West Ham United assured Premier League football for another season (barring a mathematical miracle from Hull City) in a pulsating weekend clash against Wigan Athletic but the question hovering over Gianfranco Zola’s squad is why have they found themselves in the relegation battle this year?
The first port of call for a struggling club is always to take a magnifying glass to the manager. Portsmouth, Burnley and Hull City (all below West Ham, incidentally) have replaced their managers in Zola’s tenure alone. With the changing ownership and flagrant public comments regarding the team it looked damningly like the co-owners were forcing Zola’s hand into resignation. The off field furore unnecessarily amped up the pressure and scrutiny on both players and manager, which for a struggling club translates into a hopeless climb against every adversary…including itself. These factors definitely contribute heavily in any football club’s consistent decline but the media’s singular focus on the management of a team sometimes render the players’ culpability a distant second when in fact it should, at the very least, be on an equal plane.
Zola’s management reaped success as he led the Hammers to a top ten finish last term yet this year their difficulties came as a shock. The spine of the team consists of a talented group of England internationals: Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. Couple this with the emerging talents of players such as James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas and it is clear to see that, given experience and guidance, the future for the club is bright. Then how to explain the conundrum of diabolical away form throughout the season and inconsistent home performances? I would like to use Alessandro Diamanti at this juncture as a microcosm for the entire club’s plight. The Italian has the kind of temperamental ability that captivated Hammers’ fans less than a decade ago when another recalcitrant Italian inspired so many memorable moments for this league. I am not blindly subscribing to the superficial resonances between the players however their similarity is symptomatic of West Ham’s charms and its failing. When on song, Diamanti possesses a brash creativity and harmonic left foot. But when blowing cold, which he does as often as hot, he is a player that frustrates and at times this season the Upton Park faithful have been visibly exasperated. How to gain equilibrium from such a situation is to do as Zola has done and be resilient: trust himself and his players and eventually the moment arises – as it did against Wigan – where the players’ responsibility to their manager and their fans united the talents that they obviously possess.
This is not to say that the squad does not need strengthening. The centre of midfield is in need of a player to compliment the ability of Parker as Radoslav Kovac is not someone who has the quality to do so. The likes of Franco, McCarthy, and Mido are frustrating examples of football’s inhering enigmas: their attributes make it understandable why Zola brought them into the fold yet their output leaves much to be desired. Again, it is an example of individuals in the team not performing to a level that their responsibility should demand. However despite any analysis we can offer in retrospect the truth remains that West Ham were in the relegation battle because they deserved to be; manager and players alike.
Sometimes even though the talents are evident and the manager capable a team simply does not perform. At these moments it’s possibly easier to articulate the team’s strength and weakness with regards to an individual who, I feel, epitomises each; in this case it is Diamanti. Needless to say the player – like the team – has evident qualities but it is tempering this with a responsibility to perform that provides West Ham’s conundrum.