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West Ham and The Year of The Long Knives


Filed: Monday, 11th September 2017
By: HeadHammerShark


If your household is like mine, then you will have a bin in your kitchen.

And if your family is like mine then they will stuff things into it until it seems no more can possibly fit inside, and then continue piling things on top of it until it starts glaring at them like some kind of erupting rubbish Sauron in the corner of the room.


The corner of my kitchen


This will not move anyone to empty the bloody thing, of course. Instead somebody will casually suggest that Dad needs to empty the bin whilst lobbing another empty Hula Hoops packet in the general vicinity of our new rubbish bin overlord and keeper of the One Ring.

Now I know you all love an analogy, and never has there been one so apt as the rubbish bin of Mount Doom and the relationship between West Ham fans and their club at present. It won't surprise you to learn that I view us as being inside the bin, wondering quite how much more can be tipped down on top of us and thinking we had reached the end only to find that, no - yet more detritus is heading our way.

I had been planning to write about the recently finished transfer window pretty much immediately upon it closing but so bewildering has it been attempting to keep track of the shenanigans at the Olympic Stadium that I chose to wait for the dust to settle before writing it all up. And then the President of one of the most famous clubs in Europe called our chairmen the "Dildo Brothers" and I decided that trying to make sense of all this would be like trying to catch a bat with a tea towel.


If you haven't seen the above I urge you to watch it (with sound) as it is not only brilliant, but also a nice metaphorical reflection of me trying to catch up with all the crazy West Ham related news of the last week. But fear not, I am your Derry, and I have donned my shorts and pulled up my socks in the pursuit of some sort of sensible analysis of the window.


***


It seems to me that a timeline might be helpful here. After all, we are just humans and only able to process so much stupidity in one go. So let's try and summarise the madness as best we can. Updates in real time:


Deadline Day T -1 (AM) - Diafra Sakho goes all Odemwingie

August 30th arrives with the news that Diafra Sakho has flown to France. Apparently the club don't know about this, which seems unlikely, but in any case it's unfortunate as Sakho is there for a medical with Rennes. He has apparently organised this himself, which is remarkable for a guy who nearly burnt his flat down when he arrived because he couldn't use the kettle.

Should Sakho leave, our striking options will be Javier Hernandez and whatever is left of Andy Carroll in the club morgue.


Deadline Day T -1 (PM) - Robert Snodgrass is upset that he, a left footed winger, was played on the left

Former Hull legend Snodgrass is loaned to Villa and announces in an interview that he's not a massive fan of Slaven Bilic, seemingly incredulous that West Ham could have bought him without knowing what position he played. At this, fifty thousand West Ham fans burst out laughing, possibly recalling that our due diligence is generally so good that we once bought a player from Oxford who got homesick.


No seriously, come here. What's your name?


Apparently on his debut, Bilic asked Snodgrass where he wanted to play which conjures up a lovely image of Bilic as a Sunday League manager bringing on a ringer. One can half imagine him telling Snodgrass that if he got booked he was to give the name "M-A-S-U-A-K-U" and to make sure he spelt it right or we'd all be in trouble.

Anyway, Snodgrass thought that his exploits at Hull meant he was too good to stay and fight for his place so now he has to play for Villa as punishment.


Deadline Day (AM) - Everton reject loan bid for Kevin Mirallas

On Christmas morning in my house we have champagne and toasted ham sandwiches. It's a tradition my wife brought with her from New Zealand, along with a remarkably laissez faire attitude to speed limits. Likewise, on transfer deadline day West Ham like to get in a shit loan signing and they ain't changing for anyone.

Mirallas fits the bill rather nicely having been discovered by Tony Henry, being 29, being in decline and having a notoriously moody attitude. Sadly Everton turn us down perhaps because, unlike us, they have noticed that we don't have any wingers and thought that this might be a reasonable opportunity to nobble a notional rival. Or maybe Mirallas took one look and just said "Nah, I don't think so". Either way he's not coming and one of my kids has just stuffed half a watermelon into the already full bin.


