincingly put 3 goals past Arsenal to win and spoil Wenger’s final week. This same Leicester, so ineffectual against us, then romped into a 3-1 lead against Tottenham at Wembley. In the end their efforts against Arsenal only 72 hours earlier, caught up with them. They became leggy and suffered a late collapse. The fact is that, however, we had made a team look impotent which had then proceeded to score 7 goals against Arsenal and Tottenham in the space of 3 days.

Talking of late collapses and fitness, the lack of this discussion in relation to West Ham is an indication of the transformation that Moyes and his team have engineered. No pundit talked of tiredness against Everton despite performing only 72 hours after a high intensity battel against Manchester United. Mourinho had responded to Thursdays’ exertions by making 9 changes. Moyes, in contrast, went with the same 11. Yet at no time did West Ham seem more leggy or unfit despite the advantage Everton enjoyed of a full week to prepare. More significantly nobody, to my surprise, even mentioned it as an issue. Whatever else Allardyce would have done he would not have allowed slackness in fitness. I am convinced that a West Ham team 12 months earlier would have struggled with the demands of playing 2 games within 72 hours.

What I have never had any doubts about is Moyes’s abilities and experience as a man manager. I personally would prefer a Man like Bilic to manage me in any work situation. Yet the ever loyal Julian Dicks had revealed that when Bilic asked him where he had gone wrong, he simply said “you were too good to them”. Dicks was obviously disgusted by the attitude of some in the squad who he felt had let Bilic down. In contrast Moyes and indeed his entire coaching team bristled with no nonsense man management skills. The result has been that when the inevitable tantrums of the spoilt and over paid emerge, these are dealt with in straightforward fashion and have not been allowed to developed into protracted soap operas and dramas. There have been plenty of opportunities for these to have advanced within Moyes’s short tenure, from Arthur Masuaku irresponsible spitting to Carroll’s juvenile throwing of his toys out of his pram. The calm management of these issues along with the transformation of Marko Arnautovic from wild boy to responsible club professional all testified to Moyes as a safe pair of Management hands. This is a much undervalued management virtue. The most striking aspect of Pardew’s disastrous tenure at West Brom was his complete inability to instil any team discipline with terminal results. Even those who are considered allegedly the best managers in the world can struggle. José Mourinho was driven out of Chelsea by his inability to control his squad; Antonio Conte has had similar issues.

Of course there were question marks against a Moyes appointment. Apart from Mario’s recruitment the January window was hare brained and risky. We gambled on selling a central defender and selling Ayew to a relegation rival. These gambles could easily have come back to haunt us. Hugehill shows no sign of confirming any inspired talent identification. Yet Moyes has identified talent in the past and judging on one Window seems unfair. The other main concern was that Moyes had not repaired the worst defence in the league. However this was a structural problem which has persisted for 2 years and patience had been earned with recent encouraging improvement. My final concern was whether Moyes had the tactical flexibility to adjust to the modern demands of the Premiership. Despite this the displays against Leicester, Manchester United and Everton persuaded me that Moyes was not as tactically limited as I feared. He was not a one trick strategic pony. The midfield interchange between Lanzini and Mario did not arrived spontaneously but would have been born out of hours of sessions at Rush Green.

So if I had been David Sullivan I would have knocked on Moyes’s door at 6pm on Sunday and offered an immediate 1 year extension. Whether Moyes would have accepted this or held out for a 2 year deal we will never know. My instincts is that he would have accepted. I would have honestly explained the reservations and improvements I wanted and indicated my patience to see the progress we had made this season consolidated. If by January Moyes had continued realistic progress I would have then entered discussions for a further extension. The Moyes project had delivered safety but my gut feeling is that it would have offered stability and probable further progress. If expectations had not been met December would have been the time to seek a new Manager. For me the main agenda for West ham is to cease performing as a club in danger of relegations, a club which no longer yo yos regularly from Premiership to Championship and which can provide entertaining football without the constant stench of fear.

