The HamburgHammer Column

Scouse brutes vs. Argentinian grace

I hate moaning about referees. I really do. Yet this season for one reason or another I cannot seem to stop. As of now we cannot be sure how long Dmitri Payet, the heart, soul, brain and face of our team, may be out for courtesy of Messrs. Scissor Tacklers of Everton. Rarely have I seen a team kicking their opponents this consistently and deliberately from behind without getting booked left, right and center for it. How that tackle against Payet was not punished with a straight red and a lengthy ban to boot will be a question I may have to take with me to my grave eventually. I never minded Everton as a club, one of my former colleagues at Hapag was an Everton fan.
I liked their nickname The Toffees because, well, I like toffees and I liked the story of them being named so because they used to play or were founded near a toffee factory or shop. (Lucky for them then that this shop didn’t sell screwdrivers, they could easily have been known as The Tools).
I don’t even blame them for resorting to fouling if that was the only way for them to even snatch a point from us on Saturday. But you can still foul players without taking a huge risk of injuring them badly like with that scissor tackle against Payet.

In my view Everton have enough players in their team who actually can play a bit, so I wouldn’t have considered them as much of a team of bullies. But that was before Saturday, now I hope that Everton will soon join Chelsea in the nether regions of the league table and I’d also be happy if that referee would hopefully soon be plying his trade at Conference level, thank you very much!

Trying to ignore the nasty side of that game for a minute I thoroughly enjoyed watching that game, our energy, our passing, our desire to win. And that goal from Lanzini (yet another one, he’s piling them up, not bad for a loanee) was one of those you never tire to watch and admire, even if you have seen it a hundred times and more.
I also love the new atmosphere between players and manager that seems to be permeating throughout our club, there was a nice little moment between Zarate and Bilic just before the substitution: Both were talking, then smiling and even laughing (as if Bilic had just cracked a joke) and then they did this kind of prison handshake you tend to see in American TV crime series, both making a fist, then touching. I couldn’t help but smile at this.

Another thing I took from this game is that Carroll’s days at our club may unfortunately be numbered (sorry RoHammer, I know you just bought his shirt).
At least if we continue to try and play him as isolated upfront as we did (again) against Everton. He doesn’t have the energy or pace to chase defenders around and win the ball near the opposition box, both Sakho and Valencia are much better at doing that.
He’s also not the kind of trickster to win a header, knock the ball down for himself, dribble around four or five opponents and finish off the move by nutmegging the goalie.
He is an incredible header of the ball though, scoring from crosses, freekicks and cornerkicks.
Then again: In Valencia, Sakho, Kouyate, Reid, Tomkins, Collins we have other guys who can do that too.
In short: In my view Carroll is far too expensive wages wise compared to what he can (and does) bring to the table. His best role would be as super sub, but he is also far too expensive for that in reality.

I’m not sure if we can find another club taking a massive gamble and taking Carroll and his massive wages on. Carroll has this massive potential, but so far no club has managed to bring that potential out, for one reason or another. Newcastle did the right thing selling him for the kind of money they got from Liverpool.
Liverpool then did the right thing selling Carroll to us for the kind of money West Ham were offering while making a loss considering how much they had paid to sign carroll in the first place. We will be lucky if we now find ANY club willing to pay a 5 million fee for him AND cover the remaining wages of the long term contract he signed at West Ham.
But this is a question that will not be resolved until January, maybe even not before next summer.

So, now for another International break. This time I am extremly grateful for it, it may help us to mend some twisted ankles, torn ligaments, cuts and bruises.
At this stage I’m still confident the injuries to Payet and Valencia will turn out to be nowhere near as bad as initially feared. Song should finally be ready to at least take his place on the bench. Obiang should be available too and what a welcome addition to our options he could be.
Once Bilic has a full squad to choose from (minus the still suspended Collins) things will get very interesting indeed.
Maybe the answer will be two strikers upfront, at least in home games. Maybe Carroll will be one of them. Maybe we will get our first glimpse of young Michail Antonio before Christmas. Maybe we will see a bit of proper squad rotation.

