The HamburgHammer Column

United till the summer - then the club requires change from top to bottom

I will try to moan and whinge as little as possible in my column today, but I won’t be putting my fingers in my ears, pretending everything is fine. It’s not.
Saturday was not a good advertisement for football in general and certainly not for West Ham in particular – and things always seem to look worse once the Hammers are involved.

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I don’t believe the players were in danger actually. But the pitch invasions were sad to see nonetheless, even though it was only a few individuals and not, God forbid, thousands of irate “supporters”. I don’t condone the scenes we saw, they made me sick and, believe it or not, the scenes kept running through my head at night and I was actually struggling to get to sleep. I don’t like what happened.

But what with the march getting cancelled and all those shenanigans I can understand WHY it all happened.

The pressure had been building up over months and it needed to find a way out.
I would have prefered it if all those protests had materialised away from the stadium, not impacting the game, but that unfortunately was not the case.

There were some fights all over the stadium and concourse apparently, children were getting scared and the board got itself an earful from an angry group of fans congregating right in front of the directors’ box.

Oh, we also lost another crucial game 0:3 by the way, shooting our goal difference in the foot even further by conceding eleven (!!!) goals in total in our last three games.

Things are really bad at your club when fans who are supposed to root for the same club are at each other’s throats.

But I shall try to find a bit of positivity (yeah, I know) and common sense here.
It’s still possible to fend off relegation. It’s still in our own hands (and feet), although looking at our recent run of results and performances that thought doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence. But there are still a number of other teams struggling for points below and around us and unless they suddenly start picking up more wins than us we might just do it.

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We do have a group of halfway decent players actually, we have seen games in the past where those players did wonderful things on the pitch, the trouble is that it hasn’t happened often enough this season and certainly not for the entire team at the same time. I was feeling sorry for Arnautovic on Saturday who was trying to find a way past four or five Burnley players with no claret and blue shirt in sight to help him out.

Arnautovic was another positive for me in the way he handled himself after the final whistle, coming to the fans in trying circumstances, talking to some kids, signing stuff and giving one of them a pair of football boots, if I saw that correctly. I have really taken to Arnautovic in recent weeks and he certainly is trying his best to make things right for us.

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I am not going to go into yet another lengthy rant about the board, you know my stance, it is shared by some and dismissed by others which is totally fine. I feel it’s necessary to give ourselves the best chance possible in the remaining home games to get some wins. For that to happen we can’t have any repeats of the Burnley fiasco in the stadium for the remainder of the season.

I have read quotes from Sir Trevor Brooking and players like Collins, suggesting that the angry fans should stay away from the remaining home games this season if they cannot keep their rage/grief under control. That’s a fair point.

To increase the chance of more goodwill from the crowd at our games even further though I’d also hope the board will decide to watch the games anywhere but not in open view from their accustomed seats in the directors box. We can pretend all we like there is no issue with them, but in real life there is. It’s also being acknowledged in the media now.

Plenty of fans are riled up by the board and it might help if they removed themselves from the firing line for the time being to let the players and manager do their job, getting maximum support and focus from the home crowd.

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Someone who might also help in our current predicament is Sir Trevor Brooking. Seeing him rooted to his seat in a deserted directors’ box, with a wry smile on his face, was both beautiful and sad to see.

A club legend who is undoubtedly suffering and struggling with the current state our club finds itself in. He could be filling a more official role at the club, as ambassador or spokesman or something like that and he would also be the kind of person to unite the new breed of fans and the more traditional set of supporters alike who used to cheer Sir Trev on from the Chicken Run when he was in his prime as a West Ham player.

For me that is one of the major things that hasn’t been properly addressed with the stadium move: Keeping the older fans on board while also catering for and welcoming new ones.

West Ham can only be successful if both sets feel reasonably happy and united there. I accept that the move to the new stadium was too good an opportunity to turn down really. Most owners would have gone for the move.

I accept that some steady and gradual change at the club is needed in tune with world football forever changing as well.

