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.