English heart – Many people subscribe to the view that in order to be successful in the Premiership you have to retain an English spine to your side. Well that is xenophobic nonsense of the first kind; passion for the cause does not come with an English passport anymore than it does with an Italian or French one. It ranges from player to player dependent on their own each individual personality. West Ham undoubtedly have an English spine and whilst I don’t doubt their passion, I do doubt their quality and the fact that more attention hasn’t been brought to Robert Green, Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole’s form, from January onwards in his case, is nothing short of hypocritical and dispels the theory above beyond any reasonable doubt. Green is a patchy and erratic goalkeeper, brilliant one game, at fault for several costly mistakes the next. Matthew Upson this season has taken on the mantle of defensive leader alongside young prospect James Tomkins. West Ham have leaked goals left right and centre this term, 66 to be precise, the same amount as bottom club Pompey and Upson’s lack of organisational qualities has been noticeable only in its absence and he’ll have to shoulder some of the blame for their poor defence this campaign. Carlton Cole has gone seriously off the boil since January. 10 league goals, most of which came before of the New Year has precipitated his fall from grace form potential England hopeful, to big time donkey once more. A blip or a return to the norm? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Scott Parker has been just brilliant and although Mark Noble hasn’t had the same effect this season as last he remains a solid Premiership player nonetheless. The fact that Upson and Green look almost certain to go to the World Cup is less of a testament to their ability rather than an indication of the dearth of talent in their chosen positions. As leaders of the side, more must be done next season.
Parker Fanclub – Scott Parker’s form has been a shining light in a horrible season though and the fact that the entire West Ham squad, barring the skipper, have been put up for sale this summer, just serves to highlight his importance to the club. I’ve argued that he should be in and around the England squad for years, I’m a massive fan and with Barry now sidelined through injury, he’d start for me at the World Cup, whether he will for Capello though, probably not and he’ll do well to make the plane at all. He’s a consistent, robust and technically sound performer, who is perhaps one of the only West Ham players’s to leave this season with his reputation enhanced and he remains an example to follow for all.
Non- existent cup runs – So has West Ham’s poor performance in the league been because they’ve had to divide their time between a successful cup run and the mundane grind of the league? Well no, sadly is the answer to that one. They exited at the first hurdle in the Carling Cup away at Bolton in extra-time and Megson’s side probably just about deserved their result on the run of play. In the FA Cup they had the unenviable task attempting to knock Arsenal out in the third round at Upton Park. Despite Wenger picking a relatively young side, they still eased home to a 2-1 victory and it really does make the heady days of the 2006 FA Cup final seem as far away than ever before.
League Form Assessed – The last two seasons have been characterised by mid-table mediocrity built around solid form both at home and away. But this term, having only survived the drop by 5 points and after finishing the season in 17th place, with the squad currently available, this is simply not good enough. The influence of the manager is often overstated in football, but Zola’s stubbornness in persisting with a tippy-tappy style of football, although admirable, displays a degree of ineptitude as all evidence pointed to the fact that Zola was some way short of having the players capable of doing this and it definitely shows a measure of naivety on their inexperienced manager’s part. But whilst Zola has hardly covered himself in glory through his inability to adapt, with the squad that West Ham have, they should have been nowhere near a relegation fight and it simply points to gross underperformance on a mass scale. West Ham have normally procured between 25-35 points at home the last few season’s which in itself goes some way to ensuring Premiership status, and although their home form hasn’t been that consistent this term, it’s been enough to see them home in the end as their away form was quite simply dreadful. Without Pompey’s 9 point deduction, West Ham’s away form is of relegation proportions and was the third worst in the league. They’ve collected just 9 points on their travels and this is obviously the root of the problem of the club’s struggles in the league this season. Only one victory away from home all season, coupled with an inability to defend by conceding 37 goals is quite frankly horrendous. If they address this slide next season, things will go a long way to returning things to something approaching normality.
January signings assessed – West Ham’s desperation to arrest the club’s increasingly worrying form, drove the club to gamble the club’s future on three January striking acquisitions. I think Zola realised that with his defence in such a sorry state, they weren’t going to stay in the Premiership off the back of some upturn in defensive fortunes, but instead by putting the ball in the back of the net on a consistent basis. In came Mido, Benny McCarthy and Ilan but with deeply mixed results. I always thought the club went for quantity and not quality and only Ilan has proved to be any sort of success after bagging four important goals to ensure their survival. Mido proved to be an inexpensive mistake after only taking a reported £1k a week away from the club in wages, but he still looked way off the pace in his 9 appearances. Benny McCarthy, a tempestuous, inconsistent and injury-prone striker who went on strike for four days at Blackburn to force through his move, was never going to be the answer to West Ham’s problems. If you’re struggling and in a dogfight, he’s not the sort of player that you need and he was barely used in the relegation run-in. A waste of talent, a waste of money and a waste of space.
The kids are alright – Another positive note to emerge from the campaign, of which there are few, was the continuation of the superb youth team policy down at Upton Park. We all know about the talents that have come through the system at West Ham over the past decade or so, and they form part of the core of the current England squad, yet whilst Jack Collison, Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines and James Tomkins cannot be considered in the same bracket, the lack of funds available at West Ham should see their continued development and blooding into the first team picture. Collison looks to be the best of the bunch and he’s displayed a maturity beyond his years since his ascension to the first team, if the club can keep hold of him, Parker and Noble, they have the basis for a very good midfield next year.
