Writing this morning, The Mail‘s Ian Herbert makes a withering assessment of the situation at West Ham. Most damningly, he paints a portrait of a club recruiting policy which is run on whims and hunches, rather than any real method, and – most importantly – one which seems intent on repeating many of the mistakes of the past.
It’s easy to pile on to West Ham at the moment: they’re bottom of the league, they haven’t won a single point and they’ve begun the season hopelessly. Nevertheless, this isn’t a concern which would change with any upturn in form – each and every summer now, shiny new signings seem to march into London Stadium, but each time critical areas of the side remain unstrengthened. Every club is guilty of that to an extent, but West Ham more than most – and as a result it’s becoming harder to understand why.
At some point over the past few months, Manuel Pellegrini needed a holding midfield. Not a Premier League re-tred like Carlos Sanchez, who is well past his best, but a big budget addition who would have become an automatic starter. That didn’t happen. Worse, while the club were content to sign attacking players with gleeful abandon, they added Sanchez almost as an afterthought. Given that the attacking side of the team can only function as well as its middle allows it to, that demonstrated a borderline footballing negligence; what is the use of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and the rest, if the midfield isn’t fit for purpose?
But this isn’t complicated stuff. Even fans who only watch games on Match Of The Day are capable of diagnosing the issue at London Stadium and many made worrying noises about these spending patterns before the season even began. So why does the penny never drop with the people who make the decisions? How, year-on-year, do such simple principles continue to evade them?
Part of Herbert’s article suggested that the owners remains completely in thrall to agents and that their club, around Europe at least, is notorious for its transfer dysfunction. Whether that’s accurate or not is hard to say, but it does at least suggest that some kind of institutional maturity is urgently needed – and that, more concerningly, the “have-a-go sporting director” model which has caused so much trouble in the past continues to cause issues. The outside world’s perception – apparently – is that West Ham are there to be taken advantage of.
And this was supposed to have been corrected. The club made a great effort at the end of last season to publicise its modernisation and to talk up its use of proper scouting systems and detailed due diligence, and yet there’s no evidence of an improvement having been made on any of those fronts. They are still overpaying for players that other clubs don’t want and they are still pursuing headlines and billboards over actual cohesion.
How many times must this happen before its addressed? How many more managers have to be shunted aside before its realised, hopefully, that that represents a cosmetic response to a far deeper problem?
More pressingly: what is the actual objective here, if not to build a competitive football team?