Talking Point

Relax - West Ham are playing

A third of the season is gone and the Hammers are sitting in a very respectable fifth place in the Premier League table. It’s easy to forget that we are ‘only’ ten points above a relegation place at this point, but in reality the gap between us and the Burnleys, Leicesters and Hulls of this world feels a lot bigger these days. It’s a rare thing for West Ham walking in thin air and the rarefied atmosphere near the top of the table, but this doesn’t feel like a fluke. Against Newcastle we didn’t deliver our best football, but we still managed to win against a team bang on form. It’s fair to say that at this point we don’t even know what our best team is. We’ve never had the entire squad available, fit and healthy, but this may happen soon.

Even Sakho will probably return much quicker than anticipated as he is such a passionate player who just wants to get out on the pitch again. Watching our beloved Hammers play these days is a weird experience as so many things have changed due to us having a vastly improved squad. Usually I tend to watch games being very much on edge all the time, watching through fingers covering my eyes, not being able to bear the tension. Tension ? What tension ?

This season more often than not I am very much relaxed. With our back four plus Adrian I don’t expect our lads conceding a shedload of goals. And I am always confident we are going to score goals as we always have someone on the pitch these days capable of converting something out of very little, even our defenders can now score from a teammate’s wayward shot on goal. Normally I would sit down, look at the upcoming ten games or so and make a list of which games are winnable, drawable or basically lost causes. This season I go into games full of confidence we can win on any given day.Team spirit appears to be skyhigh. Competition for places all over the pitch.

Yet fans, myself included, continue to moan. Allardyce putting out a formation we perceive to be negative. Nolan starting a game again. Zarate not starting games. Reid not signing his contract. Sakho suffering further injury through pathetic treatment from a Senegalese physio. Players being asked to play out of position. What is there to moan if a club like us are sitting in fifth place in the table ? My answer: We are creatures of habit and as West Ham fans we had plenty of reasons in the past to moan, about various issues on and off the pitch. As West Ham fans we are conditioned to worry, conditioned to feel disappointment, suffer setbacks or seeing our dreams fading and dying. I still actually find myself in a state of shock about how well our club is doing and my only way of coping with it is clinging on to some good old fashioned moaning, but these days thankfully about merely minor irritations. Moaning somehow feels like a security blanket for me, it reminds me of my old West Ham. I appreciate that most other clubs in this league would love to be in our current position and have only our ‘problems’ to deal with.

So, West Brom next then, another game I can watch in a much more relaxed manner as I just know our lads will be up for it. No doubt I won’t be able to guess the starting eleven (who can these days ?), but we will give the Albion one hell of a game. Forgive me should I continue to moan about petty little things in the game thread again, about Allardyce, our formation, maybe playing with only one striker upfront or the inclusion of Nolan. I can’t help it. I’m not used to the thin air of fifth place, as a West Ham fan I’ve never really been out of basecamp before.

Hopefully I won’t be suffering from some serious altitude sickness soon. Our bubbles are just flying so high at the end of 2014.

Talking Point

No offers please - these Hammers are not for sale!

Another break for some International footie and the Hammers are still sitting comfortably in fourth place in the Premier League table. Yes, that’s your good old West Ham United, we are still talking football and after numerous gruesome pinching sessions I have convinced myself that this is in fact really happening.
I’m salivating at the thought of our options in upcoming games with a fully fit squad as Demel should also return after the break, same as Zarate who apparently had a bit of a niggle (nothing more) before the Villa game and according to some usually well informed sources is still very much in our plans for the future.
Life is bizarrely very good for a West Ham fan right now.

Which brings out the pedantic side in this particular German, the worrying side which makes one feel suspicious if things go too smoothly and so much better than according to the realistic and conservative plan we may have had at the start of the season. And it got me thinking about the boring domestic league I have to suffer at home, the Bundesliga. I hear you all collectively sigh: What is the prat talking about ? Standing terraces, cheap tickets, beer allowed in the ground, some hugely entertaining football and a fantastic national side to boot who are the current World Champions.

But trust me, this is now a league that’s as boring as it gets. The one reason: Bayern Munich. They seem to have a subscription on the title and usually win it at a canter six or seven weeks before the season officially ends, only every four or five years another team gets a shot, but even those teams never really can close the gap to the mighty Bavarans for several seasons in a row. Why ? Because Bayern have a habit of snatching away the key players that make competitors tick. It’s been happening since I started watching football as a five year old in front of our black and white telly.
Before teams can build squads to really challenge Bayern for years to come the key player(s) are presented with offers from Bayern that neither the players nor their club can refuse. These players more often than not then ride the Bayern bench for the next few years instead of being regular starters. But Bayern don’t care as long as Dortmund, Schalke, Stuttgart or whoever cannot continue to benefit from those players. I’ve even got tired of hating Bayern as it is so futile now, the best players from the league are just being hoovered up by Bayern who rarely seem to lose out to even bigger clubs like Real or Barcelona.
The result: Teams like Dortmund, Bremen, Stuttgart and Hamburg who at one point were all title holders are now bumbling along the bottom of the table, although it is of course not solely Bayern’s fault they have fallen that far behind.

