The S J Chandos Column

Will youth get more first team opportunities under David Moyes?

No one can fail to have been impressed with the performances of the young England sides, in the recent friendlies, against Germany and Brazil. England coach Gareth Southgate has shown a clear determination to give young players a run out in these games and it has seemingly paid off. This has occurred against the background of the recent U-20s and U-17s England World Cup victories and a renewed confidence about the quality of young English footballers in the pipe line. Yet, the fact remains that the majority of of those youngsters are very likely to be frozen out of the first team picture at their parent clubs and loaned out. This shows that regardless of potential or actual capability most PL clubs are currently still prioritising expensive foreign imports over home grown talent. However, many people in the English game are increasingly asking why this should continue to be the case? The view gaining currency that PL clubs must increase the first team opportunities for this emerging domestic talent for the long term good of the English game.

West Ham are a club renowned for their Academy and the production of top class talent. Unfortunately, however, in recent years Hammers managers have shown a distinct reluctance to give youngsters adequate first team opportunities. Sam Allardyce never seemed to have any faith in our Academy and Slaven Bilic also showed a surprising reluctance to hand youth their chance. Yes, Bilic blooded Reece Oxford, as a 16 year old, against Arsenal, but he subsequently failed to show sufficient commitment to developing his talent at first team level. Admittedly he called up Declan Rice this season, but also quickly dropped him after the Irish youngster made a mistake against Newcastle United. While, Reece Burke performed admirably whenever called to first team duty, but regardless has been continually loaned out to gain further experience; and Bilic also showed a real caution in calling up prolific U-23s striker, Toni Martinez, to the first team squad, even when injury and suspension decimated our available striker options.

New Hammers manager, David Moyes, has commented on the situation of young English talent failing to break through at PL level. He has expressed his admiration for the performance of the England U-17s, in winning the WC at their age range, and suggested that perhaps PL squads are too ‘cluttered’ and this is stopping youngsters making the break through. Moyes quickly followed this up by calling up a number of the U-23s to train with the first team squad and hinted heavily that they will get their opportunities under his managerial regime. Obviously, Declan Rice is reasonably well established now in the senior squad and others, such as Martinez, Samuelson and Holland, are pushing hard for inclusion. In addition, it is more than possible (considering his lack of game time in Germany) that Moyes could call Reece Oxford back from his loan deal in January and re-integrate the youngster back in to the senior squad.

Naturally, while we struggle, in and around the relegation zone, the emphasis will be upon experienced players lifting us clear of trouble. However, there is little doubt that, in the right circumstances, Moyes will give youngsters their big break. And that is the way that it should be at a club with West Ham’s long standing reputation for youth development. The hope is that we can pull away from trouble quickly and afford ourselves the opportunity to fully test the abilities of the likes of Martinez at first team level. Indeed, the opportunity for the Spanish goal poacher could even come, sooner rather than later, if Hernandez fails to recover from injury in time for the Watford match. With Carroll likely to start, then Martinez could possibly claim at least a place on the bench for this Sunday’s match.

Arguably, PL squads should benefit from having good quality youngsters performing well and pushing for first team places. It keeps the senior players on their toes and gives them the extra motivation to maintain their own standards. One of the problems at West Ham has been that regardless of how well a youngster is doing in the U-23s, or indeed in training, there was little chance that he would be promoted. The Academy needs to continue producing players that are going to lay claim to a first team place and add to the competitive mix of the squad.

Hopefully, Moyes understands that and will deliver on his promising early statements/actions relating to our U-23s. I certainly think that it will go a long way to getting Hammers fans to warm to Moyes if he is seen to be serious about developing the Academy and promoting players to first team duty.

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

It was a very long time coming, ....

but the axe has finally fell on Slaven Bilic’s West Ham managerial regime. I think that most Hammers fans were willing Bilic to recover from the poor start to the season and take the side back up the PL table. Alas, it was not to be and now we face the consequences of that failure, taking a huge gamble on the ability of David Moyes to recapture the managerial competence of his Everton years, rather then re-enact the shambles of his season long tenure at Sunderland. Although the Spurs cup result offered a brief hope that Bilic could steer the ship to safety, the abject nature of the Liverpool capitulation made his exit inevitable. And in the end, the board’s decision was almost a relief, because neither Bilic nor West Ham United could afford to let the situation continue. Bilic is a man of integrity and honesty (rare qualities in modern football) and we all felt his pain as he cut a powerless and defeated figure on the touchline as his side floundered at home against Brighton and Liverpool. Similarly, we could only sympathise as his players badly let him down in allowing a 97th minute equaliser against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Sure, Bilic was not perfect, and he could be said to have been culpable with some of his tactical decisions, but the players themselves must also take their share of the blame. Hammers fans know when players are not applying themselves 100% and that is what arguably underpins the recent fan walk outs at the London Stadium. I have always believed that you stay until the final whistle and show your solidarity with the team, whether in victory or cruel defeat (and then you celebrate or moan on the way out), but more recent generations of fans do not seem to subscribe to those principles. They show their anger and protest via an early exit. I do not agree with it, but they pay their money and they are entitled to show their displeasure in that way if they choose. It certainly does not sit well that astronautically paid, and under-performing, players should question fan loyalty for walking out early. The truth is that they would not do it if the team was delivering on the pitch, something that they have blatantly failed to do for most of this season. In short, the management and players have a responsibility to give the fans something to cheer. I think Bilic understood that (he never took fan discontent badly), but some of his pampered ex-players obviously do not!

