The GoatyGav Column

Managerial Witch-Hunts - Par For The Course?

Being a top level Football manager nowadays is a high pressure job. Like any other manager you get flack from all angles. Flack from higher management. Flack from colleagues. Flack from staff and flack from customers. Internally and externally there’s usually stuff hitting the fan from everywhere. When it comes to the Premier League, and other top Football leagues, this is intensified hugely. It really isn’t a job for the faint hearted. The scrutiny is massive with examination of every aspect under the microscope. In all fairness, with contracts at several £M to do the job, that’s fair game and to be expected.

Elsewhere, unlike many other clubs, our opponents this weekend have stuck by their man.

On top of all of the analysis, to the nth degree, there’s then all the speculation to put up with. This is the part where things can get a little nasty in my opinion. Rumours about who said what to who begin and gain momentum. Before you know it the Chinese whisper effect has kicked in and the manager is about to get the sack. Some, so called fans, even begin to hope for the team to lose to speed up a Manager’s demise. Something I never have, and would never, call for. Plain stupidity, and ‘turning on your own’ to do so IMHO.

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It’s not unreasonable to expect that a Football manager will lose his job if he doesn’t do well. Hard as it may seem to believe even a Manager who won the Premier League the previous season, and progresses his team beyond the group stages of the Champion’s League, is not immune to the tin tack if their team is loitering in or around the relegation zone for too long. Success will buy you a certain amount of time, nowadays, but a losing streak will do the opposite. So what constitutes a witch-hunt and, conversely, what is justifiable criticism? Personally I believe that the true barometer is what gets said at games. Dissatisfaction will creep in and you’ll hear it. I totally get fan frustration at matches. Although I’ve never done it myself even booing a team can happen. On two occasions the OS/LS crowd have booed the substitution of Chicha. Both times, however, those subs have proven exactly the right thing to do. Whether Javier is being utilised correctly in match may be another matter and, perhaps, has drawn justifiable criticism. I’m sure that situation will continue to be scrutinised in the coming games which may lead to even more ‘speculation’ and ‘rumours’ of Hernandez wanting away.

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If England don’t win the World Cup as, by the time next Summer’s tournament comes around, they will be expected to do then the same media outlets raising expectation will be calling for Gareth Southgate’s head. Optimism ahead of a major tournament is ok but when it becomes unrealistic then it’s damaging. I’d far rather hear “let’s qualify through the group and take it from there,” than “we’re going to win the World Cup,” when next Summer comes around.

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So I ask a couple of questions. Where’s the balance and realism gone in fan expectation at West Ham and where do you draw the line between fair criticism and a witch-hunt? SJ Chandos’ great piece about John Lyall earlier this week outlined what a mistake it was to let him go – especially in the manner that he was dismissed. At the time of his dismissal he was the longest serving manager in the game. Alex Ferguson had contacted John Lyall on more than one occasion for advice. Under his tenure West Ham won trophies and had their highest ever league position finish to a season. I wonder what West Ham would have achieved were it not for sacking one of their greatest managers and, like SJ Suggests, how John Lyall might have brought on the next West Ham manager to follow him. We can only speculate but I’ll strongly suggest that we wouldn’t have been following ‘Division 1’ football in the Premier League’s inaugural season. One poster outlined the ‘Lyall Out’ chants that could be heard by the fans in that final year – despite the overwhelming support he got, with his name being sung to the rafters, in his final home game against Luton and the 5 wins in the final 7 games.

Last season Slaven publically called out the Arsene Wenger witch-hunt for what it was. Elsewhere, unlike many other clubs, our opponents this weekend have stuck by their man. Sean Dyche remained in charge at Burnley despite being relegated and, low and behold, bounced straight back the following season. Newcastle have hardly been the model of managerial stability for the last few years however they did the same with Rafa Benitez and were similarly rewarded with an immediate return to the top flight. The same club made mistakes beforehand by getting rid of good managers before they’d really got a chance to influence a season properly. Despite not being his biggest fan I saw Mike Ashley’s dismissal of Sam Allardyce as a prime example of ‘hitting the panic button’ early.

I wonder how the next couple of months are going to play out for Slaven Bilic. I suspect that we’ll pick up sufficient points to keep most happy. The run of games that we have were described as ‘winnable’ however, if the team don’t do well in this period, pressure could become significant enough for the board to act. Inwardly I’m sure Slaven has been affected by the media pressure but like John Lyall all those years ago he is dignified, professional and calm under pressure. You can only admire the way that Super Slav deals with the intensely difficult situation that he has found himself in. The results so far this season, as in ’88-’89, have been poor. Let’s hope this season doesn’t finish the same way that one did. The injury list in that relegation campaign bordered on the ridiculous but, unlike back then, you can’t go out and buy replacement players at any point (despite Frankie Mac struggling before getting injured himself after his return from Celtic). Conversely the squads, nowadays, are much larger to help cope with the loss of players to the physio room.

