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.

Match Report

Wing Backs or Wingers?

As the New Year dawns, we should all be happy, given our dreadful start to the season, at where we stand today. We have risen up the league and four of our signings have turned out to be tremendous – Fabianski, Diop, Balbuena and Anderson. And we can still look forward to players coming back from injury. I still dream about the perfect partnership between Lanzini and Arnautovic when we beat Huddersfield 4-1 away.

So, what questions can there be for discussion? We cannot take anything away from the achievement of Pellegrini, who has persevered with his formation through thick and thin. But, it remains to be seen whether he is too one dimensional. Should we, for example, have adjusted our formation when we played Manchester City at home? Or is it a good thing that when replacements and substitutions are made, players can easily slot into a system?

There seems to be a modern obsession with playing wing backs. As the name suggests, they are supposed to be both wingers and full backs. So, they need to be super fit, charging up and down the pitch. The danger is if they don’t have quite what it takes to be a defender. Antonio and Masuaku fit into that category. Cresswell is not the player he was two years ago and Zabaleta is in the twilight years of his career.

In the old days, you had wingers and then you had full backs. The winger would be a speedy guy who would make a dash for the byline and make a cross to a sturdy centre forward, who would head the ball into the net. Against Birmingham, we did have two players on the pitch who could fulfil that winger requirement – Antonio and Diangana. And of course, for most of the game we had a sturdy centre forward.

I’m asking this question for two reasons, because I think the game against Birmingham highlighted the problem. Individually, it was obvious we were far superior but overall, as a team, we didn’t seem to be able to break Birmingham down for 89 minutes of the game. It may have been because we were not using the full width of the pitch.

Andy Carroll comes in for a good deal of criticism these days, even though he is just coming back from injury. But what he needs is the type of service I describe above. Players getting to the byline and crossing the ball. Too often, they cut inside and we have seen Andy Carroll come on and not been given any service at all. Finally, yesterday, he received a cross from Antonio and showed his quality with his head.

Alongside the use of wingers, you must also ask whether having two players in defence e.g. Ogbonna/Balbuena and Diop is sufficient. Wouldn’t it be better to have three plus the wingbacks? Anyone watching the Birmingham game has to admit that Birmingham created some terrific chances, which a better team would have taken advantage of. And three at the back gives you the opportunity to attack with more freedom.

It was a surprise to see Arnautovic start. It is a risk to play such an important player and chance injury, but, perhaps he felt he needed a workout to reach match fitness after his recent injury. My impression was that he was surprised to be taken off, so hopefully he will start against Arsenal.

We should congratulate Nasri and Silva on the first starts for the club. And amusing to see that Adrian hasn’t lost his old habit of dribbling around the opposition. Declan Rice once again proved what a talent he is.

Saturday’s game against Arsenal will be a stiff test, especially for our defence. Let’s hope we can summon up the energy and intensity that will be required to win.


West Ham Publish Financial Results

The results have just been published for the year ending 31st May 2018.

Turnover was down for the year at £175m, a reduction of £8m. The majority of this was from broadcasting rights at £118m (slightly less than the previous year as our position dropped to 13th from 11th) and match receipts were £24m. The operational profit has dropped to £35m from £56m

Average league attendances (or let’s say tickets bought) were 57,000, as opposed to 35,000 at the Boleyn.

The accounts are littered with references that the figures are based on the company as a going concern (which is a negative in accounting terms), due to uncertainties about income, the principal risk being that of being relegated. At one point it is stated, ‘The retention of our standing in 2018/9 is an absolute necessity.’

Employment costs rose to £106m from £95m. Karren Brady received £898,000 and a further £438,00 as a consultancy fee for negotiating the 10% sale of shares to Albert ‘Tripp’ Smith, who also provided a £10m interest-free loan.

The shareholders did not receive a dividend, but did receive interest payments amounting to £4.5m on their £45m loan, although it would appear that included unpaid interest from previous years, as the loan rate is 4-4.5%.

There is still an ongoing investigation by HMRC regarding payments made to agents.

The club took further short-term loans of £23m from Rights and Media Ltd to finance the cost of new players. Rights and Media Ltd have made loans over the years to West Ham and other clubs such as Everton, Southampton, Fulham and Reading. Their director used to be an Irish jig dancer, but the loans actually come from a company called Vibrac Corporation, based in the British Virgin Islands. Nobody knows who finances that company.