Instead in his wisdom David Sullivan has decided to take another path. Whether this path leads to the ever elusive glory which some believe is just around the corner is certainly a moot point. I am uncomfortably reminded of the similar minds set which saw the sacking of Zola and his replacement by Avram Grant. I was in the small minority at the time which regretted Zola’s sacking. His removal was supposed to clear the way for West Ham to advance to the “next level”. Whilst Zola never pulled up trees elsewhere I still feel he could have built a project with us. What is clear is that appointing Grant was a gamble which backfired massively. Instead we spiralled out of control with a demoralised and alienated squad into relegation and the championship. Grant’s appointment was driven by ambitions and expectations of the club delivering a quick fix to an unrealistic timescale. I sometimes think nothing is learnt.

I desperately hope that I am proved wrong but replacing Moyes with a similar level Manager of proven calibre is not at all straightforward. I fear the new incarnation of Avram grant. Whoever is appointed will be in a hurry, with a contracted transfer window, with a need to engage positively with the existing squad to identify weaknesses strengths and opportunities. We are entering a period of high risk transformation. I hope that this time the wager the Board has made on our future is not as disastrous.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

A Point In The Right Way

Blind Hammer reflects on the performance against Manchester United.

The way and manner in which West Ham responded to safety was the main interest from this game. For the first time this season the players could take the pitch without negative pressure and underlying fear. It may seem odd that a performance which resulted in no shots on target that I can recall, nor one that produce any heroics from de Gea, can nevertheless provide satisfaction from our standpoint.

Most importantly whilst Man United dominated some periods of possession, at no time did they provoke a desperate West Ham response. Adrian had to make some fine saves but generally Manchester United could not be described as profligate, their chances coming largely from distance.

When you are a Blind Supporter attending a game you have to pick up signals from a variety of inputs. For me an immediate point of satisfaction was that Manchester united were caught offside in the first 10 minutes. A team of earlier Moyes vintage would have sat so deep that catching any top six team opponents offside was a remote possibility. West Ham have been vulnerable to the press all season but tonight they responded with presses of their own, including a memorable passage of play in the second half when they managed to encamp Man United in their own half.
Again a Blind Commentator gets an odd perspective sometimes. It was incredible the extent to which man United tried to continually construct play through Pogba linking up with Sanchez. Paul Pogba had so many touches of the ball and received the ball so frequently it, to a Blind listener sounded as if he was dominating the game. It seems that it is only a matter of time before Sanchez would run rampant. In reality Pogba’s ability to shape the game, for all his possession and touches was largely nullified by his constant shepherding by Kouyate. It took me a while to catch up but eventually I had much reduced anxiety as to the oceans of possession Pogba received, finally realising that he was doing precious little with it.

Too much of the mainstream media will focus on the lethargic limitations of Manchester United compared to their neighbours City. Mourinho’s constant whining that without even more massive investment they will not match City is probably true but does little to recognise the skills of opponents. The amounts invested in this squad are staggering compared to that invested in the players West Ham fielded. Luckily our nemesis, Lukaku was not fit but his young replacement, Lingard, recently starred for England. The fact is that United can invest staggering sums in one player such as Sanchez, and Pogba, which will exceed the entire spend for a window that West Ham can mount for their complete squad. All across the United team there were players who would walk into the West Ham squad and feature prominently. Even bit part players for Manchester united, such as Fellini, are touted as possible future West Ham regulars.

In this context the fact that West Ham could not only compete but make United look lethargic is of massive credit to them. This was a performance characterised by control as well as effort. It was, to be fair to Moyes, a triumph of tactics and planning rather than of luck, effort and desperate last ditch defending. It was a whole world away from the humiliation of the defeat against city. On the night possibly only Masuaku disappointed, Moyes correctly pulling him off to allow the introduction of Carroll.
Above all it proved that a point can be won against even a mega rich club boasting levels of wealth and investment at giddying levels that does not necessarily simply rely on frenetic effort.
It needed only one piece of genius from one of our attacking threats to transform an encouraging night into a brilliant one.

Moyes has only limited time to plan similar control against his old pals Everton at the weekend. However, more of the same please.
David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Proud Hammers Hunt Down Foxes.

Blind Hammer reflects on a proud victory which guarantees PL Football next Season

I was a nervous man on Saturday morning. For me this was the crucial fixture in our run in. It was the fixture most likely to deliver the points needed to survive. Manchester United on Thursday will be tough despite recent results and I dreaded having to garner crucial points against an Allardyce led Everton with a point to prove. Anything can happen in pressurised final games.

