One of my favourite films of the 90s is Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. It tells the story of a cynical TV weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again.
As a West Ham fan I felt some affinity as our first four league games were lost; a disturbing echo of the 2010-11 season. It led me to ask were we about to experience our very own groundhog day? It may have been a tad premature but I couldn’t resist a ramble down memory lane.
So who remembers 2010? Avram Grant, an Israeli coach of some repute, who had served as Director of football at Chelsea, took over as West Ham manager following the sacking of Franco Zola. He did not enjoy a good start. We shipped 12 goals in our first four games and scored only three goals; does this sound familiar?
After the fourth defeat Grant urged fans not to panic; it’s a bit like saying a turkey shouldn’t stress about Christmas. We secured our first point with a draw against Stoke City, but the next 10 games yielded six draws and only two wins. West Ham were in a tailspin and remained bottom of the table throughout November.
However, a struggling team will often find relief in cup competition. A welcome diversion from the weekly scrap for points; where players respond to the finality of sudden death. It’s an annoying paradox for fans as such form rarely carries over to the league. West Ham were cooking in the League Cup, dispatching three Premier League sides en route to the semi-final.
The run included a season highlight as we trounced Manchester United 4-0 at Upton Park. However, reality took control and we were beaten by eventual winners Birmingham City.
The festive period brought two wins and a draw, elevating West Ham to the giddy heights of 15th spot. But once again, a cup run derailed any thoughts of recovery. Ten goals in three games secured an FA Cup quarter final against Stoke.
Those silently praying for defeat got their wish as the Hammers were beaten 2-1. But, ultimately it was too late to concentrate on the league. The run-in was a total shambles as only one point was picked up from a possible 24. West Ham were relegated in 20th place and the manager’s office was vacant.
So was it entirely fair to compare a season with one that ended in relegation? Well of course not; but fans have long memories and even now will recognise a familiar pattern. Moreover, the tried and trusted excuses are not going to work this time. Where Grant’s transfer options were severely limited Pellegrini was given £100 million to spend on players.
Avram Grant’s track record was steady more than spectacular and without silverware. In contrast, Pellegrini has always coached at top level, having won La Liga with Real Madrid and the Premier League with Manchester City. His team’s fluent passing style was famously described as death by beautiful geometry. Surely a match made in heaven and perfect fillip to the West Ham way?
The rumour mill was in overdrive prior to the Everton game; Jack Wilshere had picked up an ankle injury, while Pellegrini was angry that line-ups were being leaked to the media. There was even talk that David Moyes might return following a knee-jerk dismissal. The absurdity of such gossip was quelled by an exhilarating 3-1 win.
We can now hope that given time, things will click into place. Grant got the whole season and Manuel Pellegrini should be afforded the same privilege. Will it be death by beautiful geometry? Or can we kick on? I’ll settle for a top ten finish.