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All I want for January is...

Filed: Monday, 2nd January 2017
By: Rich Sprent

All I want for January is a right back. Oh and a goalscoring striker or three; And maybe a commanding centre back. And a quality defensive midfielder, and a better goalkeeper.

Thatís the conversation Iíve been hearing for the past few weeks.

As for the actual strategy? Is there one?

The board, Tony Henry and Slaven Bilic are the ones who are running a baffling recruitment strategy for West Ham.

It is no secret that David Sullivan has previously announced that he can Ďpick a playerí. His role is practically one of being owner/Director of Football. An unhealthy combination due to the lack of separation between the purse strings and the footballing needs for the club.

Add to this his liking for a South American punt and grand proclamations that we ARE signing £20m strikers (later changed to 20 goal strikers) and it is little surprise that things arenít progressing smoothly.

Next add in Tony Henry. Recruited by Sullivan and immediately kept away from things by the then manager, Sam Allardyce.

Henry has a decent track record up in the blue half of Merseyside and is linked to many a good signing. He is attributed to identifying Diafra Sakho, Cheik Kouyate and Sam Byram. All rosy then? But it doesnít hide the wide range of players that are linked. There appears a lack of direction. 'Letís get in some good players that TH identifies and weíll work it out' appears to be the mantra.

The last manager was heavily criticised for some of his player picks. An apparent factor in the lack of a contract extension for Allardyce was his choice of players for his last January window. We were at the time approaching his last contracted half-season. The team were flying, top four at Xmas although the manager slipped up with team selections for Chelsea and Arsenal. So there is a strong argument to suggest that the manager should have been backed for who he wanted in January. Did I mention that we were top four?

His picks were apparently Connor Wickham and Darren Fletcher. These were clearly rejected out of hand. Once these targets were leaked out of the club most fans howled their derision. But we were top four going into the window. Whatever your opinion on Allardyce, he had steered this club to a Champions League spot with some half decent football being played in that half season.

Why not back his picks?

Ok, Connor Wickham was hardly a great goalscorer. Fletcher was pricey with injury concerns. But Wickham was the versatile and strong wide forward that Allardyce had wanted for some time. Fletcher was a controlling midfielder with Champions League experience. Ironically he has hardly missed a game for West Brom since they signed him. They both fit for what he identified was missing.

What did we do in lieu of signing these two? We signed a South American forward, Nene and added a defender, Doneil Henry. We won three of the last nineteen fixtures and finished mid-table. Both Allardyce and the board had decided a change was needed in the Summer and the season was effectively over come January 31st.

My take on this is that the manager was not backed as he was both not trusted or was being kept on. You can throw as much mud as Allardyce as you like for the second half collapse. There was always bound to be slippage. Whether this was from a lack of effort and preparation or was a natural slide is conjecture.

The fact remains that there is a lack of separation from ownership and football operations. At fourth in the table surely the purpose of the football club is to invest in success? If they didnít want him any more, they couldíve replaced him there and then. We were top four.

Fast forward 12 months to January 2016 and we are in the Euro places. We sign just Sam Byram, And then only to stop Everton taking him before the Summer.
The hindsight argument against further investment here is that we continued to compete. Natural slippage can be argued over the last ten games where we began the two goals conceded per game run that has continued throughout this season.

And itís here that something for me began to flag up about the manager. He moved to three at the back for a few games and with some notable success. It looked tactical genius. Antonio, despite seemingly being bought as an afterthought by the manager, could own the whole right flank when the team are in control. He scares defenders with his directness, pace and power. For all those positives, he just is not a defender.

So Bilic ignores the goals against column. We go through the Summer ignoring the right back spot with everything pinned on the former Forest wide man. Itís a mess. Byram is crocked and an unfit Arbeloa is signed from www.LastMinuteDeadlineDay.com as cover.

So back to that triumvirate of recruiting specialists. We are linked with A LOT of players. We seemingly court A LOT of players. Some of them even play in the same position. Sometimes there seems little sense in who we sign. We go in for a striker and come away with three right wingers? It is a seemingly haphazard approach. A decision is made that we need a striker. Immediately we look at quick ones, tall ones, strong ones, flair ones. We court them all.

Thereís been plenty made of the Ayew signing. The deal apparently suited the finances over the actual quality of player. He is a good attacking midfielder. He is not a centre forward. He has played there but now so too has Antonio. We also plumped with a striker on loan who excelled in a team that played a forward three; the other two being quick wide forwards. He then moved to the bench of one of the best sides in the world. Yet we played Zaza alone upfront and starved him of chances inside the penalty area. He didnít excel. We didnít either.

Bilicís input for me is as troubling as the other two. He is VERY West Ham. And that is not a compliment. I love the guyís character and enthusiasm. I love his demonstrative and engaging personality. He clearly knows his onions. I love the bloke.