Anyway, the Bilic regime is now history and we face the future with Mr Moyes at the managerial helm. Like many of you, I have serious reservations about this appointment, but we are, where we are and nothing is going to change that. We all knew that the options for a change of manager (during the season) were limited and that the board would struggle to recruit a top line manager. The board certainly knew that, but the worsening situation with Bilic backed them in to a corner and they were forced to gamble with one of the few viable options available to them. They are undoubtedly praying that the Sunderland episode was an aberration in his career and that Moyes is hungry to restore his former reputation at West Ham. If that happens then it will be seen as a good appointment and the board will be feted for their vision and foresight. If the other scenario prevails they will be castigated and we will be cast in to the disastrous bear pit that is Championship football. That latter possibility is just unthinkable for the club and we must hope that Moyes does come good.

David Moyes has certainly started well, saying all the right things to get the fans on board. Namely, about West Ham’s ‘big club’ status and his desire to play attractive and attacking football. He has obviously been briefed and it shows that the club have learnt from some of the unfortunate statements made by Sam Allardyce while he was at the club. If you want a manager to succeed at West Ham, you must get the fans onside. Allardyce never did that and the simmering antagonism always poisoned the relationship between the manager and the supporters. Similarly, Moyes has also helped created early positivity with the way that he has hit the ground running on the training pitches. It projects the image of an hungry and motivated manager, getting down to business at the earliest opportunity. No doubt the back room appointments will soon follow and there is bound to be an ex-Hammers star or two included in the new coaching team. Or, rather, there will be if they want to continue in a positive vein. Hammers fans always respond to ‘one of their own’ and the club should not under-estimate the importance of that factor. Finally, Moyes has to manage relations with the squad very skilfully, trying to get players on side and motivated and avoiding any damaging early spats/fall outs with stars like Hernandez. There is prior history there from their Manchester United days, but hopefully it will be case of putting that behind them and starting with a clean slate at West Ham. He will also need to get players like Antonio, Reid, Noble and Arnautovic playing to their true abilities. Arnautovic, in particular, will be a challenge for Moyes’ man management and motivational skills. However, get the Austrian back to his best and West Ham will have a very dangerous player. I guess the skill is in knowing how to get the best out of different players, the ‘rocket’ as opposed to the ‘arm around the shoulder.’ Different personalities respond to different strategies and Moyes will need to get that right.

Creating some early positivity around the appointment was vital. However, it ultimately all comes down to improvements on the pitch and results. If Moyes is going to succeed he needs to also ‘hit the ground running’ on the pitch. In the first match at Watford, we need to see greater organisation, defensive resilience and team cohesion. In short, we need to start looking like a team unit and not a collection of individuals. All of these things are established on the training pitch and reinforced on the field of play. In making his preparations, Moyes will be acutely aware that he will have limited time to work with his players on international duty. That creates a specific difficulty for the Watford match, but it is one that he will hopefully be able to overcome to get a morale boosting result. That would set us up nicely to tackle a difficult run of games up to Christmas that includes: Leicester City (H), Everton (A), Man City (A), Chelsea (H), Arsenal (H), Stoke City (A) and Newcastle Utd (H).

Moyes will have his minimum points target for that eight match sequence and we all have our own opinions on that! Regardless, it will make life easier if we can get off to a positive start and take it from there; rather than starting with say two poor results and then look to recover it. For me that positive start is taking a minimum of four points from the Watford and Leicester City games. It is asking a lot, but obviously the objective must be to get up the table, and away from the relegation zone, as soon as possible. No nerve wrecking relegation battle please, I am happy with boring mid-table mediocrity this season!

If we can do better then great, but safety before May arrives must be the initial and primary PL target. It will not all go smoothly and there are likely to be some bumps and poor results along the way, but hopefully we will get there in the end. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

Hernandez and Ayew score with two top class strikes - BBC MoTD fails to notice!

