“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.
Good article, Karl, as ever.
As good a place as any also for a few thoughts/ a rant, if I may:
The ‘West Ham Way’ became exaggerated during Allardyce’s time as it was an easy point of differentiation around which to gather but even then you could probably have received quite a few different answers if you’d actually asked people what it means. We knew what we didn’t want more than we knew precisely what we did want.
For me, it’s more about attitude than style – we’d all love to be playing like Ron Greenwood’s teams or Brazil 1970 if possible, but what club wouldn’t? Despite what some pundits and journalists will have you believe, a lot of West Ham fans aren’t really so idealistic or naive as to expect that or to be dogmatically saying ‘that or nothing else’.
We accepted Pardew when it was working. We may mostly call Redknapp a crook (*which of course would be massively unfair as he has never been found guilty of anything…) and a chancer these days but equally everyone around at the time will have fond memories of some of the results he oversaw, a good number of which were pretty much backs to the wall efforts. And as for Bilic well let’s be honest, as much as I like the man I still couldn’t tell you what his style was and I doubt he could either but certainly when we won at Arsenal and Anfield no one was complaining that there weren’t enough pretty triangles.
For me it’s about having a go, and being prepared to look the bigger boys in the eye and say ‘yeah? What about it?’. That’s the thing that has united (no pun intended) all the West Ham sides that have been loved in my time rather than one particular style of play. And that was Allardyce’s biggest failing- when we went to Chelsea at a time when we were in and around the Champions League places and he promptly dropped players and all but said in his pre-match interview ‘we can’t be expected to win against teams like this’ that was, for me, when his style became unacceptable.
If he had fulfilled the mental side of ‘the West Ham way’ then I think the fans on the whole would have been a lot more forgiving of his specific methods. But he didn’t. As ever, he had to downplay expectations because he is so terrified of being seen to fail that he has to suggest that he could never have succeeded and ergo it can’t possibly be his fault. No Sam, we’re not delusional, we don’t expect to be winning every week or getting into Europe by way of right, but what we do expect is to give it a bloomimg good try.
Unfortunately with Pellegrini, it appears that we now see that Gold and Sullivan have also gotten hold of the wrong end of said stick regards ‘the way’. We would have accepted a more pragmatic manager – ok, in an ideal world as a stepping stone to something more aesthetically pleasing, yes, but with an understanding that wasn’t a given – but we just wanted someone who had a bit of fight in them, a bit of cockiness if you like. Instead the quote that opens your article clearly shows what has gone wrong, in that they have wrongly assumed that knowing he will play attacking football will keep us all happy. It won’t, not if we are surrendering meekly every week.
Zola had us playing nice football and losing, too. You won’t find many West Ham fans clamouring for him to come back. The deadly duo have missed the point once again. Shocking, I know.