If we could have selected the team we most wanted to play at this moment it would have been Leicester, yet frequently this season we had somehow conspired to allow teams woefully out of form to come good against us. We are one of the tiny numbers of teams that Southampton have won convincingly against. So you could take nothing for granted. Moyes was right in pointing out how much pressure all players were under before this game. At last we can be proud of how they responded in this challenge.

We can all be proud of not only our team but our fans. Southampton felt hard done by at Everton but despite offering subsidised coach travel and concessionary tickets their fans stayed away in their thousands. In contrast, as Jack Collinson predicted,, the West Ham faithful delivered the support our team needed.

We have had a chastening couple of games, but Leicester, have been in even worse straits. They were missing nine players, and last time out was taken apart by Crystal Palace. At least we were demolished by Manchester City. The respective levels of confidence showed

Equally important was the positive team selection by Moyes who rejected the ultra-cautious approach of recent games and reintroduced Arthur Masuaku, to provide much needed pace and penetration on the left.

There had been some question about whether a midfield containing both Mario and Lanzini could flourish. This performance went some way to reassuring on this point. Whatever the criticisms of Mario he has now scored a couple of crucial openers, his goal here accompanying his equally vital strike against Southampton at the London Stadium.

This was not a lucky win. West Ham controlled the game with more menace. They also dominated possession with 57%. The main anxiety was the number of chances missed. There is always a risk that this profligacy would come back to haunt us.

Arnautovic’s made up for several missed chances by setting up Mario but was also a constant threat, rattling the crossbar. He did little to dent his status as our Star performer this season though Moyes was desperate for him to involve other attackers. Then again he has scored enough crucial goals to allow some leniency.

Before the game Danny Murphy claimed that he would retain only 5 of the current West Ham Squad and ship out the rest. This was journalistic hyperbole but you could see his point. You can also see why he insisted that West Ham still needed Mark Noble in the 5 retained. If anybody is to define pride in wearing the West Ham shirt it is Mark Noble.

Noble received a lot of stick last season when he played, hiding an injury, performing through the pain barrier. This season his leadership in difficult circumstances has been critical. He is not only Mr. Reliable from the penalty spot but also has a spectacular goal from time to time. I remember his goal in the Payet inspired comeback at Everton. Here he provided a vicious, swerving volley from 25 yards into the right of Hamer’s bottom corner. This was the stunning coup de grace which finally defused any chance of a dangerous Foxes comeback. It allowed the faithful to relax,. For once, it allowed a calm procession to victory.

For the first time this season we can now approach two games without the overhanging pall of negativity which has blighted so much of this season. The setup against Manchester United will be of particular interest. Pressing, hard work and organisation will be needed, for sure. Yet equally surely there is no need now to park the bus and surrender possession in relentless funneling back. . How Moyes and this squad tactically respond may just give some clues to developments in the weeks ahead.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Defensive Measures

Blind Hammer looks at the need for squad overhaul.

Whatever division West ham compete in next season the priority for squad overhaul is now clear. The honeymoon period for Moyes is well and truly over but to lamblast a coaching team barely 6 months into their tenure for a structural weakness which has persisted for over 2 years is probably unfair.

What is clear is that Moyes has not yet cracked the defensive squad problems that he inherited from Slaven Bilic. He has so far shown, like Bilic, only sporadic indications that he can set up a team able to defend.

Our latest 4-1 reversal against Manchester City was the 15th time we have conceded three or more goals this season. We officially have the leakiest defence with 67 conceded in 35 games. The Manchester city reversal was the fourth 4-1 defeat this season.

The depressing fact is that none of this is new. Even in the last season at the Boleyn the alarm bells were ringing. After January in that final season the team began to ship goals at an average of 2 a game. Luckily we had enough Payet and Antonio inspired firepower to resist falling into trouble then. This only served, however, to paper over the alarming defensive cracks that were emerging. Remember the penultimate Boleyn match where Swansea decimated our ailing defence, 4-1? Despite these warning signs the problem has exacerbated rather than improved. Not just the top six sides but moderate and even poor sides routinely thrash us. Last season Watford and West Brom both spanked us by each scoring 4 goals against us in a fortnight. Burnley and Swansea similarly combined to score 7 goals against us recently again in a fortnight.

