The HamburgHammer Column

Put the pea in the pod - the ponytailed battering ram is too predictable!

Alright, I’ll admit it, I drifted off during the West Brom game, the telly was on but after half an hour our so the football on display had bored me senseless and I didn’t watch the game as intently as I usually do. I found myself browsing the Saturday newspaper casually (with the German election coming up next weekend it’s important to know about the various promises and projections made by the various politicians and parties on offer, you know), looking up at the screen whenever the commentators indicated with their tone or volume of voice that something interesting might be in the offing.

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At the end of the day it was a goalless draw of the boring variety, but considering our abysmal start to the season you won’t hear me moaning too much about a clean sheet away from home and another point in the bank. One point I would like to make though is that I feel sorry for Chicharito, trying to do his best out there on the wing, drifting inside whenever he can. That is not his natural game and I wouldn’t want to try turning him into a player at his age he simply is not and will never be in his career.

If you want to get the best out of Little Pea, put the pea in a round hole where he fits. He is a poacher, a fox in the box, a guy with the instinct to get to rebounds and put the ball over the line before anyone else can react. The more you put the ball in and around the box for him the more goals he will score. That’s why we brought him in, not to be a makeshift wingman (literally) for Andy Carroll.

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Don’t get me wrong, I know what AC can do when he is healthy, his ability to score with thunderous headers is second to none and he can also kick a ball too as proven in masterly fashion with his bicycle kick wonder goal against Palace. I would love it if AC could make it through the season now for once without suffering another major injury.
But I do absolutely not agree with Carroll (once again) being counted on as a focal point in our attack, it does severely limit our gameplan and is far too predictable to be successful on a long term basis in my view.

Some teams may have no defensive means to deal with AC and hence will lose games against us, even when they know in advance exactly what’s gonna hit ’em.
Yet there will also be teams, like West Brom, that will be happy enough to sit deep, keep AC in check and leave the pitch after 90 minutes being over the moon with a 0:0 draw.

I have been an advocate of the “Carroll as a super sub” approach for a long time now, unless of course you are brave enough to play both AC and Hernandez upfront together in a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2. I wouldn’t want to mess with our defensive setup at this point though because it begins to look like the perfect set up for our defenders and things will get even more interesting with Lanzini, Noble and Fernandes coming back into the equation.

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Overall I like the look of our squad, provided we can keep injuries to a minimum as it’s very threadbare and while I’m always happy to see youth players get their chance I’d rather see them getting their gametime in a controlled and planned environment so to speak, not watching them thrown to the wolves out of necessity expecting them to perform like experienced pros week in week out. Although I’d expect someone like Rice to adjust quickly and find his mojo without too much hassle.

Of course I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happens at training, but I find it peculiar how Bilic really seems to expect AC not only to stay fit but also to carry the team almost on his own. I am not convinced AC can do that, so I would rather hope we will eventually see a set up, a formation which plays to the strengths of our entire team, not just one player. With Lanzini, Antonio and Arnautovic in the side we have pace, tricks and physical presence in abundance and I am sure Chicharito would love to lurk around the box to feed off their passes.

We shall see what the future brings…starting with the small matter of the cup game against Bolton tomorrow (no stream likely for this one which means I will follow the game via the live ticker widget of my betting account) and the derby game against Spurs on Saturday which is going to be my first game of the season.

Yes, the claret and blue German is flying into Blighty again.
Lock away your daughters and sisters (whichever applies) and also your pantry, and if I were you I would also count your pies, burgers and sandwiches!

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Yes, I will also bring some clean socks as I will be staying for a long weekend, hopefully allowing for plenty of time to meet some of you guys and gals (again) in the process. Since my usual result when coming to the London Stadium is a 1:0 home win (on all four previous occasions) I wonder if the upcoming Spurs game will be the same, I certainly wouldn’t complain if that were to happen – my actual calendar is still pretty empty which is unusual. But no other games in or near London are scheduled for my visit (involving our development squad, the U18s or Dagenham&Redbridge, not even Leyton Orient), but I am sure my WHTID family won’t let me down when it comes to meeting up, sharing some food, drinks, banter and laughter in the process.

One thing on my bucket list is to finally meet The Ribman down at his stall and try one of his famous pork rolls with hot sauce. That guy by all accounts is somewhat of a West Ham legend in his own right and I can’t wait to say Hello and try his nosh.