Deadline Day (AM) - West Ham agree to loan Domingos Quina to Sheffield United

I may be a petty man. I may be a small man. I may be driving myself slowly mad by clinging to a rage from years gone past. But...fuck Sheffield United. Fuck them right in their Ched Evans supporting eyes.

Of all the teams in the world they could have chosen to loan one of our most promising young players to, they chose...Sheffield United? What, when you get the chance to send a player to the team that developed Wayne Quinn you just don't pass that up? Christ on Henry Winter's tandem, read the room guys. In the event the move is scuppered by a greedy agent which I, for one, find shocking.

My only faint hope here is that we were planning to loan them Quina with a view to him being their best player all season and then recalling him with ten games to go, ensuring they went down. Truthfully, I'm not sure we have that kind of vision at the club.


Deadline Day (PM) - Diafra Sakho is at the races

Remember Sakho? Yesterday he was in Rennes negotiating a move there, with the French club suddenly flush after receiving a slice of the Ousmane Dembele fee. Sadly whatever he agreed with West Ham has fallen through, with the club now strongly denying that he had permission to go anywhere. They then issue formal denials through the usual channels, namely the Sullivan kids Twitter accounts for actual fuck's sake.


Got to stay at West Ham. Won 500 on the horses


Diafra is still persisting, however, and flies back to London today. Sadly he can't come immediately to the club to resolve his fairly obvious issues because his agent has a horse running at Chelmsford race course. He therefore has to hang around in the car park while Mark McKay gets his equine fix. With that kind of work ethic and attention to detail I am beginning to understand how McKay is in the middle of so many of our deals.

The pair eventually make their way to the club where they can't find any Directors. This is a real thing that actually happened.

Sullivan is apparently on holiday in Marbella which is fair enough. No reason a Director of Football would need to be around on transfer deadline day.

Meanwhile, I am considering setting the bin on fire.


Deadline Day (PM) - William Carvalho is not coming

The faint hope that outstanding Portuguese midfielder Carvalho will join us flickers out. He instead joins the long list of potential signings who Sullivan might have been able to sign on Championship Manager, but couldn't get close to in reality: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez, Alexandre Lacazette, Carlos Bacca and Keita Balde all sounded great in the tabloid gossip columns and not a single one got close to joining. Remember that next time you get excited over a transfer link.

Anyway, Carvalho doesn't sign and I can't imagine we'll hear any more about that.


Deadline Day (PM) - we are linked with Andre Gomes and Jack Wilshere

These don't happen either. Wilshere is probably too young and healthy at present.


Deadline Day (PM) - The U23 team lose 7-2 to Spurs

This might not be quite so funny if it weren't for the fact that it is now becoming painfully obvious that we won't be able to make a full 25 man squad without dipping into the Academy.

We also managed to miss two penalties in this game. The bin is now on fire.


Deadline Day (PM) - West Ham Twitter goes postal

Twitter, always a haven of good sense and reasoned debate has not taken the failure to sign anyone very well. West Ham fans are spitting blood and the mood isn't improved when some tweets critical of Bilic emerge on the West Ham Way account, with the location showing as Marbella. You may remember that this is where the Sullivan family are on holiday.

Initially, the account administrators seem to suggest that the reason for the weird locations are because someone is tweeting from an aeroplane. With tweets apparently being sent from Northern Ireland, Malta and Marbella this seems a little unlikely unless they're on a plane being flown by Wayne Rooney after a night out. As it transpires, there are people with access to the account in all of those locations on the night, but by now the account is saying that the aeroplane thing was a joke and it is in fact the person in Northern Ireland who has posted all the tweets.

Fair enough - Twitter does weird shit sometimes.

The West Ham Way website has some ties to the club in so much as the Sullivans have previously appeared on their radio show and also carried out a Q&A on Twitter, and although the tweets are quickly deleted it doesn't stop the rumour quickly spreading that they have come from the Sullivan clan.

