There is something undeniably West Ham about co-owner David Sullivan going on Talksport specifically to claim that an unsuccessful bid was made for Joe Allen on Deadline Day. Boasting about failure is an odd pastime for a football club owner.
“Now look here, we tried to give Stoke City massive money for a player we had previously shown no interest in with only hours left in a month-long window and we got rejected. What more could we really do?”
Of course, that wasn’t the only message Sullivan wanted to convey. He also told West Ham supporters that their protests over the club’s mismanagement would achieve nothing and were therefore pointless. He stressed that only through unity could the club move forward, but in effect was telling the naysayers that he wasn’t listening. It’s a niche form of leadership.
Even by West Ham’s usual standards, it has been a chaotic week. The end of their transfer window was steeped in farce and ignominy, the director of player recruitment suspended and then sacked for stating that the club did not wish to sign any more African players because they “caused mayhem”. That came after the club’s failure to permanently sign a central midfielder. What more could they do? Not leave it until the last minute, perhaps?
West Ham have two central midfielders fit and available to play, a problem exacerbated by Reece Oxford’s return to Borussia Monchengladbach. Oxford was reportedly disillusioned by comments made by co-owner David Gold over his doubts about academy players ever getting into the club’s first team, and you cannot blame him for wanting out.
One player has arrived, striker Jordan Hugill from Preston. Hugill turns 26 in June, has ten goals in all competitions this season and has scored 32 league goals in his entire career. There is no guarantee that he will fail at West Ham, but Hugill is at least fighting against the tide. Since 2010, West Ham have signed 34 strikers. Twenty-two of those have failed to score more than three goals for the club. Javier Hernandez, last summer’s saviour, has started four league games in the last three months.
The West Ham fog soon seeps into the pores. Aside from honourable exceptions, potential is stunted and promising signings rust. It was interesting to hear the West Ham side that drew against Crystal Palace described as ‘makeshift’, due to the current injury crisis. Given how this club has lurched over most of the last decade, how could it be anything else?
That is not solely down to the current incumbents, Davids Sullivan and Gold and Karren Brady. The financial crash that caused the personal bankruptcy of West Ham owner Björgólfur Guðmundsson thrust the club into disarray, but the mismanagement had started long before the end. The Carlos Tevez affair cost West Ham over £45m in compensation and legal fees, while their transfer market activity was haphazard at best (and ‘throwing sh*t at a wall’ at worst). A lowlight was the reported £34m cost of signing and paying Freddie Ljungberg and Kieron Dyer, the pair starting 45 league games between them, but there is plenty of competition.
After the Icelandic debacle, West Ham needed stability and care. What they got was erratic transfer activity with added PR bluster. Sullivan and Gold famously said that they took over a car crash, but nobody has yet replaced the windscreen and there are dents and scratches all over the paintwork. There is no doubt that the pair care deeply, but expertise is more important than good intentions.
If the cliche is that pets resemble their owners, West Ham resemble theirs. As well as the public – but ultimately unsuccessful – pursuit of transfer targets and the leaking of news to supporters by a co-owner’s son on social media, there have been high-profile gaffes.
“You don’t see them being massively better than West Ham are,” said Sullivan about Leicester City a fortnight after their Premier League title victory. “They say he has no ligaments in his knee,” he said about Charlie Austin after a failed approach. It forced Austin to issue a statement in angry response. Then there was the accusation that Manchester United were lying about damage to their team bus following an attack by supporters, and Sporting Club director Nuno Saraiva calling Sullivan a “liar” and a “parasite” before plumping for the eternally memorable “Dildo brothers” moniker.
This inter-club relationship issue is not an isolated incident. A week ago, Leicester City refused to enter into negotiations with West Ham over the loan of Islam Slimani after Brady had written disparaging things about Leicester in The Sun after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri.
West Ham used to be widely liked. Under Harry Redknapp, they had a young team of largely domestic players peppered with enjoyable foreign mavericks and experienced old professionals. Outside of London at least, they were a team you anticipated watching on Match of the Day.
Now they are a target of ridicule, and ridicule is dislike with the jealousy removed. West Ham are a club to be pitied, their supporters sympathised with. Even the move to a stadium partly funded by taxpayer money has not generated as much resentment as expected, so mismanaged was their re-homing.
Worst of all, West Ham’s owners are taking the club’s own supporters for granted and playing them for fools. West Ham charge £600 for their mascot packages, comfortably the highest in the country. They have effectively abandoned the pathway from academy to first team (although Declan Rice has made it work) and, when protests are forthcoming, fans are told to keep quiet. Nobody ever listens.
Some supporters disagreed with those who voiced their displeasure on Saturday against Brighton, because it may have impacted negatively on the team. But isn’t that the point? If the mood of your fans is so influential on performance, the club should probably treat them with more respect. After all, they’ll still be singing and shouting long after ten sets of players, managers and owners have left. It is their club. They just don’t recognise it.
West Ham are a club committed to neither short-termism nor long-term planning. In fact, they are committed to very little and stand for even less. They are a mirage, a house covered in marble and gold leaf but with a funny smell coming from the drains. The diamond geezers have created a rhinestone football club.