Last month we took on Leicester City – a club that in many ways is the envy of all mid-table clubs.
That is in no small part because of their miracle season of 2015/2016, where they finished 10 points clear of Arsenal and 11 points clear of Tottenham – two squads that for many were the best in the league that season. Obviously we would, as fans, love to have a season like Leicester did in 2015/2016, though it is worth noting that season was our highest finish in a very long time and we were pretty happy with seventh place.
It is also worth noting that other than that title-winning season Leicester has only finished above West Ham one other time since their ascendancy to the Premier League. That was last season when they finished five points and four places above us, nine against 13th, in the table.
However, while we have finished above them as often as they have finished above us they have a plus 30 goal differential against us during their time in the Premier League, plus 37 if you count this season to date. They also have a record of five wins, two draws, and two losses against us since their return.
Certainly in terms of goal differential and head-to-head matchup they have been the superior team since they came up in 2014. With that in mind what differentiates the two clubs during that time and what could West Ham learn from Leicester City?
I think the biggest differentiator during these years has been one of identity; Leicester City always seems to know who they are, through both good times and bad, and they hold on to their identity with a fierceness that we at times lack. It seems that we’re finding an identity under Pellegrini, and hopefully that is a trend that will continue. However, before that the club lacked a real identity for a long time, in part because of the changes of manager, and the doubts of those managers.
Another major difference between the two clubs is how they have invested in the transfer market, how they have sold players and, though this is largely conjecture, differences in the their abilities to attract talent. The reality is that before this season we had great difficulty bringing quality players to the club. Our best signings in recent years, before Pellegrini, were Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini, Andre Ayew, Javier Hernandez, and Marko Arnautovic.
Of those players two left the club under dramatic circumstances, one is only just returning from a major injury, and one, Hernandez, has had a difficult relationship with the club for much of his time with us. (Probably the less said about Arnautovic the better at the moment) The other signings of that period have been anywhere from lacklustre to middling, with Pedro Obiang probably being the best of the rest and Arthur Masuaku having moments here and there.
Of course this season has been a different story with shelling out big money for Issa Diop, Felipe Anderson, and Andriy Yarmalenko and bringing in a new goalie in Fabianski. So much of this, like our burgeoning identity, is down to Manuel Pellegrini knowing who and what he wants and having the reputation to go get it.
By comparison Leicester City invested heavily when they were promoted to the Premier League and continued to invest heavily and intelligently afterwards. They have sold their share of players but have largely profited from those sales which has allowed them to restock their club effectively.
Great examples of this is the massive profit they made on N’golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. They paid six million pounds for Kante and sold him for 30 million. They paid an undisclosed fee for Drinkwater from Man U in 2012 that was most definitely nowhere near the more than 30 million they sold him for. Those profits pale in comparison to the profit of more than 59 million they made on Riyah Mahrez when they sold him to Manchester City in July of this year.
In each of those cases they were able to restock the club, turn a profit, and keep on moving as a mid-table Premier League club that always threatens to do more. This ability to identify talent, build a competitive club, and both restock and turn a profit when they have to sell is probably the most telling difference between the two clubs.
In that same time we’ve sold many players for a loss, with the only significant profit coming from the forced sale of Dimitri Payet. While I am optimistic about the future under Pellegrini I look at the past and it is easy to see the ways in which he must change the club in order to be a success
The lessons Leicester teaches all clubs are pretty simple. Maintaining your core identity, properly identifying talent, and being able to navigate the transfer market successfully is the blueprint for building a competitive club, perhaps even one that can shock the world during the right season.