I am not a fan of the stadium, but I can bear watching whatever number of games I can travel over for. At the same time I empathise with those who say it is simply not for them and they can’t/won’t go there ever again. But it is what it is, we are there and we need to make it work somehow. And I am convinced there is still a small chance it can work.

But only if the club starts to take the bull by the horns before then addressing the elephant in the room.

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Our board may be around for another few years yet and I am under no illusions that fan blogs or social media accounts will make any modicum of difference in terms of their decision to sell or stay. But they need to stick to the role of being club owners, they don’t need to run the club. Most clubs have separate club chairmen, directors of football, PR and marketing staff, chief scouts, managers, assistant coaches etc.

They are experts and have experience from playing or at least working in a professional role at football clubs. I’d hazard a guess we’d be a lot better off if our board took a step back and hired professionals to run the club for them. They can still earn their interest payments and they also still get their money back plus some healthy profit whenever they sell. They need to realise they are standing in their own way by trying to take on too much day to day stuff at the club.

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Before writing this column I distracted myself on Sunday with watching some football where the football actually took center stage: Concordia’s U23s winning a men against boys kind of contest with a staggering 13:0 scoreline against SC Europa (not a reflection by the way about the state of the European Union…:-))
That was a pleasant two hours, watching my local team getting top spot in their division, heading for promotion to the next level while also having some banter with fellow fans without any chance of fists flying or being on the receiving end of a Glasgow kiss…

I then drove 40 miles to have a cuppa with my brother at his rehab place and I’m glad to report he is on the mend, despite still looking incredibly thin and weak which comes as no surprise after nearly four weeks in a hospital bed. Things are looking on the up for him and I intend to keep my promise of taking him to London, and hopefully it will be for a Premier League match rather than one in the Championship, but either way my bro wouldn’t bother, mind you, he even once watched Orient play Shrewsbury at Brisbane Road with me, so he’s no glory hunter either…

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It’s a bit of a break now until our next fixture comes around and I hope the warm weather trip to Miami will work in our favour, unlike them notorious ventures to Dubai.
Surely it gives everyone time for a breather and to get ready for the crucial back end of the season. I somehow hope our fans can put their disagreements and anger aside for the rest of the season now until we have secured our Premier League status for next season. No doubt there will be more protests and marches somewhere along the way and rightly so, fans have a right to protest.

But there is a time and place for everything. I reckon the board finally got the message that there is a lot of anger and they do need to act in the summer to get things fixed.
In the meantime let’s remember that this club is so much bigger than individual players, managers, owners and fans. It’s been there for generations and browsing through some old West Ham books yesterday I got a renewed sense of pride and of the role this club has played (and continues to play) for hundreds of thousands of fans in and around London and all over the rest of the world.

West Ham are more than a football club, it’s a family and a way of life. West Ham is changing, but it can still retain some of that East London rooted community spirit, wicked sense of humour and siege mentality. Never say die! COYI!!!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Another bad day at the office ? I think it's a bad office at West Ham

Inept, poor, lackluster, shambolic, spineless, pathetic – choose any adjective with a negative connotation and it should fit West Ham’s performance at Swansea. Bear in mind that this is a Swansea rummaging around the basement of the table, desperate for any point to escape relegation – so not exactly powerhouse opposition.
But there is an awful lot going on and going wrong at West Ham this season – and when your paper-thin squad gets reduced further by illnesses and injuries you shouldn’t be surprised to see a team with their backs to the wall struggling to play anything resembling Premier League quality football.

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Like in so many other games this season though, just like under Bilic during his bad run, a lot of the players look disinterested, as if the game (which should be the highlight and focus of the week and the centerpiece of their professional pride) is nothing but a distraction of their everyday routine. I can sympathise that it’s probably not wall to wall fun to be a West Ham player at the moment, but they are professionals and should act accordingly.

Also it looks like Moyes’s honeymoon is finally over. I have been an advocate of finding a manager and then giving him a long term deal to lay a foundation for a long term strategy and gameplan for the entire club. I have my doubts though if Moyes is the right man to succeed with this particular bunch of players. I always try to find positives to talk about in my column when it comes to West Ham, but like the team I’m struggling.
Rice was the best player on the pitch yesterday and when a 19 year old is the only player coming out of a game with any professional dignity it’s a worrying sign.

