West Ham’s January transfer window will define their season

by Charles Pulling

Historically West Ham fans aren’t the most easily impressed, just ask former managers Alan Pardew, Avram Grant and, most recently, Sam Allardyce.

All have been subjected to the relentless onslaught of discontent that comes with unimpressive performances and poor results.

This in itself isn’t unique to West Ham United fans, most Premier League grounds in the past 12 months have reverberated with booing from the home fans, but there are not many sets of supporters that have been sold so many false dawns since the turn of the century.

This season has so far had the familiar feeling as supporters who should be as excited as footballer players in the casino are slowly sinking back down to what has become reality for West Ham.

The discontented booing from Hammers supporters that at times felt vicious in the ‘in your face’ confines of Upton Park may have been dulled with the move to the far more ‘spacious’ Olympic Stadium, but the familiar frustrations have resurfaced, as West Ham have limped through the first half of the season.

 

Last season was a potential minefield for West Ham’s owners. Sam Allardyce was unpopular, but his pragmatism brought Premier League stability.

Heaped on top of that was pending move away from their crumbling but much loved stadium to a modern athletics stadium in a not particularly soulful part of the Capital, something that was never 100% popular with those familiar with the fervour of the Boleyn Ground.

As luck would have it, last season couldn’t have gone any better. Untested Slaven Bilić brought West Ham their highest ever Premier League finish in his debut season and in Dimitri Payet, the club found a new hero. A season of astonishing promise.

By contrast this season has seen a regression of staggering proportions. West Ham have found themselves hovering in and around the relegation zone for most of the campaign, winning only six games out of a possible 20.

Two recent and very scraped wins against fellow relegation hoverers Burnley and Hull have lifted The Hammers to a season high of 13th and relieved some of the pressure on Bilić, but coming into the January transfer window, its clear that comprehensive improvements are needed if the club are to avoid letting the positives of last season slip over the horizon.

The modernisation of football club structures, particularly the increasing popularity Directors of Football, have whittled down the traditional responsibilities of managers, but the fact remains that managers are still judged on their tactical and structural management of playing squads, and no more acutely is this judged than in the acquisition of players.

In this area, Bilić and the club hierarchy failed in the summer to improve the squad, particularly in defence where the relatively solid James Tomkins was sold to Crystal Palace in favour of jettisoning the rapidly slowing James Collins and at right back, where a long-term injury to Sam Byram and unimpressive performances from free signing Alvaro Arbeloa  has resulted in a revolving door policy at right back with various players filling in.

In attack, injuries to Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho along with the loaning of Enner Valencia to Everton have meant that West Ham have only managed 19 goals thus far.

Loanees Jonathan Calleri and Simone Zaza have been totally ineffectual in plugging any deficiencies in attack and could well be returning to their respective parent clubs as soon as the Window opens.

When the Window does open, the business West Ham conduct could well come to define the club’s season.

The deficiencies are pretty obvious, but the question is how well can any club, least of all West Ham, conduct effective business in January.

The window, at best, serves as an opportunity for minor strengthening, not an overhaul of a club’s key positions.

And the early signs are not promising, with newspaper reports of West Ham sending out a ‘begging letter’ to all major Premier League and European clubs enquiring about any players available for loan, and apparently firm enquiries made to clubs of Daniel Sturridge, Anthony Martial and Branislav Ivanović.

The ambitions of the club’s owners were laid bare during the move to the Olympic Stadium in the summer.

Amongst the fanfare and for-sale nostalgia were loose statements about making West Ham a ‘global brand’ and a major Continental challenger.

But simply stating the ambitions and acquiring a new stadium for next to nothing do not make a club a behemoth.

Instead the club needs to start acting like a big club, building foundations at underage level and putting in a clear and professional corporate structure, but most pressingly of all, they need to start acquiring players like a big club.

That means targeting and purchasing players in a quiet and quick manner. It does not mean one of your Chairmen boastfully announcing on Sky Sports News that the club has over £100 million burning a hole in its pocket.

Whether or not this change in mentality can be achieved over the course of a January Transfer Window remains to be seen. But its clear the West Ham need to wise up fast, or risk being dragged back down into a relegation struggle.

And for Slaven Bilić, the next month will not only be critical for the remainder of this season, but also for his reputation and career in the Premier League.

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