The HamburgHammer Column

Amalfitano to be sent to the naughty tractor ?

Right lads, this one will be a rather short affair for several reasons: With the international break and our game against Newcastle coming up later today there is no game business to discuss and Dan has already provided us with one of his excellent game previews we have all grown accustomed to by now.

As I write this I’m also about to watch some NFL football. And I am still in a state of shock somewhat over the events that saw us lose Liddy and Banjo in quick succession.

Needless to say I hope there is a way back at a later stage for both of them. But that is not up for me to decide.

Which brings me to the topic of ill discipline which unfortunately not only has a recent history now at our beloved WHTID but also currently at West Ham.

Morgan Amalfitano has been out in the cold since apparently breaking team rules and by doing that crossing his new manager who didn’t hesitate to put his stamp of authority on the matter. Amalfitano for the time being will exlusively train and play for the development squad.

Latest rumours would suggest a loan deal at mighty Ipswich might be coming up for the tricky midfielder. How the mighty can fall indeed: From Marseille to rural Ipswich via East London. Tractor for Morgan ?

So what exactly has Amalfitano done ? From what I’ve heard it’s more about what he hasn’t done which is not turning up for a team meeting. I don’t know the ins and outs here, what the team meeting was about or if Amalfitano had a good reason to miss the meeting (however, I suppose a shopping trip a la Raducioiu doesn’t qualify as a valid excuse). At this stage it doesn’t look likely that Bilic will allow Amalfitano a way back into the first team, despite providing him with a squad number.

So I have to assume Amalfitano simply forgot about that team meeting or didn’t consider it important enough to grace it with his presence.

Now we all know that Amalfitano on his day is a useful player, who could ever forget his calm, composed and casual finish in our 3:1 home win over Liverpool last season?

But we also know that Amalfitano is a bit of a character who has had previous with his manager at Marseille. Luckily enough we are now in a position after the transfer window to have many alternatives in midfield, so letting Amalfitano go will not be the end of the world for us.

Going to Ipswich however might be the beginning of the end of Amalfitano’s career in England. He is clearly too skillful for the Championship level. But will another Premier League club take him and his attitude on ?

Bilic surely has used this issue to draw a line in the sand, clearly showing that he won’t accept any player taking liberties. Which is a good thing. So do you all think Bilic is doing the right thing here ? Does it depend on whether you’re having alternatives in your squad ? Or does it depend on the level of player that has broken the rules ?

So hypothetically spoken: Would Bilic dare to do the same to Payet or Reid under similar circumstances ? And should he ?

Will being out on loan in the Championship teach Amalfitano some humility and discipline ? And will Bilic’s decision against Amalfitano serve both him and our club well in the long run ? I believe it will. Hopefully starting this evening with a mesmerising performance from our team under the lights at the Boleyn. COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

Babies-eating West Ham, the OS, the profit and the jealousy

The firestation in your neighbourhood is closing down ? You have to wait ages for treatment in your local hospital because there are not enough nurses and doctors in relation to the number of patients ? The potholes in your road are getting more in number and bigger in size every single day ?
Look no further than West Ham if you need a quick fix and an easy scapegoat.

If you look through various news outlets or forums from other football clubs West Ham are very much the bad guy these days, cheating their way into a stadium for free, not paying more than a token pittance (15 million upfront plus 2.5 million rent a year), getting a pitch with goals including nets in return, stewarding and policing all for free, basically being handed Champions League football on a plate, pocketing pots full of cash in the process while the government apparently had no chance than to sign every single clause West Ham wanted just so that the OS wouldn’t become the proverbial white elephant like in so many other places which had the pleasure of hosting Olympic Games in the past.

Basically then the government has spent around 800 million Pounds to gift West Ham a stadium. Maybe the Olympic Games too were merely a clever ploy from West Ham to get a stadium on the cheap ?

The latest so called investigative piece of journalism has come from the Daily Mail who claim that internal LLDC paperwork show that the LLDC and Newham Council will only make a profit of 200.000 Pounds Sterling in 2016/17 from all activities in the OS, including West Ham playing the first half of their inaugural season there.

My first question here would be: How does internal LLDC paperwork get into the hands of Daily Mail journos and secondly, how serious can you take an estimate like that when you may know the level of costs involved at this stage, but certainly not the level of income the stadium will generate in year 1 ?

To get an idea you’d have to know how much money will come in due to naming rights.

One might say a 200.000 Pound profit in year 1 is better than a loss or a black zero, but either the naming rights income has been estimated at a very low figure, there have been lousy negotiators on behalf of the LLDC or maybe that income simply has been forgotten in the year 1 projections.

The same applies to the income from other activities. Are we really supposed to believe that in year 1 we will see an athletics event or two there in July and August, West Ham football and nothing else aprt from that ?

