The myth of reaching the Champions League

The numbers are in...make of them what you want, be they Budgets or West Ham balance sheets. All can be interpreted to mean anything you like.

As for us, I get this nasty feeling that we are being peddled a myth, the impossible dream that is becoming the movable dream, one that never really gets any closer regardless of the glowing numbers.

The Budget, and I'll keep this brief because you aren't bothered about my political views, quite right too. But Philip Hammond has discovered it does not pay to hammer the very people who vote for you, be it the self-employed white van man on the M25, or the business rates of an entrepreneur running a central London shop.

OK, back to the serious stuff. The very reason we left the Boleyn was that a big stadium, big revenue and big-name players would take us into the Champions League.

I did find it ironic this week to hear a wet-behind-the-ears Arsenal fan talking about a protest march against Arsene Wenger from Highbury to the Emirates (not to taxing for them), the route Gunners fans were told would make them even more self-important and entitled than they already are. Bless.

We have made a similar journey from E13 to E20 for the same reasons. We have seen all our financial bits and pieces soar to untold heights--we are now richer than Everton, you know--but we are even further away from the promised land than we were at the end of last season.

Yes, I know it's easy to be smug and sneering about what has happened to West Ham this season. Every Tom, Dick and Daily Mail is at it.

I am beginning to hear folk ask 'why' we are here at all. But I have always insisted that the theory of moving to a bigger stadium is sound. Ray Winstone was right when he said in an interview ahead of the excellent Ironmen film, that to stay at Upton Park would have seen us overtaken, left behind, eventually relegated again.

These days, you have to make that move, aim for more revenue, just to stand still. Soon Spurs and Chelsea will have bigger stadiums, and don't forget Wembley and Twickenham. Even the likes of QPR and Brentford are planning new grounds not far away from the capacity of the Boleyn.

Staying put would have seen us regress, not even stand still. So the move was right, shame though that we could not afford to build our own new stadium, or even own the Olympic Stadium. But it's history why that didn't happen, we are where we are and we won't be going back, so we have to move on.

Much of my complaints about our new home are centred on the people who own it, the ones that failed to understand what having a Premier League club on their premises really entailed. Trying to do the policing and stewarding on the cheap has backfired.

Now we seem locked in arguments over when or if those 3,000 extra seats are released, Karren Brady has gone quiet on that one. Or even the 6,000 David Gold was promising for the near future.

We are seemingly in a whole new ball game now, with our owners frightened of their own shadows with the new regime at County Hall searching for scapegoats for the overspend on the transformation of the stadium.

It seems that it is being suggested that those extra 9,000 seats should come with a hike in the rent. I wonder if Karren is now looking closely at the very favourable contracts she negotiated to see how we get out of that one. Surely such eventualities were covered in the small print, your Ladyship?

But the small fact remains that we will never reach the holy grail of the Champions League without Champions League players. And we will never get close to qualifying while the top six in this country are vastly richer than we are--and they are chasing four places--and who will increase their revenue at about the same rate that we will.

Turnover, commercial cash flow, ticket sales and TV deals will make us richer, and Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs even richer. It's what Financial Fair Play and the sliding scale of TV revenues were invented for.

The notion that FFP was all for our own good so we wouldn't spend beyond our means--oh yes, we did that under the Icelandic regime anyway--is the sop that the high and mighty clubs and UEFA came up with. What they really wanted to do was maintain the status quo.

To stop up-and-coming clubs getting too close to them. Manchester City were the last, and they spent vast fortunes to achieve it via the deep wells of the Abu Dhabi government, just before FFP kicked in. Then the drawbridge was pulled up. With us and the rest of the plebs on the other side.

The FFP rules change somewhat for next season, but not enough to make much of a difference. We were working on something between ?65m and ?70m and next season, I am told by those that understand these things that it climbs over ?80m.

Significant increases come from being able to add commercial income, extra sponsorship and naming rights (the latter of course we won't have). Lady Karren has done all that was asked of her there. Our coffers from the rich folks' seats have boomed, and will keep on doing so, which is why the wage rise she has got to closer ?1m a year is a minor extra expenditure for us, considering what has been achieved in her department.