I ask ExWHUEmployee, the main man on the account and he says that the Sullivans have denied it was them. Apparently Jack still has a log in from the time he did a Q&A for the site, and they never changed the password, which could explain why Marbella came up if the location services on Twitter are playing up. I have no reason to doubt anything that Ex would say, but I suppose the fact is that he can't categorically rule it out simply because they do still have a log-in.

If you believe the guys at the West Ham Way - and I do because this would be devastating for them if it was later found to be untrue - that it was them who sent the tweets, then this all really is a mountain out of a molehill. However, if I was in any way associated with the club my biggest concern would be that when it was suggested that the Chairman's son had posted derogatory comments about the club manager on Twitter, nobody suggested that this was simply too outlandish to be true.

I should also add that Ex wrote this piece explaining his side of the story, and also making a lot of balanced comments about the situation at West Ham in general.

Oh well, after that insane incident, we can all go to bed and take comfort from the fact that things can't possibly get any madder.


Deadline Day +1 (AM) - West Ham summon Diafra Sakho to a meeting

After his exemplary behaviour leading up to the deadline, Bilic demands that Sakho attend a meeting so he can fine him and discuss his future. This is critical because the day after the transfer window has closed, the West Ham manager appears to have at last noticed that he doesn't have enough strikers.

Ordinarily, Sakho would be extradited to the youth team for his behaviour but instead there is now somehow discussion of incentives and a possible new deal. All this for an obviously troubled guy who seems fairly intent on leaving the country.

I have decided to no longer question any of this, particularly given that this won't even come close to being the stupidest thing that West Ham do today.

My wife has now noticed that our bin is on fire.


Deadline Day +1 (PM) - David Sullivan releases a statement

With deadline day in the rear view mirror and no further additions made, those same West Ham fans who were busy lapping up the club propaganda about this being a wonderful transfer window have suddenly noticed that when you get rid of nine players and bring in only four, that might have knock on implications. Social media is therefore ablaze. Open letters are being drafted, votes are held, Facebook groups are formed and memes are produced. The word is out - the Board have failed us.


They called me what?


But here's the thing - social media is not the world. A few hundred people taking a vote on Twitter is not a representative sample. I am silently praying that David Sullivan does not decide to respond publicly to the criticism.

I might as well pray for a decent Robbie Williams song.

A statement is released late on September 1st. It is startling for its stupidity and flagrant disregard for the privacy of the process of transfers. It takes just eleven words to maroon Bilic, as he is rendered the culprit for the failure to add to the squad while the Board are credited for the additions. So far, so Sullivan.

Then things take a turn for the bonkers, even by West Ham standards. Sullivan describes how Sporting Lisbon accepted a bid for Carvalho late on deadline day but left them with no time to complete a medical. Premier League rules state that medicals can be completed after the deadline. I am confused.

He then goes on to state that Bilic turned down Grzegorz Krychowiak and Renato Sanches. To what end only he knows but I cannot think of another club who would announce such details in such a way. Oh well, that's the end of that then. What a bizarre transfer window.


Deadline Day +2 (AM) - Sporting fire back. "We're just as insane as you!"

If you woke on September 2nd 2017 to the sound of rolling thunder, you might have been surprised given that there was no rain evident. This is because it wasn't thunder, but instead the sound of a million West Ham fans yelling "We told you this would happen" in anguish at the sky.


Bruno de Carvalho - Probably our new Director of Football


Sporting, it turns out, are every bit the basket case that we are. Nuno Saraiva, their Director of Communications has posted a statement on Facebook in which he calls Sullivan a liar, and states that no bid for Carvalho has ever been received.

He also makes several allusions to the pornographic background of our owner, and a number of obtuse references to "parasites" which I read to be more about Carvalho's advisors than West Ham, but it's translated from Portuguese so who knows. What a time to be alive.


Deadline Day +2 (PM) - West Ham respond as professionally as one might expect

We decide to draw a line under this debacle by releasing a non-committal vanilla statement that blames everything on intermediaries and allows everyone to save face and move on.

