The S J Chandos Column

A New Era? - It is looking that way!

Prior to last season’s conclusion, I raised the issue of the future of David Moyes in my column. At the time I had not come to a conclusion about whether the experienced Scot should be offered a new deal. but merely raised the issue because it seemed obvious to me that the club had to take a crucial (branching point) decision at the season’s end. If they were to attempt to carry on as they had for the past two seasons (signing free transfers, loans and long shots, mixed with the odd quality buy like Arnautovic, then Moyes was probably as good a managerial choice as they were likely to secure. If, on the other hand, the club wanted to start living up to their previous big statements, and promises, then we had to start showing ambition and push the boat out financially. That latter option would probably necessitate the recruitment of a top class manager to guarantee the success of the endeavour.

We now know that the Hammers board opted for a new course/direction and subsequently recruited Manuel Pellegrini to head it. A top manager like Pellegrini was always likely to insist on a substantial transfer budget and the signings to drastically improve the quality of the squad at his disposal. The Chilean manager is an advocate of an exciting, expansive, attacking style of play that Hammers fans will love. And it was obvious that major additions were necessary to enable him to play that way. That is not to say that the cardboard, that he inherited, was totally bare! The likes of Hernandez, Arnautovic, Antonio, Rice, Lanzini, Zabaletta, Byram (if he can get and stay fit), Mario (if he returns to the club) Cresswell, Masuaku and Ogbonna are all equipped to play in his system. Others such as Kouyate, Reid and Noble also have a possibility of adapting to it. While there is also the bonus of the potential that we have at U-21 level. in players such as Holland, Quina, Pask, Browne, Haksabanovic, Samuelson, Martinez and (even) Oxford that he will assess for first team readiness. Below them are youngsters of arguably even greater potential like Lewis and Johnson that could emerge as first team options over the next couple of seasons. It is significant that the new manager has put an embargo on the U-21s going out loan until he has assessed their potential and current stage of development. Finally, a decision needs to be urgently made on the futures of youngsters like Burke and Cullen that have been around the edges of the first team squad for some time. This needs to be done not only in the interests of the club, but equally importantly, the interests of the youngsters themselves.

At present there are lots of links and negotiations pertaining to flair players like Anderson (at Lazio), Pastore (PSG) and, the youngster, Diaz (Man City). These are presumably at various stages or, in Pastore’s case, proving abortive. Very sensibly, Pellegrini has began by augmenting West Ham’s leaky defence. We only managed to stem the flood of opposition goals, and gain some defensive cohesion, last season by perfecting a three at the back system. The new manager will presumably want to move away from that and play a far more flexible 4-2-2-2 system, with strong central defenders, who can play the ball out from the back and full-backs that get forward and offer width, to allow the wide players (like Anderson and Antonio) to cut insider and attack through more central positions and support the strikers.

To date, he has signed Fredericks (a player perfect for this system), Issa Diop (a strong, ball playing centre back, with huge potential to become a real star) and Fabianski, (the Polish international keeper). In addition, we have been linked with Marlon (of Barca), Mawson (of Swansea) and, another keeper, Jimenez (of Espanyol). It is possible that we could sign another centre-back and keeper to further revolutionise our defensive options next season. There has also been rumours that Rice will be primarily used as a defensive midfielder, rather than a centre-back, and Oxford will be very closely scrutinised before a decision is made on his future. It could be that Oxford exits to Germany (to raise additional funds) and we bring in another player like Anderlect’s Dendocker, who is apparently available for c.£16-18m.

In terms of attacking midfield/wide options, the injury to Lanzini (our most creative player) is a huge blow. And it is a blow that the club has had to adapt its transfer strategy to ameliorate. The seemingly endless haggling with Lazio is nearly at a conclusion. The latest reports suggest that we have offered 30m euros and add on clauses and a 10% sell on that meets Lazio’s demand for a overall fee of 42m euros. If this offer is rejected then the club is likely to reluctantly walk away and pursue other targets. As such, Lazio have a major decision to make. At the time of writing, the Pastore deal looks dead in the water, with the player preferring a returm to Serie A with Roma. While rumours persist that Pellegrini might seek a season long loan for Man City’s young play-maker, Diaz and there is the possibility of Wilshire signing on a free transfer from Arsenal. Plus, there is the outstanding question of Mario’s future and Spurs’ supposed alternative interest in the player, which could derail the prospect of his return to the club next season. The picture was further complicated yesterday by news that we are being linked to a number of other exciting midfield targets.

