Match Report

The Riddle of West Ham

Winston Churchill said ,’ Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ I am sure if he were alive today, he would say the same about West Ham.

Marcellus said in Hamlet, ‘There is something rotten in the state of Denmark.’ Despite the fact that we are eleventh in the premier league, I feel there is something about that line which rings true.

How can this be after we beat Arsenal in our last home game and had a clean sheet? None of this makes sense.

So, I’m going to put my head above the parapet and no doubt I’ll be walking around like a headless chicken in the very near future. Basically, we are stuck in a system that does not suit the quality of the squad we have.

We played a supposed 4-4-2 formation against Wolves, but , in my opinion, that will always leave us too exposed at the back and we should play 5-3-2 to ensure we have sufficient cover if we want to use wing backs.

Arsene Wenger has been credited with introducing wing backs into the Premier League. He urged Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon to be more attack minded. This new role required immense stamina and speed over short distances.

We have employed a manager who is committed to this style of play. But when we look at the reality of the situation and the players he has at his disposal, the whole theory starts to fall apart. We have had the madness of playing Antonio in defence. Then, there is Masuaku, who does have qualities, but defence is not one of them. Zabeleta gives his all, but, is it fair to put this responsibility on a player who is reaching the end of his career? Fredericks is untried and so far, largely unavailable. Cresswell has had his problems and is only just showing the qualities we know he possesses.

First and foremost a side needs to have a strong defence. Was I the only person who saw that Wolves were about to score and that the Wolves’ pressure was inevitably going to lead to a goal? We seemed to have completely run out of steam. Then, if you are going to introduce Carroll, you need to ensure the wing backs get to the byline and cross the ball. But, by that time stamina and speed were in short supply.

So, perhaps we should be talking less about the mentality of the players and more about tactics, with the later showing more fluidity and adaptability. We shall see in the next few weeks whether all this was another phase, or we start to ship goals again. So, if you have read this, let’s have your ideas.

Match Report

Humiliation by the Dons

John Macaria jumped from his seventh floor apartment when Manchester United lost to Newcastle. Suleiman Omondi hanged himself after an Arsenal defeat.

Luckily I don’t live in an apartment and I haven’t got any rope.

I remember when we lost 1-5 to Huddersfield Town from Division 2 in 1960 in a third round FA Cup replay. Upton Park was covered in snow. Whilst the West Ham players slipped and struggled in the snow, the Huddersfield players wore rubber soled boots. It was the most brilliant coaching decision I have ever witnessed.

Oh, and Huddersfield had a brilliant young player called Denis Law who joined Manchester City two weeks later for a record breaking fee of £55,000.

The most enlightening aspect of the game was listening to Vinnie Jones before the match. He was brilliant. I loved his description of what Arnautovic has done to the club and what the other players should do to Arnautovic. And what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the dressing room. If only Vinnie Jones could go into our dressing room and kick the players in their backsides and rip up their headsets.

How can a side which beat Arsenal and had a clean sheet two weeks ago stoop so low? One answer is that you cannot disrespect the FA Cup. I would describe the side we put out as a team of substitutes. It was noticeable how Pellegrini and his assistant, Ruben Cosillas sat holding their heads in their hands and so they should.

The game cruelly exposed players whose time is up at West Ham – Obiang, Ogbonna, Masuaku and Carroll. Adrian looked rusty and Diangana’s time has not yet come. Noble was playing so deep, I thought he would go and sit with the West Ham fans. We need to employ a former striker to teach Antonio how to shoot straight Hey, didn’t we used to have Teddy Sherringham?. Bring him back.

OK, are there any positives to take from this humiliation? It demonstrated how Rice is the glue that binds the team together. And we rely on the flashes of brilliance from Anderson, so much so that when he plays badly, we always seem to lose. It was obvious that everything should have been played through Anderson and too often it wasn’t.

We, West Ham fans , are a humorous lot. We have to be because we know humiliation is just around the corner. But , perhaps, it’s our expectations that are the real cause of our disappointments.

I’m going to be humming Bridge Over Troubled Water all day:

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Player Analysis

Footballers' Contracts

There is an important word in English law and that is the word precedent. It is part of common law, where a decision in a case establishes a principle. Then, precedent will be used by judges to decide new cases.

Therefore, in hundreds of areas of the law, one can read about precedents. However, when it comes to footballers’ contracts, this area is like a desert, leading to the conclusion that, in the case of footballers, the contract is sometimes not worth the paper it is written on, since no one ends up in court.

West Ham may have set a new kind of precedent in the case of Payet. The player had signed a five year contract with the option of an extra year in 2015. In 2016, he signed a new contract paying him £125,000 per week. In January 2017, Payet refused to play and was subsequently transferred back to Marseilles.

West Ham, therefore, set the precedent that a player can get his way out of his contract by going on strike. Slaven Bilic confirmed that the problems with Payet were having a detrimental effect on the squad. This is something that has surely influenced Arnautovic in the way he has approached his desire to play football in China.
Judging by the way the players performed against Bournemouth compared to a terrific performance against Arsenal, there is the suspicion that the atmosphere in the dressing room had turned negative as a result.

