Talking Point

Are Players Now Calling The Shots?

Incredible to contemplate isn’t it. Is it possible ‘player power’ now extends to taking team management decisions in to player’s own hands? Where will this end? How is it that we’ve got to a situation where a player can take or leave a manager’s call during a match? The contributing factors to this are many and varied.

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The first, and probably biggest, of the reasons for the increase is the amount that players earn. When Jimmy Hill pushed to give players more security I wonder if he’d have imagined that things would progress to a point where there was such a role reversal. Clubs and managers have, almost, come to the point where they’re at the mercy of playing staff. During this transfer window a certain player, under contract at West Ham, indirectly, through a family member, unsettled the team by ‘demanding’ a move abroad. There have been other cases in our club’s history where this has occurred however, thankfully, not to the extent where a player has refused to leave the pitch when his number has been shown on the substitute’s board.

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In the moment that Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea keeper, told Maurizio Sarri that he was not coming off, when the Chelsea boss subbed him for Willy Cabalerro in the dying seconds of extra time on Sunday, he crossed a line. Sarri, whatever you think about his methods, is a man already under considerable pressure. The disrespect, for his gaffer, team-mates and the game in general was unforgiveable. However the situation is now being handled it’s another in a very long line of events that have eroded the status and authority of the position of football management.

Many fans will recall the bizarre match at Upton Park against Bradford City, in Feb 2000, when the opposite situation to Sunday’s final occurred. After having two nailed on, and one debatable, penalty decisions go against him Paulo Di Canio walked over to Harry Redknapp demanding to be substituted. On that occasion it was the manager who made the refusal which, ultimately, resulted in West Ham coming from 4-2 down to win the match 5-4. A very different situation which the manager gained credibility, not loss of authority, from.

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Like him or loathe him Jose Mourinho appears to be one of a dying breed. Looking back at some of the great managers of the past the likes of Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough would never have had to face such acts of defiance from their players. The likes of Paul Ince and David Beckham learned, to their detriment, there was only ever going to be one winner in the Manchester United team of the ‘90’s and naughties when it came down to player demands and that wasn’t the players.

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After showing solidarity with Dimitri Payet our own manager, Slaven Bilic, eventually lost in his battle to retain the player. Slaven’s style was nothing like the Fergusons of this world, a criticism that was oft levelled against him, and the situation with the France International from Reunion took it’s toll on our Croatian manager. When a player downs tools, nowadays, there’s usually only one winner.

Saido Berahino, following his attempt to force a move, refused to play for his team, West Brom, again. In that situation it wasn’t a case of there only being one winner. There were no winners in that lose/lose position at all. Player, club and fans all ended up at a disadvantage which didn’t end well. Personally I admired the club for digging their heels in. Not just because the chairman, Jeremy Peace, expected the player to stick to the contractual obligations of the player, but also because of his refusal to give in to a ‘bigger club’ trying to use it’s power to manoeuvre West Brom in to a weak negotiating position.

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And so what of the future? How is a team boss expected to organise players if they do whatever they please? Is this heading towards an anarchic state of affairs? If players continue to have less respect and discipline will manager’s positions become untenable?

How much of the petulance and immaturity displayed by players nowadays is indicative of modern society I wonder? I know this is getting in to different areas but there seems to be far less respect today compared with previous decades. Is the brattish behaviour of players just a reflection of what’s going on in the world generally? What other contributing factors are there? I’ve no doubt that greedy agents are certainly playing their part but what about how professional footballers are treated in their formative years? Should their education play a bigger part during their teens when they’re dedicating almost all of their time to training?

I’m sure that you all have your own ideas on this and that there are many other factors to consider. So how do you see this developing and what are the main issues to be addressed?

Back on the pitch I’m looking forward to our match against Man City tomorrow night. It’s what’s become known as a ‘free hit’ and I’m confident that Manuel Pellegrini will set the team up to go and give the Champions a proper go with an attack minded approach. Win or lose if the lads can do that then I’ll be a Happy Hammer.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Who Can Question The Improving Quality Of The Squad?

In life, and in football, change is the only constant. As much as any fan tries to view their football team as a solid, tangible and stable thing, that they know like the back of their hands, there’s no getting away from the fact that, in reality, it’s a living, breathing entity that is constantly developing and evolving. At West Ham we’re probably more used to the fact than fans of the majority of other clubs. Nowadays West Ham wouldn’t be West Ham without some news story emerging. The media love our club, and put so much focus on it, for that very reason and us fans are constantly in a state of flux, wondering what revelation will come to light next, keeping us on constant tenterhooks.

