The Blind Hammer Column

Good riddance

Blind Hammer considers proposals for a European Super League

The perennial “spectra” of a European Super League has raised it noisome head again. This story is trotted out from time to time as the European Super Rich clubs attempt to exhort even more money from TV Companies at the expense of smaller clubs.

This story is based on an arrogance self-justification that only these tiny elite have teams that people want to watch. The often quoted slight is that “nobody wants to watch Stoke”. Despite the fact that Stoke have slipped into the Championship the idea that nobody wants to watch them is news to the many thousands of loyal season ticket holders at the bet365 Stadium. Certainly the atmosphere generated by passionate supporters at Stoke far exceeds that routinely produced at the so called glamour clubs.

Arsenal’s emirates Stadium is famously nicknamed the “Library”. Manchester City players have expressed concern about the lack of atmosphere at the Etihad whilst the BBC reported that Manchester United planned to distribute song sheets" to try and wake up their somnolent crowd. The idea that the super-rich clubs routinely produce exciting football clashes is a complete fallacy. The endemic lack of atmosphere and excitement is precisely fueled by inequality and predictable match outcomes for many games.

There is a section of our support which whine relentlessly about our so called “Soulless Athletics Bowl”. Despite this, some of the “neutral” sighted guides who take me to the London Stadium cannot understand this negativity. They report that the London Stadium has far better atmosphere than they experience on their visits to the emirates and Stamford Bridge. When we play well, the Stadium rocks.

Not just the rest of the Premiership, but in fact the Championship also has crowds and atmosphere exceeding some of the so called “Elite” European teams.

The tragic Helicopter crash at the king power stadium returned Leicester’s dramatic title winning season to the limelight. Their success was described as a once in a life time defiance of 5000 to 1 odds.

Yet before the distortion provided by unequal foreign investment and the ossification of the “top 4” by Champions League riches, Leicester’s success would never have attracted such astronomical odds. Derby won the First Division after a similar triumph in Division 2. Teams like Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest were not only able to win the Title but go on to conquer Europe. Few supporters of those clubs, after their European triumphs, could have imagined that we could have created a league structure where only a tiny minority could ever realistically win.

This frozen dominance of the “Gang of Five” is achieved by the tremendous disparity in revenues they have managed to perpetuate. If we read their intentions now they want to force an even greater disparity in resources, allowing them to hoover up even more of the cream of the world’s football and managerial talent. All the rest will be structually forced to act as “also rans”. . Turnover figures do not lie, in general over time, those clubs with most revenues will win most. This pattern persists across all of Europe.

This creates a weary predictability for the outcomes of most matches involving these elite clubs. Manchester City, with the resources of not just a billionaire, but an entire oil rich country should, theoretically, hardly ever lose. They has assumed an almost ridiculous superiority. Manchester United looks on enviously, whilst Liverpool Arsenal and Chelsea circle around for the trophy scraps left by any failure by City.

Some competitive interest is provided by Tottenham, whose recent attempts to break into this elite has created terror amongst Manchester United supporters that they may fall from this elite.

Curiously Tottenham are not invited to the top table. Money talks and their turnover does not currently approach even that of teams like Liverpool, let alone Chelsea United and City.

The depressing result is that fans of these so called “elite” clubs turn up to largely silent stadiums for most matches outside of the “top of the table” clashes". This silence is fueled by a quiet expectation of success and lack of competitiveness. One of my guides described his visit to Arsenal’s 5-1 victory over Everton as one of the quietest games he had ever attended. Nobody is surprised when City put 6 goals past Southampton. This inequality led predictability reduces drama, decreases the chance of shock results and generally stifles tension and excitement.

Despite my pleasure in attending West Ham’s demolition of Manchester United I refuse to be intimidated by any threats to leave by these arrogant “Super Rich” clubs. Last weekend’s success against lowly Burnley gave the lie to the claim that "nobody wants to watch these games.

If the Super Rich want to saunter off into a privileged "Super League”, with no threat of relegation then just let us wave them goodbye.

In reality a “Mega Elite” almost certainly led by Manchester city and PSG will emerge even in this elite tier. Both city and PSG have benefited from massive resources artificially injected by their Billionaire owners. UEFA FFP rules are demonstrably ineffectual and fail to prevent owners proceeding with relative impunity. Even former giants of Global Football , Real Madrid and Barcelona, are reportedly struggling to compete financially against these new European Goliaths .