Nah, just kidding - we announce our intention to sue them via teenager David Sullivan Jr's Twitter account. This is exactly what any other team would do. Shut up, yes it is.

I have noticed that the fire has spread to our kitchen workbenches.


Deadline Day +3 - Nobody does anything mental for a while

Respite.


Deadline Day +5 - Everybody goes mental again

West Ham decide to respond to the Saraiva comments by leaking some emails to Sky purporting to confirm the bid. Interestingly, the "To" field is redacted meaning that it doesn't prove remotely that the offer was made to Sporting. This is likely to be because the email was sent to an agent working on behalf of the club. It is unknown whether said agent had any horses racing around this time.

The emails, sent on 10th and 11th August, suggest that we were offering 23m over two years, with 7.6m up front and a 10 per cent sell on clause. William Carvalho, I should highlight, apparently has a 40m release clause in his contract.

I am by now thinking back fondly on the time that Newcastle appointed Joe Kinnear as Director of Football and wondering if he would come and do the job for us. Joe, I should point out, once tried to buy one of his own players who was out on loan.

He'd fit right in.


Deadline Day +6 - Sporting go the full Mariah Carey

Having established that Sporting are run by lunatics, it is little surprise that they fire back with all the gravitas of Kerry Katona on GMTV.

President Bruno de Carvalho refers to the chairmen as "the Dildo Brothers" and "these offended virgins". I'm beginning to like him.

Sporting follow all of this up by threatening to report West Ham to FIFA for tapping up their player, while we respond by calling them attention seekers, presumably via a teenagers Instagram account with a link to Rise of the Krays included.

The fire has spread to my cupboards now. I really must look at that bin.


Deadline Day +7 - West Ham suggest they may return for Carvalho in January

It's nice to know we have a sense of humour. A West Ham source suggests to The Sun that we may try and buy Carvalho again in January and I think I speak for all of us when I say that this is a brilliant, clearly thought through idea and I can see no way that this won't work. Go with glory.

My house is now entirely on fire. I may need to replace the bin.

***


It may surprise you to know that I have some sympathy with the Board over all of this. If nothing else, they chose the worst dance partner imaginable in dealing with Sporting. Like when a woman begins a relationship with a guy and then on their first holiday finds out he wears white socks with flip flops. It's also true that had Sullivan and Gold carried on as Sporting have in the last week, there would be all sorts of opprobrium flying their way.

But that doesn't excuse the overall stupidity, and mind boggling lack of PR savvy. Our problems began when Sullivan dragged this all into the public domain with his ludicrous statement. Why on earth does he insist on continuing to air his thoughts in this way, and why is it that nobody at the club seems able to stop him? PR is one of those maligned and undervalued jobs that people are happy to ridicule and dismiss until someone is calling them The Dildo Brothers in public and then it has a value again.

So once more, why am I being given David Sullivan's intimate thoughts on all this? Who exactly thought this was a good idea? This is as interesting and necessary to me as hearing Dane Bowers' thoughts on Proust.


"A la recherche du temps perdu? Overrated!"


All of the issues with Sporting stem from the Sullivan statement. Here he gave answers to questions that weren't asked, put forward information that didn't need to be leaked and gave a commentary that nobody wanted to hear. Apart from that it was brilliant.

I wonder if a FIFA charge will be enough to prevent these outbursts, which seem designed solely for him to shore up his own position and are released for his own edification? I'm guessing not.

***


It is also worth asking at this point where the rest of the Board are. I have heard from a couple of separate sources that Gold is incensed by all of this, but if he continues to play the role of the kindly uncle while Sullivan and his kids lead us into these scrapes then he is just as guilty as them.

Whither also, our CEO? Karren Brady has been noticeably absent all summer, perhaps wisely as her deal of the century sent us off to three defeats on the road. But here is a woman who makes a living - amongst many other things - criticising inept business practices on television. This is like finding out that Mary Berry works for Greggs.