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Our league position is still perilous, we may still have a three point cushion, but have destroyed our goal difference in the last two games which can be a relegation clincher at the end of the season. If we have to lose we cannot afford to concede a shipload like we tend to do. We don’t just lose, we capitulate, waving white flags all over the shop.
The entire club is in turmoil, from top to bottom, and I am sick and tired of hearing claims that the fans are putting a millstone of negativity around the club’s neck, affecting the players.

Pardon my French, but this is hogwash. The fans so far have been remarkably patient and unwaveringly positive and supportive, especially the travelling parties creating a fantastic atmosphere for our away games. I don’t remember too many occasions when the team actually repaid the away supporters with a great performance on the pitch.
The fans have done their bit, it’s about time the players, the manager and yes, the bloody board gave something back – and I am not talking about letters promising all kinds of things, beer shelves or flags of former Hammers legends being draped all over the concourse. Those are minor issues that should have been sorted the moment we moved into the new place.

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Every week another thing happens that easily opens up the board for more criticism. Reid going down the way he did of course was a freak injury, a stroke of bad luck and by the looks of it he could now be out for the rest of the season and beyond. This is significant because we just recently happened to allow Fonte to leave to China, getting in some funds to balance the books.

Sorry, but surely the priority this transfer window should have been to add to our squad in preparation for the relegation battle, not make it weaker. What was the point in letting so many players leave ? And what if we get relegated ? Expect plenty of transfer requests to arrive on Sullivan’s desk within days after the final game.
Talking of relegation I would be sad, angry, disappointed, distraught, but probably not for long.

It would be much harder for me to watch games of course in terms of finding internet streams for Championship games, but that’s not really the main issue. The issue is that once you’re down there it’s incredibly hard to get back up again, especially in the current circumstances. We could easily do a Leeds, a Forest or a Bolton.
Would I be happy to see the Daves take a financial hit in case of relegation ?

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Well, not really. They are so rich that a financial hit for them is very relative. They could still keep their Bentleys including chauffeur, their crystal panthers at home would be safe and they could also still afford two warm meals a day.
But West Ham, fans and club, would suffer going down and I don’t want West Ham to suffer. Parachute payments alone won’t guarantee anything anymore.

The board may well be gone in a few years, but the fans would still be there in the Championship in their droves and that’s why I can sympathise with any fan who still feels the desire and need to march.

The frustration and anger simply needs to go somewhere. Is a march the best way to let off steam ? I don’t know. Will it help the club ? Maybe not.
Is it better instead to vent your anger at home games inside the stadium with chants and banners ? Probably not, it may affect the players, but can they honestly play any worse than they did in recent weeks and for most of the season ? And that was with solid support from the West Ham faithful throughout.

As you can gather from my ramblings, I don’t have any answers really and even if I had it wouldn’t matter really as the decision makers are elsewhere and they seem to think their decisions have been spot on and they are the best people really to make this club a success. If you define success by just staying up in the Premier League even that task becomes quite tricky with every game we fail to win.

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It’s gonna be a tense remainder of the season and not for the faint of heart. You reap what you sow and it could be argued we have sown little and sown badly in recent years.
A Championship team as anchor tenant in the Olympic Stadium. A bizarre thought. But then again our club are the masters of the bizarre and we make the surreal possible.

PS: Not much else to report on a personal level. All lower level football in Hamburg got postponed due to the weather conditions. Hamburg only drew against Mainz, edging ever closer to relegation, getting a goal disallowed after VAR ruled it offside. And my brother is off on rehab in a place in the middle of nowhere near Mölln, the Eulenspiegel town. Eulenspiegel was a legendary trickster exposing vices many hundred years ago.
Tricksters aren’t a thing of the past though, some of them are still alive and kicking, running football clubs…

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The HamburgHammer Column

Mashed up on Merseyside, snowed under in Hamburg

Normal service was resumed at Anfield – not only did they have our stereos, they also kept the three points, taught us a footballing lesson and wouldn’t even share the dead cat which apparently is a treat for some locals if you believe certain football chants.