I do question the reliability of that 200.000 profit figure. Someone else who is doing a lot of questioning these days (some of which is quite understandable) are the petitioners from various football clubs (mind you, the supporters’ Trusts, not the club hieracrchies themselves).

They seem to think because we are talking about a public asset here ALL details of the deal need to be published immediately no matter what.
Confidentiality for commercial reasons doesn’t seem to wash with those critics. They want all the information and they want it now.

Again, I’m surprised if even the LLDC (or West Ham for that matter) had a clear idea of any exact figures in terms of income from naming rights, catering, ticketing or even subsequent income generated in the Stratford area in connection with ongoing events there.

Fact is: The withholding of information reflects badly on the business partnership between the LLDC and West Ham. Anyone who is not West Ham (and maybe even a fair number of West Ham fans) automatically expects that something fishy has to be going on, some underhand business, shady shenanigans if sections of the deal still remain redacted for the time being, without the government showing a great degree of willingness to change their stance anytime soon.

If this piece by the Daily Mail is another one or even the final straw for the petitioners to pin their hopes on it is indeed a desperate one. It is far too easy to paint those who work for the LLDC and the government in particular as incompetent know-littles who keep wasting taxpayers’ money without a second thought.

To me it still looks as if a few poor souls had to salvage something positive from a very bad situation arising from numerous bad decisions, setbacks and shortsighted actions.
West Ham overall appear to be benefitting from this bad situation, but I still refuse to believe that the guys from the LLDC would waste money on purpose just in order to help West Ham.

The conversion costs of 280 million were unncessary, at least in terms of the amount, to begin with, but why would you agree to any kind of deal that had no chance to ever recover your outlay and make you a tidy profit on top over the years ? It doesn’t make sense at all, unless you go into territory where you want to bluntly accuse individuals of exchanging money for personal gain without any care for public finances.

There is no easy solution here after all that has gone on in the last few years. One part of me simply wants to mock the rival fans and accuse them of being jealous, hypocritical and deluded. Another part of me realises that indeed it must look to the normal folk as if something unruly must have happened somewhere along the road if vital information is shrouded in secrecy. It just doesn’t look good.

My big relief here is though that the stadium conversion is nearly finished. More money has been spent, deals have been signed and we are too far gone now to make some sort of U-turn. The petitioners have found their collective voices (which are loud maybe, but not exactly plenty in number at this point) at least a year too late.

If those Charlton, Orient (and funnily enough also Man U and Chelsea) fans find a way to bring down a government, a rival football club and a multi-purpose stadium in the process it’d be one hell of a script for a film. Real life in most cases is different though.

Like one of our esteemed favorite posters on this site has so catchily phrased: This will run and run. But eventually even this race will be run.

It’ll leave behind a few winners (with West Ham hopefully being among them), but unfortunately also a lot of people losing out or ending up with egg on their faces.

Maybe this can be a useful lesson for anyone else hosting Olympic Games in future interested in keeping a legacy post games. Too many mistakes have been made with the London version. There is no reason to repeat those mistakes elsewhere ever again.


The HamburgHammer Column

Keep calm and stay away from the panic button!

Well, that was a bit of a crap weekend in football terms. Hugely entertaining, but ultimately crap nonetheless. Our game against Bournemouth had everything you could ask for as a football fan: Goals galore in glorious sunshine, twists and turns, penalties, a sending off, end to end stuff. But unfortunately also individual errors that would make a schoolboy blush with embarrassment, defensive prowess as you might expect to see on Hackney Marshes pitches and a home team that seemed to crumble under a mixture of too much expectation, a presumably easy opponent and a nervous disposition that is hard to explain considering how many games these players have been through in preseason.

Our team by now should be focussed, sharp and up to it, on Saturday they were all over the place. Once again we lost a game in the fist half, going into halftime with a two goal deficit. If you give yourself a mountain to climb in your home games you cannot complain afterwards if you end up empty handed. Our fullbacks’ confidence looked shot which is surprising as both Crewwell and Jenkinson were our most consistent performers last season.

Yet one must not forget that this will be a season of transition. New manager, new gameplan, new tactics and some new players. Talking of which our owners now need to take some responsibility and give the manager some more tools to work with (this is not me insulting potential new signings by the way!). We are terribly short on players.

As of now we have one fit striker in Maiga and apparently this is the man that everybody including our club hierarchy would love to sell (or give away) to any club which is willing to take the Malian and his reasonably high wages on board. I wasn’t happy with our result on Saturday and I obviously wasn’t thrilled with the defensive display.

Still I refuse to panic just yet, this season is a marathon, not a sprint. And I have to repeat what I said before: Bilic needs time to work with this team, build some chemistry, find his best eleven once injured players are available again and also rebuild the confidence of his players after a shaky start to the season.

