What a terrible season for West Ham last year. Reeked with financial insecurity, and turmoil between manager and owners. Unfortunately it saw Gianfranco Zola’s first tenure as a Premier League manager come to an end, but with that comes a fresh new start for West Ham under the control of Avram Grant, fresh after his antics with bankrupt Portsmouth.
With him comes a new era of football at West Ham. After previous problems, first with the Icelandic financial problems and the revolving manager’s chair, things may be about to settle if Gold and Sullivan (not known for keeping their noses out of the club’s on field affairs) can keep the money ticking into the squad and Grant is given time to settle what is a very strong, young, talented squad of players.
Last season’s 17th finish was hugely disappointing, but expected as West Ham had their injury problems, as well as squad difficulties with loan deals coming and going and makeshift starting elevens. Zola was forced into handing a number of young (albeit very talented) players first team action, as the Hammers left it late before a Scott Parker wonderstrike against Wigan meant they avoided relegation and ensured the club Premier League football for another season.
What can Grant to do take them up the table? He’s added to his squad, but the teams could with a couple of more additions – perhaps a centre midfielder and a left back. He has a very decent squad at his disposal, one more than capable of avoiding a relegation dogfight. It’ll be very interesting to see how the new pair get on.
Last Season: 17th
Manager: Avram Grant
Ins: Thomas Hitzlsperger (free from Lazio), Frederic Piquionne (undiscl. from Lyon), Pablo Barrera (£4m from UNAM Pumas), Tal Ben Haim (loan from Portsmouth)
Outs: Guillermo Franco (released), Bondz N’Gala (free to Plymouth).
As one of three teams to do so this summer, the biggest change at West Ham this summer is the man leading them into the league for the sixth consecutive season – Avram Grant. After finishing in 17th position last season, amidst financial insecurity and confusion, Gianfranco Zola’s contract was terminated, but had it or hadn’t it he was resigning anyway after a couple of disagreements with the new owners, Gold and Sullivan.
Avram Grant sits into the hotseat with somewhat of a good reputation – getting relegated with Portsmouth, but leading them to an FA Cup Final and trudging through the financial struggles that saw players left unpaid and half of his squad plastered together with youngsters and loan deals. It was the worst situation a manager could be put in, so if anything arises at Upton Park he should have the experience to deal with it.
After a superb year with Chelsea, leading them to a Champions League final (something Mourinho et al couldn’t), before last season’s turmoil ridden campaign, Grant has all the tools to do a good job at West Ham – and is a superb appointment by them. Should he steer them away from the doom of a relegation dogfight and into midtable security, it’ll be job done for the Israeli.
In the transfer market, West Ham have signed ex-Portsmouth loanee Frederic Piquionne from Lyon. The young striker impressed at Fratton Park last season, and has been offered another chance to impress in the Premier League again by Grant. Also joining is popular German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, known best for his long range efforts and his wicked left foot strikes.
Another exciting arrival at Upton Park is Mexican winger Pablo Barrera from UNAM. The 23-year-old appeared at the World Cup on three occasions as they went as far as the last sixteen, and was swiftly picked up by Grant. The quick and ultra attacking wide man will be aiming to light up the park at West Ham next season.
Tactics: It’s misleading to look at Grant’s previous systems at Portsmouth due to the squad difficulties he had, but with added height up front he won’t be holding back in starting both Carlton Cole and Piquionne. Grant has a big squad to choose from, and might be expected to go with a 4-4-2 formation with heavy wing play provided by Barrera and Valon Behrami. An alternative to this might see him only go with one forward, playing two holding midfielders in Scott Parker and Radoslav Kovac with the more attacking minded Hitzlsperger in an advanced position. There are a lot of options to go for, and Grant is also pleasured with a couple of strong attacking full backs too, in Julien Faubert and Herita Ilunga. Up front they are also strong with the aforementioned Cole and Piquionne, as well as Benni McCarthy, Zavon Hines and Alessandro Diamanti.
Key Player: Midfield talisman Scott Parker became a hero at Upton Park last season for his committed performances and, of course, the vital winning goal against Wigan which ensured another season of Premier League football for the Hammers.
Fixtures: It’s a battle of the claret and blues as West Ham kick-off their season away to Aston Villa, in a tough game but an entertaining curtain raiser nonetheless. They then face Bolton at home the following week, before a very difficult away trip to Old Trafford followed by an equally tough encounter with Chelsea at Upton Park. Then it’s off the the Britannia to face Stoke.
First Five Fixtures: Aston Villa (A), Bolton (H), Manchester Utd (A), Chelsea (H), Stoke City (A)
Where will they finish? After last season’s problems, there should be some more consistency and stability this season under Grant. With the players added to the squad and their decent strength in depth, added with a good mix of youth a experience, I’m expecting a good season for the Hammers. 10th