For West Ham the situation is even more difficult as in the Premier League there are several clubs doing the hoovering up on top of other moneybag clubs of course like PSG, Real, Barcelona or the Milan clubs. West Ham have always been known as a selling club, the Academy of Football developed the players, they became good, but before they reached the ‘brilliant’ stage they were sold to the highest bidder. And rarely for amounts that reflected their true value.
With West Ham about to move into the OS this mentality has to change, even at the risk of turning down some good or even fantastic financial offers from other clubs.

I don’t think other clubs see West Ham as a threat to the big clubs yet, so there will be no deliberate effort to weaken our squad, but clubs will still try to take our best players away from us, those that have hit the ground running and those that have surprised us all with their breath of fresh air performances: Guys like Sakho, Valencia, Downing, Kouyate, Song, Cresswell, maybe even Adrian if he continues to improve.
Our board have mentioned in the recent past that we were no longer a selling club and I reckon the time is near when we can put those statements to the test of harsh reality.
Will we get weak in the knees when offers for Sakho and Valencia fly into the club’s offices ? Will we consider selling for 15 million ? 20 million ?
When does an offer become too good to turn down ?

I have a very strong opinion on this: You choose the players you consider to be the spine of your team and then do a Barcelona, well, maybe a Barcelona light – you slap ridiculous price tags on their heads to fend off interested parties. You want Sakho who fits our team like a hand in glove ? Bidding starts at 50 million.
Same for Valencia. Interested in Cresswell ? Well, have you got those 30 million available in cash please ? You get my drift.
Realistically you don’t want to lose those spine players but if you have to you at least ask for serious money that allows you to bring in adequate replacements that will keep the team at the same level of quality.

I live in the real world. I know if any offers for our players reach a certain level they will be gone in a flash. But I hope our board are true to their statement.
We need to stop being a selling club if we want to be a challenger for years to come and make the move into the OS a success.
We need to keep building our squad, not dismantling it once we’ve started playing well. Let’s try and make the Premier League a bit more interesting in the next few years.
Mind you, it’s a lot more interesting right now than the boring Bundesliga.

Talking Point

Spoiled for Choice - Our Options with a Fully Fit Squad

You need to help me out here folks: Does anyone remember the last time we actually had a fully fit squad available ? I actually can’t remember a game in our recent history where the physio room did not have any West Ham players as regular visitors. If we care to believe recent tweets from the usual suspects including David Gold we will soon find ourselves in the uncustomary situation of having not only the best squad at West Ham for years but also ALL of those players being actually available for selection including Winston ‘Dead Leg’ Reid and Andy ‘ooh my ankle gives me terrible jip’ Carroll.

Potentially our upcoming game against Villa could be the first game where we can choose from a full squad with Sakho very likely to return, Reid tipped to get over his dead leg in time and even Carroll having an outside chance to make the squad as a bench option.

I don’t know about you, but more often than I’d be prepared to admit I catch myself daydreaming or turning in bed thinking about what to do should it really come to a situation where we can freely choose any starting eleven, any bench, any formation with our current squad. It’s been mentioned on various threads already what great options we now have available and how these options can be combined for a plan A, B, C or D: Maybe there could also be plan E-H, who knows ?
We all have our favourite formations and with strength, pace, creativity and passion in this side for the first time it is actually worth it pondering different formations as with our current players suddenly certain things become possible and workable that were totally out of the question only as recent as last season.

So let’s do some serious thinking and let’s pretend to be Allardyce, just for a few moments, we don’t want to risk the mental health of certain posters, myself included.
What is the team/bench/formation that gives us the best chance of winning and/or playing the most attractive brand of football ?

Two strikers upfront with the diamond ?
The tried and tested Nolan/Carroll combo ?
Is there a way to play Sakho, Valencia AND Carroll on the same pitch at the same time ?
Does the forgotten man Jarvis with his pace and crossing ablity still get a look in or will he be gone in January ?
Could it work to switch from a back four to three defenders, allowing us to play with one more midfielder or striker ?
Do we mainly stick with Sakho/Valencia or do we implement a striker rotation mixing and matching Sakho, Valencia, Carroll, Cole and Zarate ?
Will any youngster this season (Lee, Burke, Potts, Fanimo) deserve to get gametime in the starting eleven ?