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The most positive thing was the way our away support honoured the anniversary of the passing of our most famous legend, player and man, Bobby Moore which happened exactly 25 years earlier.
Such a pity we couldn’t give this very special Barking Boy a performance on Saturday to mirror the regard in which he is held by West Ham fans all over the globe.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it’s easy to say from the relative comfort of my bachelor flat how I would have approached this game as a bonus fixture, how I would have given it a real go, being a lot more positive and attack minded.
I also would have started with both Arnautovic and Hernandez upfront.

We tried to contain Liverpool by sitting deep, packing our defence and hoping for the best. I’m sure it can work like that against the Scousers on certain occasions. Saturday wasn’t one of them.

Liverpool outplayed us, they were so much better than us and were passing the ball around as if it was a training drill or preseason friendly.
As much as it pains me to say, Liverpool are just a wonderful team to watch and I would have admired their performance if it wasn’t West Ham they were mopping the floor with.

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The league table isn’t for the faint of heart these days. We are only three points away from a relegation spot, but could also easily shoot up the table several positions with a win or two from our upcoming run of games. It’s not exactly been an enjoyable season so far, but I’m still confident we are in a much better position than several other teams around us in terms of squad quality (not necessarily squad depth), so I reckon a solid midtable finish around 10th place is up for grabs.

Talking of squad depth I was sad to see Jose Fonte go. It makes a lot of sense from his point of view of course, guaranteed playing time, good money, a bit of adventure and broadening the horizon in the East End of the planet in China. I’m sure the money will come in handy too, balancing the books a bit as we seem to be really skint.
Still we have further weakened an already paperthin squad and we can only hope we won’t suffer any more injuries in the coming weeks and months.

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Talking about the rest of my weekend, it turned out a lot longer for me than anticipated, but with very mixed results. Starting with the good news, my brother is likely to come home from hospital either today or tomorrow. He should have been home last week, truth be told, but on top of everything else he caught pneumonia while his body’s defences were down after the two surgeries. He’ll be allowed two or three days at home before heading off somewhere for three weeks or so for some much needed rehab.

On Saturday Hamburg SV lost their relegation six-pointer against northern archrivals Werder Bremen who won by a single goal margin in agonising fashion, scoring four minutes from time with a goal that at the very least looked dubious due to the goalscorer scoring from what appeared to be an offside position. Seven points adrift already it’s hard to see where HSV’s next win might be coming from and considering the shaky financial outlook for the club they could find themselves in Bundesliga 3 or even further down after relegation as they are far from certain to meet the requirements to play Bundesliga 2 football next season. Dire days indeed for the Bundesliga ever-presents as things stand…but for how much longer ?

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On Sunday I was wide awake at 5 o’clock in the morning with a cuppa in front of the custard and jelly which is rare for me, but Germany were playing Russia for the Gold Medal in the Men’s Ice Hockey at the Winter Olympics in Korea and that in itself was about as rare as West Ham competing for the Premier League title. Or Fiji winning the Rugby World Cup.

In any case I thought I’d never live to see something like this happening.
Every once in a while the sporting deities throw a highlight our way just like that.
And the Krauts even had their gloves on the Gold actually, that is until Russia spoiled the party by equalising just 56 seconds from the end.

My fellow countrymen had stood toe to toe with the mighty Russians throughout most of the game actually and it took a Sudden Death goal in overtime with a man advantage for the Red Machine to get the expected win, but boy, did the Germans make it difficult for them!

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Two quick cups of coffee later I was sitting in a local caff for some Sunday Brekkie to set myself up for the noonish East Hamburg derby between SC Condor and Concordia.