And in a capitalist world I don't see much wrong with our owners taking back some of their loans and interest. It's how the financial game is played. We will have more to spend in the transfer market this summer, our owners have said, along with a new contract for Slaven Bilic.

And yes, our ?142m turnover is impressive (It was just ?46m after our relegation season of 2011). But we are still worlds away from the top six, and I fail to see how that will ever change in the foreseeable future. We need ?50m players to compete with teams who have ?50m players.

And we also need to convince Champions League quality players to join us. Our owners discovered how hard, if not impossible, that was last summer, when we can barely even offer the Europa League on a consistent basis. Linked with many players, but nobody came.

Two of our top six, maybe Arsenal and Manchester United (again) will fail to reach the Champions League, and their turnovers are ?350m and ?515m respectively.

Our owners spent all last summer talking about Champions League qualification, after last season's seventh place finish...just four points behind fourth placed Manchester City, albeit with a significantly smaller goal difference. But we were that close.

But last season was a freak, not a fluke because we played so well against the big boys, but a freak of nature as much as Leicester winning the title was. These situations come around very, very infrequently. How often do we finish above Chelsea and Liverpool?

Last January was the time to go for it. We were four points off fourth spot then and were flying. More ambition, bravery and risk then may just have got us to that impossible dream. But we signed just Sam Byram and Emmanuel Emenike, of any significance. Oh, and gave Dimi Payet a new contract.

But I fear that chance was lost and won't come around again for a very long time. We have lost our best player, a true star, since then. And it is becoming increasingly clear just how long the Payet saga had been going on.

Slav talked of problems before Christmas, and now Payet is saying he told the club he was leaving before the season started. And he admitted he was tapped up. Just how much front does he have, but the French--their media and clubs--just shrug their shoulders at such small points like breaking transfer regulations.

So there is the possibility that our owners knew about that at the same time they were building their exit plan from the Boleyn around the Frenchman.

It would have been impossible to let him go then, with so much at stake...20,000 extra ticket sales and the mass migration to Stratford to be precise. But I don't blame our board for that. What on earth were they supposed to do at that critical stage of the move, with Payet's shirt being hoisted to the rafters of the Olympic Stadium?

Now the treasonable little rat is dreaming up even more nonsense to explain away his behaviour. Bored with our defensive play against Hull in December, seemingly, but having told Slav and the board he wanted out in August with the knowledge that his class performances for France in the Euros had produced plenty of offers.

If he was bored with our display against Hull, many like me were already incensed by his shocking, disinterested displays on the pitch. Not trying very hard, sulking, and also we now know, messing about in training and being a complete disruptive influence around the training ground. Now he sees fit to try to blacken our name. You can't make it up.

I was never 100 per cent convinced by him anyway. Great on the ball but not one to work when not in possession. You wonder, in hindsight, what our bunch of new signings thought about his behaviour? Most not speaking English well, some needing interpreters and all needing to integrate into a disrupted squad quickly. Payet has a lot to answer for in terms of our failed progress this season.

There was a point this season when we needed some consistency, a few wins, and for people to battle and pull together for the team. But he was never a fighter, just a very selfish man only concerned about himself, never the team he was supposed to be part of.

So Sullivan will try again in the summer in his beloved transfer market. He may think that when he finally sells up, gives up, turns his toes up or just retires, that his legacy will be the new stadium. He's wrong, his legacy will be the squad he puts on the pitch for his manager and fans.

Only quality players, and several of them, will take us close to the next level. After watching our OK performance against Chelsea, I started wondering how many of our team would get into their starting line-up.

And, likewise, the starting elevens of the rest of the top six, accepted of course that Liverpool have been playing without a goalkeeper all season so Randy or Adrian would certainly get in there. You would suggest that Mani Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate and Michail Antonio would have a shout somewhere, but the rest? Maybe Winston Reid.

And that's not a deliberate slight on our squad, but we looked a class lower all over the pitch on Monday, and that has been born our by our results against the top six clubs this season. Just two points from nine matches so far, which after last term is a bitter disappointment.

I would love to be proved wrong, love to see us charge into the top six. The impossible dream may be there, in all of us, but reality says it is a myth, a giant step only achieved with vast wealth and time.

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