It’s been a while now since I’ve been over and I am looking forward to hearing that much beloved Cockney or Essex accent in my ears again, I do really miss that and watching Eastenders every once in a while is no proper substitute as they rarely discuss West Ham.

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As for the quick Concordia updates, it was a highly successful weekend for the lads (and me), starting on Friday with the first team winning their game away to Suederelbe (wrong side of the river, but nice little ground) with a 4:0 scoreline under the lights which always creates an extra bit of atmosphere. Mind you, there was one moment I didn’t like and that was our third goal. Our winger Kevin Zschimmer (the Infirm City Firm have seen him play before) knocked down a quick pass to initiate a counter attack on the halfway line, quite obviously using his arm to control the ball before sprinting away for a one on one with their goalie to score easily.

The referee had allowed play to continue, but the protests from the opposition players (and fans) was so intense that the ref asked his assistant first (who had not spotted the handball either) and then directly approached the goalscorer, enquiring if, hand on heart, he had handled the ball. Kevin though told the ref it was his thigh, not his arm, he controlled the ball with and so the goal was given.

I found that not exactly fitting the spirit of the game and at 2:0 up with 15 minutes to go I felt it would have been the right thing to do to simply admit that his arm was involved which would have won him massive plaudits from the ref and the supporters too.

At the end of the day it was a third win on the spin and Cordi are now back on track in the promotion race, although there is still some catching up to do.

Yesterday then saw my brother join me for the Cordi 2 game, playing away in Bergedorf, close to where my brother lives. The Cordi second stringers won the contest 14:1, yes, that’s correct, FOURTEEN goals! Which is not that surprising at all when you consider that Cordi 2 are a very decent and freescoring team anyway and that the opposition on the day only had 11 players available at the start of the game and no substitutes, so once they were down to ten men after an injury and once their ten guys got tired after the hour mark it was unrelenting one way football with another goal every two minutes. No more than a practise game really.

Cordi 2 could even afford to miss a penalty and several other sitters. And the opposition goalkeeper was heavier and shorter than me, so the final scoreline was actually quite flattering and didn’t tell the whole story. So, my local football after a spluttering start to the season is finally fun to watch again.

I hope the same will soon apply for West Ham games as well again. I cannot quite put my finger on a reason why, but I have a positive gut feeling for the Spurs game. The London Stadium will be rocking yet again as if it’s Cup Final Day and you can expect this Kraut Hammer to be loud and proud on the day. COYI!!!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Taking the terriers for a walk in the Olympic Park - While girl power in German football is alive and kicking

WHAT A BLOODY RELIEF THAT WAS! 2:0 in our first home game of the season, and never in doubt! We had to win this and we did just that.

Everything was a bit different this week though, and all it took was our first home game of the season being selected for a Monday night kickoff. Which is why my column was moved by mutual consent from my usual spot to this one. In general I try to make it over for the first home game of the season as a matter of principle, but this time I somehow didn’t quite fancy it, especially with the Spurs game coming up so shortly after. I ain’t missing that one!

Germany was well represented though in my absence as I know that our dear friend Ebi found his way to the London Stadium for Huddersfield and it looks like his presence fortunately helped to lift the team and put the much needed three points in the bag for us.

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In a pouring rain that would give the average summer day in Hamburg a run for its money the game was tense right from the start. I was surprised to see both the lineup and the formation, but it was looking decent enough for us in the first half in which Joe Hart didn’t have to make a single save, testament to how well we contained Huddersfield, but also a sign that we had finally managed to play a full half without committing an individual defensive howler allowing the opposition to score easily.

West Ham created numerous half-chances, starting in the second minute already when Kouyate nearly reached the ball delivered by Carroll after a knock down, but the midfield maestro just missed with his slide to get us an early lead. One minute later Carroll himself missed with an early shot. We then breathed a collective sigh of relief when Collins was back up again eventually after going down with what looked like a head injury. I was impressed to see us closing down the opposition so much better in this game than previously, Zabaleta and Chicharito teaming up, hunting like a pack of wolves and winning the ball near the corner flag in the 9th minute.

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Chicharito then had the best opportunity to score, but his effort only found the crossbar. In the 26th minute it was Antonio, showing some blistering pace on the left wing, winning us a freekick in the process which only resulted in a Collins header that was easily saved by Huddersfield’s keeper.

It was Antonio again in the 29th minute, showing his pace once more to get past his marker on the right wing this time, with not much of an end product though.
There was a weak penalty shout from a tug on Kouyate in the box one minute later while Zabaleta showed some more intent upfront with yet another committed closing down of his opponent which was great to watch.

