The HamburgHammer Column

Oh, how nice it is to talk about a much needed home win again after a performance that while far from being perfect still showed a lot of guts, effort and togetherness.
And nothing tends to boost dressing room morale more than three points.

Before the game kicked off I mentioned in the match thread how I was hoping for a complete performance from the lads from start to finish. Admittedly, Watford had a lot of possession of the ball and they had a particularly strong spell in the second half where it looked like a draw might be on the cards after all.

But Adrian and some very determined interceptions from our defenders, namely Collins and Ogbonna, made sure that our sheet stayed clean enough on the day.

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Truth be told, we could and should have won by a bigger margin really, bearing in mind we had one very legitimate penalty shout and Hernandez scored from the closest of possible offside positions, you know, one of the “you’ve seen ’em given” variety. It’s futile to argue if the goal would have been allowed to stand if Chicharito was playing for one of the Manchester clubs or Tottenham, but there you go.

Growing up watching football I had heard very early on that with close calls such as this the benefit of the doubt should always be given to the attacking player, presumably to allow more goals to stand and to make the games more entertaining. Luckily enough on this occasion we got the win regardless.

If 40 points is the conservative target to go for in terms of beating the drop, then we have eleven league games left from which to gather a minimum of ten points.
I reckon that indeed is the very doable minimum requirement here. Our actual points haul should be higher than that though, if only to secure a solid position in the final league table, allowing us to approach the summer transfer window with a bit more swagger and confidence.

Make no mistake, our best bit of transfer business might be to hold on to Marko Arnautovic, our man of the match against Watford by a country mile or two.

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Arnautovic is certainly a bit of a geezer. At times in his career a very naughty boy.
In some instances a royal pain in the hole. When you browse articles about him, from his time at Inter Milan or Werder Bremen, not to mention the Austrian national side, you don’t have to look long in order to find plenty of memorable quotes from and about him.

Jose Mourinho once said Arnautovic showed the mentality and conduct of a petulant little kid. That’s because he failed numerous times to get to training sessions and team meetings on time when he was at Inter. Sometimes it was working in his favour though as Arnautovic one day arrived at training in the morning, being unaware that there was no session scheduled until later that day, but Mourinho was already on the premises and he laughingly applauded Arnie for being punctual for once, in fact five hours early. To give his player a bit of a hint he handed over his own watch as a present – knowing Mourinho it surely wasn’t a bargain bucket model for a tenner – to make sure Arnautovic missing out on club related appointments ever again…

At Inter he also borrowed a Bentley from teammate Samuel Eto’o which promptly got nicked in the process. Cars were very much the theme for him at Bremen too. To this day Werder fans still reminisce about that ever so slightly illegal night race on the streets of Bremen against teammate Eljero Elia. Werder Bremen ultimately were labelled a dump by Arnautovic, as his way of countering growing criticism from fans and media.

Teammates within the Austrian national squad also got (un)fair share of bother, with one guy having to face insults from Arnautovic in the past and also being threatened with physical violence. A passionate genius of a footballer he was even at that point, however, with a very short fuse to go with it. A ticking timebomb.

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One of his most famous episodes was a police check gone Pete Tong by Austrian police when he was still on Bremen’s books. Apparently Arnie was on edge as he was on the way home to his then pregnant wife (who was unwell apparently) and obviously Arnie was not really in the mood for a chinwag with the Old Bill, so he took umbrage, telling the fuzz:

Fxxx you! You have no authority to tell me anything. I have so much money I could buy your life. I’m better than you!

Unsurprisingly the officers disagreed slightly and a court hearing was imminent until the matter was settled amicably enough eventually in shape of an honest apology from Arnie plus a gift of free tickets for an Austria game for the policemen in question. So he didn’t quite buy their lives, but avoided a lot of trouble nonetheless.

Suffice to say Arnie has always been a bit of a character, struggling with accepting authority figures from an early age as he got kicked out by various disgruntled managers ever since little Marko had started playing football.

But it’s fair to say that Arnautovic has somewhat matured over the years, like a complex red wine, and to stay with that analogy, like the claret nectar he may not be to everyone’s taste, yet you cannot deny the quality of the vintage.

Arnautovic has admitted in recent interviews how a lot of the stuff in the past was entirely his fault, but certainly not all of it. The media of course are happy enough to circle in on a guy like Arnautovic to pounce on, simply because car races with shiny fast motors at 3 o’clock at night are a more thrilling story to tell than him holding hands with the wife while choosing new curtains for his living room over at the local DIY store on Friday afternoon.