I’ll get the ball rolling with an adventurous switch to a back three of Cresswell, Reid and Jenkinson with a midfield of Song, Kouyate, Noble, Downing and Amalfitano with Sakho and Valencia upfront. Bench is Jussi, Tomkins, Collins, Zarate, Nolan, Carroll, Cole.

Over to you!

Player Analysis

Adrian's Wall - Will it stand or fall ?

Goalkeepers are a funny bunch. It’s not necessary for a goalkeeper to be a lunatic, a nutter, a headjob, but several examples of great goalkeepers seem to suggest that it helps. Schmeichel, Higuain, Chilavert, Lehmann, Kahn to name but a few were certainly characters to put it mildly. We’ve seen goalkeepers trying to bite opponents in the neck, saving shots by doing a scorpion kick on the goalline, spitting at opponents, being prone to sudden bursts of outrage or hair-raising blackouts resulting in embarrassing goals from throw ins, back passes or harmless shots slowly rolling through arms and legs turning a routine save into a scene repeated over and over again in football shows presenting football bloopers. It’s not easy being a goalkeeper.

With Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, or short Adrian for his friends, family and fans, we have a curious case, a late starter at his only club played at before West Ham, Betis Seville. He only made his first team debut two years ago at the ripe old age of 25 years. He had to come on because the starting goalie got himself sent off early on, the end result was a 0:4 loss. Two months later though came his Man of the Match performance against Real Madrid in a 1:0 win at which stage he had established himself as Betis Seville’s new number one. He kept eleven clean sheets to help his team qualify for the Europa League by finishing in seventh place, not a bad feat for a late bloomer. West Ham then managed to sign him up without having to pay a transfer fee to Betis. Adrian was merely supposed to be the understudy to Jaaskelainen, but again managed to make the number one, or rather number 13, shirt his own, wrestling the starting job away from the Finnish shotstopper.

With our team playing so well I’ve still read and heard in recent weeks and days even that Adrian was our weakest link, the one player potentially holding us back from challenging near the top of the league and maintaining that challenge for years to come. I have to disagree. Some were for instance unhappy with his performance against Liverpool where hot headed Adrian nearly managed to get himself sent off twice, first getting into a scrap with Balotelli and in the second half making a save by sliding with studs showing into Borini, catching the player in the stomach.
People also obviously were unhappy with Adrian flapping about with a Burnley corner, allowing them to score at a vital time in the match to keep things interesting.

Let me spell it out at this point: Adrian is not perfect in his performances at this stage, very few goalkeepers in the world are and if he was he wouldn’t be playing at West Ham at this stage of his career. But surely he has also shown us enough fantastic saves and blocks already, only as recently as the famous home win against Man City, to merit a lot of credit and praise. Add to that the fact how Adrian made all the right noises when he arrived, mentioning the tradition and history of our club, immediately striking up a relationship with the fans, praising them via his social media account time and time again, bringing over his dad and granddad for a game recently and you can see the man fitting right in at our cosy little family club.

I have to say that Adrian and his goalkeeping fill me with a lot of confidence in most situations on the pitch, including crosses, freekicks or cornerkicks. He fills me with more confidence actually than any other goalkeeper I’ve seen at West Ham so far, including players like Miklosko, Hislop, Walker, Green or Jaaskelainen.
I love his interaction with fans and obvious passion for the club and the game even if that may result in the odd sending off for him. The man cares. And the player Adrian will still only get better with more experience, he’s only 27 which is still infancy status for a goalkeeper, his peak should happen a few years from now, hopefully still at West Ham.
As I said he’s been at Betis before, now West Ham – and he strikes me as the loyal type so Adrian could end up being a two-club man if things keep going well.

Of course we need to replace Jussi and bring in a goalkeeper that will really challenge Adrian in training, day in day out. May I kindly point our club scouts towards Germany which has a history of producing great custodians between the sticks on a regular basis, up and down the country, even in Bundesliga 2. Competition for places is needed at every position at West Ham. What I don’t want to see happen is us bringing in an aging, already established goalkeeper to challenge Adrian.
West Ham simply don’t buy star players, we try to make them, develop them and I hope that’s exactly what we will do with a second goalkeeper.

