“He (David Sullivan) didn’t tell me, because I know what West Ham is.
“One of the most important things for any club, not just West Ham, is to have a style of football.
“You can choose, there are a lot of different styles in football and with all the styles you can win trophies and titles. But West Ham has a tradition and David thought I was that way and was very happy to trust me.
“And I will try to demonstrate what I did in my entire career. I always try to play offensive football.” – Manuel Pellegrini, 24th July 2018
When West Ham appointed Manuel Pellegrini in the summer, it announced a marked change of approach for the club. Over the years the East End club have relied on the more prosaic type of leader. From the blood and guts of Slaven Bilic and the panicky escapology of David Moyes to the calm and measured Chilean with an impressive CV and three titles in three different countries, West Ham were about to change.
When Sam Allardyce was appointed in 2011, the Hammers were in the Championship following a disastrous relegation campaign led by Avram Grant. Like him or loathe him, Allardyce turned the club around in just two seasons. Not only did he lead them to promotion via a playoff win against Blackpool, but also to a creditable tenth in the top tier the following season. In a short time, West Ham went from a Championship side to eyeing the European places.
But that success came at a dreadful price. West Ham were awful to watch, simply awful, and the fans quickly settled into the ‘loathe’ part of that symbiotic state. The club brought up on the passing game of Moore, Peters and Hurst through the near title-winning 80s side of McAvennie and Cottee now had to make do with long balls into the channels with resultant knockdowns. Allardyce saw points over substance as success. Come the end, such was the antipathy between manager and club that each raced to announce his departure. He was told that his contract would not be renewed. He took no issue with that decision as he had no intention of signing one.
When Slaven Bilic was dismissed in November 2017 with the club were languishing in 18th place, David Moyes took over with one remit over—Premier League survival. He was successful in that endeavour, winning nine and drawing ten of his 31 games as the Hammers finished 13th, but there was little chance of his remaining as David Gold and David Sullivan splashed the cash and sought a new way.
It was no secret that the club were looking for Rafa Benitez to take the chair, but, once the Spaniard announced his intention to stay at Newcastle they were forced to look elsewhere.
Pellegrini’s appointment was a coup and signing a man with his track record certainly showed ambition. As did the summer signings with ten bodies coming in over the summer including Lazio’s Felipe Anderson (£38m), Issa Diop (£25m from Toulouse)and Andriy Yarmolenko from Borussia Dortmund (£20m). Add to that former Arsenal player Lukasz Fabianski, Jack Wilshere and Lucas Perez and many Hammers could be optimistic about a change of focus. West Ham were about to play like West Ham again.
Yet, four games into the new season, West Ham sit rock-bottom of the League with a goal difference of minus eight, having only scored twice.
True, they have encountered both Arsenal and Liverpool, but even those results were due to naivety. Pellegrini’s side played a high line at Anfield and were subsequently demolished 4-0. At the Emirates, they were unable to hold onto a lead despite the enormous pressure the home side being under enormous pressure given their own poor start. The defeats at Bournemouth and Wolves showed a lack of heart and, more worryingly, the lack of a plan. The players looked like strangers and the midfield was largely absent.
What is more worrying is the next set of fixtures. They have an away game at Everton to come on Sunday (recently described by a friend as a ‘West Ham graveyard’) before welcoming Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs to the London Stadium over the coming weeks. This, surely, must be a time for pragmatism over style. They will want to be in touch with the top half of the side by Christmas but, as things stand, they would be lucky to be hanging onto the coattails of whoever is in 17th place.
This is a quandary. Players like Marko Arnautovic (a handful at Anfield) and Anderson are capable of hurting teams, but the new signings have not as settled as quickly as Pellegrini would like. Do they change their tactics to something a little more pragmatic or stick to their guns and risk being cut adrift in the harshest of leagues?
One problem that has come to light is the dropping of captain Mark Noble. The 31-year-old has not featured after the defeat against Bournemouth and many supporters see his loss as a key issue regarding leadership. Noble may well be a little long in the tooth, but he is more than a just a player at the club. He represents the West Ham way.
West Ham travel to West Ham in what is sure to be a competitive battle. How Pellegrini deals with the Goodison side remains to be seen.