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Arnie has held his hands up in a recent interview, saying that especially his time in Germany was a challenging experience, something resembling a witch hunt as once he had been given the bad boy tag and his face was in the public domain, the chasing media pack followed his every move relentlessly, hoping to unearth the next big scoop/scandal.

When he moved to England, first to Stoke, later to West Ham, he finally had the chance to start again, getting a clean slate so to speak. Also his family seems to have somewhat grounded him in recent years, with party days/nights few and far between, never mind street racing under the London lights.

Arnautovic has enjoyed a terrific run of form for West Ham after overcoming his stupid sending off for elbowing early in the season, a lengthy illness and then his most recent hamstring injury. Whenever he is on the pitch he makes something happen, creating goalscoring opportunities for himself or teammates virtually out of nothing.

When he swerves this way and the other, coming out the other end with ball at his feet after leaving four opponents in his wake, fans get out of their seats.
If Arnie plays like he did against Watford he is worth the admission price on his own.

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He strikes me as a similar character as Paolo DiCanio who also had a tough upbringing as a kid and various brushes with authority. Like him Arnautovic is a maverick, an enfant terrible, but he is also a bloody good and exciting footballer.

And like Payet in his short spell at West Ham he now is clearly our main guy to make everyone around him play better. If Arnautovic is on the pitch and on fire, West Ham have a decent chance to win any game.

If he is out with injury or suspension, we look a weakened beast. We need him in the side and hopefully he is the kind of player we can build a team around (the Andy Carroll thing obviously hasn’t worked as planned – and God knows we’ve tried for years!). Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Arnie’s goal celebration against Watford looked like a statement of intent, saying “This is my manor! I rule here, I belong here, this is mine!”

Yes, I know. Players kissing the badge has become something of a convenient habit nowadays, to curry instant favour with the fanbase, so when one of your players does it you just hope against hope it is a genuine gesture of affection rather than a calculated charade.

I’d like to think that Arnautovic is enjoying his purple patch and the rapport he has been building up the hard way with the fans. After his unfortunate start at the club he is proving a lot of people wrong (myself included) and he seems to enjoy that almost as much as his football.

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It’s a reflex as a West Ham to immediately fear the worst. With bigger clubs circling, surely Arnautovic will soon be off to where the grass is a lot greener. But is it really ?

Maybe, just maybe Arnautovic has found his spiritual home at West Ham, settling down with the family and just enjoying his football while being in the headlines for all the right reasons for once. Maybe he enjoys being the biggest pike in a medium sized pond. It’s not impossible that he might actually prefer his status as the top cat at West Ham, adored by the Hammers fans, rather than being just another star in a long line of superstars at Manchester City.

I hope we can convince the likes of Arnie and Lanzini to stay, I really do.
The manager has a massive part to play in this. And the board obviously.
What with the march looming large and the unrest among sections of the fanbase bubbling to the surface now, surely NOW is the time to get it right.

Don’t allow another Payet situation to develop and fester. Get proactive and make sure that West Ham is a club worth playing for, even for the likes of Arnautovic and Lanzini – and I don’t just mean in the financial sense of a nice pay packet.
If we get it right, Arnautovic could be our Austrian version of DiCanio, rather than Payet Mark 2.

I cannot claim to be overly confident that this summer will be different for us in terms of transfer strategy and success. In the meantime I shall try to enjoy seeing a bit more of the Arnautovic magic, dribbling knots in the opposition players’ legs before running off towards the fans in another of his trademark goal celebrations. COYI!

PS: If you’re wondering why this column has been unusually calm and almost free of board bashing then I have to confess that a personal health issue within my family circle has put things very much into perspective. It’s never nice if a beloved one has to undergo not one, but two high-risk surgical procedures in quick succession in order to beat a ruthless life-threatening disease. I have written my column after a highly challenging hospital visit yesterday. Thank God my brother seems to be out of the woods at this point and on the long road to recovery, but it’s still incredibly tough to keep a brave face and a smile on your lips if your bro can hardly put together a full sentence or keep his eyes open for five minutes, lying in a bed in the intensive care unit, his system being flooded with drugs and painkillers, with all kinds of tubes hanging out left, right and center. Good thing is, we should now begin to see improvements to his condition and health with every passing day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing West Ham win and I am grateful that the three points against Watford have helped to raise my spirits over the weekend. But rather than worrying about the West Ham board and players I’d much prefer to busy myself trusting in the collective competence and skills of the doctors and nurses taking care of my bro now and in the coming days/weeks. I promised to take him to London Stadium in the near future (he already watched us play at the Boleyn years ago) and I intend to honour that pledge, no matter under what board or manager!