Most of the rest will again become also runs. Without the threat of relegation such a league would quickly lose it critical tension and competitiveness. Only a few top games would really count. It would eventually become exhibition fare , a footballing equivalent of the \Harlem Globetrotters.

England is not Scotland where only Rangers and Celtic attract mass audiences. There are plenty of clubs remaining with massive support to engender competitive interest beyond the narrow geographical confines of North West england and London. . A PL denuded of the so called top five might just be more interesting with clubs like Leeds united, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Norwhich and Aston Villa joining the fray.

The result might just be that clubs like West Ham will again have a realistic chance of Title success. The available resources, whilst reduced will almost certainly be shared more equally without the distortion of foreign investment and ridiculous wages.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Was This Result Really Season Defining?

Blind Hammer reflects on a double blow inflicted by the Cockerels. *

A lot of West Ham fans will be, like me, down in the dumps this morning. The 2 home games against Tottenham were set up to be season defining games. The second game last night, in particular, was hard to swallow. West Ham had an ideal opportunity, at home against a Tottenham stretched to spread their resources over 2 games in 48 hours.

However despite this disappointment, some perspective is needed. Steady nerves are required in the important weeks ahead. We already knew that this squad does not have sufficient quality in depth. The first game against Tottenham exposed this. Recent bad injuries has revealed fragilities in a developing squad. When you sign several players you will rarely find all the recruits find form and fire immediately. Anderson continues to disappoint, but the bright performances Diangana, Rice and Diop are all plusses from our situation last season. Snodgrass has been rediscovered as a squad resource. Balbuena is definitely an upgrade and Zabaleta has delivered form I never believed he had for a second season.

Last night reinforced the case for squad strengthening in January. I argued last week Mario should be ushered back as soon as possible. Other early target are required to resolve the obvious lack of support and cover for Arnautovic up front. Sadly Chico has not taken his opportunities. He looks on his way out now.

Yet those who really believe our season has been defined for the worst last night would do well to remember that exactly 12 months ago Marco Arnautovic was slated as a waste of money and languishing on the wing. He recovered to become Hammer of the Year.

The season is, in reality, in its infancy. There is still time for Wilshere and even Anderson to come good. These strengths are required for the weeks ahead, not least starting with our game against Burnley on Saturday.

So let’s try and keep the faith on a difficult morning.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Time To Go Again In January

Blind Hammer looks at Squad Depth Ahead of January.

Despite record investment, the injury curse has hit West Ham again. Two important summer recruits, Sanchez and Yarmolenko have suffered season terminating injuries, whilst Wilshere’s predictable enforced absences have materialised.

Obiang’s absence from the Spurs game exposed our wafer tin midfield and reminded us to his previous injury proneness. A similar injury now to Rice or Noble would place us under enormous pressure.

Parallel pressure is evident up front where Arnautovic is playing through the pain barrier. Hernandez and Antonio are both struggling through injury / illness to find any form.

Predictions for the return of Lanzini are probably as reliable as the perennial optimism as to the imminent availability of Andy Carroll. The sad fact is that for Lanzini, and indeed Yarmolenko a successful return from these serious injuries must be seen as a bonus and not a certainty.

The value of West Ham retaining Snodgrass is evident now he has shown flexibility in covering a variety of midfield roles. Whilst Grady Diangana’s promise is undeniable, we cannot yet build a team around him.

The player we should be building the team around, Anderson, is finding life in the PL difficult. This is not surprising. Last season Mario experienced similar initial challenges.

However Mario eventually showed he could thrive, and I would be knocking on Inter’s door now for his return.

Only 7 days ago I thought left back was a primary recruitment goal, but Cresswell has shown he remains a PL performer, and there are now other priorities.

Centre midfield needs bolstering in addition to Mario’s return. Central defence also seems thin.

Above all we must organise some support for an increasingly frail looking Arnautovic. This is important not just to ensure his season long availability. It is also important to prevent West Ham becoming predictable. We cannot become “one trick pony”. We must prevent opponents strategising “stop Arnautovic, and you will stop West Ham.”

In the summer the last thing we thought we would need was a busy January. This though is the situation we face. We must identify targets now so that they arrive early, rather than late in the window. Solid recruitment is needed rather than speculative expectations of returning injured talent. We cannot gamble on revived performances from long term absentees such as Carroll, Lanzini, and Winston Reid.