We cannot afford to throw away our home games in the fashion we’ve done so far.

But all is not lost. I still believe there is quality in the side we already have and the owners will add to that quality because, well, they simply have to if you look at our net spend and what other clubs have been spending in this window already. I’m not sure if our lack of spending is due to having to balance our books prior to the OS move, but I don’t get it that we seem to have a list of striker targets and so far none of those has come off. Same with wingers. At the Premier League level you cannot afford the luxury to hesitate and dither. I understand our board will not want to pay over the odds.

Truth is: Sometimes you have to spend some serious money to fill a team need with the kind of player you want.

I expect a new signing or two over the course of this week. And as this is West Ham we are talking about I fully fancy us to have a good game now away at Anfield. Probably not quite the elusive win we’re all craving for, but a reaction from the team nonetheless. Randolph in goal fills me with confidence after his Bournemouth performance (weird to even write that considering he conceded four on the day), he will be fine filling in for Adrian.

What I don’t want to see anymore is Noble and Nolan in the same team as both are too slow for the Premier League level.

You can get by with one slow player in midfield, but not two.

Bilic will sort this out. He is a smart guy and had a great rapport at Besiktas with the players and the fans which is a vital trait to have for a manager, especially at West Ham.
If we are still seeing performances like the Bournemouth one in December I will start to worry. As of now I still have faith in Bilic’s ability to give us both good football and points on the board. I already love his frankness in interviews, him saying it like it is and taking the blame for mistakes on the chin.

This alone buys him a lot of goodwill from my side.

My own local team TSV Wandsbek Concordia (you remember, the lads from Hamburg’s EastEnd) lost their game yesterday in heartbreaking fashion conceding the 2:2 equaliser (after leading 2:0) in the second minute of injury time.

You can’t take anything for granted in football which keeps us coming back for more. West Ham will be fine this season, but we need to stay away from the panic button at this point. Which doesn’t mean, Mr.Sullivan and Mr.Gold, that you can take the foot off the gas in terms of making some more quality signings.

If you keep talking the talk, you need to back it up with some action from your wallets. Money alone doesn’t score goals but it does no harm either spending some.

Especially if you only have one fit striker.


Talking Point

Overruled! - It is time for video refs

If this sounds familiar to you it is because we’ve been discussing this last year already. Yet again – and very early in the season too – West Ham have suffered from a shocking refereeing display and I am not even talking about the inept efforts at the Europa League qualifying stage.
Anthony Taylor for sure was not in the mood to give anything for the home team on Saturday, his decision near the end of the first half NOT to award a penalty to West Ham and send Leicester’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel off for holding out his arm in the box to clearly stop Sakho from following up the ball massively changed the odds for West Ham to turn the first half deficit into a draw or even a home win in the second half.
I hate to blame referees for all and sundry as obviously West Ham didn’t play well in the first half and maybe overall deserved to lose the game.

But it’s become a quite regular occurrance that refs (at least in the Premier League) get one or two big decisions wrong every weekend. I am talking about big decisions here: penalty or no penalty, sending off or just a yellow card, goal scored from an offside position, stuff like that which can really affect final scorelines.
And it’s not German pedantry or nitpicking on my part either. Those big decision can lose a team vital points that ultimately have a much bigger impact: League position, progressing in a cup competition, relegation, qualifying for the Europa or Champions League. Jobs are on the line here and I’m not just talking about the players or managers, it can and does affect clubs in a big way.

The answer is very simple in my view – take a book out of how they deal with these things in US sports for instance. I do follow all American sports with interest, baseball, American Football, Ice Hockey. They all have ways and means to overrule a controversial decision on the pitch. You might say that those sports are very stop start anyway, so a further delay doesn’t really matter so much as it would in football. And I know that football as the globally most loved sport tends to hang on to its rules and traditions a bit longer than might be healthy in some cases. But remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. It wasn’t too long ago that no substitute players were allowed in football.
There was a time when there were no players’ names on the back of the shirt. Back in the day the goalkeeper could still pick up every backpass without being penalised. There’s goalline technology now and referees are armed with vanishing spray to mark the position of the wall for a freekick.

In all of these cases there were frowns and doubts from diehard oldschool fans initially, but I reckon most football fans are glad that now those changes have been made.
In terms of the substitutes on the bench it is a necessity of course, in my view it’s the same with handing over certain decisions to a video referee.
In baseball and football these are initiated by a manager’s or coaches challenge, in the dugout they have their own TV people who within seconds indicate to the manager if the incident is worth challenging. There’s then two ways of going about this: In American Football the umpire crew on the field checks out the replays on the sidelines, looking at as many replays as they need (but usually this is done within 60 seconds), they can then uphold or overrule their initial call on the field.