In terms of strikers, there seems to be an assumption that Pellegrini will continue with the existing striking triumvirate of Arnautovic, Hernandez and Carroll. In practice, that could see a arnautovic-Hernandez partnership up front, with Carroll (injuries allowing) adding something a bit different/more direct from the bench. That, of course, supposes that both Arnautovic and Hernandez remain at the club? As yet the much mooted interest from Man Utd in Arnautovic has not materialised (although there is now another link to Inter-Milan) and one can only hope that Pellegrini can talk Hernandez out of his Moyes induced strop of last season! It is a reasonable question to pose whether the manager will stick with Carroll? is he really Pelligrini’s type of striker and does he fit in to his preferred system of play? In terms of links with new strikers, we have been connected with a number, including Senegal’s Konate, Argentina’s Pavon and Celtic and France’s Moussa Dembele. Whether we move on these or any other striking targets remains to be seen.

In all honesty, I have tried to map some of the key links/negotiations in which we we are involved, but it is a frantic, frenetic process that is chucking up new names each day. Sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’’ of rumours is difficult and, of course, who we line up/recruit is likely to have an undoubted influence on the players that we put up for sale. And there is always the unexpected developments coming out of left field, like yesterday evening’s reports that agents were ‘offering’ Arnautovic to Inter-Milan. Stories like that are likely baseless, but until they are officially discounted they are a factor for consideration!

There appears to be a consensus that Pellegrini has been handed a c.£75m transfer budget. However, with three players signed and, according to reports yesterday evening, another 3-5 new signings on the way, then it is likely that this will need to be supplemented by generating some funds from players sales. So, who are the main candidates for a departure. Well, Adrian’s future at the club needs to be confirmed. It could be that he will compete with Fabianski next season for the keeper’s jersey. However, if Adrian is not happy with that or the club pursue their interest in Jimenez then he could exit, most likely back to former club Real Betis. Both Byram and Reid would probably be on most people’s list of possible exits, but I hope that they are retained, Reid to provide strength in depth at the back and Byram to be given another chance to get over his injuries and fulfil his potential, especially in Pellegrin’s new system of play. One player that could exit is Pedro Obiang, if we commit to playing Rice in that position and we secure a better alternative like Dendocker. There is interest in Obiang from Italian and Spanish clubs and he could raise a significant transfer fee. If Pellegrini gives the green light, the club could sell the youngsters Burke, Cullen and Oxford. A Crystal Palace bid for Antonio has been much anticipated, but again, he could be a good player to have in Pellegrini’s system. Yes, he was injured for much of last season and, when he did play, his standards slipped in comparison with the previous two seasons, but hopefully he can regain his former fitness and form. One player almost certain to be sold is Snodgrass, who is currently interesting Cardiff City. Although there has been the interesting suggestion on social media sites that we could try to trade him in a part-exchange deal for Celtic’s Moussa Dembele. Then there is Jordan Hugill and, the Swiss international, Emilison Fernandes who could both be off-loaded. And finally, might the club be tempted to accept a £8-10m bid for Carroll, if it came in, from a club like Newcastle Utd? The club will want to raise additional funds and they will need to assess who we can sell, for what fee, based on which players are incoming. At the end of the day Pellegrini has to significantly raise both the quality and the depth of the squad. That necessarily requires a careful balancing act.

So, all the indications are that we are looking at brave new era for the club. There is still a lot of business to transact, but it would seem that the squad will have a major refit prior to the commencement of the new season. Certainly pre-season will be fascinating to follow this season, as Pellegrini finalises his squad and gets down to the business of building team spirit, embedding his tactics and style of play and moulding them in to an effective and cohesive unit.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we have turned a corner and significantly better times lie ahead for the club and its supporters? We can but live in hope – as always! Only this time the hope appears to have some ambition, top-level management, hard cash and quality recruitment behind it.

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Rice is a quick learner and an 'obscene effort' is required against Man City!

Only West Ham United FC could lose a match so convincingly in the last eight minutes! Seriously though, it does beggar belief the way in which we played so well against Arsenal and were in line to win a vital away point, only to blow it at that late stage. Yes, the team probably tired in the latter stages and the nature of Arsenal’s second goal was particularly galling, but (as Arnautovic has subsequently said) we should have maintained our shape and discipline even after that reverse. Instead we unravelled in a quite worrying fashion.