Notwithstanding this continual shifting of West Ham’s tectonic plates there’s been an overall improvement in the team management and playing staff over the last few years. Focusing more on the playing staff than the various gaffers that we’ve had recently the the squad has gone from strength to strength. Not that it ever happens but if everyone was fit and firing the current playing roster looks extremely strong. There’s some talk of Lanzini returning to a matchday squad for Friday’s game against Fulham. If it means any risk to his cruciate ligament recovery then I’d sooner he didn’t however the prospect of Manu lining up alongside Anderson and Arnie is a mouthwatering one.

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So player recruitment has gone up a notch but the good news doesn’t stop there. From the ranks of the Academy we’re starting to see home grown talent come through again. Declan Rice has to be one of the most exciting products of the Academy for many a season. Game in game out he’s consistently running matches from midfield. I can’t remember the last time Declan had a bad game such is his consistency. Alongside Fabianski you’d have to say that, if the season ended today, he’d be nailed on for Hammer Of The Year. Grady Diangana has also impressed. Not as far along his development curve as Declan is Grady has still ‘cut it’ in the games he’s played in the Premier League. With many others like Nathan Holland, Marcus Browne, Jahmal Hector-Ingram, Dan Kemp, Connor Coventry, Xande Silva, Tunji Akinola and, recently signed, Mesaque Dju queuing up to knock on the first team door we may well see others break through from the youth sides in the near future.

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Last night the aforementioned Portugal U19 International signing from Benfica made his home league debut in the West Ham U23 team against Liverpool U23s after a half match taster away to Arsenal U23 (half a match due to the game being abandoned at half time because of adverse weather conditions & not through substitution). Although Dju didn’t see masses of the ball he looked extremely threatening when he did gain possession. Gifted with considerable pace Dju looks like he’s going to be a great asset to West Ham. as early as the 6th minute Dju opened up the oppositon, with three red shirts unable to take the ball off him, before squaring smartly inside the box. Although he was substituted in the second half the Portuguese pace-man showed enough to suggest he’s going to do well.

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The game itself was a decent one to watch in the middle of the park. Sadly the quick, crisp interplay in midfield was rarely matched in the final third of the pitch where the Liverpool youngsters defended without any degree of discomfort. The promising play, most notably from Dan Kemp, for West Ham just lacked that cutting edge with the final ball. Others including Hector-Ingram and Kristijan Belic threatened but chances were few and far between with the final ball often over-hit from both central and wide positions. A great shame as the progression of the moves made decent viewing.

Between the sticks I got my first look at Ghanaian born Joseph Anang who was assured when claiming the ball. There wasn’t much he could have done about the Liverpool, and only, goal and apart from that you couldn’t really fault his performance. I’ll be interested to see how his career progresses and the effect that has on Nathan Trott. In defence Aji Alese made some silly, unnecessary challenges and was lucky to stay on the pitch but recovered to make a superb block on the line in the 83rd minute before getting in the opposition half and hitting a stinging drive just over the bar. Ones to watch from the Reds were captain Paul (who the LFCTV commentator kept referring to as Powell) Glatzel and 66th minute sub Yasser Larouci who both impressed with Glatzel bagging the winner when he tapped in from a ball that was knocked on to him from a pass from out wide on the counter attack.

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With more competition for places being added to, by those returning from injury, the squad is set to get stronger even before the Summer transfer window. There’s a sense of expectation that this Summer will bring further improvements, with various comings and goings, and, despite our poor fortune with injuries, Manuel Pellegrini’s project will get further personnel to improve the playing style that he’s trying to achieve even further.

With all this in mind it’s hard not to be optimistic for the future – albeit cautiously optimistic.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

To What Extent Do Clubs Owe A Duty Of Care To Players?

He may not be flavour of the month at West Ham but, at the risk of flying in the face of popular opinion, I had some admiration for Jurgen Klopp last week. The reason I had for seeing the positive in the German manager was his handling of one of his young players – Nathaniel Clyne.

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There can be absolutely no doubt that the Liverpool manager has acted in the best interests of the young player and not himself and/or the club. Putting the welfare of others ahead of oneself is one of the most admirable human traits. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious man, by any stretch, but there’s a great deal that can be learned from the teachings of the various religious texts – and selflessness is the one that stands above all for me. Treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself encapsulates so many virtues it’s not surprising that it was voted the most important of the 10 commandments a few years back. So when loaning Clyne out, to Premier League AFC Bournemouth, Klopp ran the risk of leaving his own back line short on numbers. And so it came to pass that injuries depleted Liverpool’s back line however, rather than disrupt Clyne, and Bournemouth, the loanee was allowed to stay at the club where he’s learning and flourishing. Fair play to the German manager I say.

