What a time it is to be a West Ham United fan. Riding high in the league and virtually guaranteed to still be in Europe in 2022, and now the first team in about three hundred years to knock Manchester City out of the League Cup.
It’s difficult to understate the amazing work that the manager is doing, or indeed the scale of this achievement, but that hasn’t stopped some City fans from trying: ‘It’s only the League Cup’, ‘West Ham stuck 10 men behind the ball’, and my favourite lazy piece of analysis: ‘They were so lucky’.
We weren’t: we fully deserved to take Manchester City to penalties, and then during the shootout, we scored five and they only scored four. We went through, and they didn’t. All that said, let’s be honest, we are not Manchester City (and really, do we want to be?). We do not have the resources that they do, and their squad is deep and extensive.
They are bringing through players like Phil Foden, and their future at the top of the English football pyramid looks secure for some time to come. What about us, though? Are we any closer to them than, say, five years ago?
I think without a shadow of a doubt, we are. Just take a look at last season, when our two meetings were extremely close and could have gone either way. The 1-1 draw at home and a narrow 2-1 defeat away were widely seen as excellent performances by us. Pep Guardiola himself has said that we are ‘a fantastic football team with a fantastic manager’, acknowledging that a match against us is no longer the gimme that perhaps it used to be.
Certainly, the last encounters with Manchester City in the League Cup emphasise not only the gulf in quality at the time, but also the strides that West Ham have made to catch up in recent seasons, and perhaps the change in attitude that has come about too. In case it had been erased from your memory, back in 2014 a 6-0 away defeat was followed by a 3-0 home loss in the semi-final, in which West Ham were widely criticised for a lack of effort.
Let’s not forget that these results followed up another dismal display in a 5-0 defeat against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. Oh, those heady days.
In reality, with the best will in the world, the numbers suggest that we should be losing to this lot every time.
According to a recent study, the value of Manchester City’s squad is estimated at £1.08 billion pounds – whereas the latest estimates place ours at £250m, less than a quarter of City’s worth. Or to put it in a much starker way, one Jack Grealish is worth two-fifths of West Ham’s entire squad value.
When you look at the first eleven, the difference becomes even more clear. According to Transfermarkt, Manchester City’s most valuable starting lineup is currently worth just shy of £700m. As for us? You might get just over £250m. Or to put it another way, at current market values, if we bought all of our players again, we’d still be able to afford two of the likes of Foden, Sterling, De Bruyne and Grealish.
As for top signings, it almost pains me to say this, but ours is Sebastian Haller for a hilarious £45m. You already know who City’s is, at north of £100m – more than double the price, for more than double the player. So yes, we are heavily outmuscled financially by City, and it doesn’t take a genius to work that out. However, nor does it take a genius to realise that football isn’t played in financial institutions, but on a pitch, and in the matches that we have played in the last two seasons against them, I’m not seeing a team which is significantly better than the other.
Buying the top players in the world will give you a better chance at winning football matches, but success isn’t guaranteed. Look at Manchester United, a team full of high-quality players, stuffed 5-0 by Liverpool recently and on current form going nowhere fast. They’re not a team, more a set of talented players without an identity. West Ham’s togetherness, the willingness to play for each other, the quality in the team, and the strengths of the manager have seen us close the gap on the supposed ‘big teams’– and now it’s Spurs away next in the League Cup next month.
It’s another chance for us to show our progression, but win or lose, I’m proud to support us. As far as I am concerned, we are more of a team than any other side in world football right now. And long may that continue.