The Diamanti enigma – The mercurial talents of Alessandro Diamanti have endeared him to both fans and pundits alike. The fact of the matter is that in a league of increasing physicality, where fitness triumphs over finesse, the diminutive midfielder remains a throwback to the good old days where small creative midfielder’s were spread all over the league. Your Carbone’s, Kinklade’s and Berkovic’s aren’t normally seen in the Premiership these days and Diamanti represents a dying bread. An endlessly frustrating position to define, and one that often marks out someone as being either too slow or poor at finishing to play up front and not strong enough in the tackle or positionally aware to play in centre midfield, the traditional Number 10 or ‘in the hole’ player is hard to pigeonhole into any side these days. Yet whilst the enigmatic Diamanti remains pleasing on the eye in a Match of the Day highlights package, he can flatter to deceive for long spells during a match. He is the club’s second top scorer in the league this season with 7 goals from 27 appearances, a decent return and he has a left peg you could carve open a tin of beans with, yet he’s ragingly inconsistent and he’s unquestionably a luxury player. Whether he’s the sort of player to carry West Ham forward though remains to be seen, but after arriving as a relative unknown from Palermo, the eccentric attacking midfielder has made a splash of sorts. He’s one of those players that only deals in excellent goals, but the fact that he wasn’t able to fully establish himself under a manager such as Zola, someone surely somewhat sympathetic and understanding to a player of Diamanti’s talents and physique, doesn’t bode well for him next season as the club will look to move towards being a solid force once more. It may just be a fleeting visit, but we’ve enjoyed the ride all the same.
Zola sacking – Zola has been treated extremely poorly this season. Facing uncertainty over his future throughout most of the campaign, upon sealing survival and having heard that the entire squad had been put up for sale except Captain Scott Parker without his permission, he was giving his marching orders and handed his P45. He’s had that unmistakable image of a dead man walking for some time now, and although the players seem to support him and the fans remained largely on side, the fact remains that he’s done a pretty poor job in all respects this season. Sacking him is akin to drowning a puppy and he remains a likeable figure in football, but he just looks more like an assistant manager in waiting to me rather than the head honcho. He commands respect more for his playing ability as opposed to his coaching ability which is part of the problem; it distorts people’s views on what a bad job he’s done. He may be back in England managing one day, but the feeling persists that this job came too soon for him and he should be allowed to cut his managerial teeth at a lower level to truly earn his spurs. The experienced David’s in charge of the club however should know better than this, how Zola has been treated is nothing short of scandalous, they’ve consistently undermined him in the media and given with one hand whilst taking away with the other. Zola may not be the right man for the job, they may have wanted rid of him for some time and the decision may have needed making eventually, but there’s better ways of going about your business and treating people than this. The job of finding Zola’s replacement just got made all the harder by their outspoken and irresponsible Chairmen.
A hindrance as much as a help? – Chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan rescued the club by buying a controlling stake in the shares back in January, when the club looked like it was lurching towards an inevitable administration. Brought in to steady the ship, they’ve proceeded to do anything but. The vacuous and attention-seeking David Sullivan may provide a measure of balance off the pitch with his fiscal prudence, but when he delves into the playing side of things he’s embarrassing. He publicly slammed the club’s players after their poor showing in their 3-1 home defeat to Wolves back in March, a result which signalled their fifth straight defeat in the league. But after this inappropriate breaking of ranks in the media, he had the temerity to claim that after the side had twice come back from behind a week later against Everton away from home to seal a 2-2 draw, that it his rollicking that was partly responsible for this abrupt turnaround in performance and that it had helped galvanise the team. This is as nonsensical as it is deluded, and whilst they may have saved the club financially for a spell, at what price will it come at in the long-term? The side is currently without a manager, the entire playing staff, except its Captain is up for sale and the constant harping on in the media about the club’s large debt hardly helps raise spirits amongst the fans. You could argue that the club are in just as much chaos now as they ever were before the two David’s arrived and ‘saved’ the club – evil it seems comes in has many guises.
Selling off assets – With the entire playing staff up for sale except Scott Parker, a troubled summer awaits the club as they look to ease their crippling debts which total in excess of £95m. If you believe the rumours, the club has already turned down a £10m bid for Carlton Cole from Birmingham and he looks almost certain to depart. England regulars Robert Green and Matthew Upson will attract many admirers and players such as Valon Behrami and Julien Faubert will get some serious interest. Luis Boa Morte has left the club on a free transfer and after looking ahead to next season, the West Ham side could end up woefully short of quality and completely bereft of any vestiges of talent that they still cling on to. A rejected £4m bid for West Brom midfielder Graham Dorrans was as hopeful as it was unrealistic and they could conceivably be plunged even further into a relegation battle next season without the right additions and with departures seemingly inevitable. Tough times lay ahead.
Arbitrary marks out of ten – 3/10 – It’s been an extremely poor season at Upton Park. The constant unwanted press attention hasn’t helped things; they require a new manager and the Chairmen are buffoons when it comes to dealing with anything other than finances. West Ham’s crippling debts may seriously hinder any hopes that the club’s following may have had about a calmer, simpler and altogether more successful campaign next term. Oh dear.
Written By James McManus