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It’s not always the case that clubs operate in the way that Liverpool have in the case of Clyne’s loan. Casting my mind to one of our own club’s youth prospects I wonder if the same can be said. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind the closed doors of West Ham, so I may be wrong, but it would appear that the club’s onwers have ‘hedged their bets’ in the case of Reece Oxford. When he burst on to the scene at 16, becoming the youngest player to play for the club in a league game following his debut against FC Luscitanos, he turned a great many heads in the press. The season ‘15-’16 opener, and first game in charge for Slaven Bilic, was one that West Ham were not expected to come away with anything from . After a terrific performance, and a creditable one nil win, at the Emirates Stadium many in the media were talking about how Oxford ran the midfield. Sadly Slaven Bilic withdrew Reece from the squad, after a couple more appearances, not giving the youngster a sustained crack at the whip. When compared with Declan Rice, who made similar errors to Oxford, it would seem that West Ham, perhaps, learned a lesson.

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Reece enjoyed his time on loan to German Club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and seemed to want to remain there. Having worked hard to get in to the first team an initial bid, reportedly for £15M, from Borussia was turned down by the club and the player recalled before, eventually, being loaned back to the German club again. It was reported that another bid came in for Reece after he, once again, broke in to the first team at Mönchengladbach but, once again, he was recalled. It seemd that West Ham neither wanted Oxford to establish himself in Germany or sell him. Once again I don’t profess to know what goes on behind closed doors, and it could be that Reece Oxford wanted to return to West Ham to fight for a first team squad place, but, on the face of it, it does seem that he’s been made to feel extremely unsettled and, to a degree, left in limbo following a further loan to Augsburg FC. In Oxford’s two games for Augsburg, one in Midfield and one at Center Back, the fortunes of the team seem to have taken a turn for the better with two consecutive victories before a loss against an on form Werder Bremen.

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What now for the talented Oxford? At twenty years old he’s still developing and is, seemingly, in the best place to do so but will West Ham finally allow the player to move on?
Ultimately football is a business and players are assets. Anyone who thinks differently is, probably, being naïve. That said, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been sensible for West Ham to have taken the first offer that came in for Reece. As things now stand his contract runs out this June and, with that knowledge, it’s very unlikely that West Ham will receive any money for the twenty year old.

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Many other clubs, especially those with large budgets at the top end of the Premier League, seem very keen to retain the services of as many young players as possible when the majority of them stand little chance of breaking in to the first teams. Jordan Sancho, while at Manchester City, was given the option of signing for another Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, who sit proudly atop the German top tier. Having made thirty three first team appearances for Dortmund, scoring eight goals, his development is coming along nicely. That was great for Manchester City and great for the player but, sometimes, the club will want to keep hold of their ‘asset’. Take Phil Foden, for example, who looks like he may have a bright future under Pep Guardiola. I’m not suggesting that Manchester City, or Liverpool, are perfect in their dealings with youth players however they do seem to have some guiding principles when it comes to their best interests.

It’s not just about youth players. A duty of care, of course, should extend to those at the start, the middle and end of player’s careers. There are countless examples of good and bad treatment of playing staff by clubs which I’m sure you’ll use to make your points on this subject.

In many cases, like the song by Sting goes, ‘Set Them Free’, rather than stifling players in the reserves until they become a free agent, is the best way to a win/win scenario. It’s incredibly hard to make it in Professional Football so why make it harder for all concerned?

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Your Footballing Analogies Please

This morning’s article is a brief invitation to indulge in a bit of footy fun.

This season it seems that the, self created, analogy is very much en vogue. Primarily provided by foreign coaches and managers we’ve had some, shall we say, creative ones that have not escaped the notice of the various forms of football media in this country. I’ve outlined some of these great pearls of wisdom below but I’d love you to share the ones you’ve heard down the years. Be they from the mouths of professional, amateur, kids or Sunday League football it really doesn’t matter – like I said, it’s just for fun really. The ‘mixier’ the metaphor the better.

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I’m not 100% certain who was first to go with the metaphor to describe a team’s, or a club’s, situation but, if you go back to Eric Cantona’s comments of 1995, there’s a great example. Describing media reporters EC likened their persistence to that of Seagulls following a trawler because they think that Sardines will be thrown in to the water for them. Off the wall you think? Well get a load of Jose Mourinho.

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During interviews the ‘Special One’ has really stretched the imagination beyond the realms of reality. Deciding that you don’t like Oranges at the top of the tree because they’re out of reach, despite the fact they’re the juiciest, and picking the lower ones had most of those listening scratching their heads. Before then there was the ‘Little Horse’ who needs ‘milk and work’ to help it learn to jump – hopefully getting to the point where you have two big Horses and a nice Horse if you’re lucky? No? Well, maybe, try getting your head around the various class of eggs on offer in the supermarket and their influence on the quality of the resultant omelette.

