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West Ham 0-1 Wolves (And Other Ramblings)


Filed: Tuesday, 4th September 2018
By: HeadHammerShark


WARNING: This is not going to cheer you up.

"I resist what I cannot change, and I wanna find what can't be found"
- The War on Drugs, "Pain"


Friends, Romans, countrymen! I have left you alone for a few weeks and, er, what exactly did you do in my absence?

All was well when I left. We were being encouraged to thank the Board for providing us with the "best transfer window ever", and everybody was wondering whether it was too soon to start exchanging our money into Euros ahead of our inevitable European run next season. I return and this is what I find - the ghost of Jack Wilshere wandering aimlessly round our midfield.



The pain of carrying this team since January


I kind of wondered if it might make sense to watch the new signings play before we declared the summer a success, but July is the time of endless possibilities and the realm of the dreamer. I suppose if you can't get excited then, you never will. And I'm prepared to accept I never will.

But here is a thing that I have been thinking a lot about this summer. David Sullivan promised us the following back in February, when he was rocking on his heels and the waves of fan protests were lapping at his feet:

"I'm going to delegate the whole thing to a huge analysis and scouting system with a new Head of Recruitment. We'll have a massive video analysis department, increase the scouting department, every player will be looked at five or six times, we won't be signing a player when the manager's never even seen him play. The manager's going to go and watch him play and we hope we'll spend our money better."

Remember that? Because I do, and I'm never going to let anyone forget it.

Where am I going with this? Well, as far as I can tell, none of that has been implemented. And so while fans were placated with the amount of money being spent, nobody apparently stopped to question how it was being spent. And this is my main problem with the activities of this summer, namely that the idea of spending 100m is great, but if you spend it in the same way that you wasted the previous 50m then all you're doing is pissing our money up the wall.

And let us be clear - this is our money. David Sullivan isn't spending his own money, he is spending the television money received by West Ham, which he chose not to spend in previous windows. And he charges substantial interest on the money he lends to the club so I think we can strike altruism off the CV.

So how many times do we reckon that Manuel Pellegrini went to watch Ryan Fredericks then? Because Pellegrini was in China and Fredericks was in the Championship, and I'm struggling to think that it was as many as five or six. With Pellegrini being unveiled on 22nd May and Fredericks being signed on 5th June it doesn't seem to leave a lot of time to get a complex deal like this done. Indeed, Fredericks himself has admitted the discussions around his move were ongoing for a long time before he moved, which leaves us with one of two scenarios:

a) David Sullivan, who was let down by Rafa Benitez hours before his unveiling, was negotiating with players on the say so of a manager he had yet to employ, or;

b) David Sullivan was negotiating with players that he intended to buy irrespective of who the manager was going to be.

I WONDER WHICH ONE IT COULD POSSIBLY BE?

It is the leadership style du jour, of course. If you present thunder and lightning as par for the course, then people will invariably be happy on the days when it simply rains. But we should put our hands behind our backs and not so readily break out into applause for these guys. Ignore their useful idiots who plague social media with this bizarrely passive approach to requesting anything concrete from the board, and demand a bit more. They don't get to tell us they've been a success before they've actually achieved anything. The best transfer window ever, and there is a very reasonable chance we will now lose our opening seven games? And we're supposed to be thankful to the Board for their work? Do me a favour.

Look, I know that the story goes that we tied the Pellegrini deal up in January, and he watched all of our games last season but I'm just going to tell you here and now that I don't think Sullivan is, in any way at all, stepping back from transfers. He just isn't. The video analysis team doesn't exist, the new scouting system is a fiction, we still use agents as a primary part of our recruitment function, and the Director of Football was hired by the fucking manager which is the wrong way round, and has a job description on the official website that literally led me to wonder what he does.