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There were a few more half chances from Carroll, Antonio and Kouyate late on in the first half and that was that, still goalless, but at least no goal conceded.
Start of the second half and it was more of the same initially, a quick counter attack led by Chicharito in the 53rd minute looking promising, but again with no end product to show for it.

Huddersfield got into the game better now and started creating some chances of their own which however were dealt with properly by Hart and our defenders. Hart had his first proper save to make in the 54th minute, Kouyate then sliced another effort wide two minutes later and then came the 64th minute and the first change for West Ham: Chicharito off, Ayew on. Judging by the crowd reaction I wasn’t the only one thinking at that point WTF ??? Ayew, as we all know now ended up a shrewd super sub, being man of the match after scoring one goal himself and setting up another.

There were also some nice deliveries from Cresswell throughout the game, both from corners and conventional crosses. He looked a lot more like the Cresswell from the final Boleyn season in this game.

And then the breakthrough came in the 72nd minute, Ayew setting up Obiang with a nice pass on the edge of the box, Obiang curling a beautiful effort that looked destined for the top left hand corner only to find Zanka’s back, taking a wicked deflection and sailing agonisingly slowly into the opposite corner…GOAL!!!! 1:0 to West Ham, they all count I suppose.

Boy, did we deserve that bit of luck there, I think it was a good shot from Obiang full stop and he might have scored even if there hadn’t been a deflection, but I won’t argue about a goal that set us up for our first league win this season!

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And only five minutes later it was that man Ayew again, scoring with a tap in (again) from two yards out after Fonte’s initial effort from a Cresswell corner was blocked.
That goal very much broke Huddersfield’s spirit although there was a very decent shot from Ince Jr. hitting the crossbar nine minutes from the end.

Two more substitutions late on (Sakho for Carroll and Rice for Obiang) and it was game, set and match and three points for the mighty Hammers, thank you very much!

So, what impressed me the most in the game ?

a) Our defense looked a lot more solid and I think this formation works very well for us. Zabaleta was fantastic, chasing down players time and time again and even Fonte looked fairly comfortable.
b) The overall effort looked spot on and the players were running and tackling their guts out which was good to see. Also we cut down on the number of stupid passes and silly mistakes, so we actually didn’t gift a goal to the opposition. Result: Clean sheet!
c) Carroll won plenty of balls for us and looked sharp and hungry. Long may it continue. At one point he put in a cross which made me think: Shouldn’t he be the one at the end of that cross ? Which sounds physically impossible though…:-))
d) Antonio was a menace for the opposition all game. Pace, tenacity, strength. With Arnautovic on the other wing this could get interesting.
e) We managed to win a game without Mr.West Ham on the pitch. I am happy to see Mark Noble back in the starting XI for us again when healthy, but it’s still good to know we can prevail without our skipper if need be.

I am really happy for Bilic that the team got this win for him (and us) and this should somewhat ease the pressure on the birthday boy now I reckon!
Has Bilic lost the dressing room ? On account of this game I highly doubt that.

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Away from West Ham, in other (more local) news, last weekend carried a distinctive female theme in German football, both in general and also for me personally. It all started with Bibiana Steinhaus becoming the first ever woman to referee a league game in the Bundesliga. And by all accounts she had a very impressive debut indeed, debut being a bit of a misleading word here as she has obviously umpired numerous games in the Bundesliga 2 before and also been on the sidelines as assistant referee or fourth official in the Bundesliga too.

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The best word to describe her refereeing performance is inconspicious which is the best thing you can ever say about a good referee. Her refereeing style is relaxed and laid back, but firm when she has to be. She is also a great communicator, laying down the law in a clear and concise manner, also explaining her decisions to the players.

And it seems to work fantastically well with her rarely being accused of putting her stamp on the game unduly. Some referees have the tendency to make the game about themselves a lot instead of leaving the limelight to the players.

