All you need is a plan

Author: . Published: at 9:47pm

Written by Andy Fletcher

“I feel like I haven’t done well enough,” explains David Sullivan as he considers how swiftly and brutally West Ham United’s grand ambitions have unravelled after 18 troubled months at the London Stadium. “Nobody’s done well enough. I work my socks off but sometimes it’s not good enough.”

The cynics out there would respond to Mr Sullivan’s comments – with some justification –   “We’ve heard it all before Mr Chairman!”  Sullivan has the power to execute change. He is the one blamed by many supporters for the club’s problems. Everything that has happened since the move to the London Stadium has obviously had an effect on Sullivan. Criticism West Ham are the most dysfunctional club in the Premier League hurts Sullivan. His insistence that he and his fellow directors are the most honest, open people you’ll ever deal with is in fact his downfall for many supporters. Whatever your views are on Sullivan’s tenure the sheer bloody mindedness he has for wanting West Ham to be successful should never be underestimated. Sullivan along with David Gold has constantly denied they have any plans to sell the club. His critics though are queuing up to lambast his time in charge and feel he has made too many mistakes and now is the time for a change of ownership.

The root causes of criticism lies at the relocation to the London Stadium and what seems from the outside looking in, lack of investment in the squad. Sullivan admits he is not entirely happy with the London Stadium, revealing the club is pushing for it to look and feel more like West Ham’s home. But most tellingly, he finally admits the urgent need for a more ‘professional’ approach to the clubs recruitment policies.

Sure it’s okay feeling like a big club, but ultimately it’s what you achieve on the pitch that counts in the eyes of the majority of supporters. If you compare the final season at Upton Park to the first season at the London Stadium there is no denying it has been one step forward, two massive steps backwards. Certainly in terms of relocating to the London Stadium it does beg the question of why bother moving then?

The quality of football played that season was some of the best witnessed since the halcyon days of the mid eighties under John Lyall. Let’s not forget either that defeats against Swansea and Stoke City in two of our final three games ultimately cost us a place in the Champions League! The form against the ‘big’ teams was almost unheralded. Away wins at ‘fortress’ Anfield, victories at both the Etihad and Emirates and a draw at Old Trafford proved what the team was capable of. The only real blips were the defeats away to Tottenham and a loss at home to the Champions elect Leicester City. Home wins against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester Utd & Tottenham and draws with Manchester City and Arsenal really whetted the appetite for what was to come as we contemplated the move to the new stadium with a degree of optimism.

You could argue the ambition was there with the move but did the club show the same ambition when it came to recruitment for the following season? The simple answer is No. If ever there was a time to go out and make a statement and sign the quality required to push the team forward surely this was the time to do it having just missed out on Champions League qualification.

This is where Sullivan would struggle to justify his role in the recruitment process at the club. He will argue the money was spent and Slaven Bilic got the players he wanted, but it is my belief that failure to qualify for the Europa League threw a spanner in the works. The club were gearing themselves up for the group stages, panicked and went out and bought quantity rather than quality. The fact we exited early doors in the qualifying stages left us with a squad bereft of real quality. Okay, no one could envisage what would transpire with Dimitri Payet, but to lose your best player and not replace him, again threw up questions about recruitment at the club.

Sullivan has been referred to as the club’s director of football, although he has tried distancing himself from that role. “Well, I’m not really the director of football,” he says. “I never go to the training ground.” Bilic, if we are led to believe had a policy of wanting older, proven Premier League players. Sullivan’s argument was that gave you an old squad and players who you’ve seen the best of. Hold on a minute, didn’t we just sign Patrice Evra Mr Sullivan? It has also been said Sullivan up until now has taken an active role in identifying transfers but again he deflects that assumption when claiming the club mostly signed Bilic’s targets. “I’m very involved with physically bringing in the players,” he says. “I’m not involved in the strategy.”

Many supporters feel Sullivan, has undermined his managers by talking too much. Bilic was deeply unhappy when West Ham failed to sign William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon last summer. In a farcical episode Sullivan released a statement detailing how close he was to a deal for the midfielder. “We’re not liars and we did make an offer.” he says.  I’m sure there are many things Sullivan has said and done which he has gone on to regret but this was just another example of our Chairman getting it horribly wrong again.

West Ham have broken their transfer record in the last two summers, spending £20m on André Ayew and £24m on Arnautovic, but the squad lacks depth and is over subscribed in certain areas, something Manager David Moyes has continually  pointed out. While Sullivan is now thinking about hiring a director of football the hope is his change of heart isn’t too late coming.

Appointing David Moyes as manager was not met with wide spread approval and again Sullivan’s head was on the chopping block. Only time will tell if it was a shrewd appointment but to date you have to say if Moyes continues in the same vein between now and the end of the season dragging this club forward and preserving its status amongst the elite of English football then Sullivan deserves some credit. But as in everything, questions will be asked and the finger pointed if the worst case scenario were to happen and the club relegated, that Sullivan while right to sack Bilic, the situation was allowed to persist for too long.

When David Moyes arrived at West Ham, he admitted he had a point to prove. He acknowledged that his reputation, established over 11 seasons at Everton, had been significantly damaged by subsequent and less successful managerial stints at Manchester United and then the disaster that was Sunderland. (And we think we have it bad!)

For me there are similarities to be had when you compare Bilic and Moyes. Both undoubtedly honest and straightforward men, Moyes has a steeliness about him that Bilic lacked at times and his time at Everton proved him to be one of the Premier League’s best managers. His return journey and reputation is some way from being completed, but it seems we are witnessing a re-energised determined David Moyes who is proving his worth in East London.