I was being served by a lovely young lady who happened to be a Chelsea supporter (as she pointed out to me when spotting my West Ham beanie). Being a polite person I still gave her a decent tip of course, being well aware that Chelsea tickets don’t come cheap, especially for a waitress travelling from Hamburg…;-))

Then it was off to the nearby ground which was covered in snow from end to end. To everyone’s shock and surprise the referee decided to let the game go ahead regardless, with temperatures at a frosty minus 4°C, but a bright orange ball was kindly provided and the game kicked off.

Some Cordi players had expected (or rather wished for) the game to get cancelled and that’s exactly the way some of them performed, especially in the second half.

Granted, an injury crisis coupled with man flu keeping even more players out, made for grim reading of the squad list: One substitute goalkeeper on the bench plus two midfielders, that was it. It ended in an embarrassing 2:5 defeat and freezing my toes and gonads off as a bonus wasn’t exactly my idea of a pleasant Sunday.

Snow kept falling all day in Hamburg and it was bitterly cold, but at least the radio told us that St.Pauli had won their home game to warm the cockles of this Hamburger’s heart by showing some local pride and passion.

I then wanted to write my column (and warm up at home), but got a call from my best mate just as I arrived back. He had a spare ticket for the Ice Hockey in the afternoon and as he is a married man now and opportunities to meet up have become few and far between and as I also hadn’t been to see the Crocodiles play a game all season I was happy enough to drive right back to where I had just returned from (the ice rink being an Antonio throw-in away from Condor’s football ground).

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That at least brought another win for Hamburg (6:4) and some jolly nice banter with my mate and some other fans as well. Needless to say I would have gladly swapped either of the St.Pauli or Crocodiles’ win against a point or three at Anfield, but life ain’t all guns and roses.

Let’s hope we start to collect the points needed for maintaining our league status quickly now, with some very winnable games coming up in the coming weeks. God knows I could do with some positive football related news over here in good old Hamburg…


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The HamburgHammer Column

The time for change is now - not in the summer!

Weekends without a West Ham game are always different, especially at the current time for me personally. I’ve been mentioning my brother’s fight in hospital after his life-saving surgery. It’s been a rollercoaster the last few days where I’ve seen my bro having to return to the Intensive Care Unit yet again after struggling to breathe without technical support, so it was back onto various tubes and drugs again for a number of days, but he’s now back on the regular ward and looks a lot more lively already, albeit very weak and tired still – and the weekend’s football results haven’t exactly helped his recuperation.

Starting on Friday, Concordia lost 1:2 to Victoria Hamburg, away. In one of football’s most popular storylines the winning goal was scored by Victoria in the final minute of the 90 by a fullback who had played his final game for Concordia just two months earlier before making the switch across town. Yes BSB, it was your favourite lad, Yannick Siemsen, the bloody traitor! ;-)

The game was remarkable for another reason off the pitch as I suddenly spotted among the 287 crowd a big guy with a claret and blue scarf and beanie.
Of course he could have been Villa, Scunthorpe, Burnley or Trabzonspor, but no, he was indeed a fellow Hammer!

Turned out he was a local groundhopper, watching the game with a groundhopper mate from Cologne – both having adopted West Ham as their English team.
Needless to say we exchanged numerous stories about watching the Hammers and football in England and we even briefly discussed the current plight of Millwall.

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Then on Saturday followed yet another nail in the coffin for Hamburg SV, as of yet the only German club that has played top flight football in every single season that the Bundesliga has been in existence. Losing 1:2 against Lverkusen was no surprise as such since Leverkusen have better quality in the squad in every respect and department. But HSV are running out of games to put things right fast and it seems that this time luck has finally deserted them.

The loyal fans are painfully aware of this and were keen to vent their growing anger by trying to invade the pitch during and after the game, but the authorities with the help of some well trained German Shepherd dogs made sure it remained an attempt only. We all know what happened to the likes of Leeds, Nottingham Forest or Coventry once they went down through the trapdoor.

There are no guarantees and the way back up is a massive challenge. Finances at Hamburg SV are shockingly bad, so there is even talk that the club may not even be allowed to play in Bundesliga 2 should they get relegated. For the City of Hamburg it’d be an unmitigated disaster to no longer have a team in Bundesliga 1.
But the club has been run like a circus without acrobats and tigers for years now – still the fans have flocked to home games like lambs to their slaughter.