Bibiana Steinhaus has earned rave reviews with her umpiring of the Hertha Berlin-Werder Bremen game, both from fellow referees (like her partner, former British referee Howard Webb who, like Steinhaus, is from the fuzz away from the pitch) and also players like Bayern’s Franck Ribery or goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas.
Steinhaus for instance correctly played the advantage in one instance which subsequently led to a goal. It’s stuff like that which shows that the lady clearly knows what she’s doing and she will definitely have a great future in the game. As a fan you rarely root for the guy (or girl) with the whistle, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

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As a sidenote, Hertha BSC as a club also showed a nice gesture to mark the occasion of the first ever game umpired by a woman in the Bundesliga by selling half-price tickets to female fans. With female referees it is a bit like with young players, if they are good enough it doesn’t matter about age (or gender in this case). Saying that I would now expect many more female refs to follow in Bibiana’s footsteps and it won’t be long before women umpiring football games at high levels will not even raise an eyebrow anymore, it’ll be accepted and seen as a normal and good thing for football.

On a personal level I was so starved of football that I did my very own Super Sunday last weekend. Strangely enough all three major Concordia teams were playing on the same day with little overlap, so I did the crazy thing and watched our newly formed Ladies team play their first league game away from home (but still close to my place), at the ungodly hour of 9 am (easy 4:0 win), followed by the Cordi 2 game at home at 11 am (I missed the first 15 minutes of the 5:2 win) to be crowned by Concordia’s first team beating Hamburg SV’s third string 2:1 in their afternoon game.

Concordia Ladies getting ready for their first win of the season

This being my first ever ladies game attended in person, I found it to be both an interesting and entertaining experience. It was more a girls’ team though, with most of the players being aged between 16 and 24. There was all the usual passion, joy to play football and team spirit I am used to whenever I watch lower league football.
But two things struck me in particular: One, the difference in playing ability was mind-boggling, both between the two teams, but also within the teams.

Some of the girls couldn’t control a single ball, but were good at running or blocking the ball. Others were the full package, with their passes always finding a teammate, some tricks and flicks too and great reading of the game.

The second thing that struck me was how the game went along without any fuss, no bad tackles or foul language, no arguing with the referee over decisions, if players weren’t genuinely hurt, they got up off the muddy clay quickly, no moaning, no bitching. It was a very unaccustomed, but pleasant way to watch football.
Don’t start me off on the nicknames though, one of the bigger girls was called regularly on the pitch by her less than complimentary moniker “Cherry Tart”. Needless to say I felt peckish eventually, hearing cake getting mentioned every two minutes…:-))

I will definitely watch another ladies game later this season. Of course West Ham games and also the Cordi lads will keep me occupied in the main, but I have to say that you can have a jolly good time as a connoisseur of the beautiful game when watching ladies football. There’s nothing girly about it, some of the ladies are tough as nails and when you see a nice free-flowing counter attack it is great to watch, no matter if the players in question are male or female.

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With the first West Ham home game (and win) finally out of the way now, let’s hope The Hammers are off to bigger and better things this season.
The start wasn’t great (what else is new?), but it’s still early days and we can have a pretty decent season after all. After the Huddersfield win I have hope again…COYI!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Would I Lie To You ? - Is water wet ?

Usually international weekends are as boring as a rainy day in Ipswich, especially if you rarely watch international games like me. But the last few days surely have packed quite an emotional punch, not just because of what DIDN’T happen for us on Transfer Deadline Day, but because of the resulting spin and backlash, with both Sporting and David Sullivan trying to get their own version of events in and claim the morale high ground while telling us exactly what happened…or not.

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I will admit that I was genuinely excited about seeing Carvalho in claret and blue after I had done my research on the player while writing an article in preparation of his imminent arrival, or so I thought. When I wrote that article several ITKs had provided positive indications a deal was close. Now of course there is a very real possibility that the deal was nothing more really than yet another pie in the sky above cloud-cuckoo-land wannabe scenario, playing out in Sullivan’s head. Did a genuine offer ever reach the Sporting hierarchy or was it all lost in translation or in the spam folder of the player’s agent only ?
Or was the offer so embarrassingly low that Sporting never really took it seriously ?

A section of our fanbase never really trusted the owners from the very moment they took over West Ham. A growing number of fans then grew disillusioned too along the way what with various lies and half-truths being spouted about the Olympic Stadium, the signing of players, getting to the next level, the reason for not signing players and so forth. This recent transfer window now could well see the tide turning past the point of no return in terms of the majority of our fans ever trusting our board again. There are only so many times you can lie (or be economical with the truth) to the fans of the club you own and still expect them to believe you the next time you’re opening your mouth.

Anyone remember their ten point pledge when they arrived ? Appoint the right manager. Sign new players. More investment in the Academy. Continue to clear the debt. Freeze season ticket prices for renewals. Build the status and image of the club. Make it enjoyable to come and watch. Get closer to the community. Go for the Olympic Stadium. Listen to supporters.

