Financial chaos, new owners, a relegation scrap, a public lampooning of the players by David Sullivan and a change of manager kept up the East End club’s reputation for drama. Whether on or off the pitch West Ham is not a club which practises quiet self reflection. The installation of Avram Grant into the managerial hot seat and his subsequent recruitment drive would suggest an improved showing on last season is all but guaranteed. To record a third top half finish in four years would delight most Hammers fans. For once a season of relative mediocrity, which was bemoaned under Alan Curbishley, would suffice. In order to climb seven league places and avoid fears of relegation here are five things Grant could consider as he seeks to restore the club’s fortunes.
1) Play 4-3-3 at home
Grant has long been a fan of 4-5-1, a system he regularly employed at Portsmouth where Piquionne was the lone front man. Having recently toyed with a 4-3-3 formation in pre-season, fans will be hopeful of a more attacking approach particularly at Upton Park. Getting the ball down and playing neat, attractive football is the mantra of this traditional club. A 4-3-3 system would lend itself to a fluid, passing game which would create more chances for Carlton Cole who deserves better service. The two Davids pledged to make it more entertaining for fans to come and watch West Ham. With the purchase of Pablo Barrera and possible loan signing of Miralem Sulejmani, Grant may feel that he now has the players at his disposal to achieve this.
The midfield talisman was linked with a move to Spurs earlier this month but West Ham remain unyielding in their determination to keep him. The player fought tooth and nail to keep the Hammers in the Premier League last term making the fans eternally grateful. He is one of the few current players who has his name chanted by the crowd and is entering the best form of his career. The player is now adding goals and assists to his tireless defensive work. Grant has echoed the comments of Sullivan, recognising his importance to West Ham’s midfield. Giving him the captain’s armband would be a popular, if unlikely move.
3) Remind the owners who is in charge
The co-owners aided by Karen Brady rule the roost but Grant must have the final say on all footballing matters. The owners systematically undermined Gianfranco Zola and failed to win over the players. Their relentless diatribes to the media prompted a rare outburst from Luis Boa Morte who urged Mr Sullivan to have, “a bit more composure when talking to the press.” The board have backed Grant in the transfer market and have bestowed great praise on the former Chelsea boss. After working for the demanding Mr Abramovich and enduring the fiasco at Portsmouth, the two Davids may be small fry. He should be wary, however, that their passion for the club does not become interference.
During Zola’s first season in charge the club were watertight defensively but this deteriorated dramatically last year. For West Ham fans the positional sense and aerial strength of Matthew Upson was in doubt long before England’s humiliation at the hands of Germany. The club captain endured a frustrating season which afflicted the rest of the defence. Injuries were partly to blame but the back line changed too frequently last season and it showed as goals were continually conceded. Zola appeared unsure of his preferred option at left back following Herita Ilunga’s injury and his best central defensive pairing. Replacing James Tomkins at half time after an error in the club’s ‘shambolic’ defeat to Wolves only made matters worse. Grant has increased his defensive options but must decide on his best back line promptly.
5) Give youth a chance
Another crop of talented youngsters are emerging at the Boleyn thanks to the diligent work of Tony Carr. Junior Stanislas, Jack Collison and Zavon Hines all made important contributions last season. The future looks bright for the likes of Frank Nouble, Freddie Sears, Josh Payne and Anthony Edgar too. However their playing time may be restricted after a recruitment drive which has seen five players join the club. In the best traditions of the club Grant should give chances to these players or risk impairing their development and commitment to West Ham. Rather than use the January transfer market he should turn to youth to give the squad a renewed impetus for the latter half of the season.