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Which brings me to our upcoming Liverpool game. We all know the stats. Anfield over the years has been an unhappy hunting ground for us, until recent times of course.
If you’re looking for a good omen, look no further than the 1:0 win our U23s nicked from Merseyside on Saturday. I’m sure we’d all be overchuffed with a similar scoreline come next Saturday! Liverpool can field some of the top players in the league and when they get going they score for fun and might give you a drubbing.

If we can frustrate them though, destroy their build up play time and time again, stand firm in the tackle and keep the home crowd quiet we are in with a chance.
With players returning from injury we are likely to field a strong starting XI and even a halfway decent bench of substitutes.
Manuel Lanzini seems to be a quick healer as he is rumoured to join his teammates for first team training sessions again today. Even if he may only get half an hour at Liverpool it’ll be good to have him back in the side fullstop.

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Another player returning from injury is Nathan Holland. Before he suffered said injury he was on the fringes of the first team squad, so surely it’s good for Moyes to have options now. Holland by all accounts is highly touted, with a deft touch, good dribbling skills and an eye for goal too. Good to have him back!
Another thing happening today is a meeting between some members of the Real West Ham Fans Group, the lads behind organising the march in March.

By all accounts the board’s aim will be to talk them out of going through with the march. As far as I understand it though the march is done and dusted and will go ahead as planned regardless. If anything they will let the board (or their representatives rather as I doubt if either of Gold, Sullivan or Brady will be present) know the reasons behind the march and why the fans actually see the need to take their criticism and anger out onto the streets.

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Which brings me to my final train of thought here. In a recent video message Sullivan said there would be changes to the way West Ham scout and sign new players.
There has been talk about Sullivan “trying to move away a bit” from getting personally involved in the process of signing players, the way it should be really.
But “trying” to “move away a bit” will not be enough – you need to trust the manager on this completely and if you don’t, then hire a professional Head Scout or Chief Negotiator to help Moyes with bringing in the players the manager wants and needs.

Saying that neither the club nor Moyes can really afford themselves the luxury to wait until the summer to make a decision about the manager’s future at West Ham.
Neither is it wise to implement a new transfer procedure at the club later this summer instead of here and now.

I am certain other clubs are already busy preparing themselves for the shortened summer transfer window. Once that one is open you want your targets lined up so you can try to get deals over the line sharpish.

You cannot give other clubs a headstart by waiting to pick and choose your manager for next season (and also shake up the internal set up in terms of transfer business).

I’d be well happy to see Moyes stay, if only because I yearn for longevity and a long-term approach at West Ham. Short fixes and a new manager every 18 months is not conducive to progressing the club in the league.

I reckon Moyes has the support of the clear majority of our fanbase and the board should follow suit and truly support the manager to the best of their abilities (and I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way!). COYI!!!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Mark o' approval - is Arnie the new Di Canio or just another Payet ?

Oh, how nice it is to talk about a much needed home win again after a performance that while far from being perfect still showed a lot of guts, effort and togetherness.
And nothing tends to boost dressing room morale more than three points.

Before the game kicked off I mentioned in the match thread how I was hoping for a complete performance from the lads from start to finish. Admittedly, Watford had a lot of possession of the ball and they had a particularly strong spell in the second half where it looked like a draw might be on the cards after all.

But Adrian and some very determined interceptions from our defenders, namely Collins and Ogbonna, made sure that our sheet stayed clean enough on the day.

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Truth be told, we could and should have won by a bigger margin really, bearing in mind we had one very legitimate penalty shout and Hernandez scored from the closest of possible offside positions, you know, one of the “you’ve seen ’em given” variety. It’s futile to argue if the goal would have been allowed to stand if Chicharito was playing for one of the Manchester clubs or Tottenham, but there you go.

Growing up watching football I had heard very early on that with close calls such as this the benefit of the doubt should always be given to the attacking player, presumably to allow more goals to stand and to make the games more entertaining. Luckily enough on this occasion we got the win regardless.