And so we get South Americans, a keeper we don't really need, an injury prone former star who was good in 2012 and is in decline, a soon-to-be 29 year old bought at the height of his value with zero chance he can be sold at a profit, and a load of deals brokered by Unique Sports Management. This Director of Football sure seems to think a lot like the last one.

But sitting in the Thunderdome on Saturday and watching the crushingly inevitable conclusion to this game, I couldn't help but notice something.

The scapegoats are gone.

There is no more Bilic, no Moyes, no Noble, no Adrian, no Zabaleta, no Tony Henry, and it has made absolutely no difference. There is only one constant that I can think of who has remained immovable for the duration of the last few years of torture.



Yes David - I mean you


Maybe you feel sorry for him because every decision he makes turns out to be wrong. Maybe you think the players and the manager ought to be bearing the brunt of this rant given that they are the ones who are currently setting fire to their own feet. Maybe you think this particular record needs to be changed.

Well, maybe. But here's the thing:

When all your decisions turn out wrong - stop making them and get someone more qualified to do it. When you hire the manager and buy the players and they consistently aren't very good - stop hiring the managers and stop buying the players, and get someone more qualified to do it.

And changing the record would be to let the Board off scot free. A friend said something to me this weekend and I agree with him. His thought is that Sullivan will ruin this club and we will have to rise again. And he is right. It doesn't matter how much money is spent while we are trapped in this cycle of spiralling incompetence. This is only heading one way, and while I have resigned myself to the fact we can't achieve anything while Sullivan is here, it is terrifying to think of West Ham in that stadium, in the lower leagues, with these owners.

And so we buy South Americans because they were the best players when David Sullivan formed all his opinions about football. We continue to present this image of the manager being omnipotent at the club because that was the model when David Sullivan formed all his opinions about football. And we continue to be caught and passed by smaller clubs with less money and fewer resources because they have more qualified, more intelligent people making the decisions that matter. And eventually the larger, better financed clubs will catch on as well, and that will be a dark day for us because then our extra commercial revenue won't save us.

I promise you that I thought all of this before I went on holiday. I had a entire season preview drafted which I was going to post on the day of the Liverpool game but then I had no WiFi when I got to the Dordogne, and I was fairly glad of that fact as I followed along on the radio. By the time I got back we had lost three in a row and it just felt very much like posting it would have been me being wise after the event. I can say now that my feeling was that a top ten finish would have been a remarkable achievement for Pellegrini, and I have already adjusted that to simply staying up.

Another year of treading water then. Another year of fixing our gaze on the stars and dreaming on a spaceship. Another year of fucking mediocrity while our owner plays Fantasy Football with our very real football club.

It is September.

***

"Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let's go backward when forward fails"

- Peter Allen, "Everything Old is New Again"


This was my first chance to see the new version of West Ham and to be honest, the main question it raised in my mind was whether anyone had bothered to check whether the reason Pellegrini looks so craggy is because he is really Slaven Bilic wearing an ill fitting Mission Impossible mask?

In fact, this was an absolutely Bilician event from start to finish. The three defeats preceding it adding a frisson of tension to the air before a ball was kicked, the near total lack of an attacking plan, players strolling around as if convalescing, and the strangely inevitable feeling that it was bound to end 1-0. All Pellegrini needed to do was bend over and grab his knees and I swear we could have gone back in time. Sadly, the idea of playing like a Bilic team without either Dimitri Payet or Manuel Lanzini isn't very sustainable and we duly coughed up the late goal we had deserved to concede all day. All of which was made worse by the fact that Wolves comfortably outplayed us without actually playing especially well.




The 11tegen11 Expected Goals map highlights nicely the dominance of the visitors, and if their centre forward Raul Jimenez wasn't playing in some kind of dream like state we'd have been well beaten long before Carlos Sanchez lost all cortical function and let Joao Moutinho rob him in our half as Adama Traore sprinted past a superbly half arsed Aaron Cresswell to slot in the winner. Traore is a kind of mythical figure among football analysts as he is almost without equal in European dribbling stats but is totally unable to produce any kind of end product. West Ham - still good for what ails you.

