Written by Matt Brown @footballtyper
I can immediately see comparisons between my team, Sheffield Wednesday, and West Ham. Last season Wednesday, to many, overachieved. I think the same can be said about West Ham with Slaven Bilic steering The Irons to finish 7th in the top flight, in his debut season as manager. Hitting these sorts of heights in your maiden campaign in charge can really work against you though.
First of all, setting the bar so high, it duly raises expectations. Why shouldn’t it? Fans want to see their club progress, so finishing 7th, you want better than that the following season. Otherwise, it’s seen as a step forward but then two steps back if you fail to build on the headway made the previous campaign. Hype surrounds most football clubs and when things are going well, it can all get over hyped, not just by fans but the board too.
Many would describe me as ITK in regard to Sheffield Wednesday. Transfers are my forte, as they are @ExWHUemployee’s. I’m an avid follower of Ex’s timeline and also the radio show on Phoenix FM. What became apparent to me is that the board did a lot of talking in terms of “we’ll spend this” or “we’re in for so and so.” This approach to me, as a football fan, is something I simply cannot fathom, for various reasons.
First of all, keeping your targets as under wraps as possible is key to going about transfer business in football. This isn’t always possible though due to the number of people involved in a deal. Agents like to talk, A LOT. Purposely of course. They want to increase competition for their client, in order to get the player a better financial package and also increase their own earnings. For the buying club to come out and suggest they have an array of riches at their disposal to buy the likes of an Alexandre Lacazette or a Carlos Bacca, to me, is nothing more than the hierarchy massing their egos, so to speak.
It can be a pretty damaging route to go down as figureheads of a family club. The board need to retain a good relationship with the fan base. A divide can have devastating consequences if supporters feel trust has been broken between themselves and those making the decisions. Everyone loves a good transfer rumour and they are usually just that, rumours. I feel when someone high up at a football club hints towards the rumour though it changes from a rumour into a possibility. It goes from pipedream to reality. There is a mass furore surrounding the potential arrival and if the club don’t deliver, the supporters are left understandably disenchanted and cracks in the relationship between the hierarchy and fan base start to slowly appear.
Another potential pitfall in being so publically brazen about transfer activity is that rivals are alerted. It could be a case of letting another club do the leg work before swooping in and snaring the player from right under their counterpart’s noses. Why would you make a deal public knowledge that could go a lot smoother and be financially more viable, if as few people as possible know about it?
Onto on the field matters and the current campaign has been disappointing, there’s no denying that. It’s been a season where West Ham have languished at the wrong end of the table instead of building on what was achieved last term. You could highlight that recruitment has played a part here with new arrivals failing to hit the minimum levels expected. I don’t think you can solely park the blame here though.
There’s been a lot of supporters who have found themselves disillusioned by Slaven Bilic in his second season as manager. You could make a case of the Croatian putting square pegs in round holes. One example has been the right back slot. Former Wednesday player, Michail Antonio, was shoehorned into the position for a short period. To me, I can kind of see the logic here. Antonio does, in my opinion, have the attributes to play there. He’s got bags of energy, has a great spring, he’s physically strong and he’s close to 6’0 tall. You can see why it could work. Unfortunately it didn’t. Bilic was heavily criticised by some for taking the decision and sticking with it but hindsight is a wonderful thing after all.
What I have noticed is that West Ham have conceded a lot of goals this season. Slaven is a former international centre half. Julian Dicks, another former defender, is working at the club but both seemingly aren’t involved in coaching the defensive unit? I don’t understand how that works. I think the defence, primarily, has to do the basics well. Just head it and kick it out of the back, keep it simple. Build that confidence. It sounds too easy from how I’ve just described it but when your defenders aren’t able to do the straightforward things effortlessly, at this level of football, you will get punished. I think working as a unit is key to a good defence. Strong understandings and the ability to do the uncomplicated successfully, will stand you in good stead going forward. It will give you a solid base to build on.
I saw, via Ex, that possibly Rio Ferdinand had offered his services to West Ham to come in and help out with the defence. Rio is my favourite all time centre half. He did the simple things extremely well but also added that bit extra, that bit of magic, that transformed him from great to one of the best in the world. He built good partnerships during his career, with the likes of Woodgate and Vidic and he knew how important working as a unit was. I would have expected the club and Slaven to bite his hand off when the offer was forthcoming. Alternatively, Bilic or Dicks should be overseeing the defensive coaching.
Another comparison I can make between Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham is that of a player being a rebel. Fernando Forestieri, in Wednesday’s case and Payet in West Ham’s. Expressing a desire to leave, refusing to play and alienating themselves from their teammates is a commonality I can draw on here. There is no denying Payet’s ability as a footballer but that was underpinned by his inexcusable behaviour. With the player on big money and approaching his twilight years, maybe the board had no option but to sell him. Some would say the club should have taken a stand against him, as Wednesday did with Forestieri, but it’s not always possible.
Looking forward, I feel the debate will rage amongst West Ham fans, as to whether Bilic is the man to move the club forward. The reality is, that decision rests with the board. They look like they’re backing him and they will need to back him in the summer window too. It has to be a case of less talk, more action, with better decisions made by all involved in recruitment.