West Ham United and the London Stadium: a story of greed and misplaced ambition

“As custodians of the Football Club it is our responsibility as a Board to do what is best for West Ham United, and we believe a change is now necessary to ensure we can begin to move the team back in the right direction” 

The co-released statement from West Ham’s owners David Gold and David Sullivan, as they confirmed the appointment of David Moyes on a six-month contract.

The arrival of Moyes at the London Stadium was sparked by Slaven Bilic’s departure, who after guiding West Ham to the lofty height of 7th in 2016, was sacked on Monday, with just two wins in the Hammers first eleven Premier League games of 2017/18.

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The departure of Bilic was far from surprising given West Ham’s league form in 2017, though after a series of summer arrivals including the likes of Javier Hernandez (£16m), Pablo Zabaleta (Free), Joe Hart (Loan) and the club-record signing of Marko Arnautovic (£24m), success was no longer an aspiration for Sullivan and Gold, merely an expectation bestowed upon Bilic as West Ham embarked on their second season at the London Stadium. The excuses of “teething issues” and “settling in” could no longer be considered on merit with regard to West Ham’s stuttering league form in the previous campaign, Bilic had been financially backed, DG and Sullivan were expectant.

Though put simply, Bilic was badly let down by his players. The 97th minute at Selhurst Park, a Michael Antonio blunder, is a precise example and testament to this. Three valuable points that could’ve been, that should’ve been, snatched from the Hammers. Had Antonio kept the ball in the corner and let the clock tick down? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but every three points in the Premier League are considerable, as well as the momentum it may well have given Bilic’s side.

That’s not to suggest Antonio’s error is solely attributable to Slaven’s demise, as Ian Wright observed himself, Bilic looked a beaten man, tired, worn down and in desperate need of some managerial relief. That relief did indeed arrive, as Bilic’s sacking was confirmed on Monday morning by the club.

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Though in the face of struggle, uncertainty and looming in the Premier League’s bottom-three, Sullivan and Gold have turned to the mercurial managerial choice that is David Moyes. Three sackings in three years at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland were not enough to deter their faith in the Scotsman, whose true merits lie with Preston North End and Everton – the latter from which his tenure concluded just over four years ago.

David Moyes defied all expectation at Everton, his ten years at the helm were shaped by Everton’s Champions League pursuits, more manager of the month awards than the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, whilst achieving these feats on moderate, shoe-string budgets. From the perspective of business and commerce, Moyes and his past achievements represent glorious value for a CEO or Chairman, and in Sullivan and Gold, you have two of the more ‘money-minded’ Premier League owners from our shores. Let’s be honest, Sullivan and Gold have not hired Moyes on the basis of his exploits in Manchester, Teeside or even Sociedad, they have hired David Moyes from what they’ve seen of him at Everton.

Though similarly to a Premier League football per se, a striker, a goalscorer, who’s been out of form for three years, moved on by his three previous clubs simultaneously due to a perceived lack of output and return on his pay-packet, do you as a relegation threatened club turn to this striker in a time of relative peril? Yes we are talking about a striker who had 10 years of considerable sustained success prior, though whilst lingering in the bottom-three and in need of immediate impact, is this the man for West Ham’s struggles? In my eyes, David Moyes is this striker who’s been out of form for three years, and West Ham’s faith in a man whose win rate with Sunderland was 18.6% is certainly nothing short of a gamble.

Sullivan and Gold have never been shy of a gamble nonetheless, coupled with Karen Brady they oversaw the move from Upton Park to the London Stadium, which in financial spectrums was unquestionably one of the best business deals the Premier League will likely ever see (except Stoke getting Peter Crouch for £10m in 2011). West Ham bowed out at Upton Park with a stunning 3-2 victory over Manchester United, an historic end to the Hammers tenure at their old home, under the lights, the bubbles and a few fireworks thrown in the mixer too. Seemingly West Ham had closed a chapter of rich history for their club, though in turn opened up a new one, characterised by the 60,000 seats, the central London location and as Sullivan phrased himself “a new beginning for our wonderful football club”.

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At £2m a year rent, it was a stunning piece of business, though perhaps one could accurately argue that it was indeed too good to be true. Civil strife in the stands of the London Stadium characterised West Ham’s early days in their ground, and despite Sullivan’s claims live on Sky Sports prior to their 3-0 loss to Brighton that “95% of fans are happy with it [the London Stadium]”, the distance of the Hammers fans from the pitch, from the players and ultimately from the action has seen a dangerous demise in club harmony. Monetary gain over valuing their fans has seen Sullivan, Gold and Brady come under severe scrutiny from the West Ham fanbase, and as Jermaine Jenas alluded to earlier this month “It doesn’t feel like a football stadium”.

From within the cauldron of tempestuous emotion, West Ham fans feel they deserve better, and really they do. A historic English team who in recent years had seemingly begun to bridge the gap between the top-six and the mid-table teams has faded, and now the Hammers find themselves in the bottom-three, with two wins by November and David Moyes as their manager.

A horror story isn’t an inaccurate descriptor of what West Ham’s current predicament could end up as, and whilst David Moyes may be depicted the villain at the end of the season, make no mistake. Sullivan, DG and Brady, in their pursuit of financial glory, have dismissed the importance of the consumer, the true value of what their fanbase think, and ultimately West Ham fans aren’t happy. Though in a season of unprecedented competitiveness in the Premier League, and with David Moyes at the helm, the discontent at the London Stadium could be about to ramp up one more unimaginable notch come May.

Written by Tom Newman.

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