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Lastly, completely off topic, I saw a brief interview with Reece Oxford on SSN last night. From what he said he’s fighting hard to get in to the team at Menchengladbach. Best of luck to him – great lad who I hope has a successful time in Germany.

COYI – West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Player Chemistry – When Partnerships Click

On a day when England could qualify for the forthcoming World Cup in Russia I was thinking back to the great understanding that Sir Trev and Kevin Keegan cultivated in their time together for the National side. On so many occasions the pair of them came up with important goals made for and scored by each other. I’ve searched for footage but not been able to find the TV interview where they tested the ‘telepathic understanding’ claims using shapes on cards. Sir Trev and Kevin got remarkable scores in the experiment however Keegan later admitted that he had cheated as he could see the shapes on the cards being held up in the reflection in the TV Camera’s lense in the studio.

Keegan later admitted that he had cheated as he could see the shapes on the cards

Some examples of the pairing working so well can be viewed on Youtube at the following links. The first of which was a lovely 1-2 to set up the second goal against Scotland at Wembley.

& Keegan for Brooking before Keegan for Brooking’s lovely strike, that got wedged in the top corner of the net, when hugely up against it away in Hungary in a vital World Cup qualifier in 1981.

The 2-0 win against Italy was another great example.

It’s a beautiful thing when two players with great footballing intelligence combine in this way. For me Brooking and Keegan typified this ‘chemistry’ and became a terrific partnership. So often either would put the ball exactly where the other wanted it. In the overwhelming majority of occasions this would have been in front of the other player, maintaining the momentum of an attack, which I don’t think we see often enough nowadays. Passes played behind players make me groan at times. Yes there’s a time and a place for it however it generally gives the opposition time to re-shape and start to press which puts pressure on the team in possession. Not that I suspect it will make much difference to our national team but I will always encourage kids I coach to play passes in front of the player on the other end of the ball.

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Sir Trev and Keegan were brought on too late in the day against Spain, in the 0-0 draw that prevented our progress, in the last game of the World Cup in ’82 IMO. A shame that injuries prevented them spending much time together on the pitch in that particular tournament. For me one of those games that you remember exactly where you were.

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I wish the pair’s partnership could have been for club and country but I’m not too sure that Mr Len would have forked out the amount it would have taken to bring Kevin Keegan to West Ham back in those days. Perhaps those teams in the early ’80’s would have achieved so much more if he had’ve come.

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In terms of partnerships that did flourish at West Ham those old enough to remember the famous ‘Boys of ‘86’ will fondly recall the lethal Cottee/McAvennie strike partnership that was so effective and took us to the brink of the League Title. There were other great partnerships in that side between those like Alan Dickens and Alan Devonshire, Dickens also combined beautifully with Mark Ward too. I remember Geoff Pike linking up well with almost any player – extremely underrated IMHO. At the back you had our great captain, and all round top bloke, Alvin Martin alongside the charismatic Tony Gale who was solid as a rock – the pair of them combining to form a formidable partnership for the season. I could go on – there were so many that ‘Cliked’ in that best ever league campaign.

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It’s, potentially, a lethal combination that could yield a great number of goals

Of course it doesn’t always work. Players that you think would be great together just don’t seem to be able to gain an understanding. By now I think you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this in relation the current season. Although it’s too early to call, and they’ve not had sufficient time to gel, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all expected much more of an Andy Carroll/Javiez Hernandez partnership. The long ball tactic that has been employed so many times this term, with the flick on or lay off coming from AC, just hasn’t been read by Chicha and/or Chicha hasn’t got it where he’s wanted it. It’s something that I would expect the pair of them to have been working on as it’s, potentially, a lethal combination that could yield a great number of goals. Instead of that the two of them look like strangers up there. If this partnership doesn’t come to fruition it will be a crying shame. I’m still hopeful, though, as there’s time for it to ‘Click’. Like Cottee and McAvennie I get the feeling that there’s a hint of ‘this town’s not big enough for the two of us’ sentiment knocking around. Looking back those two got over the gunslinger ‘style cramping’. Perhaps the international break might give the pair enough space, and Slaven enough time to find a better formation, for them to flourish by feeding off each other. Playing in correct positions to get the best out of your key players is important and it’s clear that Slaven is, very much, still finding out about the current squad with it’s quality additions this Summer. Food for thought for him ahead of the Burnley game.