Should Payet and Valencia be out for a while, I think we can cope. We may drop some points, but we will be fine. With not even a third of the season gone we already have 21 points and are still in touching distance near the top of the league with just five points behind Man City and Arsenal. I reckon a certain Mr.Mourinho would love to swap league position with West Ham as of now (and the entire team too probably). I, however, wouldn’t want to swap this for the world, I love watching West Ham again, I love the dynamics between our board, manager, squad and fans.
One group of bullies kicking up a fuss in our backyard on Saturday won’t change that.


The HamburgHammer Column

Trick or Treat? Ghastly Hammers back on Planet Earth

Well, there were precious few tricks from West Ham at Watford on Saturday. It certainly wasn’t a treat. It was as bad a day at the office as you might imagine. Our team looked like each player had their own ghost traying to perform on the pitch tonight. It’s hard to find a single player who performed anywhere near his usual standard or at least a standard you would expect them to reach even in bad games.

We’ve had the lot: Carroll trying to be clever with the ball when defending in our own box instead of hoofing the ball into touch, away from danger.
The individual mistakes we spoke about needing eradicating if we wanted to improve as a team.

We’ve seen terrible setpieces, passes overhit or underhit throughout the game, a defense not knowing how to deal with the Watford attacks. Make no mistake: Watford looked like a strong and organised side. They very much deserved their win, as much as it hurt me to see Mark Lawrenson getting this “prediction” of this game right, he must have chuckled to himself there. We’ve also seen Collins being sent off making a frustration-fuelled challenge that rightly cut his afternoon on the pitch short.

There wasn’t much going right for us on the day. How can you possibly get anything positive from this game ? Believe it or not – I can.

First, we got that bloody loss out of the way finally, it had to happen sooner or later, it had to happen against some team and I don’t overly mind it happening against Watford.
This defeat should bring back a bit of realism to our club, we were flying so high that our players probably didn’t even contemplate having to put in a shift to get the win at lowly Watford.

This has been a pattern throughout the early stages of the season: Do well against the big sides, struggle against the so called lesser sides. It’s one of the most broken record in football these days, but it’s true: There no longer are lesser sides in this league! Especially if you take any game too casually, even if it probably only happens subconsciously. That’s something that Bilic will need to work on with his staff getting the message through to the players.

It’s all fine and dandy if you win against the Liverpools and Chelseas of this world, those victories tend to lose a bit of their shine if you follow them up with a stinker of a performance against Watford.

I am moaning here of course while West Ham are still doing the crossed hammers sign from quite a lofty position in the league table.

This defeat is not the end of the world if we get to learn from this for the rest of the season.

The biggest positive from this game though is that it gives Bilic the perfect opportunity to switch things around. Most of us have already mentioned Bilic’s tendency to stick with a winning team and rewarding good performances with keeping players in the starting XI.

After the Watford game he has pretty much free reign to shake things up a bit, maybe even go with two strikers for the next game. Carroll on his own upfront doesn’t work, I’m not even sure Carroll works as a starter, full stop. Or as a player staying on the pitch for 90 minutes.

Moses looked out of his depth. The entire back four was all over the place. And we wasted setpiece opportunities time and time again.

So what would I do for the Everton game ? Good question. We have enough time to see players getting match fit and Collins will be suspended anyway.

I’m also aware that we can’t rely on winning our games by counter attacking all the time, at some stage we need to learn to keep the ball, take our game to the opposition and still find a way to score.

