Sunday, 24th June 2018
Give us a clue, what’s the plan?
Filed: Monday, 3rd July 2017
Author: Paul Walker
Like it or not at West Ham of late, there’s always been a plan, a golden vision on the skyline that was supposed to propel our club to the land of plenty.
For the past five years or so, the plan for our future from the owners has been bludgeoned into us all, so relentless has the quest been for the new stadium, the new level that will bring the top players to Stratford, the holy grail of the Champions League.
We may not have liked the way our owners forced through the move from the Boleyn, their ruthless desire to make us all believe that following the yellow brick road would take us to fame and fortune (well them at least) and that we would all love it in the end.
The logic of greater revenue and a bigger stadium was pretty obvious, so the majority of us gritted our teeth and went along with it all. Some have liked it more than others. Our owners got their way, their (dubiously worded) vote in favour, so opposition seemed pretty pointless in the end, it was going to happen.
Nothing was going to stop them with a cheaply-rented new stadium on offer and the chance to flog the Boleyn and pay off the mortgage, and the first year’s rent and renovation. What was not to like?
But now we are a year down the line, does anyone really believe the Champions League is attainable, that we can bounce our way in amongst the country’s elite, that money alone will conquer all? Surely not.
We don’t seem to have a believable plan any more. To progress the way we were promised means we have to overtake the likes of our current top seven clubs. Do our owners really believe we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Manchester giants, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, now even Everton?
We have done the easy bit. We are the 15th most valuable club in the world, at around £490million. We are in the top six best supported clubs in Europe (tickets sold if not bums on seats). Our revenue is amongst Europe’s top 20, our turnover the same. Our wage bill amongst the highest in the Premier League.
But it’s all a fraud really, isn’t it? Look at that list of the world’s top 20 valued clubs and only ourselves and Leicester are not playing European football next season.
OK, I accept this is the toughest league for qualification. The top four by right, Manchester United because they spent £250million and Jose bored the pants off everyone to get in the back door with the Europa League. Plus Arsenal and Everton.
So I ask again, can we get close to Everton or Arsenal? Maybe, probably not. Can we catch the top five. Not a hope, sorry. The original plan, something I have commented on before, was flawed from the start, the naive and gullible were conned into believing the Champions League was just around the corner.
But sometimes the expectation of our fans is laughable; do people really believe we can buy £50million players, or that they’d come? That Romelu Lukaku, for example, is attainable? We may be able to tempt him or his like with money, but we are not in Europe and that’s the level top players aspire to.
To play against the best, to be in that exclusive club, to be at a club with genuine hopes of being the best, or near to it.
We cannot offer anyone that. We can throw money at them, but it’s not enough. We need to show players a realistic plan, something that is attainable in a couple of years. And the trouble is the best players look at us and don’t believe our owners’ dream.
We have a big stadium (but then so do Sunderland and Aston Villa). Big players perform in big stadiums all the time, so a converted athletics stadium does not impress them. I flinched when I heard David Gold describe it on TV earlier this year as ‘near perfect’ and then a month later on twitter tell someone that it was never meant to be a football stadium.
We look like we have money, but a variety of financial regulations stops us spending shed loads of it. We have owners who, between them, are worth upwards of £1.5billion (pretty much the same as Everton’s new benefactor Farhad Moshiri has to his name).
But until our new found commercial wealth, the corporate bonanza that has come our way, can work its way into our budgets, we can’t put any real plan into operation. And do our chuckle brothers really spend? Well, no.
Without European football we are going nowhere, slowly. Leicester managed it a season back when the top clubs were all bloated and self-important. And taking everything for granted. That has all changed now. Leicester was a fluke and won’t happen again any decade soon, it‘s certainly not sustainable.
So now we are left bouncing from one transfer window to another, hoping for that big breakthrough, another Dimitri Payet maybe, and that was improbable enough, taking advantage of a club in cash meltdown at the time.
But Marseille have got their new money man now, they are back in Europe and Dimi--for whatever other reasons he wanted out from us--sure as hell didn’t want to be playing in the lower reaches of the Premier League, he could maybe see through the dream ticket that was sold to him.
As for our current battles in the transfer market, let’s just wait and see. We have only just started, players could not be officially bought until July 1.
All the noise so far has been generated by agents’ bling chinking away as their stubby fingers pound mobile phone keypads. They all look the same, I find. The uniform, that is.
Expensive loafers (no socks), too tight designer jeans, far too tight slim-fit white shirts with double cuffs and gold links plus the fake tans, streaked hair and sunglasses in their foreheads from February onwards. You can tell they are my favourite people, can‘t you!