The entire day was a disappointment as almost every aspect of the team looked confused. Pellegrini still claims to be unsure of his best team - despite watching all our games from last season and buying all his own players apparently - and that is cripplingly obvious on the field.

I actually thought the back four didn't look too terrible, as Issa Diop was very good, and crucially demonstrated the kind of recovery speed that might allow a team to play such a high defensive line as we are apparently going to do. Diop and Fredericks are actually the two signings I like most from the summer, despite being the two who were first in the door, meaning they were most likely Sullivan signings. Both are mobile, and young enough to develop and improve. That said, Fredericks was pretty poor here and didn't utilise his outstanding pace particularly well when going forward.

He wasn't helped by the dire performance of Michail Antonio in front of him, who was so bad that I am beginning to wonder if someone has inserted two bowling balls into his knees. We had a strangely fluid attacking line up of Anderson, Snodgrass and Antonio who switched positions a lot and as a result spread their uselessness all over the field nicely. Snodgrass was sacrificed at half time - not literally, although the way things are going we shouldn't immediately rule it out - for Yarmolenko who came on and immediately looked exhausted. I'm beginning to long for the days of that 96 year old fitness coach that Bilic used to have.

After Anderson was pretty effective last week at Arsenal in a central role, he was shunted out to the left where he summarily failed to do anything. Ahead of him Marko Arnautovic had our only real chance very late on, when he got free in the inside right channel and only an excellent, but fortuitous, save from Rui Patricio denied us a thoroughly undeserved win.


***

"Oh but I can hear you, loud in the centre
Aren't we made to be crowded together, like leaves?"

- Fleet Foxes, "Third of May/Odaigahara"


Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is the same one we have had for three years. We have nothing in central midfield.

Wilshere's ghost was nominally in there for the first hour but he has neither the mobility nor the defensive attitude to play in such a role. I would never have signed Wilshere simply because of his injury record, but there looks to me to be a real risk that the cumulative injuries have caused quite a dramatic physical decline. It's early and maybe he's still searching for fitness - no rush, lads, it's only September - but I've been shocked at how limited he has looked. He looks like a number ten or nothing, at this point. And we already have about twenty seven ineffective ones.

Alongside him Sanchez was passable, but is similarly limited, meaning that in the most crucial area of the pitch we are likely to be inferior to every team we meet. And it should be pointed out that this was a new central midfield, so this was actually the attempt to fix this situation. Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez. Where the fuck was Pellegrini watching our games - in an opium den?



Should I not have given it away there?


Things improved marginally when Pedro Obiang came on, as he came actually defend and attack and run and respirate, but we are woefully short in that area. We sold Cheikhou Kouyate for 9.5m to Crystal Palace - which is a mere 3m less than Liverpool got from Leicester for their third choice goalkeeper - meaning we simply have no mobility in the middle of the park. For a manager who wants to pay a variation on 4-4-2, it boggles the mind that he can be happy with the options he has available.

At the heart of the problem is the mismarriage of tactics and personnel. Fans are obsessed with high pressing these days, but that isn't feasible for us because we don't buy any attacking players with the ability to do it. So Javier Hernandez comes on to great cheers, and then floats around the pitch as if determined to prove the Hare and the Tortoise is a relatable story. He was hardly alone though as we put no pressure on the ball anywhere, and our failure to do so was so uniform that it actually seemed possible that this was by design. But if that was the case then one would have expected to us to have dropped much deeper and invited Wolves on to smother them with a low block. We didn't do that either.

So, I don't really think Pellegrini is implementing a high press. I see no evidence of that in our play, but instead I see fairly rigid lines which should, in theory invite opponents on and into the teeth of a well organised and compact side. I am guessing that the high line should compress space and allow us to deny space to the opposition, meaning we recover the ball further up the pitch with greater opportunities to attack. But if that is your plan, you need some central midfielders who can harry the opposition, and then launch quick counterattacks. And we don't have any of those.