So this is what I would come up with (not that Bilic would need any help from me of course):

Adrian
Tomkins-Ogbonna-Reid-Cresswell
Obiang
Lanzini-Payet-Noble
Sakho-Valencia

Bench: Randolph, Jenkinson, O’Brien, Kouyate, Zarate, Carroll, Jelavic

Weekends always are spoilt somewhat for us fans if West Ham lose. But I choose to put that defeat into room 101 quickly and look forward to the next game. We knew that bumps in the road were likely along the way. I expect Bilic to learn from this. Hopefully he has used this Halloween defeat as a reason to give his team one hell of a rollicking. Because it will be another nightmare before Christmas against Everton if we play them as if they were a lesser side.

NOTE FROM IAIN: David Hautzig will be posting later than usual today.


The HamburgHammer Column

The Taming of the Shrewd

I had the weirdest dream last weekend: The Boleyn was rocking, we were playing Chelsea and we were winning that game 2:1, with a cracking piledriver of a shot from Zarate and a beautifully directed header into the top corner from Carroll. The fans couldn’t stop singing the Achy Breaky Dmitri Payet ditty. But the fun didn’t stop there as Chelsea lost the plot, on and off the pitch, getting Matic sent off for two clear bookable offences in short succession. The Sulky One too was sent off giving him the opportunity to watch the second half from the comfort of West Ham’s Executives’ Box while his assistant had already been ordered to leave the dugout minutes before that. Maybe their kit manager and bus driver were sent off too, but as with most dreams you don’t quite remember everything once your are awake again.

Hang on, what are you saying ? This is exactly what happened in your dream too? Must quickly check teletext then and, WOW, indeed: This really happened, another big scalp added to Bilic’s belt of honour which he never wears in public as he’s too modest and well-mannered to boast with his successes. Now, does anyone remember the (early) start of our season ?

Let me give you a hint: Europa League qualification stages won through fair play procedure ? Some lovely games against opposition from Malta, Andorra and RoHammer’s home country ? With some refereeing performances tthrown in that would make Graham Poll shudder with embarrassment?

From being the good boys in the first row of the local parish church we seemingly had morphed into snotty schoolyard bullies, getting players sent off left, right and center.
It wasn’t a question of if but when. Sakho, Tomkins and Collins, all getting private and early use of the shower facilities during our European adventures. Then in the league Adrian got himself sent off for kicking an opponent in the guts by accident while keeping his eyes peeled on the ball only. And Noble got his marching orders for a perfectly fine tackle at the edge of the box which later got rightfully rescinded.

While some of those sendings off were harsh or even unjustified they all showed only too clear how you make it hard for your team to get anything out of games when you give yourself a mountain to climb by not keeping your emotions in check and allow yourself to react to opponents getting in your face or by going into rash challenges.

What a difference a few weeks of training under a good manager seem to be making. Our team has wised up, we do play incredibly smart now and with the new way we play things have turned around for us in the most amazing way – it is now the opoonents who more often than not fail to stop our players and have to resort to holding, shirt grabbing and kicking ankles instead. We are far too pacy and flexible now to be stopped by legal means. We play with a swagger and with confidence.

Make no mistake. Those sendings off against Sunderland, Palace and Chelsea will be followed by more. Which team in this league has the kind of squad that is capable of dealing with guys like Payet, Lanzini, Kouyate, Moses (or Zarate) and Sakho running at them for 90 minutes ? And even if you do happen to deal with them on a good day you may find yourself confronted with some downright frightening substitutions coming into the game from the bench. Do you really breathe a sigh of relief as a defender when you see Kouyate, Moses and Sakho being replaced by Obiang, Zarate and Carroll ? Or Valencia ? With Song (and don’t forget O’Brien!) about to return from injury we become even more of a surprise package. How much more unpredictable can you possibly get ?

Teams simply cannot be sure these days how exactly West Ham will hit them, who will step up to the plate. But hit them we do and we will continue to do so. Opponents will get overrun and bypassed time and time again, frustration and anger will simmer until coming to a boil leading to self-implosion finally. If tippy-tappy passing football doesn’t work we can switch things around and take a more direct approach if need be. We have plan A of course. But also plan B, C and D by the looks of it.

