Written by : Benfleet Hammer
When Manuel Pellegrini took the job at West Ham United, he had a massive job ahead of him. Ask any West Ham fan and they’ll tell you that there were so many issues which needed to be addressed – from the youth team and playing staff to the hierarchy of the club.
The nature of the transfer window meant that his first priority had to be ensuring he had quality players in his first team to put into practice the style that he wants. Cue a summer of exciting arrivals and what appears to be astute business. With those signings in the bag and the league season underway, performances needed to be the main focus.
Having worked intensively with the players, they are finally showing signs of implementing his vision out on the pitch. Recent results have shown a dramatic improvement and a cohesion which has been distinctly lacking for years now.
Pellegrini has now adopted a new primary focus – changing the mentality of everyone involved with the club. Forget the unpredictability of wondering which West Ham team is going to turn up. Forget the seesaw seasons of inept performances followed by moments of brilliance. Pellegrini wants us to start thinking like a ‘big’ club, with an attitude to match the lofty ambitions we have heard about since the Davids took charge.
There have been hints throughout the season. Pellegrini’s complaint about fans leaving ten minutes before the end of the Bournemouth game hinted at his desire for West Ham fans to believe that we’re never out of the game. Before and after the Everton game was the unshakeable confidence that a result would come and the hard work behind the scenes would be rewarded.
The Chelsea result was rightly celebrated by the fans and the players, yet post-match interviews repeated the message that we should have won. There was faint recognition of the value of a draw, but the emphasis was on the 3 points we should have come away with. This was followed by the thrashing of Macclesfield. Regardless of their league position, we played with the arrogance and cutting edge of a ‘big’ team. We have played weak opponents before, we have dominated lower league opposition, but it’s significant that a result of that kind hasn’t been seen by a whole generation of West Ham fans.
The most recent evidence came in the comments of players and manager after the Man U game. The players weren’t surprised, the players didn’t want to discuss the failings of Man U. They spoke of OUR game plan and our belief that we could deliver a result. Pellegrini once again had the air of a man who knew it was coming.
Cue the Brighton game. A reality check, perhaps. A first half performance which lacked urgency and intensity seemed to be ‘typical West Ham’. The ‘West Ham Way’ at it’s finest. The second half brought an improved performance and a couple of very good chances, but ultimately we fell short. Did we see signs that the mental frailty and complacency still lingers? Maybe. However, I believe we still saw signs of progress.
Look at the post-match reaction of Noble, Rice and Snodgrass. I saw players who didn’t offer excuses, but recognised that we had been the better team and must realise that these kind of results will happen. As with all teams who expect consistent victories, they know there will be bumps along the road and reminders that you need to deliver for the full 90 minutes to win games. The Brighton defeat, however disappointing, is an early reminder that we cannot afford to let our standards drop – albeit for 45 minutes – in our pursuit of the next level.
Over the next few months of the season, there are big tests to come. Can the players show the same belief and deliver similar performances in a range of different atmospheres? Can they begin to show the consistency expected of all ‘big’ teams? Pellegrini will believe they can, and so should we.
To truly become a ‘big’ team and reach the next level, everyone associated with the club will have to start believing. It’s not something which will happen overnight, but Pellegrini is working to make it happen. There are signs that his unwavering confidence is transmitting to the players and I think we’re next.