I fear he is an idealist. I used to wake up in a daily sweat that Roberto Martinez had a Slaven Bilic mask. He started last season really well and even dug in with some hard fought results when the injuries struck pre Christmas time.

This season however:

* Antonio at right back with a plan B of him at wing back.

* Expecting Lanzini and Payet to chase flick ons from a lone centre forward? Not their game. Neither get in front of the centre forward. Both drift to one another leaving
* Antonio the whole right side to patrol.

* Ignoring the lack of balance in the side?

* The side look unfit. Ill prepared. Inconsistent.

Anyone else concerned that his latest comments revolve around Antonio being best as a CF? He may be right. Heís played him in five positions now with in-game cameos at inside forward. He still looks most comfortable out wide on the wing. This is a bloke who has bagged 16 goals over the course of 2016. If he clicks upfront then he could save us £30m. The itch in my head tells me that Bilic tries stuff in adversity only. The right back situation came about through player availability, as did reverting to 4-3-3.

Is Antonio at CF another one of those realisations from a problem rather than identifying something no one else has previously seen?

The recent four game points haul show success through adversity. A hard fought point at Anfield. As good as it was, could be likened to a lower league cup team performance against a big team. Two scrappy ugly 1-0 penalty assisted wins then followed against Burnley and Hull. The latter actually played up and down the pitch for the first time this season thinking they were in with a shout. They were and came very close to a three or four goal win before succumbing to a 1-0 defeat.

And then Swansea. Team selection appeared to be forced on the manager. We played the version of 4-3-3 that jumps out as best suiting the players we have. It wasnít a perfect performance but we immediately looked more dangerous. That it was akin to a bog standard Allardyce team set up over any tactical brilliance should be noted.

Add in the Leicester game. Iím sure those who love the West Ham way concept would be pleased. An end to end start followed by lots and LOTS of passing in an effort to grab a share of the points. ĎWe deserved moreí was heard echoing around.

Itís not what I saw. Carroll played deep for much of the game to flick on for the three support forwards. We again had far too many efforts from outside the box. Schmeichel saved a couple and the bar was hit. Itís nothing that Leicester didnít achieve and more with 40% less of the ball.

Our setup ignored the fact that Leicester actively allow who they play to have the ball for 70% of the time. We did nothing more than had a good go at them and gave it a roll of the dice. It should have been so much better with some more thought instead of throwing attack upon attack on Leicesterís defence in the hope that when they break they wonít score. They had scored early on and that was it.

I read a tweet from Dan Silver: ďWest Ham effortlessly doing something Claudio Ranieri hasnít been able to: making this seasonís Leicester look like last seasonísĒ

We played and did what they wanted. I called Bilic tactically inept. It is harsh yet I believe that he wants a kind of perfection. To misquote Vince Lombardi, ĎPerfection is unattainable. But if we chase it we can achieve excellenceí.

This quote is dangerous. It needs to be backed up with solidity and hard graft. Allowing the opposition in our box like a naÔve promoted team week in week out is far from achieving excellence.

In spite of writing this we will probably go out and tear up the league now. I hope we do. I fear that Bilic needs all the planets in alignment and several sacrifices be made to various Gods to achieve his goals.

If he gets it right it will be an unstoppable force for as long as the team has the desire to compete like it. Total attacking football playing killer passes with the minimum of penetrative runs into the opposition box.

Sadly, without a lot of luck, and like Leicester this season, it is highly unlikely to succeed. He seemingly does not take into account the opposition and what they wish to achieve.

So we have a meddling owner, a recruitment consultant who can pick a player and an idealist manager.

Add the list of attributed Bilic picks: Emenike, Tore, Jelavic, Zaza and a share of the other signings this Summer then we really have a problem.

The solution? There needs to be separation from the boardroom and these three. There needs to be a sporting director; a true Director of Football; a general Manager; Call the position whatever you want. All Bilic should be doing is explaining how he wants his team to play; what attributes he wants in a player. What his expectations are.

Henry should then highlight players who he recommends. The analysts should crunch the numbers and produce viable targets. The scouts should go and view them. A definitive list should be produced. The owners then need only sanction the money to be released for negotiations. Player A, B, C or G is then signed and should in theory fit right in.

It is what Southampton do. It is what Liverpool do. It is what the Red Bull group do. Itís progressive, it isnít the future, it is now. The danger is that we wonít be competing if Bilic doesnít get it right. Weíve had a stinker of a start this year. The latest recovery is every bit as much to do with the poor teams we have played over anything that we have done.

It is January. We NEED players to improve. If we get them then it as much confirms something about this board. The fear of the relegation zone is more important than the opportunity to win something.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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