Supporting West Ham United is often like being in a dream. What kind of dream it is tends to vary according to results; from having your tea cooked by Zooey Deschanel wearing nothing but a skin tight 2006/2007 replica away shirt and a claret and blue thong, to being chased by your old Maths teacher through a rainforest of stinging, biting creatures, whose sole purpose in life is to cause you pain.
However frequent the latter dream has been over the past ten seasons or so, I think we can all agree that our performance against Fulham was as close to the former dream as anything else we’ve seen over the years. It wasn’t the goals; it wasn’t the way we dominated the match from start to finish. It was the fact that for those 90 minutes, every Hammers player performed to his full potential as a footballer and for some, we saw exactly what their full potential was. Solid at the back, tight and efficient in midfield, alive and aggressive up front. The performance the other week was the performance I had been waiting to see from West Ham since I stepped foot inside the Boleyn Ground for the first time, aged 11.
“West Ham aren’t Arsenal.” The quote is from none either than Harry Redknapp when he Words: Alex Shilling was in the Upton Park hot seat. It was during Harry’s heyday in E6, in the early stages of the 21st century that we should have been looking to push on and establish ourselves in the top six of the Premier League on a regular basis.
We’d already achieved one top six finish, in 1999, and had arguably the best crop of young players that the club has ever had. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole were all first team regulars by this stage and all would go on to win Premier League title winners’ medals and play for England. This West Ham team also had the experience of players such as Trevor Sinclair and Freddie Kanoute and the considerable maverick talents of Paolo Di Canio. We could, and really should, have made an impact upon the Premier League with this team. However, we didn’t and I haven’t seen a West Ham team play with the consistent confidence and swagger that our side in the early 2000s did every week.
To understand today’s West Ham United and their potential as a team, we have to look at West Ham teams of the past with great potential and I can’t think of a Hammers side which had more potential than the one which Harry Redknapp nurtured and brought through in the early 21st century. That was a great side, which did not achieve their potential.
As I see it, there are two main primary factors which decides whether a football club succeeds, or fails, to achieve their potential. Firstly, ambition. Depending on who you listen to, either Harry or the board at the time were culpable in the sales of both Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard in 2000. Having had a great start to the season, the sale of both players had an adverse effect on team morale and come the end of the season, we just about managed to survive in the Premier League. If a club wants to be successful, holding onto one’s best young players is a must. Comparing 2000 West Ham to 2012 West Ham, the differences are clear. When the 2000 West Ham board said we’re not selling our best young players at any price, it ultimately meant that their departures were imminent. The 2012 West Ham board does everything in its power to retain its best young players and largely succeeds.
Secondly, wise spending in the transfer market. Careful as I am not to make this an anti-Harry diatribe, his purchases were a bit hit and miss, to say the least. For every Di Canio, there was a Davor Suker. The board indulged him because he claimed he had a plan. Realistically, this was not the case.
Comparing Redknapp to Allardyce is something which would take an article in itself to adequately achieve but the following points can be made. Firstly, Big Sam sticks to what he knows. Despite the excellent scouting system at his disposal, the manager’s best signings have been players who he knows and has worked with before.
We all had to bear the “West Ham Wanderers” jokes last season, but after the season ex-Bolton players Taylor, Vaz Te, Faye and Nolan had last year, no-one is making those jokes any more. We now have a good, solid spine to our team as a result and this is something which we have demonstrably lacked in previous seasons and certainly lacked in 2000, which was inevitably down to (to use another ‘Arryism) the bare bones.
If the manager makes the right signings and assembles a capable squad suffcient in depth, Premier League teams should never be down to the ‘bare bones.’ This is what Allardyce has done for us as a result, I feel more confident about West Ham than I have under any other manager. What the gaffer has done is to make us much tougher and more disciplined as a team and this is something that almost every other West Ham team across our 117 year history has lacked.
The philosophy, the fabled ‘West Ham Way’ which irks Big Sam so much has always been that if they score five, we have to score six. The problem is that an alarming amount of the time, they do score five but we don’t score six and that has to stop, otherwise we will simply go on a downward spiral.
Football is changing, and teams will wise up to our traditional approach sooner or later. Likewise, just because we are changing as a team does not mean that we have to abandon all that was ever good about West Ham United; we can still play smooth, passing football, as we did against Fulham. The club is evolving, and if we keep going the way we are, our potential is yet to be decided.