The true role of a Board of Directors is to challenge and interrogate the decision making at a company. They are supposed to offer direction. Gold and Brady are part of the troika who have taken the club to this point, and for them to abrogate responsibility now and allow Sullivan to have a mid life crisis in this way is a dereliction of duty.

West Ham's misfortunes over the last year have been characterised by the failure to ask three questions that every successful organisation must ask itself constantly.

Firstly, are we doing what we do in the best way possible? Secondly, do we have the appropriate people in place to deliver that work and lastly, the appropriate means of making that assessment? I'll leave it to you to decide if you think West Ham can answer any of those affirmatively.

Either way, Karren Brady is paid a lot of money for her role and David Gold is taking a share of 7m a year in interest on loans to the club. Their inertia is not acceptable.

***


Fellow West Ham blogger Alex V wrote this interesting take on the window, and I find much there to agree with. I was going to pick out a few choice quotes but in the end I decided that I agreed with it all so you should just read it if you haven't already.

He rightly hits upon the lack of planning and forethought that has led us once again to this seeming crossroads. The combination of a terrible transfer window last year and now an appalling start to the season has focused the minds of some supporters. They are beginning to demand more, and want to know precisely why the trauma of the stadium move was inflicted upon us if the club did not have the off field strategy to accompany such a giant leap forward.

Noticeable too is that our net spend this year is way down, although this is largely due to us being in the unusual position of having players worth selling, and also because football has a No Returns policy which means that Tigres can't send Enner Valencia back.

Alex also correctly highlights the part played in all this by Slaven Bilic. He has a curious relationship with the Board in so much as they love him because he is popular and deflects attention away from them, but they also seem to distrust him because he is popular and deflects attention away from them. It is this odd dynamic which has inspired this Year of the Long Knives, whereby the Board seem to have been constantly maneuvering themselves into a situation where Bilic can be blamed for everything, in particular the failed transfers, such that when they eventually make their move they will be deemed to have been left with no choice.

None of which can disguise the fact that Bilic hasn't been up to it for quite some time, but one wonders at the working atmosphere in an environment where he knows his employers are openly touting his job around behind his back.

Bilic was nowhere near the first choice for the job, but that magical voodoo 2015/16 season seems to have inured him against too much of a backlash from supporters. The Huddersfield game will be interesting in that respect, because it feels like something has changed but it's hard to know now whether that anger will be directed at the touchline, the Boardroom, or the pitch. Maybe we will win 3-0, Hernandez will score a hat trick, Hart will save a penalty and Zabaleta will break Aaron Mooy and everyone will forget why they were angry in the first place. Such is the transient nature of the football fan group think.

But in the long term, the Board must surely be terrified. Whilst I thought our summer business was awful as far as long-term planning went, I did think it would most likely be moderately successful in the short term. Then we shed more players without replacing them and so far we look tactically inept, physically unfit and mentally drained.

But the squad is neither strong enough or balanced enough. Whilst the first eleven looks decent, we are a Hernandez injury away from the Doomsday scenario of James Collins playing up front. Scoff all you like, but remember that Ian Pearce played there for a ridiculously long time in 2002/03 because of the same squad building ineptitude. If Bilic is truly responsible for that then must carry the can for such largesse, but there is a horrible feeling that he has had his legs chopped out from underneath him in this window, with Sullivan deciding in the end not to invest heavily in the choices of a manager he wan't planning to employ much longer.

Such decisions might be entirely sensible, but lend themselves to the feeling that we are no longer watching a cohesive management structure and instead are viewing the death throes of a year long power struggle. Our descent into high farce. Our Year of the Long Knives. It is a dreadful shame to have gone from the unadulterated joy of 2015/16 to this in such a short time. We deserve better.

***


While you're here - I wrote this for FourFourTwo while I was waiting for West Ham and Sporting to stop doing crazy things. Unsurprisingly, our transfer nonsense makes an appearance.


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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