Well, to put it mildly it’s a mixed bag of results there, innit ? We all have different views on the job our board are doing of course, so fans are also likely to differ when they are evaluating the above mentioned ten point pledge and the likelihood those pledges will ever be fulfilled in their entirety.

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After seeing them run this club for several years now, my mind is finally at this point set on what they are at the club for, what we can realistically expect from them in future and what not.

Gold may be a genuine fan, I won’t dispute that, but he is now pretty much a wingman figure only what with the limited number of shares he owns. So he hasn’t really got much practical say anymore. The show or rather circus is being run by Sullivan and Brady in the main and in my humble opinion they are in it purely for the money, their personal profit and the media attention.

They will do anything to eventually sell the club at a massive profit, preferably without sharing any of it with the LLDC (which is why they may be at the helm for another few years, no matter how vocal or nasty protests from the fans may get over the course of the season. There have been numerous examples of owners who were absolutely hated by their fans, yet it took years before new owners arrived).

The latest news is that our club have apparently mortgaged the OS lease plus all the club’s real estate (Rush Green, Chadwell Heath, Little Heath, all club shops etc.), presumably to secure another loan (with the previous overseas payday loans no longer being an option) to help our cash flow. The owners don’t seem to be able or willing to significantly pay down the debt of our club (to themselves), our cash flow must be appalling. Our net spend is pathetic for a Premier League club trying to grow its global brand and we also now have a manager waiting for the dreaded final talk with the board at any given moment to hear his services are no longer required.

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As a club we are a shambles at this point, on and off the pitch, and if it eventually turns out that indeed Sullivan has told us all big fat porkies about the Carvalho bid(s) and the reasons why it didn’t happen, I would expect the air to get a lot thinner for the board in the coming weeks and months.

I’m not sure though if protest banners, “Sullivan Out!“ chants or even a half empty stadium would actually bother our board too much. I expect them to simply hang in there, sit any issues out, let the wave of discontent wash over them and sell only when they’re ready for it and a takeover offer suits them financially.

Like it or not, for the time being West Ham is their favourite family plaything, but thank God there is still a football team on the pitch, playing in claret and blue and that is where our undivided support and energy as fans should go, yet without ignoring or forgetting the way the board are running this once proud club (into the ground we no longer own).

I have read through some blogs and forums in the past few days and seen fans arguing with each other (again), some accusing others of too much negativity, of saying bad things about the club they support and about the board too and that as fans we should all just focus on supporting the team – and nothing else.

In my view you can very much support the team and manager during the games while being rightfully critical about the owners at the same time.

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Supporting West Ham is no longer the same as it was 20, 10 or even 5 years ago, The Boleyn has been flattened, the matchday experience has totally changed, watching West Ham play feels completely different, more distant, less homely and intimate. And less passionate too (at least in terms of the home games).

I still get a buzz of pre-match excitement before every game, be that watching from my armchair or in person and I am still as desperate for the lads to win as back in 1996 when Dowie was leading the charge for us. That desire of mine to see us win is never going to change. But the way our club is being run and the way our club is now seen by the public, the media and fans from other clubs worries and saddens me.

I would be very disappointed to see Bilic leave, he is a good and honest man, and I would love to see him as our manager for a few seasons at least, but there is no room for sentimentality in the Premier League anymore. He could well be replaced by Terry Westley as interim manager, keeping the dugout seat warm until the Benitez situation at Newcastle has been sorted out. The Spaniard seems destined to be our next manager, yet I can’t see this working out well at West Ham when it didn’t work for him at Newcastle with Ashley at the helm.

Ideally I would love to see Bilic now win a bunch of games like five in a row, if only to spit into the owners’ Bovril for a bit of payback. Bilic doesn’t really deserve to be treated like this from the board. Just recently I listened to some Billy Bragg while driving in my car and the song Goalhanger came on. Listen to it. I instantly thought the lyrics were based on David Sullivan’s life, have a listen and judge for yourself.

As for local football I missed Concordia’s much needed 3:1 away win on Friday evening against BU and I also didn’t go to the Altona-Huddersfield friendly (Huddersfield won 3:0) on Sunday, but instead watched the Cordi U23s win their away fixture at SC Europa 5:1 to take top spot in their division for the first time this season. Who cares if only 60 people were watching and the game was being played on a disgustingly dry pitch made of clay, with clouds of sand dust drifting towards us whenever there was a tackle or the ball bounced near our vantage point on the sidelines ?