This is why, fore 2 summer windows now, I have written multiple pieces criticising squad transfer strategies. We have, as a team pursued a glory dream of assembling a team firstly to meet an illusory squad depth challenge of the Europa League, and then a grandeur project of developing an exciting team fit for the new Stadium. At no time was I ever convinced that the seriousness of our defensive weaknesses were recognised or addressed. Sadly the latest Winter Transfer window reinforced this problem. Quite what the thinking was that we could solve our difficulties with the recruitment of 36 year old Patrice Evra is the biggest blow to my confidence with Moyes. The releasing of Fonte was equally mystifying. Whilst Fonte was not a world beater, to gamble on the fitness of Collins and read when they both have appalling injury records was bizarre in the extreme. David Gold pleaded hindsight of not anticipating injury to defend the Fonte sale. This is not an acceptable excuse. I wrote last summer that we had the most injury prone defence in the league and that not to reinforce it then was criminally negligent. We were too obsessed with our unfit Strikers and not recognising our unfit defenders. I said then it would come back to haunt us and sadly this has proven true. If this physical fragility in defence was obvious last summer was it should have been even more obvious this January. The performances of rice have been exposed by the unfair responsibilities of a young teenager having to perform in a structurally dysfunctional unit.

I am now impatient with those who simply think we can get out of this hole by embracing a more expansive style. The West Ham tradition of exciting football was always just as much built on defensive skills as much as attacking talent. Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were lifted by the talents of Bobby Moore. Brooking and Devonshire were shaped by the ferocity and determination of Billy Bonds. Alvin Martin and Tony Gale allowed the talents of Cottee and MacAvennie to flow.
We will never have an exciting team until we sort out defensive basics. Expansive attacking play is based on confidence. There is nothing more guaranteed to destroy confidence than the dreary albatross around the neck of a team routinely conceding 2 or more goals a game. This is the reality of the defensive millstone that West Ham has carried for far too long. If we are relegated we will have no way back unless we solve this. We can see now that Hart’s recruitment was a serious judgement failure and Zabeleta’s recruitment is stopgap. The problem needs serious attention from the most skilled analysts available. The time for glory ambition has passed. We need to get back to basics. It is time finally, this summer, to sort out our own back yard of our defence
David Griffith.

The Blind Hammer Column

Khan’s Anti-West Ham Vendetta?

Blind hammer investigates possible motivations underlying mayoral hostility towards West HAM.

I voted for Sadiq khan. I support many of his initiatives. I am a lifelong Labour voter. I have no political agenda feeding my criticisms here. I am nevertheless saddened by his apparent hostility towards West ham and its supporters.

Let us review the basics. In the process of allocating first virtual ownership and then, once this collapsed, tenancy of the London Stadium, West Ham had to win, in a competitive process, not once but twice. At no stage, despite the most snide of allusions from the Mayoral office has anybody established that West Ham did anything wrong. Instead the club are lambasted for negotiating what is cynically described as “a good deal”. What is unspoken but constantly insinuated, is that the deal is not just good but unfair. It is suggested that West Ham somehow pulled the wool over the eyes of poor naïve and deluded LLDC negotiators. Dark villains of skilful West Ham lawyers duped the Government representatives into an unfeasible Business Plan. This cheating negotiating strategy, robbing the tax payer, needs redressing.

The problem is that this bizarre description has no basis in reality. Instead it exists purely to support a political agenda. The description of West Ham as skilled City Slick financial negotiators able to out manoeuvre the cream of government Lawyers will baffle most. Whilst arguably some incompetence may be attributed to government representatives, the depiction of smart brained West Ham operators is less convincing. Remember this is a club which has failed to negotiate basic football transfers with clubs like Sporting Lisbon.

Khan Seemed disappointed after his investment into the Moore-Stephens inquiry. The report did not deliver expected condemnation. What is striking is the lack of fit between Moore-Stephens and the Mayoral response. At no time did Moore-Stephen attribute any blame to West Ham. He does however criticise LLDC negotiators for not achieving a better deal. This point is mute. There is no evidence given the competitive process that any better deal was available. Moore-Stephens unconvincingly argues that a “no deal” could have pressured better terms. In reality a “No deal” approach would have placed more pressure on the State and legacy ambitions than West Ham.