So, are there other options for the club? Perhaps a player who refuses to play should be suspended without pay for a set period. This could even be added as a clause in the contract. The club may even threaten to sue the player for damages, say £15 million in the case of Arnautovic, as a percentage of his transfer fee from Stoke.

One might say that these types of incident are bound to occur when clubs rely on transferring players, who turn out to be journeymen, playing for the club who will pay them the most. One answer may be to invest more in the Academy, bringing through young players and perhaps looking worldwide for talent. One must bear in mind that Lionel Messi joined Barcelona when he was 14 with a contract that was apparently written on a paper napkin.

Barcelona have La Masia , the farmhouse, with 300 young players. Iniesta, Alves, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas and Pedro are also one of its graduates. Pep Guardiola commented that players who came through La Masia have something different to the rest, having worn a Barcelona shirt from when they were a child. Let’s remember Moore, Hurst and Peters. Mark Noble is the modern epitome of loyalty and integrity.

Hopefully, Pellegrini can work on Arnautovic and bring him back to his best. After all, it is in the player’s interests that he shows good form, if he wants to be transferred in the summer window. Arnautovic would be advised to bear in the mind the Chinese phrase that the person attempting to travel two roads will get nowhere.

Talking Point

Chinese Super League

I’ve got some bad news for you. If you think Brexit is bad, then contemplate what will happen when China goes into financial meltdown. Take one statistic. The UK’s debt, which we hear so much about, is 87% compared to GDP, whereas in China it is 299%. You don’t need to be a financial guru to understand where that is heading.

This is a preamble to some understanding about the Chinese Super League, which has come into focus with the debate regarding Arnautovic. This league comprises 16 teams with an average attendance of 24,000. The bid for Arnautovic comes from Shanghai SIPG, who are the current league champions. They paid £60 million for Oscar in 2017 Their annual revenue is about £30 million, compared to West Ham’s £175 million.

So, we can conclude the whole thing is nuts in financial terms. But, everyday we buy things from China and can’t work out how it is so cheap when you try to calculate how the manufacture, the transporter and retailer can make a profit. The answer is that Chinese companies take on huge amounts of debt and when companies can’t pay the loans back, they are called non-performing loans. Such loans increase at a rate of £20 billion per year and stand at about £1 trillion in total.

The owner of Shanghai SIPG is the Shanghai International Port Group, which has a monopoly on the ports in Shanghai and in turn, their majority share owner is the Shanghai Government.

So, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where the money is coming from. Debt, debt and more debt.

President Xi Jinping has deemed that China is to become a major super power in world football and this is to be achieved at any cost. They want 50 million adults and kids to be playing football. We have 8 million. They want 20,000 training centres and 70,000 football pitches.

One problem may be that the average height of a male in China is 5 feet five inches, whereas in the UK , it is 5 feet nine inches. However, if they start feeding the population a massive amount of red meat, this could change. Or, if we are reduced to eating vegetable because of climate change, then the reverse may be possible. By the way, Chinese condoms are smaller, so Arnautovic better take a supply with him.

Shanghaiing used to mean kidnapping men by press gangs to serve in the navy. Now it means paying someone £300,000 per week. Times have changed.

Match Report

Money v Glory

There is one thing footballers crave more than money and that is glory. So, stories about Arnautovic moving to China have to be taken with a pinch of salt. There is no history of a player at the peak of his form moving to Asia. I suppose, his brother and agent, Danijel, has to be seen earning his crust. But his statements could end up badly misfiring.

I listened to a West Ham fan ranting and raving on You Tube, where every second word began with f. It is understandable when we have been through the debacle with Payet, where the player effectively went on strike and had no respect for the contract he had signed, the club or the fans. It demonstrated moral cowardice of the worst sort.

But, if the club receives a sensible offer for a player, then it is all part of the modern game. If, for example, Chelsea offered £50 million, we would have little to complain about, although it would be better if this was deferred until the end of the season. It is rumoured David Sullivan has set a target of £60 million.

So, as we face Arsenal, I felt the main point of interest was how Arnautovic would play. Could all this have kicked off because he came off against Birmingham? Surely not.

Talking about glory, we who attended today can say and will always remember when Declan Rice scored his first goal. His performance was absolutely brilliant and he is now the glue that holds the West Ham defence together.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

These words from Henry V seem appropriate today. It seems like a watershed moment when we transformed ourselves into a band of brothers, who were able to neutralise Arsenal for most of the game.

We have five brilliant players – Fabianski, Diop, Rice, Anderson and Arnautovic. But the others who played today cannot be faulted for effort. Antonio also seemed to discover his correct position and if he could actually get a ball on target when he cuts inside, he too would join the list.

So, from now on, it is onwards and upwards. Finally, I can write these words without keeping my fingers crossed behind my back.

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