Nothing epitomised West Ham last season better than the match they were relegated in. At the beginning of the season the fans were optimistic that new manager Avram Grant would be able to move the club forward after having narrowly avoided relegation the year before. They weren’t able to climb the league, but going 2-0 up away to Wigan meant they still had a chance of keeping their place in the Premiership.
And then they blew it. 3 goals without reply for the Lancashire club and West Ham dropped out of the basement. It had been a horror year for the Hammers, and not even Scott Parker’s Captain-Fantastic-performances or the return of Thomas ‘Der Hammer’ Hitzlsperger could turn it around.
Now facing up to the prospect of a spell in the Championship, new manager Sam Allardyce has a lot of work to do to bring the London club back up to the promised-land of the Premier League. His brief is to do this at the first time of asking, which is generally what is hoped for when a team is relegated. But his strategy for doing this, questioned in some quarters, appears to be a somewhat high-risk, if not completely kamikaze, policy of signing players on Premier League wages to get the job done.
But is this the right way of securing a way out of the second tier of English football, or a doomed path to further embarrassment?
It seems wrong to argue with Big Sam (after all, he could easily have managed Real Madrid) because his track record with struggling clubs is impeccable. Most people would agree that if Allardyce had still been in charge at Blackburn then they would have found themselves much higher up the league than they eventually did; scrapping for survival on the last day of the season just wouldn’t have happened. His time at Newcastle was ill-fated, that is for sure, but maybe fans expected too much, and only being given half a season is no way to tell if a manager will be successful or not in the long-run.
He has so far brought in Kevin Nolan for an undisclosed fee and Abdoulaye Faye on a free transfer. But the issue is not with the amount he pays for them, but the amount they are paid in their contracts. Nolan’s £50,000 per week is a lot of money for a team in the Championship to splash on the wages of just one player. And with West Ham having been linked with moves for Eidur Gudjohnsen (although this proved to be a failed effort), Matthew Taylor, Andy Johnson and even Joe Cole, he might not even be one of the highest earners at the club. If they were to fail to get the promotion they crave, West Ham could be plummeted into further financial difficulties, something the team and the fans will not want to have to experience again.
So is Allardyce right to pin so much on the ‘bouncebackability’ of his team? In a word, yes. Newcastle, Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion are some of the few teams that can boast immediate returns to the Premier League, whilst the likes of Leicester, Sheffield United, Derby County and many others have become bogged down in the lower leagues. This is mainly because the Championship has been getting more and more competitive over the years, and this year looks to be one of the most challenging ever. West Ham will need the kind of quality that Allardyce is looking to bring in, and the fact that he has managed a lot of the players before should mean that he knows how to motivate them.
The target of 1 season, 1 promotion is also important as the move to the Olympic Stadium approaches. The likes of Tottenham and Leyton Orient don’t need any more ammunition to throw at the Olympic Park Legacy Company as evidence of the Hammers’ undeservedness. Whether or not Big Sam can hold off the hits and deliver on his promise remains to be seen, but he is certainly building a squad capable of cashing on the return tickets he has issued.
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