The S J Chandos Column
Firstly, apologies to my readers for not posting on the site recently. This was partly because I was a bit over-extended at work, but also because I was genuinely stunned and disappointed by the relative lack of activity in the winter transfer window. That allied to the decision to sell Ayew to Swansea City (a obvious relegation rival), put Burke back out on loan and flog Fonte were moves that I struggled to comprehend. It made a dangerously ‘thin’ squad even thinner and particularly vulnerable to the adverse impact of injuries and suspensions. Do not get me wrong, I can understand the club wanting to sell these players, but just not in the winter transfer window, in the midst of a relegation battle. In my view, if they were to be sold it should have been delayed until the summer. Unfortunately, it appears that the club made the decision to take the inflated fees offered by other clubs at that juncture, which presumably may not have been on offer in the summer. But with no adequate replacements coming in to the squad it was always a decidedly dicey strategy and so it proved.
When the almost inevitable happened, Reid, Collins, Byram, Obiang, Lanzini, Arnautovic et al all fell injured (at various times and durations), the squad become very stretched. Of the players brought in Mario looks decent, without so far overly impressing, and one can only speculate on the rationale for bringing Jordan Hughill in to the club. He has looked out of his depth, when he has appeared, so far, and this is probably the reason for his failure to hitherto start any PL matches. Perhaps there are hidden depths to Hughill’s talents, if so lets hope he reveals them soon, because if Arnautovic and Hernandez get injured over the next few key matches, he is going to have to be pressed in to first team action!
In short, the squad was left far too thin in the summer. Admittedly Hernandez and Arnautovic were good additions, but too many players were allowed to leave without signing replacements. Then those mistakes were further compounded in the winter window. Remember this was the opportunity to augment the strength of the squad and better equip us for the impending relegation battle. And the club blew it right royally. Why? It appears from reports that the club did not have the transfer funds readily available to buy new players outright and they ended up scrambling around trying to get players in on loan with a view to a permanent deal. The board might say that it was all down to the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, well maybe so, but one has to ask why these seem to regularly restrict/limit our transfer activities more than other PL clubs (and I am not referring to the so-called top four elite)?
Naturally, all of this led to fan unrest and the formation of action groups protesting the situation at the club. In turn, this gave rise to plans to stage a protest march prior to the Burnley game, which was then subsequently postponed at the last moment. And on the back of that occurred the horrible spectacle at the Burnley match. I fully understand the anger of fans and the feeling that they have been misled and badly let down. In essence the board broke a golden rule, which is that if you raise expectations to unprecedented levels (i.e. promises of Champions League football played in a world class arena) then you bloody well better deliver! In fairness, expectations were probably also raised by the performance of the team in the final season at Upton Park. However the subsequent two seasons at the London Stadium have been extremely disappointing. In both of the last two seasons the club have had c.57,000 sell outs at the LS and that is a clear demonstration that the fans bought in to the board’s vision of the club’s future. And there is also no escaping the conclusion that they have been badly let down in that respect.
In all honesty I am ok with the London Stadium and I recognise its potential (in the right circumstances) to assist the club’s future progress. There is undoubtedly a lot of residual nostalgia for Upton Park and that was inevitable to a certain extent. However, I firmly believe that if we were watching an exciting and aspirant team every week, challenging at the top end of the PL, most fans would be, if not happy, at least accepting of the LS as our new home. In a nutshell, the poor performance of the team has focused and exacerbated the malcontent that we are witnessing. A successful team would have facilitated our acclimatisation to a new (and very different) stadium environment, lack of success has done the opposite. So, if the board are feeling the heat from fans than they must recognise that they bare ultimate responsibility for that unfortunate state of affairs.
Now, in addition, we have the media and others using the Burnley disturbances as a stick to beat the club. The Mayor of London would obviously like to re-negotiate key aspects of the club’s agreement with the Stadium company. Unfortunately for him, West Ham’s board have a water tight 99 year contract and that can only be revised with the club’s consent. The club are probably prepared in principle to stomp up more cash, but the price for that must be more control over the stadium. In turn, the Mayor’s only current weapon is to use the weight of public opinion against the club to force concessions. Within that context, the Burnley disturbances were probably a bit fortuitous for the Mayor and he arguably was not above exploiting for his own purposes. Hopefully, the recent meeting between the Mayor and Brady will see an end to posturing on both sides and the adoption of a more realistic and co-operative approach. We shall see?
And on the pitch, can we pull away from the relegation zone in the coming weeks? The current relegation battle is the closest that I can remember. Usually, a bit of daylight forms between the bottom three or four clubs and the rest. This year it is so close that any one of eight or nine teams could be relegated. The pundits have grown pessimistic about West Ham’s chances because of the dramatic decline in our results since the Watford victory. After all, losing three matches in a row 4-1, 4-1 and 3-0 is not exactly good at this vital stage of the season. Fortunately the three week FA Cup/International break may have come at just the right time for us. It has allowed Moyes to give the squad warm weather training and concentrate upon sorting out the problems on the pitch. Was the Miami trip worthwhile? As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and we will see if the team’s form takes an upturn this Saturday, versus Southampton.
The importance of this match cannot be over-stated and the performance/result will tell us much about the probability of our survival. In essence, we must defeat Southampton and follow it up with another home victory against Stoke City. I think that our survival necessitates a minimum of six points from our next three matches. As for Chelsea away, I am not banking on getting a positive result, but if we could grind out a draw (a la the home match against Arsenal and the away fixture at Spurs) so much the better for our chances of survival.
The one thing that cannot be stressed enough is that we supporters must be totally focused on supporting the team in the next two vital home matches. Protests can wait, we are entering the business end of the season and it is absolutely crucial that we end it as a PL club. If we stay in the PL, we can hopefully turn things around, if we are relegated it becomes a whole different, unstable and problematic situation. This is not the 1970s, 1980s or even early 1990s, PL finance is king, clubs do not necessarily bounce straight back and relegation can lead to a club being stripped of key playing assets and going in to long-term stagnation. The fans have made their views known, now they must give the team 100% support as only West Ham fans can. Remember, at the end of the day players come and players go, but the fans are constant. We, the loyal fans, will be the only ones without an escape clause from Championship football. So, lets do all we can, personally and collectively, to make sure that toxic scenario does not transpire. Our club is in trouble and we must answer the call to arms via our staunch support.
As I said, in the title, sometimes you just need to take a break, but …… love of this club always draws you back to the fight!