I loved it. Honest grassroots (or rather dustroots) football, full of intensity and genuine passion for the game – and no off-field bullcrap. I’m grateful that this kind of football still exists as an alternative to the Bundesliga and Premier League.

As for the Hammers it’s another long week to wait for one of our most important games in recent history, Huddersfield at home. Our first home game of the season and it is September already. A must win game for us and especially for Bilic.
I expect the atmosphere to be highly strung, tense, potentially toxic.

Which can hopefully be avoided by scoring an early goal and I couldn’t care less who puts it over the line for us in what fashion. I hope for all our sakes that the boys give us a reason to smile again for all the right reasons. The owners, just like the manager and players, are merely temporary features of West Ham, custodians on borrowed time. Our fans will still be there, long after Gold, Sullivan and Brady have packed it in, sold up and moved on to pastures new.

We are West Ham Till I Die and the claret and blue rollercoaster will continue to shake us all about with some thrills, some spills and the odd upset tummy. Bring it on! COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

Bad time for a change - how much longer for Slaven ?

This post could be replaced fairly quickly during the course of the day depending on the fallout from yesterday’s meeting between the board and Slaven Bilic.
Urgent crisis talks have been held (with further discussions scheduled for today) to determine whether Bilic will get a few more games to turn things around and save his skin or if this is the end of the road for him at West Ham.

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Apparently the board are concerned about Bilic’s tactics and team selection and frankly the league table is not a pretty sight right now and it doesn’t lie either, three games, three defeats, ten goals conceded, bottom of the table. As a club we should and need to aim higher. Over the last few days more and more critics of the manager have come out of the woodwork demanding for Bilic to be sacked or walk himself if he wants to avoid the sack.

You all know my stance on Bilic. As a person I love the guy to bits, he is an intelligent bloke, he seems to genuinely care about West Ham, he is a good man, easy to root for, a leader with a certain aura and (for a while at least) he had a good thing going at our club. But now things seem to have taken a wrong turn putting us on a downward spiral past the point of no return.

We have a decent team (much better than what the table would suggest anyway), but our players look helpless out there on the pitch. There is not a lot of running going on, there is hardly any creativity, we don’t chase the opposition enough, we are second best in most statistics and, as Bilic has admitted himself, we look awful right now with or without the ball.

Not good. I’m sure Bilic must have an idea of how he wants his team to play.
But either his players don’t understand what this gameplan is or are unwilling (or unable) to follow that gameplan. Funnily enough there is a similar situation at my beloved Concordia too where the football is going backwards as well after hiring a new manager last season.

The manager here also seems to have a clear picture in his mind of a certain style of football, but just like at West Ham it only takes a quick pass or two to get past all the midfielders and defenders and score plenty of goals against the Cordi boys.

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You won’t win many games of football if you concede three goals on average, no matter if it’s the Premier League or 5th level local football in Hamburg. Yes, a lot of our goals come from individual mistakes, shocking ones at that. Players need to take their fair share of blame for that, but as you cannot sack an entire team that’s underperforming it’s obviously going to be the manager eventually being shown the door as the easiest option to kickstart your season.

I don’t see a way back for Bilic unfortunately although I would have loved to see him as our manager for many more years, because in my view he was pretty much perfect for our club, but the Premier League is a shark tank and once you have shown a weakness and the fans, rivals and club owners smell blood there usually is only one solution.
Looks like Bilic’s race here is run.

Before we talk about the potential replacements who are being rumoured to take over from Bilic, let me be crystal clear about my skepticism that things will suddenly be all rosy and peachy in a West Ham Wonderland after the arrival of a new manager, the owners are still the same, the modus operandi in our transfer dealings will not change and certain aspects of our training ground will remain.

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I was shocked to read that apparently there still is no ice bath facility available at our Rush Green training complex. Bearing in mind the number of injuries suffered by our players one would imagine certain basic features being in place at our club to help minimise the number and impact of certain injuries.
Also it didn’t help to play the first four games of the season all away from home which contributed to the dire situation we’re finding ourselves in.

I suppose that comes with the package of only renting a stadium, not owning it. But we were told that West Ham games would always take priority over other stuff that happens in our “home” stadium, well, unless it involves athletics obviously, especially when converting the seats back into football mode takes about a week, not 48 hours.
Which can happen if you install demountable seating by mistake instead of proper retractable seating. This is so NOT next level…but I digress.