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Could this be the start of something good between the pair of them?

I’m not a big fan of the ‘5 reasons why’ type internet posts. Whilst they bring up some interesting stats they very rarely give the whole picture on a specific subject. To a degree that was the case on the official club site this week in their “5 Reasons Why West Ham United’s Defensive Record Has Improved” “click here” :https://tinyurl.com/y9els4fk . That said it was an interesting piece that suggested that Reid and Fonte are developing a good combination at Centre Back. If you’ve read it I’d like to hear your thoughts on it and if you haven’t then please give it a look if you have time. I did think there was an element of blue sky optimism about the stats quoted. For one thing it doesn’t really consider the teams that we’ve been playing in September compared with August but the specific part about Reid and Fonte still stood out. There’s no denying that Fonte has looked better lately. Could this be the start of something good between the pair of them? Hope so – especially with Ginge out for a while.

Back to England Luthuania shouldn’t pose to difficult a question. A genuine ‘good luck’ to Scotland from me. Would be great to see a Scottish team at a World Cup finals again. Same goes for Northern Ireland who I’ve enjoyed watching. Between the ROI and Wales it’s only going to be one of the two who qualify, by the looks of things, so it’s down to a straight shootout between them in the final game to decide who goes through or gains a place in the play offs.

COYI – West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Flawed Geniuses - West Ham’s Self Destructive Mavericks

Watching West Ham’s top five goals against the Spudz, to try and cheer myself up a bit, last up was Ravel Morrison’s superb solo effort at WHL in 2013. From Mo Diame’s lovely touch to bring it under deep in our half, followed by the lovely lay off to Ravel with the outside of his boot which was the start of one of the more memorable goals in our history, what resulted typified Morrison’s great potential.

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With only one game from nine so far this season, in a struggling Atlas team in Liga MX, Mexico’s top division, on loan from Lazio, Ravel is yet to break through. Should he get his chance I hope he goes on to do well and realise his potential. The Atlas fans were excited about his arrival despite vice-president Alberto de la Torres revealing that there is a ‘good behaviour’ clause in the loan deal. The fact that he’s only featured once for the team might suggest it’s not going well however the aforementioned clause doesn’t mince words stating that he’ll be sent straight home should Ravel digress in any way so perhaps he’s still in their plans.

Very much like Paul Gascoine it appears that Ravel has been unable to shake off bad influences from ‘hangers on’. Ravel’s formative years put him in with a crowd who Sir Alex Ferguson was keen to distance him from – so much so that he decided to do what he considered in the best interests of Ravel by selling him to West Ham to be looked after by Sam Allardyce. A compliment from the Manchester United manager to Mr Allardyce’s abilities to get the best out of players.

Sadly it didn’t work out for Ravel at West Ham as his Salford ‘friends’ continued to influence him. He is a grown man and, therefore, can’t blame others for his own failings however it can’t be easy for the fella with ‘outside influences’ taking effect.

After loan spells at Birmingham, QPR & Cardiff West Ham released Ravel and he signed for Lazio in 2015. He returned to QPR on loan. Signing for an Italian club may not have been far away enough from Manchester. If not then his current loan to Mexico should do the trick. If not then how far away does he have to go? Will he end his career in New Zealand perhaps?

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On the subject of flawed geniuses Paulo Di Canio, for me, was on that level. Blessed with incredible skill, although much of it developed with hard graft and dedication, and as much as I worship him as a player, there’s no doubting that he’s hit the self destruct on more than one occasion during his career. You wonder whether he would have featured for Italy and become an international legend as well as a West Ham one if he’d have been more able to manage interpersonal relationships with those in authority within his national team’s hierarchy. Whatever your opinion he definitely possesses eccentricities in similar ways to Gazza and Ravel.

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There are elements of this with our record signing, Marko Aranoutovic, but there’s definitely a line between ‘Flawed Genius’ and ‘Moody and sulky players

To a degree it must be difficult growing up in the, bubble like, world of a top level footballer. Some handle the strains well. Others struggle with it for varying reasons. Be they alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling problems, infidelity, anger or mental issues with so much time and money at their disposal it can certainly be a case of ‘too much too young’ for many. Whilst there is certainly far more resource put in to managing these issues by clubs, associations and academies nowadays the number of players who fall foul are still significant. There are elements of this with our record signing, Marko Aranoutovic, but there’s definitely a line between ‘Flawed Genius’ and ‘Moody and sulky players with a bit of a screw loose with very few falling in to the former classification. Which group Marko falls in to remains to be seen. Others who have been close to that line might include the likes of Stuart Slater and, going back to players from the ‘50’s, Malcolm Allsion. I’m sure that you could name plenty more and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and debates on the matter.