It was unusual to see a West Ham match second in the MoTD schedule on Saturday evening. Usually we are last or second from last, with some rushed and clipped comments from the match analysts. It was obviously the Palace fight-back from 0-2 down, to grab a draw, that brought about our rare promotion. The post-highlight analysis was a joke as per usual, plenty of stuff about Palace ‘deserving’ the win and West Ham’s naivety, which I expected. What I did not expect was the absence of even a single reference to the quality of West Ham’s two goals. The Hernandez opener was a superb strike with the outside of the Mexican international’s boot and the build up play was also very sharp, carving open the Palace rear guard with a cool and beautiful efficiency. While, Ayew scored with a great long range strike, that hit the top left of the net like a rocket. So much for Ayew only scoring penalty box tap-ins!

In all honesty, and with due respect, how can any decent TV match analysis fail to praise such outstanding finishing? Would they have been ignored if they had been scored by Man City, Spurs, Man Utd or Liverpool strikers? I think we all know the answer to that. Anyway, do not expect either goal to feature on the short-list for BBC MoTD goal of the month for October!

Today’s result was undoubtedly disappointing. Having gone two goals ahead, we should have scored a third and killed the game off. Instead, Palace come out in the second half all fire and determination. And we allowed them to boss the rest of the game. The role of Zaha and Townsend was crucial in that and their wing play (plus some fairly obvious dives) resulted in a penalty and a glut of Palace corners and free-kicks. This does, of course, beg the question why we did not better adapt our tactics to counter their threat and grab back the initiative? As for bad luck (if one is tempted to use that excuse), losing two points in the 7th minute of extra time is beyond being unlucky in my book. Especially as we were in the last minute and Antonio had possession out on the flank, deep in Palace territory. Criticism of Antonio’s play in that situation is justified, but lets keep it real and in proportion. The Palace keeper gathered the ball from Antonio’s poor cross, it was poor decision-making not to keep the ball, but there was still a awful lot to do between the punt up field and Zaha’s shot finding the corner of the net. We must equally scrutinise not just Antonio’s decision-making, but also our poor defending in the lead up to the equaliser.

The match report in the Daily Mail was excessively negative in my opinion, arguing that the positivity/momentum arising from the Spurs win has been dissipated and the pressure was back on Bilic. They would argue that because the would much rather run with ‘doom and gloom’ headlines and stories about Bilic’s imminent sacking. It is part of their ‘modus operandi.’ Mistakes and losing points unnecessarily hurts, but this experience can be productive in the long-run if we only learn from it. The bottom line is the team must learn from it and use it to make us stronger for the remainder of the campaign.

And there were actually positives arising from the match. Firstly, Joe Hart had his best match in a West Ham keeper’s shirt. He pulled off some first class saves and, hopefully, his form will continue to improve with his confidence. Cresswell looked much more like his old self in this match and his contribution to the build up to Hernandez’s opening goal was excellent. Hernandez demonstrated what a class striker he is. His strike with the outside of his boot was a technically difficult skill, beautifully executed. While Ayew seems to be a player re-born. His long-distance strike was superb and just shows what increased self-confidence can do. Indeed, having a goal scoring midfielder back within our ranks (weighing with 10-15 goals) can be an important factor in revitalising our season. Mark Noble is still not at his very best, but he has improved and is applying himself manfully. He is our leader on the pitch and it is quality leadership and experience that we need at the moment. Moreover, he cares about the club and his reaction at the end of the Palace game (regardless of the rights and wrongs of it from a disciplinary perspective) at least demonstrates his passion. Finally, we still have Reid and Carroll to come back in to the team. Reid is our best defender and leads the defensive unit; while Carroll brings a different set of attributes to our forward line.

So, the bottom line for me is that things were not all wonderful after the Spurs win and ruinous after dropping points to Palace. The team need to learn from the Palace result and use the experience constructively. There were positives from yesterday, if we care to look for them, and these needs to also be considered by the fans (if not MoTD) along with the obvious negatives.

Yes, to climb the table we need a run of wins and it would have been preferable to have began that yesterday, but it will happen. And why not start by beating Liverpool, at home, on 4th November? Stranger things have happened! This is West Ham United after all. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Will the real Ayew please stand up!

Last night’s victory over Spurs was a real shot in the arms for the club and our supporters. As Iain has stated, it certainly was very much a game of two halves and in the first half we got caught out defensively twice to fall 2-0 behind. Many must have thought ‘here we go again.’ But if you have followed West Ham long enough, you know that they are often just as likely to fight back as capitulate. Indeed, the second half proved to be a very different story and Ayew’s goal poaching instincts brought us back in to the game. By the time Ogbonna scored the winner, with his skilful glancing header, we were well in the ascendency. And in the last 15 minutes we dug in to deliver a great come back victory. Revenge is always that bit sweeter against Spurs and every Hammers fan will have enjoyed their humbling at Wembley.