In baseball this decision is being handled by an operations center in Manhattan where every single game is being monitored on several screens and from several angles.
It is them who view the replays and then relay their decision back to the umpire crew in the respective ballpark. In this case the video referee does have the final decision.
Again those instant replay decisions usually don’t last longer than 60 seconds.
In Ice Hockey the referees themselves decide to ask for clarification from the instant replay headquarters in Toronto if they are unsure if a goal should stand or not.

I feel it is time to introduce similare measures in football (at least at the Premier League level). As a fan you want the referee to get the big decisions right and with the speed of the game these days and so much hinging on the referee’s whistle it is natural for referees to be a bit overchallenged at times (pun fully intended). It is not about mocking referees in general or questioning their efforts.
It is about giving them some much needed assistance in order for them to get the big decisions right and maybe even gain more respect from the fans in the process.
Give each manager one challenge per half. if it is just one this makes sure that the managers use it when it’s needed for a big call rather than use it in a sinister way to halt the flow of the game or stop the opposition’s momentum.

The time it usually takes for the players to moan and argue with the referee (and for the TV station to show replays of the incident from three different angles) can be used in a much better way for a video referee to have a look and then give his decision on the big screen (like in rugby league). Rather than just delaying proceedings on the pitch I feel this would even add to the suspense and drama of it all. Plus you get more decisions right obviously. Which to me is the main point.
Do manager’s cahllenges and the introduction of video referees in football remove controversy and heated discussions in the pubs afterwards from the equation ?

Of course not. There will still be plenty of incidents to talk about. But you won’t have to talk about referees getting it so wrong in such a shocking way quite so often anymore. Which can only be a good thing.


Talking Point

West Ham Episode CXX - The Bilic Menace

It’s a period of transition for West Ham and their new manager Slaven Bilic. Still trying to cope with the aftermath of their premature exit from the Europa League competition in Romania the Hammers couldn’t have faced a more difficult task for their first game of the season, away to the mighty Arsenal.

Having sacrificed their best players midweek so they could be available for the game at the Emirates the pressure was on for Bilic’s men as an Europa League exit plus defeat in the first league game wouldn’t have gone down well with the Boleyn Alliance members.

Faced with Arsenal’s sinister, pacy and skillful army of players, Bilic had to dig deep to get anything from the game in order to give new hope and joy to his claret and blue legion of followers and set the Hammers on their way for the final year at their beloved home at the Boleyn.

Well, I had meant to write about something completely different in the first post of my column, but Bilic and our team had something different in mind. How can one not be absolutely delighted with what we’ve seen yesterday ? Where to start ? Fantastic energy levels throughout the team, good chasing, keeping possession of the ball reasonably well, frustrating Arsenal all day long on their own patch – and Arsenal are always difficult to play, even when they have a bad day.

Our goals were clinical and coldly converted as a healthy dog’s nose should be, mercilessly taking advantage of Arsenal weaknesses/blunders. Our defence stood well, we had some good ideas in midfield and even without scoring Sakho again was a livewire. Even Nolan and Maiga looked fresh and willing when they came on.

It was a fantastic team performance and very hard to single out a man of the match. Adrian kept the game level numerous times and more than deserved his clean sheet, Reid was a rock marshalling the defense, Payet will be the heartbeat of our team (hopefully for years to come) and would anyone have guessed that Reece Oxford is 16 years old ? He played as if it was his tenth season at this level already.

Zarate took his chance on the pitch well, he tends to keep the ball for too long, losing it in the process, but his goal took Cech by surprise and pretty much set us up for the win. Zarate will be a useful player for us this season.

We will also have Valencia and Carroll back eventually, Song is likely to come in too plus maybe one or two more players. Once they will find some chemistry I’d expect this lot to be both entertaining to watch and successful in terms of winning games and points.

I just hope that despite the injury to Valencia this will not result in Carroll being rushed back three or four weeks early (again).

Make no mistake: West Ham will lose games under Bilic, also against so-called lesser opposition, he will need some time to get his ideas across to the team, a process that will take some time. But the early signs are promising. I suppose we can put to bed the idea here (without tempting fate) that this West Ham team will have anything to do with relegation at the end of the season. I hope this to be the beginning of a wonderful and exciting journey at the end of which we will move. Which I have done already, moving back into my old flat in Hamburg’s East End with my deceased mom’s house finally being on the market.

So it’s a time for transition and change, both for my club and myself in many different ways. The most important thing I take from our win at Arsenal is a strong belief that Bilic is very capable and a good fit for our club. Given time he could build a proper legacy at West Ham and bring genuine pride back to the East End. Combined with proper unity and passion among our fanbase. It was about time…


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