If there is one thing though that needs to be addressed it is our application while playing with a man advantage. You cannot afford to give space and ball possession to a team (especially a quality one like Chelsea) when you have a man advantage, just sitting back, inviting pressure to build. That’s asking for unnecessary trouble.
We also need to learn how to take games to the opposition and push their parked bus to the hard shoulder in order to get through and score. There simply will be games we won’t be able to win by counter attacking.
Some games may require us to win by making the best of having the majority of the ball, putting a team under the kosh and scoring against tightly-knit defensive formations.

But if this season has taught me one thing so far it is that Bilic is a good observer and learner. He soaks up information, processes it and deals with any shortcomings he sees.
He appears to have nailed our disciplinary issues from earlier in the season, he’s set up a pretty effective counter-attacking stye. I’m pretty confident he can sort out our gameplan too when we have the majority of ball possession against so-called lesser opposition.

Let’s hope both Bilic and our team stay shrewd and smart, this wiould go a long way in keeping us in and around the top six. COYI!

PS. Thanks for those asking about my screwdriver injury. I play around with a screwdriver in my hands when watching games trying to ease tension (which rarely works). In celebrating Carroll’s winning goal I cut one of my fingers and drew blood. But I will still use the srewdriver ritual as it has served us well this season so far, hasn’t it ? It also seems to work for my predictor where I managed the maximum number of points for the Chelsea game. Needless to say that this was probably more down to sheer bloody luck than the magic of my screwdriver…


The HamburgHammer Column

Can Pedro please come out and play ? And Michail, Alex, Angelo and Enner too ?

I have a confession to make. As I’m writing this on a rainy Sunday in Hamburg I struggle to keep my eyes open as I didn’t get much sleep last night.
No, not what you think (I wish). No erotic shenanigans or roleplaying games involved. I was just in a state of complete sensory overload after our fantastic 3:1 win at Palace.
Scenes from that game kept running through my mind over and over again. But my mindgames didn’t stop there.
i was thinking about the upcoming games (which always are too far away), about what formation we might use, what lineup, who to put on the bench, which players might link up well together, what Bilic might try to do next in order to replicate our away successes at the Boleyn too.
Whenever I tried to get to sleep Lanzini stole himself into the box of my brain again and smashed that ball over the line for our winning goal. To be followed by that delightful passing move that ended up with Payet sending a delicate chip over Hennessey as if they were playing in a schoolyard, not on a Premier League pitch.

THAT game was very much the West Ham way. I’ve rarely enjoyed watching our Hammers this much since I saw my first game back in 1996. Positive.
Trying to play the right way. Passing the ball. Making positive substitutions. Keeping patient even with the man advantage. Believing in your players and trusting them to win the game. Wanting to win the game. Respecting the opposition without fearing them.
The mesmerising thing is: Even if you disregard our entire starting eleven from the Palace game, we could certainly still field a starting eleven from the players we had on the bench on Saturday, currently injured players and some youth players as well and still have a very solid or even exciting Premier League team.

Starting with Song he should be the best of the bunch of players who haven’t yet featured or not featured as often as they would have liked. Apparently he is back in training now and should be ready in 2-3 weeks. A fit and healthy Song should be the perfect foil to link our defense with the more attack minded of our midfielders.
Song should add experience, have a very solid pass completion rate and help us to win the ball and keep the ball for us time and time again.
If he does play that is as competition for places is fierce in our current squad these days, in every position.

Pedro Obiang was one of our more marquee signings in the summer. That he hasn’t featured much is testament to the quality our lads have shown so far.
At the start of the season I would have predicted Obiang to be a regular starter. Then again, I would have said the same about Angelo Ogbonna, another player who arrived with great credentials. And Michail Antonio was a bit of a coup when he came to us from the Championship on deadline day, one of the paciest and most skilled young wingers in England and a future star in the making.