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the great tribute that our club put on in honour of the legendary irishman, warmly recognised and appreciated by Sir Bobby Charlton

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Differing subtly from your common badges of honour history bestows a great deal of Kudos on the flawed genius. They’re written and spoken about extensively by those who knew them and those who didn’t. For me it’s one of the most interesting conversations in sport. I remember speaking with a Manchester United fan about George Best. Part of the conversation was due to the fact that Manchester United visited Upton Park the game after his sad passing and the great tribute that our club put on in honour of the legendary Irishman, warmly recognised and appreciated by Sir Bobby Charlton, but much of that conversation centered around whether George would have been the same player without his imperfections. Nobody can say for sure but one thing is for certain. The spectacle of our great game is enriched hugely by these flawed geniuses who become giants of the game.


The GoatyGav Column

Golden Days For English Youngsters – Good Luck Reece

It’s a big congrats to Reece Oxford for his ‘Golden Boy’ nomination from me. The responses to the recognition he’s earned have been mixed from the West Ham supporting element of social media but I’m chuffed for him. He’s one of our own – why wouldn’t you show your backing for him.

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Out of the twenty five nominees for the award this time six are English. The highest number of any single country on the continent. Something else to celebrate. Linking to my piece from last week it looks like there may be some initial sparks of talent coming through from the investment in the elite youth that Sir Trevor oversaw during his time in charge of development at the F.A. The under nineteen world cup winning team gives further evidence of this.

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Rashford, who was runner up last year

Reece is in good company amongst his fellow nominees. The list includes Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Solanke, Rashford, who was runner up last year, and Gabriel Jesus. To Reece’s on-line detractors I would contend that there are many experts sitting on the panel that have drawn up the final twenty five of Europe’s brightest prospects. Clearly they see something in the lad. That is a clear indicator, at the very least, that he should get a chance to learn and grow in to an even better player – hopefully, eventually, for West Ham.

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English players have won twice

Previous winners of the U21 most exciting talent award include Aguero, Pogba, Fabregas, Rooney and one of my favourite European players Isco. Interestingly when you look at the nationality of winners, compared to the nation that the player’s clubs are in, English players have won twice, since the award’s introduction in 2004, and players at English clubs have won six times. Players at clubs in the best technical league in Europe, Spain, have won three times. Personally I’d have expected that number to be much higher but ‘them is the facts’. Equally as surprising is the fact that the two English winners, Rooney and Sterling, are joined by two from Spain, two from Brazil, two from Argentina, two from France and only one from each of Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands.

players at English clubs have won six times

So what’s best for Europe’s elite young talent in terms of their own careers. The best continental flair is often snapped up by English clubs nowadays, which some argue is denying our lads chances, but how about players going in the other direction? Rather than loans to the Championship, as was usually the case over the last 10-15 years, is it not better for our future prospects to spend a season or two in other top European leagues? I believe so. In terms of development I’m of the opinion that they can learn aspects of the game that they wouldn’t do in England – giving them a more rounded knowledge, and experience, and developing them in to more complete players. At under twenty one level we’re definitely in the mix in terms of the best players coming through. So what’s going wrong seems to be to do with what happens after twenty one. Here’s where the F.A. needs to focus and where English players are getting left behind for no, apparently, good reason. As a nation we appear good a coaching youth but don’t have managers in charge at the top level who are able to bring the youth through to the top level.

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And so back to Reece Oxford. His loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach has not provided him with any first team action as yet. That said he has been on the bench for all of their Bundesliga fixtures except the opener against Essen following his pre season goal against Malaga. Monchen have started well with two wins and two draws from their first five leaving them seventh in the table. Personally I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets on from the bench. Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity if it were against league leaders Dortmund this weekend? Whichever game it is, if it comes to pass, I wish him all the best and hope that he grabs his opportunity with both hands. Call me old fashioned but I don’t want to see a West Ham entirely devoid of any home grown talent. Rice and Oxford snapping at the heels of the likes of Reid, Ogbonna, Fonte, Kouyate, Noble and Obiang in the squad would restore some pride in, what was long ago known as, ‘The Academy of Football’.