Still, perhaps we should console ourselves with the thought that we did not expect much at the Emirates and now just move on to the next match, versus Man City, this coming Sunday. Only first, I think it needs stating that overall we deserved the point at the Emirates, but that the same old defensive mistakes (at the very death) cost us the result. Lets hope that we can get firmly on top of those defensive lapses and they do not ultimately prove our undoing in the run-in to this turbulent and frustrating season. Incidentally, my view on the post-match Moyes-Rice controversy is that the Manager was obviously too honest in his response to the media’s questions. He should have delivered a more diplomatic response and saved the frank honesty for the dressing room. As it is, social media have jumped on it and created a big fuss and that does no one any good in this present situation. The truth of the matter is that Declan Rice is a youngster of great natural ability and it is that which underpins his outstanding performances this season. But as a 19 year old, he is (naturally) still short on that other vital ingredient, experience. And it is experience that tells a player what to do in a split second situation like that, if you have it, you react automatically/instinctively and clear the danger. Rice does not have it yet, got caught in two minds and unfortunately took the wrong course of action. Ironically, costly as the mistake probably was, it will ultimately add to Rice’s experience and ensure that in future he will make the right decision in similar situations.

The one thing I do know about Declan Rice is that he is a quick learner, he has amply shown that this season, and this incident will probably be a key lesson in his journey towards becoming a top class international defender. His ability to learn from mistakes/situations and progress is what distinguishes him from other promising players at the club who have not made the same progress. I am a fan of Reece Oxford, but there is no doubt that Rice has superseded him in the race to become a first team regular. And perhaps that is why, it is about a positive attitude, learning lessons and continually progressing your game. One player has, the other, hitherto, has not to anything like the same degree!

Well, ‘thank goodness for Ashley Barnes’ of Burnley (as David Hautzig stated in his recent match review). Indeed! That scrappy Clarets equaliser against Stoke City could yet prove vital to the outcome of the relegation battle. It is pretty much clear that if Stoke City lose to Liverpool this coming weekend (as the form book says they should) then they are going to be relegated. Southampton (as the club presently in 18th place) have shown a consistent inability to win matches and if that trend continues then they should occupy the third and final relegation place. Also in the relegation mix are Huddersfield and Swansea and it is still possible that it could be one of those two (rather than the Hammers) who fall through the trap door if Saints somehow manage to save themselves at the 11th hour. But, lets not rely on the deficiencies and negative results of others.The best possible response is to win this weekend to (hopefully, if Bournemouth do the business in the south coast derby) create a 9 points gap over Southampton. If not, then we need at least a point from the Man City match and hope that we can then complete the job up at Leicester City.

No one denies that beating Man City is a very tough task, in facing both the best team in English football and the newly crowned PL champions. But we are at home and if the history of West Ham United FC proves anything (for example, see Fergie, Man Utd and an obscene effort!), it is that a highly motivated team (playing above itself) can get a result against even the best opposition. Hopefully, Man City will take their foot off the accelerator (now the title is in the bag and they are out of the Champions League) and the minds of all those multi-million pound City Stars will turn to keeping fit for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

I know that is probably wishful thinking, but what the hell! After all, stranger things have happened!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

In retrospect, the crucial thing on Monday evening was not to lose!

Like most of you, I am frustrated that we failed to secure a crucial win over Stoke City. To have done so would have put us 10 points ahead of Stoke and 9 points ahead of Southampton. As it is, we are now 7 points ahead of both clubs, with 4/5 matches to play. Whereas, if Stoke City had secured a travesty of a victory, the gap would have been reduced to a far less comfortable 4 points and given them great momentum going in to their next fixture at home to Burnley. So, in retrospect, it could be the case that the crucial thing was that we did not lose on Monday evening. Tough as some of our remaining fixtures are, I still reckon that we will accumulate the necessary points to preserve our PL status. I am also comforted by the thought that it is very unlikely (based on prior/current form) that either Stoke City or Southampton will secure the three victories out of their final four games that they probably need to stand any chance of surviving at our expense.