All of these guys will not only need to work their socks off in training and show the right attitude to play themselves into contention, they will also have to rely on a teammate to play a stinker or get himself injured before a place in the starting eleven becomes vacant. Add to that the prospect of several youth players knocking on the door of the first team (Oxford, Burke, Henry, Page, Lee, Poyet) and you get the idea.
It’ll require a bit of tightrope walking from Bilic to get the balance quite right. Every player wants to be out on the pitch, wearing that shirt obviously. You still need to keep the spirit and atmosphere in that dressing room on a constant high.

Our league position should help on that front, same as the fact that we are the second highest scorers in the league and play some great football in the process.
Not only can we enjoy this situation in the here and now, it will also help us massively to keep our best players and attract new signings when we need to upgrade and improve our squad in certain positions. Players will love to come and join the West Ham transformation and they will be happy to strut their stuff under a positive and forward thinking youngish manager like Bilic. We really do have our West Ham back now with some fantastic results and a glorious current league position on top of that.

I can’t stop salivating at the thought of our options once all players are available for selection. This team can only get better once team chemistry starts to kick in and our lads know instinctively where to their teammates will be running next and when they want the ball. Ask me to name a weak starting eleven for West Ham and I simply couldn’t do it.
This must be one of the most exciting phases in our proud club’s history and it’s great fun to be a Hammer right now.
With the Chelsea game coming up I am very optimistic we can at least get a point while a win for us obviously isn’t out of the question either.
I’d love us to get a deserved, out and out professional win over Chelsea to give Mourinho something to moan about again and some of those pundits to sit up and listen.
What kind of lineup do I expect ? Some tough choices ahead. But here’s my take:

Adrian in goal.
Back four with Jenkinson, Tomkins, Ogbonna or Reid (whoever is fit), Cresswell.
Noble and Kouyate holding
Attacking midfield with Lanzini-Payet-Zarate.
Sakho upfront.

Bench: Randolph, Collins, Obiang, Antonio, Carroll, Valencia, Jelavic.

Let’s hope Bilic keeps our team improving and playing some more football that’s pleasing on the eye AND on the scoresheet. It can be done, even if you don’t have 150 million to spend in the transfer window. And you also get to stay up without even paying much attention to the issue simply because the approach and attitude is different.
Teams that play well regularly rarely get relegated. Teams who score the second most goals in the league rarely get relegated.
Bilic summed it up perfectly on Saturday: “We were patient. But we wanted to win. Happy Hammers!”

Indeed Slaven. Indeed: COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

You've lost that loving feeling - oh no, there it is!

You can Adam and Eve me, I tried. I really did whatwith the boring International break, the OS issue simmering along as usual, players about to return from injury and no new signings (or players leaving the club) to talk about I was still determined to avoid the Sam Allardyce issue at all costs. I wanted to be a good boy, let matters lie and not waste a thought, nevermind an article about the man some like to call Big Sam as if they had been drinking with him in the same pub for 30 years.
And indeed our club has moved on and very nicely at that, with a new manager doing and saying all the right things at the right time, some new exciting players to marvel about, much better football and an exciting (while also being somewhat frightening and sad) move into the OS getting ever closer.

Samuel Allardyce has signed a two year deal to manage at Sunderland. After a nice extended holiday on his part filled with some punditry to stay in touch with football.
The move was not a surprise from Sunderland’s point of view. They are staring relegation right into the boat and need all the help they can get as quickly as they can.
With Allardyce though I had the firm belief that he had had enough: Enough of the pressure of the media circus, enough of the pressure arising from (deluded) fans’ expectations, enough of being criticised for his perceived dinosaur tactics on the pitch and finally also enough money earned over the years in order to be able to somewhat relax and forget about keeping teams up for once.
I fully expected him to settle for a career as a TV or radio pundit. The media people all seem to love him to bits, his unique mixture of grumpy-jovial guy from the street kind of demeanour and ready quip.