If 40 points is the conservative target to go for in terms of beating the drop, then we have eleven league games left from which to gather a minimum of ten points.
I reckon that indeed is the very doable minimum requirement here. Our actual points haul should be higher than that though, if only to secure a solid position in the final league table, allowing us to approach the summer transfer window with a bit more swagger and confidence.

Make no mistake, our best bit of transfer business might be to hold on to Marko Arnautovic, our man of the match against Watford by a country mile or two.

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Arnautovic is certainly a bit of a geezer. At times in his career a very naughty boy.
In some instances a royal pain in the hole. When you browse articles about him, from his time at Inter Milan or Werder Bremen, not to mention the Austrian national side, you don’t have to look long in order to find plenty of memorable quotes from and about him.

Jose Mourinho once said Arnautovic showed the mentality and conduct of a petulant little kid. That’s because he failed numerous times to get to training sessions and team meetings on time when he was at Inter. Sometimes it was working in his favour though as Arnautovic one day arrived at training in the morning, being unaware that there was no session scheduled until later that day, but Mourinho was already on the premises and he laughingly applauded Arnie for being punctual for once, in fact five hours early. To give his player a bit of a hint he handed over his own watch as a present – knowing Mourinho it surely wasn’t a bargain bucket model for a tenner – to make sure Arnautovic missing out on club related appointments ever again…

At Inter he also borrowed a Bentley from teammate Samuel Eto’o which promptly got nicked in the process. Cars were very much the theme for him at Bremen too. To this day Werder fans still reminisce about that ever so slightly illegal night race on the streets of Bremen against teammate Eljero Elia. Werder Bremen ultimately were labelled a dump by Arnautovic, as his way of countering growing criticism from fans and media.

Teammates within the Austrian national squad also got (un)fair share of bother, with one guy having to face insults from Arnautovic in the past and also being threatened with physical violence. A passionate genius of a footballer he was even at that point, however, with a very short fuse to go with it. A ticking timebomb.

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One of his most famous episodes was a police check gone Pete Tong by Austrian police when he was still on Bremen’s books. Apparently Arnie was on edge as he was on the way home to his then pregnant wife (who was unwell apparently) and obviously Arnie was not really in the mood for a chinwag with the Old Bill, so he took umbrage, telling the fuzz:

Fxxx you! You have no authority to tell me anything. I have so much money I could buy your life. I’m better than you!

Unsurprisingly the officers disagreed slightly and a court hearing was imminent until the matter was settled amicably enough eventually in shape of an honest apology from Arnie plus a gift of free tickets for an Austria game for the policemen in question. So he didn’t quite buy their lives, but avoided a lot of trouble nonetheless.

Suffice to say Arnie has always been a bit of a character, struggling with accepting authority figures from an early age as he got kicked out by various disgruntled managers ever since little Marko had started playing football.

But it’s fair to say that Arnautovic has somewhat matured over the years, like a complex red wine, and to stay with that analogy, like the claret nectar he may not be to everyone’s taste, yet you cannot deny the quality of the vintage.

Arnautovic has admitted in recent interviews how a lot of the stuff in the past was entirely his fault, but certainly not all of it. The media of course are happy enough to circle in on a guy like Arnautovic to pounce on, simply because car races with shiny fast motors at 3 o’clock at night are a more thrilling story to tell than him holding hands with the wife while choosing new curtains for his living room over at the local DIY store on Friday afternoon.

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Arnie has held his hands up in a recent interview, saying that especially his time in Germany was a challenging experience, something resembling a witch hunt as once he had been given the bad boy tag and his face was in the public domain, the chasing media pack followed his every move relentlessly, hoping to unearth the next big scoop/scandal.

When he moved to England, first to Stoke, later to West Ham, he finally had the chance to start again, getting a clean slate so to speak. Also his family seems to have somewhat grounded him in recent years, with party days/nights few and far between, never mind street racing under the London lights.