I am greatly encouraged by the timely return to fitness of Lanzini and Carroll, plus the apparent determination of Hernandez to stick to his striking task, regardless of the fact that he cannot be happy that he is not starting games. Other notable sources of encouragement are the brilliant form of Rice and Ogbonna, the strong leadership of Noble and the continuing effectiveness of Arnautovic in his central striking role. On the down side, Hart remains prone to silly errors, but we still need to get behind him as I have a suspicion that he will probably remain our first choice custodian for the remainder of this season. Personally, I am also spurred on by the knowledge that the players have previously responded well, under Moyes, when faced with some very tough fixtures against the top sides. For instance, we beat Chelsea (home} and then went on to grind out creditable draws against Arsenal (home), Spurs (away) and Chelsea (away). Those results hopefully bode well for the forthcoming challenges against Arsenal (away), Man City (home) and Man Utd (home). The objective must surely be to maximise the points return in those three matches, so there is less riding on the final two matches vs Leicester City (away) and Everton (home). That final home match against Everton might be our ultimate assurance policy, but lets hope (as events turn out) that we do not actually need it!

As for the match itself on Monday, I thought that we dominated for the majority of the game and should have won easily. The fact that we had three goals disallowed (rightfully as it turns out) speaks volumes. I know that Moyes has a tough job, but I must say that I anticipated that he would have started with Arnautovic-Hernandez up front in this fixture. Hernandez caused Stoke all sorts of problems when he came on and one can only speculate on the impact he could have had if he had started the match. In the end a vital point was rescued by a very unlikely hero, the hitherto incapacitated, Andy Carroll. And what a class strike it was! You know something, on occasions like that, Carroll shows flashes of inspiration/technique that we often think beyond him. Yet, he is obviously capable of it and one wonders exactly what he could really do if could only stay fit for a prolonged period of time. Hopefully, Carroll will now stay fit and play a key role coming on, to positively impact on matches in the latter stages.

Thanks to Carroll’s late equaliser, we stay in a reasonably strong position in our hunt for survival. You would certainly not trade positions with either Stoke City or Southampton, would you? It would be wonderful to secure a great win at the Emirates, but it is more probable that we will set up to clinch another key draw on the road to our PL safety. Indeed, it is all likely to be a bit nerve wracking, but lets hope the issue is settled (to our ultimate satisfaction) come that final home fixture vs Everton. Because Mr Allardyce, and his Toffee Men, are unlikely to do us any favours if they can help it!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

We must bring Hernandez back in to the fold!

Thankfully, we achieved the draw at Chelsea that has greatly strengthen our survival prospects. I have to say that I really enjoyed the game. Hart had his best display in a West Ham jersey (some would say it’s about time!), Ogbonna and Rice were absolute class, Arnautovic was our best player yet again and Hernandez made a vital intervention from the bench. The goal conceded was soft, in all honesty, but we fought back to equalise and both Arnautovic (for providing the assist) and Hernandez (for delivering a great strike) deserve credit. Indeed. the strike provided a timely reminder (if one was needed) of Hernandez’s proficiency in front of goal. He is that rare commodity, a penalty box predator, with the ability to convert an half chance. In that sense, Hernandez really is worth his weight in gold and needs to be retained in the squad for next season (assuming that we remain in the PL).

There have been rumours circulating that Hernandez has been unhappy at the club, with the suggestion that the player wanted a move in the January window. If so, David Moyes must ensure that there is a rapprochement and that Hernandez feels a valued part of the squad and is prepared to remain for the 2018-19 season. As stated, goal poachers like Hernandez are a rare and valuable commodity and we cannot afford to lose him. He should figure in Moyes first team plans for the remainder of the season, whether starting or joining the action from the bench. Personally, I feel that he could play a really important role in our survival and have an even bigger impact next season.

A victory over Stoke City is crucial. If Chelsea beat Southampton, and we take the three points, then we are virtually safe. After that I reckon one more victory, or even a couple of draws, should clinch the retention of our PL status. And that is to be warmly welcomed, but the board should not be lulled in any false sense of security. The malcontent of the fans has been suppressed for the good of the club, but it remains a very important factor and will re-emerge unless a new direction is taken. In my opinion, the board must authorise substantial expenditure on strengthening the squad this summer – no excuses! By my estimation, we probably need seven quality signings this summer, including: a goal keeper, full-back, centre-half, x2 midfielders and x2 strikers.

In addition, I would expect that Hart, Collins, Obiang, Snodgrass, Carroll and Hugill will all depart the club. I very much doubt that Hart will be signed permanently, Collins should join the coaching staff, Obiang will probably return to Italian football, Snodgrass will likely sign for Villa, Carroll’ s injury record necessitates his departure (hopefully back to Newcastle Utd for c.£10m – if we are very lucky) and arguably Hugill should never have been signed in the first place. That might sound harsh, but the board must be both realistic and decisive in the action taken. We have flirted with relegation (to one degree or another) over the last two seasons and it needs to stop. We need an urgent injection of quality, and improved strength in depth, to ensure that we can get back to challenging in the top ten of the PL. If we continue to struggle then it is only a matter of time before relegation claims us and (as the board well knows) that would be a disaster for the club.