Replacing the manager can only be one step in our efforts to become a bigger and better club from top to bottom, the owners have to do their bit too. The timing of course is very unfortunate if we were to bring in a new manager today or later this week. With the transfer window closing shut later this week ideally you would want to see 2-3 more signings, considering the number of players who have left our club already. Our squad looks threadbare and unbalanced at this point which will hopefully be addressed in the next few days, regardless of the manager situation. But do you sign new players when you cannot even be sure if the new man in charge will actually want and use them ?

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Anyway, first candidate as our new gaffer is Rafa Benitez. At one point two years ago we were apparently just a few minutes away from nailing down his signing before he changed his mind and chose Real Madrid instead which took nobody by surprise really, apart from our owners probably.
It looks like we could sign him now from Newcastle after all if we pay them a £5 million release fee. The Spaniard no doubt is an experienced head, he has won cups, titles and trophies in Spain, Italy and England (including the Champions League of course), so he knows how to manage and win at big clubs.

I have no doubt he could organise our back four into a solid unit again and drum some tactical discipline into our players to stop us leaking goals left, right and center. Benitez teams in general are hard to beat which most fans will be happy enough with at this point. On the other hand former players of his like Jamie Carragher claim that he is not exactly a great motivator for the players.
Then again I feel that there is something fundamentally wrong if a Premier League player looks to his manager for motivational skills in order to be sharp and up for it.

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The next candidate would keep the Balkan theme at West Ham alive and kicking, with Serbian Slavisa Jokanovic replacing our current Croatian manager.
Jokanovic is currently managing Fulham and while The Cottagers have started their Championship season in indifferent fashion so far (6 points from a possible 15) I understand that he has established a style of football at Fulham that’s both modern and pleasing on the eye.

A bit of a groundhopper as a player (playing for 8 clubs in his career, spending no longer than 2 years at either of them) he also managed at some interesting clubs so far, Partizan Belgrade, Muangthong United (Thailand), Levski Sofia and Hercules (the club, not the divine hero), before managing Watford and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
He has kept Fulham in the Championship before then reaching last season’s playoff places.

The biggest plus apparently is his technical flexibility, he allows his teams to play and switch to different formations, according to which players are at his disposal for any given game and the style, strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. So, not just Plan A, but also Plan B, C, D and E.
His general approach is attack minded and possession based, with an emphasis on supporting the strikers from both wings. As a consequence Fulham are very dangerous attacking with the ball, much less so when defending. In that respect he doesn’t look like the answer to West Ham’s defensive shenanigans at this point.

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Another name in the hat appears to be that of Marco Silva, the current Watford gaffer who West Ham apparently were interested in signing earlier this summer, if you believe certain rumours. Silva, being a young manager, hasn’t been around for long, but he certainly has turned a few heads and is very much flavour of the month among various pundits. He has managed at Estoril, Sporting, Olympiacos and Hull before. Apart from his Estoril reign (3 years) he has never stayed more than one season at his previous clubs which seems to indicate that he moved to another club whenever reaching another level or opportunity.

The Portuguese football tactician has been known to be a proper teacher to his players, constantly talking to them about organisation, using space on the pitch and movement to enable them to make the best decision in crucial on-field situations whenever they arise. Many West Ham fans will be happy to hear that Silva’s approach is very much focused on keeping clean sheets first and foremost, with attacking prowess taking a backseat, unless it’s a counter attack.

While managing in Greece the fans there even joked that Silva was so set in his ways of attacking on the counter that he sometimes told his players to deliberately give the ball to the opposition in order to win it back again and go on the counter attack.

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Either way the next few days at West Ham will be busy and interesting, though not necessarily exciting or overwhelmingly positive.

Will Bilic really leave his post this week already and will his replacement be ready straight away ? Will we make more signings in the next few days ?
Will we get the Carvalho deal over the line after all ?
And will we be able to get some decent training sessions under our belt during the international break, so the players are in significantly better shape physically and mentally for our first home game of the season ?

All we can do as fans at this stage is wait, see and drink a nice hot cuppa from our favourite West Ham themed mug. COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

Rice or rope ? Things can and will only get better

Another subpar weekend football wise for me and also one that drove home the point again how bizarre football can be. While I don’t particularly care about the exploits of Hamburg SV I still look out for their results by force of habit and because I want most Hamburg based teams to do well.