Any pruning of a temporarily bloated squad will have to wait until the summer.
David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

At The Double – How To Confront The Spurs Challenge

Blind Hammer looks at strategies for defeating our London rivals

We will battle Spurs twice in the next 13 days. What are our best strategies for success?

Tottenham’s Stadium moved has placed their Squad under massive pressure for the foreseeable future.

West Ham has laid out only £15 million to move into the LS. In contrast, Spurs have to find over £1 Billion. No amount of naming rights deals or creative commercial arrangements will prevent this massive debt mountain translating into pressure on recruitment.

The immediate impact of this was revealed in the summer where Spurs, to their fan’s disgruntlement, uniquely failed to recruit a single player.

Spurs will, like Arsenal, have to recruit clever over the next few years. Nevertheless big name recruits are less likely.

Early season results allayed fears over this dramatic recruitment failure. Yet cracks are now emerging and fears that their squad is overstretched are growing.

Spurs continue to compete on all fronts, including intense reverses against Barcelona and Inter Milan.

Yet the Milan reverse provides a clue to spur’s problems. Despite controlling large parts of the game at the San Siro, particularly in the second half, Spurs eventually ran out of gas and Inter were able to stun their lagging opponents with 2 late goals.

The less illustrious players of Watford were able to achieve an identical result by again coming from behind to win 2-1.

Spurs also found it virtually impossible to “chase” the game against Liverpool where many of their players, especially their England contingent, were described as lethargic and unfit.

This pressure on their England contingent is not surprising given their late involvement in last summer’s World Cup.

So Spurs have struggled against high tempo, high energy opponents. Their squad exposed, on multiple fronts, is feeling pressure.

Yet Teams which fail to deliver high tempo opposition will suffer. A disjointed, low energy Manchester United found this to their cost.

So, high energy is required more than caution. There is no reason why we should be despondent if we fall behind. Spurs have a record of conceding late goals.

Ideally we would not face Spurs after an International Break. Our greater chances for success will come in the Cup. By then we may expose the fragilities in the depth of Tottenham’s squad.

As ever quality will have to be aligned to energy. If Diop and Balbuena are not completely on their game then Harry Kane will punish us in similar fashion to last season.

In the upcoming battles the energy and passion of Mark Noble are likely to be as important as the skill and quality of Arnautovic. Whatever the score, we should fight for 90 minutes and beyond.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

Blind Hammer uses stats to measure progress despite the Brighton reverse.

Football is an emotional game and reactions to the Brighton defeat included anger and disappointment. This was born out of widespread optimism that we would win comfortably. Some disappointed fans described our performance as “royally messing up”, amongst other negative descriptors.

We have an unfortunate habit of losing games just before an International break but despite this a more nuanced view is required.

Professional sportsmen learn not to get too up after a success, but equally not too down after a reverse. The much maligned Arsine Wenger argued that performance was always more important than the vagaries of any result.

Against Brighton West Ham had, arguably, their most powerful and dominant performance of the season.

West Ham achieved, at 64.6 , by some margin, their highest rate of possession this season. This was 20 higher than in our successful visit to Everton.

Some, after my piece last week, tried to dismiss possession as an irrelevant stat. They argued that the only relevant stat is the goals stats. This to my mind is profoundly simplistic and does not understand the pressures caused in modern football by the loss of possession. None of the top six sides set out to surrender possession, but instead seek to dominate possession. These Teams will win far more games than they will lose.

Obviously, possession has to have and end result, and simply passing amongst defenders in your own half only protects your goal.

This, however, does not describe West Ham’s performance against Brighton. West Ham mounted 17 efforts on goal. This was by some margin their greatest goal attempts tally this season. It was disappointing that only 4 of these efforts were on target with over 3 times as many efforts, 13, off target.

We can then, criticize West Ham for lacking clinical finishing.

Yet this is not a general negative trend. Against Everton we produced only 4 efforts on target but converted 3 of them. This clinical finishing represented a 75% conversion rate of efforts on target and 33.3% of all goal attempts. In that context West Ham mounting of 17 attempts against Brighton without achieving a single goal seem an anomaly. West ham will, over time, win many more games than lose with such domination of both possession and goal attempts.

Certainly this is not a time for panic and there is no need to go back to the drawing board just yet.
David Griffith

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