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The journey has just begun


Filed: Tuesday, 19th March 2019
By: Andy Fletcher


Following your team the length and breadth of the country is not only a huge financial commitment but with the alternating moods of abnormal highs (mania) and lows (depression) dictated by what happens on the pitch, being a football supporter should come with a health warning; it seriously damages your health!

Every game the mood switches are often dramatic and rapid. You win and you feel on top of the world, lose and the anger, frustration and disappointment lingers until the next game comes around when the whole process starts again!

May 2018 and with Premier League status finally assured, David Moyes was gone. Some say unceremoniously dumped given he had done a good job steering the ship to safety but yet again the feeling was for the umpteenth time of a club at the crossroads.

Enter the building Senor Pellegrini...

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Whilst he may not be in the super-class of Guardiola, make no mistake Manuel Pellegrini is a high-class operator. Appointed as the clubs new manager on a three-year contract, making him the club’s highest paid manager, expectation and optimism levels rose significantly with the hope that this bold appointment by the board could be rewarded with the delivery of the exciting brand of football we have been craving and demanding off.

With nine games remaining, a top seven finish is still up for grabs and when you consider we were pointless and routed to the bottom of the table after four games very few could argue that (say it quietly) we finally look to be heading in the right direction. Michael Hughes looks at the season so far under Pellegrini and delves into his crystal ball for what is required for next season.

Manuel Pellegrini was the man entrusted to create and produce a brand of football we have been craving for years. Some will point to Slaven Bilic’s first season and the emotional swansong at our spiritual home as hitting those levels.

There is no denying that anyone experiencing those halcyon days in that final season at Upton Park will always look back with great fondness when we came so close to securing Champions League football, playing a style of football that was exciting and so enjoyable. However the cynics amongst us will point to the fact one season sprinkled amongst years of mediocrity hardly qualifies as value for money or a club that is supposedly progressing and moving towards the much heralded ‘new level’

What first struck me about the appointment of Pellegrini was that he’d obviously laid down his marker to the owners when it was clear they wanted him, outlining ‘this is the way I work, back me otherwise go and find another manager.’ As a Premier League title winner, he has never finished lower than seventh place in a league with any team he has taken charge of since arriving in Europe since 2004.

When you've managed in Europe and leave, you inevitably want to return at some point and the lure of the Premier League and East London was too much for Pellegrini. The complete opposite of David Moyes and the Scot’s predecessor-but-one, Sam Allardyce, his football philosophy is an attack-first mode that thrilled Manchester City fans. In his first season at City Pellegrini’s team piled up 115 goals in all competitions and they swept to the title with 102 league goals.

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His track record of bringing the best out of skilful players by tailoring tactics to suit their needs instead of demanding they fit into a prescribed system certainly built up the level of expectation amongst the West Ham faithful. Felipe Anderson, the marquee signing from Lazio came with a big reputation. I think it fair to say he has been a roaring success and with Arnautovic, Hernandez, Lanzini, Wilshire, Antonio and Yarmolenko at his disposal (at the start of the season) the attacking options were frightening!

Maybe no one had told him about the dreaded West Ham injury curse! Fast forward a few months and we have seen very little of Wilshire -as many suggested would be the case - Yarmolenko unfortunately picked up a bad injury finishing his season just when he was starting to fire and with Lanzini missing for most of the season, the creativity we had in abundance clearly became a big problem, hence the signing of Nasri.

Signing Ryan Fredericks from Fulham looked a shrewd piece of business at the time and if the last few games, where he has been severely tested are the benchmark for performance levels, then he could turn out to be a very good signing if he maintains those levels going forward. The ongoing varying problems with Arnautovic, Hernandez, Perez and Carroll haven’t helped and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if all four of them are gone from the club come the end of the season.

Pellegrini has the ability to attract quality players. People quickly forget he brought Kevin De Bruyne to Man City, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Isco to Real Madrid.

