The HamburgHammer Column

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No witty puns. No clever headline. No jolly banter. Like most of you I am just not in the mood after watching that train wreck of a performance. I am still in a state of shock and disbelief really.

In a way, on Saturday we got our old West Ham back for a few hours, suffering yet another embarrassing Cup exit, another blow delivered by lower league opposition.

The feeling for me was the same as back in 1996 when I was watching in The Bull pub in Barking in the company of a complete stranger how West Ham crumbled against Stockport, conceding that bizarre headed own goal by Iain Dowie. Just like against Wimbledon it was cold, wet and windy.
After that game I couldn’t wait to get back home to Hamburg over Christmas.

But let us put that most recent shambles into perspective, on the BBC website I found this interesting little stat:

West Ham have conceded four goals in a single FA Cup game against a side from the third tier or below for the first time since January 1936 when they lost 0:4 to Luton Town in a third-round replay.

Allow that to sit for a minute. 1936. What was Number One in the charts back then ? Did they even call it the charts at that point ? Or was it the hit parade ?
I doubt there were any German West Ham fans around in 1936, that’s for sure!

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For me, there was no doubt we would beat Wimbledon. I was confident it might even be a comfortable win. On paper, that team we sent out was more than capable.

Yes, there had been changes, with a view to resting players for the upcoming Wolves game. But every single player out there on the pitch, with the exception of Diangana, was highly experienced playing regular PL football (or in Fredericks’s case at least Championship football).

Every starter had performed well for us in previous games, proving they are capable of competing. When it came to the Cup game at Wimbledon though, none of them did perform, not in the first half anyway. Why ? No idea. In a good team you have competition for places. Which means not every player can play in every game. But when squad rotation gives you the chance to play, then as a fan you would expect those players to bust a gut, to prove to the gaffer that he should play you more regularly, that you deserve more minutes.

On the evidence of that game we might have to ship out half the team in the summer. For every neutral it was a brilliantly entertaining Cup tie, a giant-killing in testing conditions under the lights.

Great entertainment. Unless you happen to be a Hammer of course!
I’m sure Wimbledon might sell a shedload of DVDs of that glorious evening in their club shop in the coming weeks and months. But for West Ham fans of course it was an evening to forget, without much of a chance to banish that game from memory for a long while at least.

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I don’t know why professional footballers would surrender just like that, showing not a lot of pride and passion out there. Even if the FA Cup may have lost its magic for a lot of these players, it is still a competitive game of football. It is the reason why these players have a career and earn bucketloads of dosh. Yet it felt like our team approached this game like a friendly kickabout with their six year old in the garden. Let Wimbledon win, so they don’t lose interest in playing football.

I am guilty too. I was cocky before kick-off. I had read all the stats about how bad Wimbledon had been throughout the season so far. I felt we had fielded a strong side.
Of course I also assumed that our team actually wanted to play, fight and win out there. I was utterly wrong with that careless assumption. Back to the ground with a bang.
Or rather four bangs, to be precise. Against a side that had scored less than a goal per game previously.

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A bizarre evening then turned completely bonkers when West Ham announced that Arnautovic had signed a contract extension earlier that evening ? I beg your pardon ?
Who forgot to stop that one going public at that particular time ? Surely, that was supposed to be released after us reaching the next round of the FA Cup, not after that humiliating surrender in South London.

Now, I got into some heated debates about Arnautovic with some people on this blog. I was told to stop digging out the player as it was getting pathetic apparently. What word then to use for Arnautovic’s behaviour in all this ?

I was thinking about whether to mention him at all here. But I cannot hold my tongue really. Yes, we don’t know all the facts and details. There is speculation and guesswork involved. But a few things we do know.

Arnautovic wants to play in China because he can earn massive wages there.
We know because his brother told us, eventually confirmed by Arnautovic himself just recently. Fair enough, who wouldn’t want to do better themselves financially, feathering the family nest a bit more ?

The way though he by way of his brother went about initiating that transfer was completely wrong, it put the club in an impossible position and I have no doubt it has caused disruption within the team for two vital games at least. Disruption we could have done without.

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To be fair, I think the root for these issues is not Arnautovic alone.
He is a symbol for other modern day footballers really, we all knew what kind of character he was when he arrived from Stoke and we all knew how he was operating whenever feeling like moving to a bigger or better paying club on pastures new.

I reckon the root is still the disfigured wage structure we have at our club.
We have a situation where the highest earners at our club rarely play and contribute, either because they are injured a lot, because they don’t fit the way we play or because they no longer have the quality they used to have when they signed their bumper deals.

That of course leads to players comparing their own wages and contributions to those of their more generously rewarded teammates. And once a sense of being treated and remunerated unfairly kicks in we do arrive at a situation where more players feel underappreciated and may want to leave as a consequence – and where they may also want to do it quickly and on their own terms, without the club having a chance of getting anywhere near an adequate transfer fee for the unhappy player in question.

So, how do I see this weird contract extension by Arnautovic then ? Trying to leave my personal feelings about Arnautovic aside, it is still baffling actually that the Austrian has now actually been rewarded with a better terms/improved bonus payments after trying to force a move.
The extension exists only on paper, I suppose nobody really believes that Arnautovic will still be a West Ham player in 2020, nevermind in 2023.

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What this is, well, is basically an insurance policy. West Ham have clarified terms of a potential Arnautovic transfer to China or elsewhere. Apparently there is a release fee now which will guarantee that West Ham do get a reasonably decent fee for the player when he goes eventually, reflecting the value of the player to our club based on his (mostly) quite impressive performances and contributions in the past.

That Arnautovic is getting more money out of West Ham after all the shenanigans seems to be another insurance policy, aimed at guaranteeing that Arnautovic will put a shift in whenever he plays, for as long he still is at the club, safeguarding against him throwing his toys out of the pram or not being interested to play to the best of his abilities for West Ham ever again in view of him being denied his dream move to China for the time being.

It doesn’t sit well with me that the club has chosen to take this measure.
At the end of the day the insurance policy approach may be the smart thing to do under the circumstances.

But what it essentially does is rewarding a player purely for doing what he is supposed to do anyway, play for the club and play as well as possible.

Make no mistake here: Arnautovic got exactly what he wanted out of West Ham ever since his brother went to Talksport with that statement of his.
He threw a spanner in our works, scaring the board stiff of having another Payet scenario on their hands – and he got a payrise out of it, a contract extension and the assurance of a big money move if a certain threshold is met in terms of a transfer fee. In my book, the club has handled this badly and they have opened themselves up to other players holding the club to ransom now, time and time again in future.

It’ll be interesting to see how this contract extension will sit with the other West Ham players. Will his teammates accept him back in the fold with open arms ? Will they be annoyed by this or knock on the gaffer’s door sharpish, also demanding a little bit extra or telling a radio station about other clubs they’d be keen to join ?

Interesting times ahead at West Ham for sure, as usual.

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So, Dances with Wolves next. Tough game. Funnily enough, we can still aim for 7th place. We can also beat Wolverhampton no doubt. But only with the right application, with desire, effort and fight. Thank God this is a Premier League game. I doubt anyone will take this opponent lightly. It would be nice to see us performing for the whole 90 minutes though for a change. It’s essential if we want to return even with a point from the Black Country. COYI!!!