The end of an era

When West Ham stride out at Pride Park to face Derby in the FA Cup next week, it will be 271 days since Frankfurt. From a European semi-final to the brink of the Championship, in a few months.

It's hard to get your head around that, isn’t it? And it gives me no pleasure in highlighting a dramatic decline. Those of us who made that trip out to Germany, 10,000 and more, plus the many thousands of Irons fans back home, were forgiven for thinking that we had finally cracked it.

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We were there amongst Europe’s elite, the clubs who play at that elevated level every season and benefit from the revenue and status that goes with European competition. We made over £30m from that run.

It had been over 30 years since we figured in a competition proper at that level, we had our foot in the door, but how things have changed. With great self depreciation we sung of being "massive". It was a joke on ourselves at first but it took on a life of its own.

Sometimes I don’t believe our club deserve the fans they have. There will be 4,800 at Derby, all tickets sold and no return train service. It will be the same at Newcastle the following weekend for a 5.30pm kick off. No trains back again, but still a 3,000 away sell out.

Many of that hardcore were in Frankfurt, believing that we were on the brink of something really massive. They’ve been cruelly robbed.

Ok, so we blew that semi-final. A criminal first-seconds goal conceded in the first leg and then Aaron Cresswell being sent off in the second leg. It was hard to come back from that, but there was always going to be next season - the memory of wins over Seville and Lyon fresh in our minds.

We needed to build on that achievement and although we failed to qualify for the Europa League again by one point and a rubbish second half in the last match of the season at Brighton, the European Conference was just about good enough. Now we need to win that competition or get the Wembley in the FA Cup to get back into Europe again next season. Qualification from a Premier League position again is now out of the question.

Of that starting eleven in Frankfurt all are still at the club apart from Craig Dawson, a sad departure this month to Wolves with all our thanks and good wishes.

But the rebuild has not worked. Big price players have not lived up to their billing, although it’s fair to say that the pre-season loss of Nayef Aguerd was a bitter blow, robbing us of a potential world class defender for months. Had he been fit, Moyes‘ planning may well have worked.

The blame for all this must be accepted by everyone at the club. Owners, board players and manager; David Moyes knows that.

There are excuses. Shocking injuries, Ings, Zouma, Scamacca, Aguerd, Cornet and Ogbonna, poor form generally, the attempt to change our playing style to a more European, possession-based game.

But for a club now the 15th richest in the world, with 62,000 fans for every home game - that’s in Europe’s top four now - and figures that claim we are the third biggest spenders in the world, this season has been a disaster.

That transfer spend is a little skewed, of course. Down payments bring that total down, the rest is paid over the length of contracts. There’s £80m still to pay to rival clubs and David Sullivan will leave the club probably some time this year, with that tab falling into the laps of new owners.

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But it’s still a lot of money spent to be left fighting a relegation battle. No wonder the club has descended into a toxic environment, "Moyes out" has gained traction for months. One decent win over a dreadful Everton is not enough, that’s obvious, and the next few league games - Newcastle, Chelsea and Spurs - give very little room for confidence.

Many feel Sullivan should have acted before the World Cup break, but he didn’t and Moyes clung on. For how much longer, we will know pretty soon. Sullivan doesn’t want to pull the trigger, you can see that. Who wants to be trying to sell a club in chaos?

It’s been a painfully wasted season. History will not be kind to the legacy of the Sullivan era as he works his way towards an eventual sale of the club. We could lose owners, probably a manager and certainly our captain this year. It doesn’t sit well that Declan Rice has , it seems, given his word to Arsenal that he will join them in the summer.

By then the European adventure will be over and harder still to rekindle in the future. Vast amounts of US and Middle East money have flooded into the English game.

We have already been swamped by Newcastle and Bournemouth of all clubs, with their new ownership, have money to burn. Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Wolves are throwing money at the transfer window, Leicester too. The top half dozen are in a different league and Chelsea have discovered another way to fiddle the FFP rules, eight year contracts which FIFA are now outlawing. And West Ham? Hit by the usual string of injuries, we are lagging way behind.

But it’s Sullivan’s legacy that will come under the spotlight. Many will never forgive the move to Stratford. Many already view Sullivan’s constant involvement in transfer dealings as detrimental. Nobody surely believe that he is still not heavily involved in recruitment, deals, fees and player purchases via his favoured agents.

Even now you look at last summer’s dealings and wonder who bought what. Even now, when Danny Ings arrived someone asked pointedly whether it was a Sullivan, Moyes or Noble signing. That says it all really.

And then there’s Mark Noble, who it seems was not impressed with his Sporting Director role. Rumour had it that he was upset he was not kept in the loop when Ings was signed, soon to be injured. Few are surprised he was surprised.

Even more so is the view that Sullivan has been distracted by the sale of the club this season, as he waits for the April date when he will not have to pay tax on the sale of the club. Will Daniel Kretinsky then complete his takeover, or will there be rumoured Qatari interest to take into account?

Sullivan, of course, does not have to sell after that April date has been and gone. The saga could drag on. But you feel that ever since he took over the club with the late David Gold, their only interest was the price when they leave.

What happens will happen, but all the fans care about is what happens on the pitch and just why so much has gone wrong this season. This will be Sullivan’s legacy, the end of an era.

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