What is inescapable and foremost in Moore-Stephens is his focus on the budgetary pressures and long term infeasibility of hosting Athletics. A solution must be found to the crippling need to annually relocate seating. The failure to deliver income from naming rights also figure but overwhelmingly budgetary pressures will not be relieved until a political nettle is grasped to resolve the accommodation of Athletics.

It is little short of astonishing then that the mayoral response to Moore-Stephens does not highlight this dysfunctional Athletics Business Structure. Instead it focusses overwhelmingly on the deal with West Ham. It is hard to conclude that this is driven by anything but cynical political posturing.

The problem is that it is not just West Ham but UK Athletics who have rights in the Stadium. Any breach will result in compensation. The political as well as financial fall out from this failure would be considerable. The responsibility for breakdown would lay unequivocally with those who originally envisioned the shared use Model. The “National Athletics Legacy” would lie in ruins. The politically uncomfortable consequence is that West Ham would emerge as the major benefactor. It would be politically most expedient then if blame and consequent financial accountability could be somehow deflected to West Ham.

It appears then that Khan’s has decided his best strategy is to scapegoat West Ham. If he can achieve this he may shift at least some of the responsibility for this collapse. If the Stadium has no future as a vehicle for an Athletics Legacy then someone else should pay. He may want to force West Ham to assume responsibility by re-locating the duty to compensate from the State to them. Such a strategy is only viable if he can sustain a view that West Ham, and not the State planners, are the real villains.

Such an approach seems to explain the constant negativity and obfuscation which has characterised Khan’s direct dealings. Correspondence released by Freedom of Information request show Karen Brady pleading with Khan to meet positively and plan together a future for the Stadium. Repeatedly Khan Rejects these overtures by claiming his diary is full or referring issues to junior Managers. He did not agree to meet West Ham until this year. Despite showing an extraordinary reluctance to talk directly, he has in contrast, hurled himself onto any negative available public bandwagon to criticise West Ham and/or its supporters.

Objectively this campaign of hostility is puzzling. West Ham is the only Stadium partners which significantly provide income for the Business Model. They are the only partners which have offered any extra infrastructyural investment. The response of E20 and the LLDC has been to block any positive development of the Stadium, whether this relates to maximising capacity, installing pitch surrounds, or making ridiculous demands for payments to facilitate concourse TV. They are determined to negatively “work to rule” in an attempt to force a renegotiation. Rather than working with West Ham to deliver Stadium legacy potentials they seem determined to create a series of increasingly desperate bickering legal disputes. These will come to Court later in the year. In contrast UK Athletics are seen as pristine with no responsibility for current Stadium difficulties. This approach does not help anybody, least of all, in delivering the Olympic Legacy.

The shared Use Athletics model is now widely seen as disastrous. Disentangling this will be complicated. Yet the attempt to vilify West Ham for this failure of vision smacks of desperate measure by the increasingly desperate. Some are frantic to avoid political accountability for this debacle. Yet whipping up hostility to a football club and its supporters has risks.

Football is tribal. Unfortunately rivalries, especially amongst London clubs can easily develop into levels of hatred and violence. Hatred of opposition supporters, though objectively illogical, can result in not just mayhem and disorder but serious physical harm. West Ham and its supporters may be one of the few remaining minorities against which it may be legal/conceivable to raise a hostile negative prejudice. The whipping up of this antagonistic narrative in the hope of achieving a longer term political objective is particularly unsavoury. Yet khan must know that to indulge in this game has risks. A vendetta which supports a campaign of vindictiveness could provide validation for those football rivals with hatred and violence in their hearts. These opposition rivals could grasp any justification for their assaults. If the anti-West Ham campaign spills over into a return to the lethal viciousness which has marred our game in the past all those presently playing political games will have to look to their consciences. I desperately hope that Khan adjusts his approach, and even at this stage repudiates the torrent of anti-West ham briefings. He should instead agree to work positively with the club. Whether this all descends into court battles later this year or even worse physical battles from opposition fans will provide a litmus test.

David Griffith

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