West Ham co-chairman David Gold has backed the club’s summer signings to shine and fire the Hammers to a top half finish. In an exclusive interview with Blowing Bubbles, Gold also said the club was starting to build a squad that could soon challenge for one of the Premier League’s European slots.
He also heaped praise on under-fire manager Sam Allardyce for signing more attack-minded players – and claims the Hammers will play with a freedom not seen at the Boleyn Ground for some time. The club have been unusually proactive in this summer’s transfer window with several signings already having come through the door at Chadwell Heath.
Yet as we catch up, on a beautifully sunny afternoon just over a week before West Ham host Tottenham Hotspur in their opening Premier League game, Gold is confident there will be a few more new faces coming in before the transfer window shuts on September 1. ‘Business has not finished,’ he explained. ‘I’d still like to sign another striker and defender.
‘We’re not desperate for these players in fairness, and the odds are stacked in favour of it being a loan for the season with a view to buy, but I would like to think every West Ham fan agrees with me when I say we have a much better squad than we had last season. ‘For those who perhaps don’t agree, you’ve just got to look at the players we’ve lost in George McCartney and Matt Taylor and the players we’ve brought in Aaron Cresswell and Cheikhou Kouyate.
‘Don’t get me wrong both McCartney and Taylor were great servants for the club but in Cresswell and Kouyate we’ve got two excellent players. ‘Cresswell has the potential to be a top player and there is absolutely no reason why he can’t be a top Premiership left back.
‘He is attack-minded, young, has lots of pace and energy and I’m really looking forward to seeing him play in the Premier League. As for Kouyate, he is a real dynamic, young player who I think is a very special talent and is a huge improvement to our squad. ‘Then we’ve got Valencia who you could argue is replacing Maiga.
‘Again with all due respect to Maiga, he just didn’t have the impact on the Premier League we thought he would which is sad because he came highly recommended but in Valencia, I think we have someone who can help drive the team forward.’ Gold also offered his support to manager Sam Allardyce, insisting the club were right to stick with the boss who has taken the club back to the Premier League and kept them in the top flight in the last two years.
‘The key to Sam is to look at what he has done for the club,’ he added. ‘What did the fans ask of him when he came to the football club? I’ll tell you what they asked, they wanted him to get us back up into the Premier League and he did that. Sure we made it difficult for ourselves by going through the playoffs but what a thrill and a bonus that was in a way
‘We then asked him to keep us up in our first season back in the Premier League and not only did he do that but we finished mid-table. In our second season in the Premier League, we again asked him to keep us up and avoid second season syndrome and again that’s what he did. ‘David and I have been running football clubs for 20 years and we remain loyal. When I say loyal, I don’t mean blindly loyal but if someone has done what you required of them, it’s very hard to say sorry we will have to go our separate ways.’
Having said that, Gold admitted he wanted more from Allardyce and the players this season and targeted a finish in the top half. ‘I want everyone to be enjoying the football because we are not under pressure of relegation,’ he explained. ‘When you face the threat of relegation, you become very defensive – just look at us and Crystal Palace last season.
‘The first thing Pulis did at Palace was tighten up the defence to stop leaking goals because he knew if they were going to survive, he had to stop leaking goals left, right and centre but it meant they relied on scoring with the one or two chances they created every game. ‘Now while he did remarkably well, as did Sam, in ensuring survival, what we want to do is build a team that isn’t looking just for Premier League survival but looking forward and challenging for Europe.
‘It is at this point that players start playing with confidence and freedom and the fans start relaxing and really getting behind their team without being nervous that if they don’t beat this team their club could be in trouble. ‘Get a team with confidence and players don’t play it safe, they don’t pass back, they drive forward and take on their man.’
The simplest way to do that, of course, is to go out and invest heavily on better players. Yet even if the club had the funds available to be more aggressive in the transfer market the Financial Fair Play restrictions (FFP) would severely limit what the board would be able to do. Gold is in favour of clubs being forced to take control of their finances – but hoped this wouldn’t prevent wealthy entrepreneurs having fun with the football clubs they support.
‘I completely understand why clubs are being told they need to stop losing hundreds of millions of pounds every year,’ he said. ‘But sometimes they are only losing that amount because their owners are pursuing success with their own money.
‘It’s not on a financial or economic basis, they are investing in their hobby from the pile of money they made elsewhere to ensure their club is successful and football as a whole is concerned about this and rightly so because otherwise you end up with the same team winning every year.’ Gold points to the example of Blackburn Rovers – a smaller club than West Ham – who won the Premier League as a direct result of a philanthropist owner investing in his home town club as a reason why not all money in the game is a bad thing.
‘We were all very excited years ago when Jack Walker went to Blackburn after he sold his business for hundreds of millions and had some fun with his football club and bought the best players available and achieved success. ‘We must make sure we allow that to happen again because I’m sure Accrington Stanley would love a Jack Walker to walk into their football club and get into the Championship or even get into the Premier League.
‘We mustn’t supress the possibility of another Jack Walker or indeed another Dave Whelan who took Wigan from the depths of English football into the Premier League and Europe. We don’t want to stifle that.’ However, Gold is clear that something needs to be done to ensure clubs do not risk administration and to ensure the general public are not being priced out of the game.
‘In the Premier League we have, what I like to call, wage restraint which prevents clubs from spending more than they did the previous season and stops an escalation of debt. ‘It is vital we clubs keep generating money because if you want to bring in better players, want to improve your facilities or stadium, you have to be making money.
‘Is it right, I ask you, for somebody to earn £3.5m a year for being a footballer and yet a chap can’t bring both his boys to the match? I don’t think it is. That wasn’t the case when I was a boy and, as a league, we need to start re-balancing this.
‘I remember when it was wrong for a player like Johnny Haynes to be earning £20 a week or being charged a shilling to watch a game. The balance is still wrong now and I hope we can sort this out. ‘The Premier League is rightly saying clubs can’t spend whatever they like and go out and borrow money to pay more than they can afford in salaries to bring in better players because what could happen then? These players don’t perform and you get relegated and go bust.
‘Now what happens? The fans end up outside the stadium shaking buckets hoping people will put money in to save their football club. We’ve seen it with Portsmouth who had fans going around the town with buckets and yet the club were paying salaries running into the millions for players.’