Survival will surely give Moyes the chance to establish himself at the club and whilst his focus will be to preserve the club’s status in the top flight there now seems willingness from both parties to prolong his stay in East London beyond this season. Moyes, who inherited a team languishing in 18th place after two wins from their first 11 Premier League games and only nine points on the board has turned things around to such an extent that dare we say, there are now aspirations of a top ten finish.

Moyes readily admits he had a point to prove when he took over from Bilic.  He managed five clubs since starting out nearly 20 years ago, starting at Preston and then going to Everton. His period at Manchester United is well documented and then he experienced something he always wanted to do by managing abroad, with Real Sociedad. The hunger in Moyes has returned you sense, and those 20 years of managing at the coalface will be crucial between now and the end of the season. Sullivan hoped he was getting the version of Moyes who flourished at Everton for 11 years rather than the one who seemed so defeatist at Sunderland. The early indications are we are seeing the David Moyes at Everton and if he brings the same success and stability to West Ham over the next few years then every West Ham fan will be delighted.

Slowly but surely Moyes also seems to be winning over those fans uninspired by his appointment. It has been well documented we have struggled since moving to the London Stadium and whilst Moyes made a cautious start his imprint on the team is now there for all to see. Organisation is one of his greatest strengths. I always used to hate playing his Everton sides as they were so difficult to beat. We are now working towards a similar scenario under Moyes stewardship. There has been the odd blip along the way and I’m sure there will be a few more between now and the end of the season but you finally sense we are heading in the right direction.

West Ham needed somebody with experience, knowledge of the Premier League and the players in it, and David Moyes was the right appointment at the right time, someone to turn things around and get the best out of the squad.  Moyes has triggered quick improvements without the benefit of a pre-season. Not an easy thing to do if you compare Alan Pardew’s problems at West Brom. Double training sessions have been the order of the day at Rush Green and that intensity will not drop as we approach the business end of the season. He is known to work his players relentlessly to ensure they have an edge on opponents, pushing them to their limits in training, with the added belief that matches will then be easier.

His man management skills are another great attribute and getting the very best out of players. One of Moyes’ toughest tasks when arriving was to turn around the downward spiral of Marko Arnautovic’s club record move to east London. Arnautovic, signed in the summer for £25m and was without a goal in nine appearances under Bilic. His contribution to the team was woeful, his willingness to work for the cause was rightly questioned and you wondered what an earth we had bought. The transformation in Arnautovic has been phenomenal.

Moyes lost three of his first four league games leading into December. However, a 1-0 win over reigning champions Chelsea proved to be the catalyst for a reversal in form – and significantly Arnautovic scored the winning goal to break his league duck. Under Bilic, Arnautovic was restricted to the left wing but the Austrian has been granted licence to roam under Moyes. Maybe the most telling fact has been his work rate. There has been a surge of distance covered and sprints since Moyes took over. The Austrian is now averaging over 11 km per game and 70 sprints, a stark contrast to the 9.8 km and 46 sprints he was averaging before Moyes arrival. The turnaround has coincided with the added work ethic and his attacking stats have soared to levels beyond what may have been anticipated upon his arrival. At one stage it had been reported that Moyes has been told he could sell the Austrian in January, but in getting him to the levels he is at now has proved what an asset he is and is just another example of Moyes experience in getting the best out of players.

After what proved to be Slaven Bilic’s final game in charge, the 4-1 home defeat by Liverpool Aaron Cresswell acknowledged he and his team-mates had let the manager down. Having formed an effective partnership previously with Dimitri Payet down the Hammers’ left, the statistics make it clear that Cresswell’s form has dipped, again Moyes saw something Bilic clearly didn’t and Creswell has been a revelation playing on the left side of a three man central defence.

There is nothing any West Ham fan loves more than seeing youth being given a chance. At Everton, Moyes nurtured a young Wayne Rooney, and blooded future England internationals Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley. He also put his faith in Seamus Coleman, who he signed from Sligo Rovers as a raw 20-year-old and would become a first-team mainstay. Like Everton, we are justifiably proud of our respected academy, which has produced talents such as Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe. Moyes has won some early credit from a supporter base nursing wounded pride by again putting his trust in youth. Declan Rice has been a regular feature in the squad this season, but also has a number of starts to his name. Having guided Coleman from the fringes of his club side to the Republic of Ireland national side, there is every chance Moyes will do the same with Rice. My only hope is Reece Oxford doesn’t jump ship because Rice and Oxford are the future.

While no official announcement has been made by the club regarding extending Moyes stay, it seems he and the club are already looking to the future and have begun planning for the long term at West Ham. Crucially you hope mistakes made previously in the transfer market are a thing of the past and Moyes revealed he was behind David Sullivan’s decision to tear up the club’s archaic transfer policies. The plan was disclosed by Sullivan hours before the Watford home game in an attempt to placate fans preparing to march in protest at the way the club was run.  Declaring Sullivan was ready to surrender control over transfers following a miserable January window, Moyes said: “I think the chairman’s going to try to stand aside a little bit from it and let it get run.”

Moyes, who revealed any new scouting system would borrow from the one he put in place during his decade at Everton, said: “I want the West Ham supporters to think that, ‘Yeah, David Moyes is the right man for the job’; I want the West Ham board to think, ‘David Moyes is the right man’, and I also want to see that West Ham’s the right club for David Moyes because I’m ambitious. I want to be challenging against the big boys. It took me years to build Everton up and in the end, I got a job which I thought would make things a bit easier to win and win cups and trophies. I’m happy to do that again, but I don’t know if I’d get the time I got at Everton to build up West Ham over the years. You need to have the tools to be instantly successful, really, and I need to know that, when it comes to it, we can do something, we can do a bit of damage here.”

The road to success is not easy to navigate but with hard work, drive and passion – something Moyes does seem to have – you just never know what’s achievable. That’s what makes the journey exciting. Whether we have the right man in charge now only time will tell.


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