They are generally crooks and fans should not believe 95 per cent of the summer garbage they generate. David Sullivan just loves all that.
But our owners are very, very aware that they have a simmering fan base who have lost most, if not all, of our faith in them to have the ability to make anything like the top signings we were promised.
So far we have sorted a couple of big new contracts for Michail Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna, and there has to be another three in the pipeline for Winston Reid, Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini or we could lose them.
We have dumped four youngsters, all of whom will be replaced by promotions from within the age group academy ranks, while Reece Oxford certainly, and probably, Reece Burke and Josh Cullen will all be out on loan.
So far six players have gone from the senior squad and Pablo Zabaleta signed. That to me suggests we need to sign five players just to bring the squad depth up to last season’s numbers. Anything less will leave Slav very short. Again.
But Sullivan is finding this window harder than ever to negotiate. And then there’s Everton making life difficult. They have become the club we would wish to be.
Our owners have always, I believe, had a soft spot for Bill Kenwright and admiration for the tight ship he ran on limited funds. Now he has finally got the new money he has sought for ten years, or so.
Moshiri, a 60 year-old Iranian, has bought 49.9 per cent of the club, Bill still has 12.2 per cent, but there is also a legally-binding agreement that Bill and the other shareholders always vote with Moshiri on important matters. Bit like the DUP without the bigotry and terrorist funding. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Suddenly Everton, who were our attainable rivals, have surged away from us. And financially they are doing it in just the way our owners would like at our place, with new money coming in without the takeover.
Yes, they are expecting £100million for Lukaku, but it is more than that. They have a plan. They have been able to buy Jason Pickford, once our target but not at £30million, Davy Klassen (£23million), Michael Keane (probably) for £25million, Sandro Ramirez (£5.2million) and Henry Onyekuru (£8million). Pretty good business all that, and then (maybe) Olivier Giroud.
And of course, Everton now have proper plans for a new stadium that they will own, right on the Liverpool waterfront, with help from local council and redevelopment loans. How we would like to be that lucky. And they are not getting the players just because of money, they have Europe and a very viable plan for the future. And we don’t.
Missing out on Onyekuru has looked embarrassing for us, but frankly we had no choice. We need a player to be in the side now, and the young Nigerian can‘t get a work permit for a year, at least. We are not in the position of being able to buy a player for £8million and then loan him straight out. Everton are now. Frankly he was of no use to us in those circumstances.
All this will no doubt irate Gold, who twice this summer has had a little dig at Everton when pressed by our fans on twitter over their success with youth players. This at a time when it was hard to find a West Ham youngster in any of the England youth and age group sides doing so well. Danny Kemp and Nathan Trott was about it.
Gold said, as we know, how hard it is for kids to break into the Premier League. All true, but he did so in the week our development squad managed to win promotion back to the top flight via the play-offs. Not much encouragement there.
And he also pointed out that Chelsea won the title without using any kids, and Hull went down by using the most in the division. Too black and white that, David.
Everton‘s under 23s, coached by David Unsworth, won the reserve Premier League ahead of the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, who stockpile kids so other clubs cannot get them.
And Everton kept a clutch of kids training with the first team and not out on loan, so when they had an injury crisis in January, they were able to use them and still reach European qualification. Unlike us. Maybe Mr. Gold should keep quiet on this subject for a while.
So here we are again, same place, same time, same problems, same struggle to improve. And we have lost punters along the way. Just where are the West Ham 5,000? The fans who chucked in their season tickets this summer.
I’d love to know whether they were long-term Boleyn refugees or some of the new intake, or just fans dumping their kids' tickets. If they are, as I fear, a majority of long-term fans turning their back on the club, our owners should be concerned and want to know why.
At the moment they are long-forgotten, ignored. Made to feel like ‘churn’, the wonderful word Sky use to describe their daily loss of subscribers who are pretty soon replaced by newcomers. Nobody knows their names, or cares. They are just numbers. I hope our owners don’t feel like that.
It’s a bit personal now because we, our motley group of a dozen lads who travel together, drink together, moan together, have lost one of our number, a good friend of my son, long standing but now gone after almost 30 years as a season ticket holder.
I respect totally his decision, but find the logic difficult. Watching football is a group thing, it’s all about the day out with mates, a twice-monthly pass from the missus for a piss-up. Ok, so some people don’t like the owners, the new stadium, the colour of the plastic sheeting or even the long haul back to Stratford station.
But we are West Ham. Regardless. We are bigger than the people who own us. So to throw all that away, as well as the riotous away trips, saddens me. He will be missed, and ‘probably thinks this song is about him.‘(but don’t tell him I said that!)