Arnautovic has enjoyed a terrific run of form for West Ham after overcoming his stupid sending off for elbowing early in the season, a lengthy illness and then his most recent hamstring injury. Whenever he is on the pitch he makes something happen, creating goalscoring opportunities for himself or teammates virtually out of nothing.

When he swerves this way and the other, coming out the other end with ball at his feet after leaving four opponents in his wake, fans get out of their seats.
If Arnie plays like he did against Watford he is worth the admission price on his own.

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He strikes me as a similar character as Paolo DiCanio who also had a tough upbringing as a kid and various brushes with authority. Like him Arnautovic is a maverick, an enfant terrible, but he is also a bloody good and exciting footballer.

And like Payet in his short spell at West Ham he now is clearly our main guy to make everyone around him play better. If Arnautovic is on the pitch and on fire, West Ham have a decent chance to win any game.

If he is out with injury or suspension, we look a weakened beast. We need him in the side and hopefully he is the kind of player we can build a team around (the Andy Carroll thing obviously hasn’t worked as planned – and God knows we’ve tried for years!). Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Arnie’s goal celebration against Watford looked like a statement of intent, saying “This is my manor! I rule here, I belong here, this is mine!”

Yes, I know. Players kissing the badge has become something of a convenient habit nowadays, to curry instant favour with the fanbase, so when one of your players does it you just hope against hope it is a genuine gesture of affection rather than a calculated charade.

I’d like to think that Arnautovic is enjoying his purple patch and the rapport he has been building up the hard way with the fans. After his unfortunate start at the club he is proving a lot of people wrong (myself included) and he seems to enjoy that almost as much as his football.

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It’s a reflex as a West Ham to immediately fear the worst. With bigger clubs circling, surely Arnautovic will soon be off to where the grass is a lot greener. But is it really ?

Maybe, just maybe Arnautovic has found his spiritual home at West Ham, settling down with the family and just enjoying his football while being in the headlines for all the right reasons for once. Maybe he enjoys being the biggest pike in a medium sized pond. It’s not impossible that he might actually prefer his status as the top cat at West Ham, adored by the Hammers fans, rather than being just another star in a long line of superstars at Manchester City.

I hope we can convince the likes of Arnie and Lanzini to stay, I really do.
The manager has a massive part to play in this. And the board obviously.
What with the march looming large and the unrest among sections of the fanbase bubbling to the surface now, surely NOW is the time to get it right.

Don’t allow another Payet situation to develop and fester. Get proactive and make sure that West Ham is a club worth playing for, even for the likes of Arnautovic and Lanzini – and I don’t just mean in the financial sense of a nice pay packet.
If we get it right, Arnautovic could be our Austrian version of DiCanio, rather than Payet Mark 2.

I cannot claim to be overly confident that this summer will be different for us in terms of transfer strategy and success. In the meantime I shall try to enjoy seeing a bit more of the Arnautovic magic, dribbling knots in the opposition players’ legs before running off towards the fans in another of his trademark goal celebrations. COYI!

PS: If you’re wondering why this column has been unusually calm and almost free of board bashing then I have to confess that a personal health issue within my family circle has put things very much into perspective. It’s never nice if a beloved one has to undergo not one, but two high-risk surgical procedures in quick succession in order to beat a ruthless life-threatening disease. I have written my column after a highly challenging hospital visit yesterday. Thank God my brother seems to be out of the woods at this point and on the long road to recovery, but it’s still incredibly tough to keep a brave face and a smile on your lips if your bro can hardly put together a full sentence or keep his eyes open for five minutes, lying in a bed in the intensive care unit, his system being flooded with drugs and painkillers, with all kinds of tubes hanging out left, right and center. Good thing is, we should now begin to see improvements to his condition and health with every passing day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing West Ham win and I am grateful that the three points against Watford have helped to raise my spirits over the weekend. But rather than worrying about the West Ham board and players I’d much prefer to busy myself trusting in the collective competence and skills of the doctors and nurses taking care of my bro now and in the coming days/weeks. I promised to take him to London Stadium in the near future (he already watched us play at the Boleyn years ago) and I intend to honour that pledge, no matter under what board or manager!

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