I also think you need at least one natural wide midfielder, rather than a winger, but we don't have any of those either. The nearest is Snodgrass, who is always the first sacrificed when the tide turns and seems a bit lost in this systemless system. It is almost as though having two ex Aston Villa players in the heart of the side isn't actually a good thing.

I just don't really understand any of it really. Is this really the system which Pellegrini wants to play, and if so why didn't we buy players who better suit it? Rome wasn't built in a day, and all that, but it is also fair to say that they had achieved something at the end of that day. We've gone backwards. David Moyes built a small little Etruscan villa and we've knocked it down. This team is less organised, less fit and less coherent than anything put together by Moyes, and while I wouldn't sack Pellegrini even if he loses all the next three games (who are we going to hire - Allardyce?) I still want to see some evidence of progress.

***

"I'll brace myself for the loneliness
Say hello to feelings that I detest"

- Camera Obscura, "My Maudlin Career"


I hate this.

I spent my holiday with my head buried in old history books about West Ham, and rediscovering my love for my club. Such affection seeped away last year, like angry fans streaming out of a half empty stadium, and it was enervating to reconnect again. So I fell in love with Graham Paddon and George Foreman and Johny Byrne and spent hours writing about those who I considered West Ham's Fifty Greatest Players.

And now this. One fucking game and I'm back in mid season form, raging at Sullivan and the dying of the light, and trying desperately to convince myself that there is hope in the chaos. But I think this is a compound effect of near relentless gloom for the last twenty four months. We haven't had a good transfer window for years, and the jury should still be out on this one. It's entirely possible that things will come good, of course, and Pellegrini will bring his undeniable pedigree to bear and straighten it all out but that still wouldn't lift my mood all that much. I have now reached the point where all I see is incompetence at West Ham. If Pellegrini does turn this round, you can't help shake the feeling that he will do so in spite of our Board rather than because of anything they will have done.

The decision making processes - David Sullivan ringing up an agent, usually - are a nonsense and apparently not up for review. And so we bob along, floating from one typhoon to another, crashing on every possible rock on the way and shredding the nerves of all aboard. I don't actually know if can write about another season of this fucking madness.

I took my youngest daughter on Saturday for her first ever game. And like her two older sisters she saw a dismal performance that ended with us losing in the last minute. Worse still was the ennui. I couldn't get her to care one way or another. Nothing about that place grabs children because it isn't designed to. And so she sat up in the high altitude seats, wondering why grown men behind her continued to swear loudly and angrily even with children in front of them, and when I asked up if she would like to come back she said answered with an emphatic "God, no".

You might roll your eyes when I talk of Sullivan ruining the club, but these are the little ripple effects. No Upton Park to carry her home on a wave of atmosphere and uniqueness, no decent team to electrify the pulse and capture her heart. Just a relentless succession of dreary, lifeless home performances every other Saturday, miles from the pitch and made worse by the knowledge that nothing better is round the corner. The only thing that impressed my daughter on Saturday was the neon blue Slushie she got from the kiosk. My cousin's son has been going for two years and still hasn't seen us win at home. I know I'm not alone - I've spoken to other parents who have the same problems.

And as we left, on the long grey trek back to the station I had a pang for Upton Park that I haven't felt before. I felt we needed to leave to move forward, but now it's becoming clear that only one side of that bargain is being adhered to, I couldn't help but kick the ground in frustration. These fuckers had no right to move us when they didn't have the ability to keep their side of the deal. The best transfer window in our history will be the one that sees these owners leave.

Anyway, welcome back - I hope you all had a nice summer holiday.

On a more positive note, check out the Making Memories initiative from the lads at Hammers Chat, which is aimed at giving Hammers fans in need of help some assistance. It's a good idea, particularly if we're going to spend the year playing like this.


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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