As for Adrian I hope he is here for years to come, a West Ham legend in the making. For those who are still being critical towards Adrian’s overall quality let me finish with telling you about Walter Junghans, a name certainly unknown to most of you. He developed into a bit of a cult hero, hailing from Hamburg, later playing for Bayern Munich, Schalke and Hertha Berlin. This guy was Jekyll and Hyde with gloves. On any given day he would tip certain goals over the crossbar with his fingertips, making saves worthy of a World Cup Man of the Match award. The next week he would try to clear a back pass only to hit grass and air and concede a goal that would make a slighty overweight Sunday League goalie shudder with horror and embarrassment.
Yet said Walter Junghans had a 20 year long career, winning the European Championship in 1980 plus two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich in 1980 and 1981 plus a German Cup in 1982. You don’t need a perfect goalkeeper to be successful, but one that fits into your team, gets on well with his teammates and is respected in the dressing room and in the stands at the same time.

As far as I can see Adrian ticks all those boxes. Adrian’s Wall should be a feature for the Hammers for the foreseeable future.

Talking Point

WHU do you think you are?

It’s preseason 2017. West Ham have brought their first season in the OS behind them, every home game being a sellout. For the first time in their history West Ham have qualified for the Champions League by coming fourth, led by skipper Alex Song and the Premier League’s topscorer Diafra Sakho (24 goals). West Ham’s first opponents in the CL will be Juventus, Sparta Prague and PSV Eindhoven. West Ham have also brought in some new exciting signings for a total rumoured transfer fee of 50 million.
The fans are thrilled about the prospects of their team which is playing a wonderful brand of dynamic, attacking football, passing the ball on the deck.
But get this, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care. Or notice. Not the BBC. Not Sky Sports. Not BT.

Now let’s wake up again, wipe the sleep from our eyes and adjust back to the reality of October 2014: Of course West Ham are not playing in the Champions League, they are not in the Europa League and the OS is still a massive playground for dozens of real life versions of Bob the Builder (‘Can we fix the OS ?’ – Reply ‘Dunno boss, we may need more cash!’). But the truth after eight games of the season is also this: West Ham are in fourth place, above football superpowers Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham. Yeah, I know, only eight bloody games and only six points above a relegation place, but still quite a feat at this stage.

It’s good to have a dream. What is frustrating is the total fixation the media and press have with the big clubs, ignoring the rest of the league completely, I also haven’t heard a lot of praise given to Southampton lately who are sitting nicely in third place at the moment. No matter what other teams are doing on the pitch, Sky Sports would rather let us know that a bag of rice has fallen over in the Arsenal canteen, that Jose Mourinho’s dog isn’t feeling too well and that Manchester United have just had new tiles delivered for the showers in their training complex. I know they are just catering for the needs of the majority of their viewers as obviously the Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and to a degree even Tottenham probably have a bigger fanbase than the other clubs. Still it infuriates me.

And while we’re at it: The arrogance of those bigger clubs drives me up the wall too. They maybe don’t know any other way after years of sporting and financial success, but everytime another (smaller) club finds a gem, a real talent, the next big thing it is kind of accepted and common practise that this player ‘really should be at United (meaning the Manchester version of course, not West Ham) or Chelsea’. Like it is an utter sin and unthinkable that a really good player should dare and play somewhere else.
Watch it happen with Sakho, Valencia, Kouyate and Cresswell soon.
How very dare West Ham beating Liverpool comfortably at home ? Who do West Ham think they are, making the famous Olympic Stadium their home for 99 years ?
What is a goalscoring striker like Sakho doing in claret and blue, he’s surely just wasting his time in East London ?

For far too long we have been stuck in second gear, in unambitious mode so to speak, being happy to stay up or giving one of the bigger clubs the odd scare on the pitch. Everyone’s second favourite team. The likeable losers from East London, playing beautiful, but ultimately unsuccessful football. The cheaters who drove Sheffield United into the Championship.
Let’s face it, West Ham haven’t had a lot of good press in the last few years. Do we as fans care about what the press say or think about West Ham ?
I think deep down we all do. It feels good if your club is being praised for doing the right things on and off the pitch. It’s still early in the season though, there will be bumps along the road, we will still lose games, maybe starting on Saturday against Man City.

Thing is: If West Ham were to start delivering on the pitch on a regular basis, if West Ham were to qualify for the Europa League or someday even the Champions League and maybe not just once as an exception to the mediocre rule, but time and time again, could the common West Ham fan in the street cope ?
Would this still be the club we all fell in love with ?
Could we handle the media suddenly taking an interest in a more successful West Ham ?
Can West Ham fans deal with good times if they happen more often than just occasionally ?

I’m really not sure. But I’d like to see us give it a try and develop some confidence and swagger.The whole club is doing a fine job right now, giving hope and excitement to Hammers fans all over the globe. And to answer the question from the title of the thread: WHU do you think you are ? The answer’s easy.
We are West Ham United – we play on the floor! Until we score from the heads of Sakho and Valencia of course…:-)

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