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Finally a well done to the team for progressing to the next round of the League Cup (I give up trying to keep up with what it’s called). The exciting prospect of a great game at Wembley, and progression to the quarter finals, in the fourth round awaits.

COYI! West Ham 4 the Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Skill Affluence – Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

One of my best ever football playing memories was one from the streets. My good mate and I used to play footie together often. We developed quite a good understanding. If we weren’t down the rec we were playing jumpers for goalpost games. We also played small sided matches on the road outside our houses with tennis balls. The particular memory was triggered by a Facebook post by Graybo in which there was, of all things, a link to a Daily Mail piece on ‘The West Ham Way’ developing, in part, in the Stadium car park in the early ‘60s and onwards. You can read it at the following link https://tinyurl.com/y9wxjehk .

Some preparation for those cup adventures came from the club car park – Harry Redknapp
- Mail Online Article, 14th Sept ’17.

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On a hot Summer school holiday afternoon my mate and I were challenged to a game by three lads who all played for their respective school teams. Despite becoming a reasonably good, and definitely quite lanky and quick, winger, I never got a game for my school. My German teacher ran the team from the first year through to the end of the fifth and, let’s just say, we didn’t get on very well. Despite both male games and PE teachers putting pressure on him to play me the German teaching football team manager never gave me a single minute. Got on the bench once against Alsager school where our lads played out a frustrating 0-0 draw. A half decent and quick winger might well have made a difference but, nope, not a sniff of an appearance sadly. Anyway, enough of my baggage/issues, back to the ‘overload’ game.

My mate and I stroked the tennis ball around and moved well. We’d played footie together countless times and developed a good understanding along with the difficult soft touch needed for the smaller, difficult to control, ball. We absolutely smashed it in the, first to ten, game. Barely gave the three players a touch. Ended up winning by ten goals to seven. Ok – so we made ‘extra men’ with wall passes against the kerb but that was all part of the game that we’d developed. Thinking about this now I’m pretty sure those games contributed to my preference to a quick, slick pass and move style. I try my best to coach it in to the U13 team that I manage (another challenge altogether).

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There’s something to be said about the link between the lack of skill developed by British players, over the last thirty to forty years, and the disappearance of ‘Street Football’

The above anecdote is, no doubt, one of millions of ‘stories from the street’. “That’s great Gav but where are you going with all this?” you might ask. Well I’m convinced that there’s definitely something to be said about the link between the lack of skill developed by British players, over the last thirty to forty years, and the disappearance of ‘Street Football’. Anyone who has read Paulo DiCanio’s autobiography, published in 2000, will recall the fond memories for street football that the mercurial Italian recounted. He put a good deal of the skill he developed down to having to dribble the ball on concrete and up and down steps whilst avoiding concrete bollards, walls, kerbs and the occasional washing line of the Quarticciolo district whilst taking on opponents one on one. Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand the reasons for Street Football disappearing. Compare the picture of the street above with the one below and one of the key reasons becomes obvious.

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Playing small sided matches with tennis balls on concrete, or tarmac, surely developed touch, awareness and intelligent movement. The kids who used to play in these games didn’t need to be taken to clubs to train. There was no cost for fees and kit involved. When they finally got to the clubs many of the raw materials were already in place – the clubs developed and adapted those skills in to the eleven a side game.

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When my two lads started their school days I soon found out that playing football in the playground was a weekly privilege. I guess this was for health and safety reasons. Now around GCSE age this hasn’t changed much. The playground Football games were simply an extension of the street football games – often played with tennis balls as well.
So how much did playing in the street help develop ball skills in the last century compared with how kids can develop today? Personally I feel that, in today’s game, there’s higher level skill development for the elite only. I accept it. After all Sir Trevor Brooking was a strong advocate of this ‘skill affluence’ during his time in charge of development at the FA. I once had a sniff of making this point to Sir Trev, who I idolised, but didn’t get the opportunity at the annual Pro Am Golf day the company I worked for used to organise as others were monopolising the conversation with him. Sadly the one and only time I’ve ever had the opportunity to chat with the great man.

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As a youth team manager myself I endeavour to give the lads I coach the best I can. I do need to do more FA courses which I’m determined to complete but on reflection there’s no way they could get the Football education that many of us who grew up in the last century had. It’s a lament, I know, and the only constant is change which leads me to wonder what environment the kids playing the game in thirty to forty year’s time will be in? Whatever or wherever that may be the over-riding aim is that they keep ‘Loving The Game’ even if they never get to the affluent elite level.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


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