The quality of the summer signings will be absolutely crucial. We need players that will take the club forward to greater things. In addition, I have great hopes that Byram, Burke, Holland, and Cullen can make a positive impact at first team level next season. We also need to see whether the likes of Oxford, Samuelson, Quina and Martinez can finally live up to their big reputations? While bubbling under at U-23 level are prospects like Trott, Johnson and Lewis, who could all come in to the reckoning in the next couple of seasons.

In short, this summer is likely to be a period of change and upheaval in first team affairs. But it is absolutely necessary and will hopefully pay dividends in the long run. Of course, the key question is who will be managing the club next season? If Moyes successfully steers the club away from relegation then it is very likely that he will be offered a new two year contract. And if that is the case, can we really deny that he deserves it? If Moyes can get back to being the manager that he was at Everton, then he could be a good, safe pair of hands. However, the question must still be asked, of the board,whether a more ambitious appointment might not be the order of the day?

We live in interesting times. If we do survive this season (as seems probable), then the board must show ambition and take strong and concerted action this coming summer. Nothing less is expected, nothing else will do!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

In praise of an excellent victory, but consistency is now crucial to securing safety!

Well, that was a thoroughly enjoyable victory over Southampton, with the Hammers putting in the type of skilful, fluid and cohesive display very rarely seen since we left Upton Park. In addition, the fans responded positively to the performance and gave their staunch and energetic support for the whole of the match. Indeed, the LS seemed very far away from the ‘soulless athletics bowl’ description so beloved of some critics and underlined the fact that, in the correct circumstances, it can be a very effective home ground for this football club.

The priority now is to build upon that display and ensure that our season long inconsistency is a thing of the past. Survival is about continuing to accumulate points and move steadily towards safety. The team did really well and we need to show that we have definitely turned a significant corner towards survival. That means no more abject results up until the season’s end. Yes, we may lose one or two, but lets ensure where that is the case we are still competitive and give every side (including the top four) a bloody tough match. Basically, we must take three points from Stoke City at the LS and (at least) one point from either Chelsea or Arsenal away. Do that and we will probably be almost safe. If we fail to garner that vital away point in those next two away games, then it is probably going to come down to Leicester City (away) or Everton (home) to secure our status. However, we would much prefer to clinch our safety prior to that final home match against Everton. SSN might like it to go to the final day, but no Hammers fan will want that if at all avoidable! Especially with Everton manager, Sam Allardyce, ready and willing to do his utmost to try and put us down!

Regardless, Stoke City is a ‘must win’ and, knowing West Ham, the other points to ensure safety will probably come from less likely, sources (i.e. Man City or Man Utd). The important thing is that we have not only put ourselves in a good position, after beating Southampton, but we seem to have struck some very good form in to the bargain. And that did not seem very likely three week ago, prior to the FA Cup/International break. It is now firmly back in our own hands and we must hope we get a bit of luck keeping our players injury free for the rest of the season. One of the enduring ‘threats’ remains the ‘thinness’ of the squad and the danger of injuries impacting adversely. If we do survive (as I think likely – all things being equal), then major recruitment is necessary this coming summer, with at least 5-7 new players coming in to the squad for 2018/19. That probably equates to 5 class additions, with a couple of promising younger players. Make no mistake ‘iron surgery’ is required, nothing less will do! We can no longer gamble with our PL future and that means breaking the vicious cycle of mediocracy that we have endured in the past two seasons.

Friends told me that I was a little bit hard on Jordan Hug(h)ill in my last blog, which is rather unlike me. Usually I give new players every opportunity to perform and ‘cut them the necessary slack.’ I guess I may have been a bit too damning in my assessment, but it is just that I find it hard to see obvious attributes in the player, apart from honest to goodness endeavour and toil. Hugill certainly seems to be ‘a trier,’ but is that really good enough at this level? Regardless, he is part of the first team squad and I will give him 100% support over the rest of the season, as I would any Hammers player.

Believe me, no one would be more pleased than I if Hugill made the grade as a PL striker. Good luck to him!

SJ. Chandos.

Copyright © 2018 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.