I also seem to remember Allardyce saying he no longer needed to manage a club just to keep it up as he had done that numerous times and was no longer interested in that.
Listening to him I would have expected him (if at all) to join a big club in Britain or abroad that would play regular Europa League or Champions League football, but the harsh truth here seems to be none of those were really that interested in signing Allardyce. He seems to have been filed by club hierarchies in that drawer of managers who play a certain style of no-nonsense football that keeps clubs safe more often than not, but not much else beyond that.

Now why do I ramble on about Allardyce then I hear you asking ? Well, it is because of some quotes from an interview in the Sun on Sunday I read upon his arrival at Sunderland which got my blood pressure up to a less than healthy level. Here they are:

“When I was at West Ham my wife, Lynne, would constantly read the supporters website to see what new insults were being fired. It upset her but she couldn’t keep away from the screen. Now she’s been reading the Sunderland fans’ site and she tells me the reaction has been very positive, which makes me feel very excited to get going.
Everyone wants to be praised and to feel wanted and I just hope I can give the Sunderland supporters some of the excitement they are looking for.”

My first reaction is: Good on the Sunderland fans. They show their new manager a lot of goodwill and support right from the start, they are desperate for someone to help their club back on track and they are just hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel.
As for Allardyce’s wife I am sorry that she had to read a lot of bad stuff, harsh stuff, undeserved over-the-top bile at times, but you know what the internet is like.
It brings out the best and the very worst in people and should not be confused with real life. On the other hand Allardyce gave the fans loads of reasons to criticise him, on and off the pitch. Criticism should have been expected and for that reason I would agree with Mr.Allardyce that his wife maybe would have been better off NOT reading the West Ham forums.

What I am angry about is this notion that Allardyce (understandably) wants to feel wanted and loved and how he apparently didn’t find that kind of appraisal and love at West Ham. It takes two to tango Mr.Allardyce. In my view the relationship between a football club’s manager and the fans is not like love between two people. In love (or marriage) you are supposed to love someone unconditionally. There is no reason for love. You love someone because you do. You’d throw yourself into the way of a bullet for them, You’d do everything in your power to make them happy without expecting them to love you back or get anything in return (it would be nice of course but it doesn’t always work like that).

As a West Ham fan I do not love any manager like I would a woman. With football it’s more like a business relationship. I want him to treat the club well, pay respect to our fans and traditions, play some decent football and I’ll be happy regardless of league position really. But I want the manager to love the fans back to a degree so to speak.
Which brings me to Allarydce: If he was so desperate for appraisal or wanted to be loved by the West Ham fans why didn’t he show some love himself ?
Why did he have to start his reign by laughing off the West Ham way ?
Why did he never respect our traditions as a club and our way of playing football which always contained a certain creative, a flair element to it even if results didn’t always go our way ?
Allardyce in my view got quite a lot of goodwill and support from West Ham fans when he took us over. It’s what he did in the following months and years that turned the tide against him and rightly so.

In my view a manager will only be truly cherished and loved by the fans if he loves them back, Bilic at Besiktas being a good example, Klopp at Dortmund, Lyall at West Ham.
I don’t remember Allardyce ever investing much into his relationship with the West Ham faithful, so I am not surprised he didn’t get much love back
At Sunderland it’s early doors. Don’t forget he also managed their rivals Newcastle before, so once that honeymoon period at the Stadium of Light is over and results are not going to plan the love affair may turn sour quickly.

At that point Mrs.Allardyce may better want to refrain from reading those Sunderland forums anymore. Love is a curious thing. Allardyce may well do his usual thing again and keep Sunderland up. But he shouldn’t expect much appraisal or love coming his way if he pulls some of the stuff he did at West Ham with the Sunderland fans.
In that respect Allardyce may want to take a leaf or two out of Bilic’s book about how to strike up and maintain fan relationships.


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