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Mr Mourhinho’s ‘House’ aphorism was a more recent one that didn’t quite come off either. According to Jose apparently it’s not just about buying new furniture. Oh no. The ex-Manchester United gaffer went off on one about the point at which you are ready to buy the said furniture, in relation to building the house in the first place, so that you’re then ready to live in an amazing house?

Confused? You will be. Gary Neville attempted to describe the task that Unai Emery had when he took over at Arsenal. Like his ex team-mate Neville went all Nautical. In his metaphor GN assigned Emery the role of the ship’s Captain. He went on to suggest that the new Arsenal manager needed to decide who was to disembark when the ship went in to port before allowing certain passengers on ahead of sailing back out to shore? Hmmm – permission to come aboard sir? Definitely not granted!

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I don’t want to steal your thunder so I’ll leave it there with my examples and look forward to hearing yours for a good giggle. Doesn’t have to be anyone famous. Could just be a mate, a stranger who shouted something out in the crowd on a match day or anyone at all.

Cheers
Gav.


The GoatyGav Column

When Teams Think They Only Have To Turn Up!

Call it overconfidence, cockiness or disrespect to your opponent, sporting history is littered with cases where teams have thought that all they needed to do was show up and they’d breeze through.

Saturday evening was one of the lowest experiences that I’ve had as a West Ham fan. The chants from the faithful who attended the cup tie at Kingsmeadow said it all. “This is embarrassing!” repeatedly sung from the stands must have hurt to hear but, frankly, was a song that the players deserved.

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Don’t get me wrong – it’s, almost certainly, hurting the players as much as it hurts us fans. Take Mark Noble, for example, and his chances of ever winning a major trophy with West Ham. He doesn’t have that many years left to his playing career so, if he’s ever going to achieve that, he’s going to need to do so very soon. I’ve used Mark Noble as an example because we all know how much he cares about the club. He must have been absolutely gutted after the final whistle went at AFC Wimbledon this weekend. Not only have so many of Nobes’ team-mates let us down – they’ve let each other down too. Not a single player among them can claim to have put everything in to the match. If they do think this then a good, long, cold and hard look needs to be taken in.

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So how much of the historic loss is down to the players’ attitude. Wimbledon got off to an absolute flyer? Our players looked like they couldn’t quite believe what was happening as they were getting outworked, out-passed, out-tackled and, generally, outplayed by a team sitting fifty-eight places below them in English league football tier. For me the lion’s share of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the team. You could, arguably, suggest that the team wasn’t prepared properly for the match and that should be placed at the manager’s door. Ultimately the boss will always be culpable but can anyone seriously argue that the team put out at the League 1 basement club shouldn’t have won? This is not a comparable embarrassment as that suffered in the Cup five years ago when Mr Allardyce exposed an inexperienced team to defeat like ‘lambs to the slaughter’. That particular occasion was almost the polar opposite of what happened two evenings ago, as I write, where the manager was almost completely to blame. This time, as the cameras switched to the West Ham bench, you could see the frustration on Manuel Pellegrini’s face. In an effort to turn the half time deficit around the gaffer made a triple substitution. Despite my position on fault-finding for the loss I found myself questioning the three simultaneous subs. During the period of time the team was adjusting to the changes we went three goals down – no co-incidence IMO. Truth is, however, that virtually all the damage was done in the first half.

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The various reasons for the loss have been discussed at great length on this site and we’ll be talking about this black mark on our club’s history for decades to come. In my humble opinion I believe that an arrogant attitude is to blame more than any other single reason. For a few clubs the F.A. Cup is something of a holy grail. The majority of fans of clubs like Newcastle and West Ham place huge importance on the game’s oldest competition – and so they should. Unlike the League Cup the winners of the F.A. Cup are guaranteed automatic entry to the group stages of the Europa League. Criticise Europe’s second tier competition all you like but it has served as a form of progression towards the Champion’s League for teams – most notably that lot from N17. I know that all is not lost and, quite conceivably, the boys could qualify for Europe with a seventh placed finish but it’s not quite as exciting as winning a cup is it?

Sitting here writing I can hear the ‘One Show’ in the background. Very shortly the draw for the 5th round will be made. With Liverpool, Arsenal, Spuds and other Premier League teams out of the picture this year’s F.A. Cup is opening up nicely. So who would we have drawn (clearly you already know who we would have drawn) – here it comes……. and it is……… a home tie to…… Milwall! To top that one off Chelski are home to Manyoo – knocking out another of the remaining three of the top six!

All the best of luck to Wimbledon. If we were to go out to a lower league club then it could, certainly, have been worse.
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So onwards we go. Let’s hope we can get some, much needed, cheer against Wolves next. Sooner we put the debacle of the cup exit behind us the better.

COYI! West Ham 4 Seventh Place! ;)


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