Talking Point

Keeping highflying Hammers happy

In a week where West Ham have reached their highest league placing in 15 years you see a lot of smiling faces in and around the Boleyn. Fans, the manager, the board, most players all wearing a massive grin on their boats these days that make a Cheshire cat look sullen in comparison. But with the lofty heights we find ourselves in this season comes a whole new set of challenges and very unfamiliar problems. Suddenly other clubs appear very much interested to sign up several of our players, not just one or two, and rightly so.

As soon as a team dares to enter the rich hunting grounds at the top of the table other clubs are bound to look to dismantle a team that is clicking as well as ours.
I’ll just say I hope our board stay true to their word that West Ham is no longer a selling club.

If we want to continue growing as a club and become bigger ourselves just as we are about to move into the OS we must hang onto the spine of our team, keeping players like Tomkins, Cresswell, Song, Kouyate, Sakho, Carroll and Valencia at this club. Offers from bigger clubs for sure are just around the corner, but the board should be very careful about who they’re letting go. As far as I know our debt is pretty much under control prior to our move to the OS after which we only have to pay a relatively low rent for the OS, so on paper we may not actually have to sell players for financial reasons for a change.

Another massive and unfamiliar problem that comes with our current territory is keeping the spirits in our dresing room high. Which sounds easy enough to do on the back of three league wins in a row. But with a big and talented squad like ours there is a catch: Even a West Ham team can only field eleven starters and name seven substitutes.
Competition for places is something new at West Ham and most fans love it for obvious reasons. The downside is that it leaves quite a few players on the bench or even in the stands who are itching to play and would probably be starters in a lot of Premier League clubs below us in the table.

I am sure players like Zarate, Amalfitano, Jarvis, Cole and Valencia would love to start more games, young Diego Poyet too, having just returned from his loan spell at Huddersfield. All of these players have individual qualities and skills to offer, but they share in their current fate of having to play the waiting game.

This is where Sam Allardyce has to do a tough job handling players’ egos and keeping our players happy in a way they can perform to the best of their ability once they are being called into action. We’ve all heard the rumours about Zarate considering a transfer to Italy in January to get more playing time.

Of course our rarely used players will get their chances again. There will be injuries, there is the African Cup of Nations coming up, the busy Christmas/New Year schedule and the FA Cup as well. We will need our big squad soon enough, but it must be a nightmare (while being a nice problem to have at the same time) to have so many players at your disposal who are all quality players that could easily be regular starters.

Some of them might need an arm around their shoulders at times or a nice word of encouragement into their ears occasionally, our coaching staff hopefully know how to handle these players.

There are no easy answers here. Do you put more emphasis on keeping those players happy who have been here for many years and give the likes of Noble, Nolan, Carroll and Cole more playing time ? Do you try to play the new signings like Zarate or Amalfitano as often as possible in order to keep them happy, not creating a situation where they get desperate enough to leave the club ? Or do you simply focus on performances during games or in training to choose your starters and bench players ?

I love watching our current team celebrating their goals on the pitch and the bench (thank God there are many reasons to have those celebrations this season!) as it shows the current good spirit and harmony within our squad. I’d like to see this spirit continue to thrive, not being disrupted by unhappy squad members.

Am I overthinking this probably and will things take care of themselves over the course of the season ? Or is it just par for the course for a team like West Ham improving its performances and status in the league as we speak ?

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.

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