The HamburgHammer Column

Take a bow Slaven Bilic! Our manager has been through what must have been a few miserable months, capped by the last seven days which surely will have been not your average rollercoaster of emotions for our Croatian manager, more like the Nemesis ride at Alton Towers. Now, initially I had planned to try and write my column without even mentioning Dimitri Payet just in order to prove a point. But frankly, while a lot of us may consider him to be history already and prefer to move on without ever hearing his name again, the truth is that he is still legally a West Ham player and until his sale has been completed he is still the massive bullfrog (or yellow-bellied toad if you prefer) in the room so to speak, so he will of course feature in my column after all.

But first things first! What a fantastic team performance that was. That’s right, TEAM. Which translates as Together Everyone Achieves More. The keyword being together.
Our team hasn’t been together for a long time, I would say not from the very start of the season, coinciding with Payet’s return from the Euro Championships.
Where surely he was tapped up, maybe multiple times. I’m sure by now everyone will have read about how our club and also Bilic bent over backwards in order to make Monsieur Payet feel wanted, loved, appreciated – hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in hindsight it appears that we have rather overdone the royalty treatment.

We’ll see what comes out eventually about Payet’s true motives of wanting to leave NOW rather than wait for the summer when apparently West Ham were quite ready to sell him at that point for the right price, not wishing to stand in the way of an unhappy or homesick player.
The way though in which Payet basically shat on everything he had at our club, not acknowledging the role of our club in making him the household name he is in international football today is truly sad. And a bit pathetic.

From the very beginning he was welcomed and worshipped like a true legend by the Hammers fans, it felt as if he had been at West Ham for years already rather than being a new signing. It indeed was a love affair, alas affairs tend to usually end a) rather quickly and b) rarely on amicable terms – the love between the player and the club, manager and fans is totally lost now for obvious reasons.

But you know what? It’s a mighty relief to finally have identified the main root of our problems this season, at least in terms of the team (ignoring the stadium move for a minute). It looks like indeed Payet’s special treatment he got from the club and management drove a massive wedge right through the dressing room and also the training pitch at Rush Green. It must have been so frustrating for the other players seeing it all being about Payet without our star player backing up all that admiration (and money) with even halfway decent performances on the pitch. The rest of the team obviously felt disrespected and undervalued – and all over a guy who essentially has been a one season wonder for us. Yet the board tied him down to an improved long-term deal while refusing to afford our manager the same courtesy, citing their desire to find out if Bilic was a one season wonder first…

We will now see if the club are willing to let Payet rot for half a season in order to get the right price for our prize asset or cave in and sell on the cheap, just to get rid. With Chinese clubs becoming interested in him too now Payet can not expect to go back to Marseille for ten million quid and six bottles of vintage claret, although both he and Marseille for sure would prefer that of course. I want the club to show some backbone here, sending out a clear massage to the world that no West Ham player (no matter how good he is) can just down tools and strop in order to push through a transfer to his prefered destination for peanuts despite having signed a long-term contract (and a loyalty bonus of 1 million quid too) just recently.

Players are on long-term contracts for a reason. They can ask for a transfer obviously if they no longer wish to stay, but certainly not on their terms. Clubs need to be protected in a way that they get at least their fair share should a player want to leave well before reaching the expiry date of his contract.

So, to finish off the Payet issue: Sell him as quickly as possible, yes, but only for a price that mirrors his true market value for his next club. That is much closer to 35 or 40 million rather than 20 in my book. With China involved maybe even 50 million. How our owners will decide to spend that kind of money, if they spend any that is, is anybody’s guess though.
I’m confident we will make at least a few signings in January, not necessarily for NOW as we are pretty much safe from relegation already, but maybe we will pick up some players for the future (like Hogan) now in order to not miss out on them in the summer (similar to what we did when we picked up Byram).

It was a pleasure to see our team perform, well, like a team on Saturday, especially in the second half. All the players suddenly seemed to have found another gear or two being freed from the shackles of forever running about in the shadow of the French Messiah (he’s not really, just a very naughty boy!). The lads played (and celebrated the goals) like a team should, together, happy to sweat blood and guts for each other. It also seemed to unite the crowd at London Stadium and Lanzini’s jump into the stands was a nice touch.
(Although only West Ham players seem to get punished with a booking for this kind of thing these days.)

I am not sure if Lanzini did it on a whim or whether it was premeditated (as a nod to the Tevez celebration after he scored his first for West Ham or as a subtle hint in the direction of a sulking Frenchman that he was neither needed nor wanted back in the team anymore). Either way, it felt incredible to hear the whole ground singing Slaven’s praise and boy, did the man deserve it!
If there is one guy this club should be built around, if our fanbase should rally round one chap capable of putting some pride back into this club it is not a player, but our manager.

Sure, he makes mistakes too as he is only a human being after all (trying to turn Antonio into a RB obviously was a massive clanger). But for me he is the perfect link connecting us to the passion, traditions and values that are so dear to loyal Hammers fans all over the globe. If we want things to improve for us in the next few years, we need to make sure to keep Bilic at West Ham for a long time, so rather than throwing money at another bigger than his boots primadonna player I would offer Bilic a contract extension NOW.
Send out a signal that Bilic is our man for the future and then bloody support him with transfer funds too. It’ll be money well spent in my view.
(Well, Bilic didn’t know that Tore would get a long-term injury at West Ham, did he ?)

A final word needs to be said about Andy Carroll. That was a world class goal indeed and it’s highly encouraging to see him score goals like that because it very much proves that on his day he is so much more than just a battering ram, thundering in headers or knocking balls down for his teammates. We may have to wait for another goal of that quality at London Stadium for another 20 years or so.

The key for him will be to look after himself and stay injury-free, then the sky will be the limit for him really. Oh yes, also try to play with two strikers more in future.
I don’t even think it matters that much if it is Sakho, Fletcher, Martinez, Calleri (or Hogan?) – as long as you have another outlet upfront, staying close to Carroll, pouncing to exploit any space or opportunity created by Carroll’s presence we will begin to score more goals on a regular basis.

What a great feeling to be talking about positives again for a change! It’s vital now that our board don’t rest on their laurels or sit on their hands and wallets. Our fanbase deserve to see investment in our team. Our manager deserves support in his endeavour to build a great team. A great team for West Ham will always be more about players working well as a unit, a well-oiled machine, rather than trying to keep superstar primadonnas happy. Maybe that just isn’t the West Ham way.

Maybe it’s a lesson learned the hard way with Payet. Maybe we don’t need 40 million quid players after all, even in a 60.000 seater stadium. Maybe we just need to sing more songs for Bilic and keep him happy, it’s certainly worth a try! COYI!

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