So what happened in HSV’s league opener on Friday ? They scored the winning and only goal after 15 minutes already, but lost their goalscorer to injury in the process of celebrating that goal. The player apparently brushed the corner flag at an awkward angle and did his cruciate ligament which will result in him now being out for the first six months of the season.

As I said, bizarre!

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Then came the West Ham game which has been discussed on here at length already. Quite a game it was too, with plenty of incidents, a brave fightback from our lads and a heartbreaking penalty decision right at the end. Then again, most teams will lose a game in which their record signing gets himself an early shower in the first half for stupidly elbowing an opponent in full view of the referee and in which they also concede two penalties.

It was pretty much a stereotypical West Ham game, some rush to the blood, some fight and guts, some clumsiness, basically shooting yourself in the foot while also rarely getting the rub of the green. I wasn’t happy with the defeat because Southampton were there for the taking. Then again we are still missing some key players like Lanzini, Kouyate and Carroll (who may be Newcastle bound after all if you believe the latest rumours).

I choose to focus on the positives though. Young Declan Rice had another good game and showed maturity beyond his years. The reaction of our players in this game filled with adversity was nothing but positive, in no short measure helped by the fox in the box qualities of our Little Pea Chicharito. We finally have a proper finisher in our ranks who will get 20 goals a season easily, provided he gets the right service and manages to stay healthy and injury free.

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I reckon there will be plenty of movement still in this transfer window, both in terms of players in (Carvalho/Jota/another CB) and out (Snodgrass/Carroll/Obiang ?), but first and foremost we really need to work hard in training to make sure our players defend a lot better as a unit, not just the defenders but the entire team. I am always impressed whenever a team is on the move all the time during a game, running, chasing, closing opposition players down, we need a lot more of that and if that means a different training routine or fitness regime, then so be it.

You know I have always been a massive Bilic fan and I still am. But I am not blinkered enough to ignore the fact that a manager will not remain in his job for long if his teams concede 3 or 4 goals on a regular basis. Of course the mistakes are essentially down to the players on the pitch, but Bilic needs to make sure the players are sharp and focused when they are stepping out onto that pitch, we need to cut down the number of mistakes in our games drastically.

Is it possible that maybe Bilic is too much of a mate with his players, too much of a Mr.Nice Guy ? That can work well with a certain group of players. Others may exploit that kind of laissez faire attitude though or respond in a manner not conducive to successful football. As Bilic’s job is on the line this season too, with him being in the final year of his contract, I feel he has no other chance than to develop a more ruthless streak with players.

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No reason for us fans though to fetch some rope to hang ourselves just yet or run a hot bath with the hairdryer sitting on the edge nearby. It’s been a bad start to the season, granted, but in all honesty, did we expect anything else when the fixture list was released ? The preseason games didn’t exactly fill me with confidence either, but the best way for our players to gain confidence is by winning games when it counts. Let’s win a few and watch the confidence return and grow among our squad.

Starting with the Cup game at Cheltenham and yet another away game at Newcastle. I am so relieved that our games will ALWAYS take priority over everything else that happens at the London Stadium…;-))

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Quick Concordia update. Yesterday brought a highly frustrating 1:1 draw at home to Victoria Hamburg and the game bore a few similarities to the West Ham game the day before.

There was a red card (second yellow) which led to Concordia having a man advantage for the last 20 minutes, being 1:0 up already at this point. At that stage you would have expected the home team to calmly dominate possession, maybe add another goal or two to put the game to bed. But Cordi for some unexplainable reason decided to ignore the man advantage, just sitting deep instead, letting Victoria have plenty of the ball to really push for the equaliser with ten men.

And indeed they scored from a very dodgy penalty just a few minutes before the final whistle. I always thought it couldn’t be a penalty if the goalkeeper clearly got to the ball first with his gloves and holding on to it.

Yet the striker went down after clashing with the goalkeeper who, remember, had already reached and secured the ball with both hands before making contact with the attacker. I have rarely seen a dodgier penalty being given, but, just like West Ham, Concordia shot themselves in the foot by not winning the game earlier, making the man advantage count when they had the chance. Yes, the referee was a stubborn old Custard, strutting around the pitch like a peacock on his stag night, but the lads shouldn’t have allowed a situation to develop giving the referee the opportunity to point towards the spot.

Very disappointing – instead of being in the promotion chasing pack Cordi are now already firmly rooted in the bottom third of the table after four games played. The great thing for both of my teams of course is: From where we are things can only get better, the only way is up. How far and how quickly ? We’ll see. COYI!

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