The severity of West Ham’s miserable start to the new season has already led some to question Avram Grant’s appointment and his future in the job. The Israeli manager left Portsmouth in May and was installed at Upton Park the following month. There are two counteracting arguments that can be made about his time at Chelsea. Arguably he did exceptionally well, finishing second in the league and being a whisker away from winning the Champions League. Yet his detractors will point to the role of experienced players in explaining that run in Europe. Similarly he could be accused to failing to reverse the malaise at Fratton Park but the reaction of the fans indicated a warmth of feeling for a man working under trying circumstances who took them to the FA Cup final. Whatever the prevailing opinion there are many good reasons as to why Grant should not be judged after just four league games.
Television highlights packages can be deceptive, as West Ham’s 3-1 home defeat to Chelsea was made to seem like a whitewash. Two early goals from the visitors reinforced that perspective but the Hammers performed valiantly in stages against a rampant Chelsea team. Carlton Cole had a goal disallowed and new forward signing, Victor Obinna managed to find space in the opponent’s defence. He posed a threat sporadically and there were periods of determined pressure and possession before Chelsea scored their third. Scott Parker scored an exceptional goal but the end result was disappointingly familiar. However Grant was arguably correct to say that the team were not candidates for relegation based on that performance.
The Irons made a host of new signings during the summer and retained the services of their English spine. Winston Reid and Pablo Barrera have shown a modicum of promise despite not being used to the rigorous style of the English game. They are young prospects who will take time to fully adapt. Defensive options have been bolstered by the eventual signing of a conventional right-back in the form of Lars Jacobson. New players will inevitably integrate with mixed success but the debut of Obinna is a ray of light for the supporters. His confidence and ability allowed him to make a real impression against the reigning champions. Moreover the fans are yet to see German international midfielder, Thomas Hitzlsperger in action. The experienced all-rounder is recovering from a thigh injury and impressed in a midfield three during pre-season.
The reaction from West Ham supporters to their opening league fixtures back in June was unanimous. The first six fixtures comprised four of last year’s top six, bogey team Bolton and Stoke away. That match is up next with Spurs at home coming the following week. While no one at the club is content to be pointless, that run of games was always set to be problematic. In October Grant’s team will face both Fulham and Newcastle at home and travel to Molineaux. The club’s fans have been happy with their reputation as giant killers on their day but they will have to rely on securing points against those in and around them this season.
After appointing Grant as manager, co-owner David Gold said he was a perfect fit for the club due to his wealth of experience. That was a characteristic Gianfranco Zola lacked, West Ham having been his first job in club management. Peculiar decisions were intermittently evidence of this. The requirement for stability at the club is crucial and last year’s relegation scrap led to the feeling that this was no time for a novice. Grant was memorably scrutinised by reporters prior to taking charge of his first Champions League game at Chelsea. Nevertheless he is immensely experienced in his native Israel. He began his coaching career at 18 with Hapoel Petah Tikva, progressing from youth coach to their permanent manager. In his long career he won the Israeli PL with Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa. Those achievements propelled him to manager of the national team between 2002 and 2006.
West Ham have only had 13 managers in there long history and before 1989 there had only been five different incumbents. The co-owners additionally take delight in portraying themselves as patient benefactors who rarely wield the managerial axe. As their overwhelming choice to succeed Zola, the vocal owners have stated that Grant is safe. Criticism from the fans has largely centred on the manager’s rather dour nature especially when conducting interviews in a sleep inducing monotone. Gold has said that there is a comical and animated side to Grant. Personality traits aside, if he was to be ousted no one could categorically say whether his tactics, signings, training methods, new coaching appointments and selections had failed. Managers take issue with being judged even after three or four months. Steve Stammers in the Daily Mirror said Grant should be replaced as he is, “the world’s unluckiest man.” For David Sullivan, “luck goes in runs – it’s time that West Ham United’s luck changed.”