There is no doubt that the come back was very much based on Ayew’s ability to arrive in the final third and score vital goals. Ayew has that crucial ability, but as with much of West Ham’s play, it is always about making the best of our players talents. Ayew has taken some vicious criticism for recent performances, but one must ask whether that is because he has been played out of position. For me, Ayew has always been a goal scoring midfielder and this evening he demonstrated just how well he can play that role. Goal scoring midfielders are worth their weight in gold and we arguably have one. So lets play to his strengths in future.

Similarly, many fans on social media owe Mark Noble a big apology. He was immense yesterday evening, holding the side together in that shaky first half and bossing the play through midfield in the crucial, winning, second half. Noble gets a lot of unfair criticism, but he gave the perfect answer to his critics yesterday evening. Will they learn from it? Probably, at least until they need an handy scapegoat after the next poor result.

However, hopefully that next poor result will not happen for a while, this inspirational victory should re-energise the spirit of the squad and give them renewed confidence. After yesterday evening, the players should be ‘champing at the bit’ to take on crystal Palace and deliver a much needed away PL victory. The truth is no one really wants a change of management in mid-season, that is always risky in the extreme. As such, I am more than happy to see Bilic lead the team back up the PL table. I do not believe in change for the sake of it, especially when the replacement is not particularly guaranteed to be a better or more knowledgeable a manager than his predecessor. There are undoubtedly better managers than Bilic out there, but I am not sure that we are currently able to attract them to the club. So, if he can keep winning lets stick with what we have. You know it makes sense.

Regardless, the players should feel proud of that second half performance. It shows that they can do it, they just need to be set up right. We have a talented squad, one good enough to finish in the top 10 of the PL. We are now also in the final 16 of the League Cup (or whatever it is currently called). Suddenly, things do not seem so bad for Bilic and his squad. If he could just manage to win a cup and finish in a decent position in the PL, this season, then perhaps Bilic could actually continue managing the club? However, we all know it is now about consistency and putting a winning run together. If we can manage that then Bilic’s job prospects might be positively transformed.

We all know stranger things have happened!

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

Bilic likely to get a stay of execution due to a lack of alternatives!

The warning signs are flashing at West Ham after the disgraceful 0-3 defeat on Friday evening to Brighton & Have Albion. Various media outlets are reporting that the club’s co-owners are actively discussing whether it is now time to make a change. However, this evening, it appears that Bilic may get a stay of execution due to a lack of alternative options being available. The board are concerned that there is no obvious caretaker available in-house; while their identified permanent targets appear out of reach for various reasons. Alleged principle target, David Wagner, wants to remain with Huddersfield Town for the remainder of the season; while both Manuel Pellegrini and Rafa Benitez are unavailable; and, the most ambitious target, Carlos Ancelotti, while currently out of work, wants to sit out the rest of this season.

As a result, it is possible that the board might be forced to consider short-term, caretaker, external options. One possibility mooted is employing managerial veteran, Gus Hiddink, for the remainder of the season to give the board some breathing space. It has even been suggested that former manager, Sam Allardyce, could be approached as a temporary option, although it is thought highly unlikely he would consider an approach.

Consequently, it is likely that Bilic will be granted a stay of execution by default. The current betting is that the Croatian will be given the next two fixtures, Spurs in the cup and Palace away, to try and save his job. Two defeats will be the catalyst for managerial change.The most immediate problem for Bilic is how he motivates and regenerises a playing staff that look more like a collection of individuals than a coherent unit. On the plus side, Carroll’s suspension ends and Sakho could return from injury. James Collins could also be available to augment our defensive options. However, question marks remain over the serious lack of form demonstrated by many key players. It is alleged that the board are particularly concerned by the uncommitted performances of record signing Marko Arnautovic and the fact that so many others are under-performing.. There has allegedly even been attention drawn to coaching methods and a perceived lack of fitness amongst the first team squad.

The current difference between success and failure in the PL is very fine indeed. If we had beaten Brighton we would have risen to tenth and the talk would have been far more positive. As it is, this evening, the club remains out of the bottom three only on goal difference. However, there are still only four points separating us from Southampton presently in tenth position. And that is the possible imperative for the board, to take action early, while the situation remains more easily retrievable.

Which leads us back to the key question, where is a suitable available alternative to be found? In its absence it is likely the Bilic managerial regime will be given a stay of execution as we prepare to take on Spurs at Wembley on Wednesday evening.

SJ. Chandos.

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