So, I think we can say that the owners take a considerable risk, as everything can start falling apart if the club is relegated. So, when we lost our first four games, they must have been extremely worried.

Also, they have not tried to stiff the fans and the income from the 57,000 is relatively the same as it was at The Boleyn. We know there are many concessions.

Bearing in mind the risks involved and the fact that after the summer of 2021, a sale would not trigger an additional payment to the owners of the stadium, this may be a target date for a sale.

Match Report

Cicero Reincarnated

I am Marcus Tullius Cicero and I died over two thousand years ago. My last appearance in the Forum was when my head and hands were nailed separately to the Rostra, after I had been red carded by Mark Anthony.

I was invited to attend a game at the Londinium Stadium, where I was expecting to watch discus, javelin and running competitions, but , instead, watched two teams playing a new game , called football.

It reminded me of a game we had , called Harpastum. After sacrificing a sheep to Mars, the intestines would be blown up and then the teams would kick it around., whilst engaging in different forms of violence to prevent the opponents from getting to the ball. So nothing much has changed there.

The football game also reminded me of the gladiatorial contests I witnessed in the Colosseum. Although the participants in football are not armed with weapons, the plebeians seated around the Londinium Stadium shouted and sang encouragements and would appear to be happy if the opposition were hacked to death. They referred to their team as ‘The Ferra’.

There was a more salubrious area, reserved for the patricians and the main patrician watched the event behind a glass screen to prevent his assassination, presumably by a pilum (spear).

Apparently, each of the centurions engaged in the battle earned huge amounts of money. But, I reminded my host that the charioteer, Diocles earned 35 million sesterces, which in modern money is about 7 billion pounds, based on the silver content. There was also a gladiator, called Tetraites, who always won the league, with the rest of the league being dead at the end of the season.

A character called Pellegrini watched the game from a huge area on the edge of the pitch. I noticed Pellegrini had a Roman nose and I am sure I saw him the in the Forum just the other day. He reminded me of Julius Caesar in the way he urged on his men to battle.

I was informed about the rudimentary rules of the game and it seemed the centurions from the claret and blue army had just as limited an idea of the rules as myself, as a man called a referee had to be present. When gladiators fought, we didn’t need such a person, except at the end when the crowd indicated by the use of the thumbs whether the defeated gladiator would live or die.

Apparently, our claret and blue army had marched to Burnley ,which is a few leagues north of Mamucium, a few days previously, where it’s no wonder they were too tired to engage in battle and lost badly. Some blamed the quartermaster for a late arrival from a previous battle at Southampton.

West Ham seemed to start slowly and Brighton surely had more men on the pitch, or, it might have seemed that because of their bright yellow costumes. Philipus Andersus seemed full of tricks, but none seemed to work. Brighton appeared to be the better organised and their supporters who numbered but two thousand outsang the West Ham supporters, who must largely comprise somnambulists.

I must say the West Ham centurions looked as if they had never fought a battle together and their ball passing was atrocious. However, to give them their due, they did seem to get the better of Brighton as the game progressed and Brighton seemed to lack bite in front of goal.

Overall, my impression was this was a dull gamer and this belief was reinforced by a supporter who shouted , ‘This is duller than Brexit’, whatever that meant.

In the second half, Pilipus had a good run where he threaded his way through the defence, but his shot was just wide. Then, disaster struck. I had never seen a corner before and it would appear the West Ham players were just as naïve. Twice, within a short period, Brighton scored from corners, once when the goalkeeper Fabulus only manage to punch a ball out to a Brighton player and the other time when West Ham failed to cover a thing called their far post.

Then, the brilliance of Pellegrini shone through. He brought on Antonius and Noblus and the immediately the injected what we always teach in the Roman army – ENERGY, INTENSITY and CONFIDENCE. West Ham were an army transformed. Noblus made a great pass to Marcus Arnautus and he scored superbly and then a couple of minutes later Antonius got to the byline and crossed to Marcus who scored again. It was a great thing for him because he shall have his confidence back, but hopefully it won’t be for the blue army of Chelsea.

Anyway, each army kept its honour and withdrew from the battlefield with honours even. I decided I wouldn’t go to the baths and cut my wrists, but look forward to the next game.
Felix novus annus.

Please check back after the match for the results.

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