Whether he will be a long term appointment or not, amid the chaos at West Ham it was vital to bring some order and structure as well as some much-needed calm after the last few seasons of turmoil, Pellegrini has certainly provided that. His appointment was met with universal approval by the majority of supporters with many lauding Pellegrini appointment as a managerial coup.

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As first seasons go, with the start we had, losing our first four games, the injuries we’ve had to key players you would have to say he has done a good job. Tellingly for me the atmosphere at the much maligned London Stadium has improved with a number of performances, particularly against the big boys impressing even the most cynical of supporters. The atmosphere on Saturday against Newcastle, created in part before kick off when we honoured the great Billy Bonds was as good as any game I can remember in our new home.

Having now taken charge of England’s fourth best-supported club last season, yet one for whom finishing 14th was becoming more realistic than finishing fourth in the league, whatever goals Pellegrini was set by the owners, he’s had a challenging first season and there still remain challenges ahead of him next season when the turnover of players I suspect could well be similar to what we experienced this year.

The calmness exuded from Pellegrini and his low-key demeanour thus far, whilst the polar opposite of the attack at all costs style he demands on the field, has held him in good stead when the team has had those bad patches, evident at the start of the season. Above all after the trials and tribulations of the last two seasons I believe we have seen enough from Pellegrini to suggest he has given us hope to finally lift the mood at the London Stadium. For many supporters after the abject failings of Bilic and the team in the previous two campaigns anything less than a top ten finish - with the level of investment from the owners this window - would be classed as a disappointment. He still remains on course to achieve that as we approach the last nine games.

Looking ahead to the summer key areas of the squad will need addressing. The goalkeeping situation concerns me greatly. Adrian as popular as he is has never nailed down the number one slot but is a very good number two. While he’s seen off Randolph and Hart amongst others Fabianski has been the signing of the season in my eyes and you can see Adrian moving on. Back up to Fabianski is a priority. Finally we seem to have addressed the problem right back area with the signing of Fredericks but will Zabaleta want to play second fiddle next year? I would do everything possible to keep him as his influence on and off the field is invaluable and maybe offering him some kind of coaching role would help keep him at the club.

Andy Carroll’s time at the club has been blighted by injuries and I can’t believe the club will offer him another contract. With his house up for sale the rumour is Carroll is America bound to join the MLS. Such a shame as a fit Andy Carroll is a real handful and an asset to any team. His time at West Ham will be remembered more for the games he has missed rather than what he achieved on the pitch. Hernandez, Arnautovic and Perez are likely to follow him out of the door as well so Pellegrini has a real job on his hands to bring in at best a minimum of three quality strikers.

While a lot of hard work went into transforming the squad at the start of the season with ten signings, it will be a very interesting time in the summer to see who comes in. The quality and depth of the squad has improved, borne out by the results achieved without key players at his disposal and whilst we are on the right track I still think we are lacking real quality needed to sustain a challenge and break into the top six.

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I can see up to at least eight players leaving this summer; Adrian, Carroll, Masuaku, Obiang, Hernandez, Arnautovic, Perez, Zabaleta and Reid.. Whatever your opinion of Arnautovic, there is no denying his quality and what he brings to the team. Replacing him will be the hardest task facing Pellegrini this summer. Importantly not only would the club be looking at re-cooping around £70 million for those players likely to be leaving but with wages between them close to £600k per week that is another £30 million of the wage bill. Spent wisely and with two or three quality additions to the squad expected progression on the pitch you would hope would be the minimum requirement next season.

Pellegrini was a bold appointment by the board. He is a manager who we know plays in a certain style. He has a proven track record at the highest level and whilst Sullivan and Gold have been lambasted at times during their tenure as custodians of the club, rightly so with some of their decisions, every West Ham supporter will hope this really is a new beginning of something exciting with Pellegrini at the helm and we look back in a few years time and applaud them on having the vision to appoint him. Now wouldn’t that be a rare occurrence!


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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