Sportsthoughts (91) – What now for West Ham?

The FA Cup has been battered and bruised by the money and power of the Premier League and the Champions League, but it still has a kick, and still matters, especially when things go wrong. Like today, when West Ham lost 5-0 to Championship team Nottingham Forest. Now, Forest have a more illustrious history than West Ham, having won the European Cup twice and the First Division championship once in the late seventies, under the greatest manager, Brian Clough. And right now they are are in good form, with a decent chance of promotion to the Premier League. Nonetheless, for West Ham to go to the City Ground and lose 5-0 was inexcusable.

The game was excruciating viewing for any Hammers fan. Big Sam put out a reserve team, throwing a load of youngsters together, with only a couple of regular first teamers in there to provide some leadership – which they didn’t. They played an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation (actually more like 5-3-2) which was in vogue in the 1990s. And not for long. It was a complete mess. For two thirds of the game, there was some hope, but the team then folded and were an embarrassment.

Big Sam, as ever, blamed injuries and the impending League Cup semi-final  against Man City for his choices. But really, it must have been because he regards the FA Cup as a distraction to the main job of surviving in the Premier League. Percentages, always percentages. Low expectations. Survival. Target key games against fellow strugglers. Joyless, pointless football. No room for entertainment, self expression… fun.

And that targeting hasn’t worked either. In the last two Premier League games, against West Brom and Fulham, fellow basement travellers, we picked up one point out of six.

Injuries are the excuse, and certainly a lot of players are out, notably the talismanic Andy Carroll, around whom Sam wanted to organise the team. Up to the Big Man! He hasn’t played all season. Slight problem – we have no other decent fowards. You might have seen my blog jokingly likening Sam and the Irons to Pep Guardiola and Barcelona, as they beat Spurs 3-0 at White Hart Lane with a 4-6-0 formation. That, as we expected, was too good to be true. Apart from another victory in the League Cup against Spurs, little has gone right since.

So what to do? The transfer window is open in January – a chance to spend some money. The main rumour involving West Ham is that we’ll get a 6ft 8 inch striker, Lacina Traore, from Monaco. Guess what the tactics will be with him in the team. Maybe he could be paired with Carroll, on return, and the whole team can launch balls up to them…

It has all gone horribly wrong. Can Sam retrieve things, or has he lost the dressing room? Looking at the way the team is playing, I can’t see that they have a lot of belief in what he is telling them. Why does anyone really want to play a game that went out of fashion about twenty years ago? I suspect the team just listen without really taking it in. Their hearts aren’t in it. As professionals they do their best, but there is no passion, no direction.

I was struck when watching the game against Arsenal on Boxing Day that at one point the striker (yes we had one!) Carlton Cole broke free and was heading towards the Arsenal goal. Only ONE player, Mo Diame, ran up in support. Only one – at home. There was no ambition, only fear of losing the ball and being hit by Arsenal on the break. And yes, against Arsenal, that is a big risk. But what is the point of not even trying?

There is no belief.

That leads me reluctantly to conclude that it is time for Sam to go.  In saying so I seem to join the ranks of fans who see sacking the manager as the solution to all things. But no, it’s not that. I just think we are now in the same place as three years ago, when Avram Grant had also lost the team, the fans, everyone but the Board. He stayed on and we were relegated.

There is no guarantee that a new manager will turn things round. But for me it’s more than that now. It’s about the whole philosophy of football at West Ham. Sam Allardyce does not play football the West Ham way. He is all about pragmatism, percentages, long balls, physicality. Entertainment, creativity, enjoyment is incidental. Give him credit, he got us out of the Championship and to 10th place last season. But the limited game plan has been exposed this season. Most Premier league teams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. West Ham are heading in the opposite direction.  Trying to play football from twenty years ago, which wasn’t even that successful then.

That leaves the question of who should take over. The fans at Forest today were chanting for Paolo di Canio. After his Sunderland fiasco, and with the taint of fascist leanings, I don’t think that’s tenable. Harry Redknapp is the bookies’ favourite, but I’m not sure Harry’s got much left in the tank. I’d give a call to Glen Hoddle, out of the game for a while, but a sophisticated thinker, a success at a number of levels as a manager (including England) and burning for another chance in the Premier League.

I just want a manager who has the team playing proper football. Passing football. Entertaining football. Football to be proud of.

Football fitting for The Academy.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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8 Responses to Sportsthoughts (91) – What now for West Ham?

  1. Oh dear! Poor West Ham and their fans!

  2. dc says:

    I’m quite pleased that the board have given him their support… he’s done ok for them. The fa cup was always a bridge too far given their commitments in league cup and the small matter of avoiding relegation. everyone knew they’d lose yesterday ( forest were clear favourites with bookies even before sam’s team was announced).
    wham are as good as half a dozen teams in the prem and will stay up for sure if they get carroll back in the next 3 or 4 weeks.
    sam has form for winning relegation battles with bolton and knows what it takes. the priority for wham has to be to stay in the prem at all costs, get to the new stadium and then start to add players when the money starts to flow. pretty boy open play will not suit this squad and they’ll just end up where palace were under holloway ie as good as down and out… pulis has turned a moderate team around playing allardyce style football and might just keep them up.

  3. John S says:

    You’ve bought the propaganda! How can a Premier team not be favourites when playing a Championship team unless they have given up beforehand? Sam could have played a decent number of the first team and still managed the game against City. City didn’t drag out the reserves in their FA Cup tie.It’s just excuses.Looks like the Board is supporting Sam, so we are stuck with dinosaur football for a while yet. We may well survive in the Premier League, which will preserve the money. But what about the football?

    I guess there’s always Arsenal….my second team, honest! Honest….really…

    • dc says:

      pragmatism beats idealism every time unless you’ve got the resources of a mega club and wham definitely are strapped on resources. the only sniff they have against City is to have some reasonably fit and fresh senior players. A semi in the hand is worth a third round in the bush.
      will be interesting to see what Ars does with the wallet now that another goal scorer is out ….

      • John S says:

        Well let’s see what happens against City. I fear a thrashing. As for Arsenal, with Walcott out for six months, how about Berbatov? Has the skill and maybe playing with equally talented players could revive him. Saw a rumour about Barca’s Pedro, but why would he leave?

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