Where did it all go wrong? Five areas that doomed the hapless Hammers
West Ham's board made a host of errors – from hiring Grant to signing McCarthy – that led to their demise
Tuesday 17 May 2011
"We have a seven-year plan to get West Ham into the Champions League and turn them into a big club and over the seven-year period we do plan to spend a lot of money." - David Sullivan, new West Ham United co-owner, 19 January 2010
David Sullivan and his business partner David Gold arrived with grand plans, but it is to the Championship – not the Champions League – that West Ham United's supporters can now look forward.
Sixteen months ago there was a genuine belief that a sustained period of sensible stability might follow the disastrous reign of the club's previous owners, the Icelandic group which had taken the club to the brink of bankruptcy. Here were a pair of successful millionaires who had led Birmingham City to relative success, who were now following their heart and investing in the club they had long supported. At the time it appeared to be the ideal partnership, despite the bizarre velvety claret smoking jacket that Sullivan wore to the unveiling of the deal. That fashion faux pas, though, was just the first in a catalogue of bad decisions:
1 Appointing Avram Grant
The decision to give a four-year contract to the man who had just taken Portsmouth down looked an unwise choice when it was announced in July 2010. Ten months on the cynics have been proved right: Grant is not a good manager and especially not a good man-manager.
Grant's network of contacts in the game is undeniably impressive, and it was that more than anything else that landed the Israeli the job. His brief spells in charge of Chelsea and Portsmouth demonstrated that he was adept at coping with difficult circumstances, and he signed up at West Ham in full knowledge of the financial restrictions that would curb his transfer dealings.
Grant, however, has been a disaster. A demanding start did not help but it does not excuse the miserable season which was in part down to Grant's choices. He selected as his assistant the former Serbian international, Zeljko Petrovic, who had previously worked with him at Portsmouth, but Petrovic was sacked in November after failing to build a working relationship with the players. Sullivan and Gold, however, kept faith with Grant and he brought in Wally Downes as defensive coach. A year ago, Gianfranco Zola's assistant was Steve Clarke, who has since become a key figure in Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool revival. He would have been a much better bet.
In February, Carlton Cole revealed that it was Scott Parker, not Grant, who delivered the half-time team talk that inspired the side to a 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion. Cole was full of praise for Parker – but his words said as much about his manager as they did about his captain.
Tactically, Grant was naive, too: it was suggested yesterday that he left it up to his midfield players to decide whether to "sit" or "press" against Chelsea this season. Against Manchester United, West Ham went 2-0 up, yet as the second half unfolded and United poured forward, Grant persevered with two strikers, who were not involved in the action. They lost 4-2. The mess was best summed up by the decision-making on Sunday. Parker, when he was put on in the defeat to Wigan Athletic, was clearly not fit and why were Cole and Matt Upson on the bench if they were fit? The list goes on.
Grant has also chopped and changed his team from week to week, unsure of what his best starting line-up was. Teenager Jordan Spence made his debut on Sunday, and in doing so became the 35th player used by Grant in the Premier League this season. West Ham have been unlucky with injuries, notably to Thomas Hitzlsperger and Gary O'Neil, but that does not explain the selection policy.
2 Sticking with Grant
Grant only survived in mid-January as Martin O'Neill, who was being lined up to replace him, was unwilling to step in while Grant was still in the job. And then, in disgust at the way the whole episode was handled, he decided against working at the club.
There were alternatives, however. Traditionally clubs in danger of relegation have turned to experienced British managers for salvation, with some success. Sam Allardyce and Roy Hodgson were available in January. West Bromwich surprised many when they sacked Roberto Di Matteo in early February, but it has been proved a wise move as Hodgson has guided the club to safety.
3 Not being hands-on enough to recognise the problems
Grant let the squad's preparations and training sessions deteriorate to such an extent that any hands-on owner would surely only have had to attend one to see things needed to change. The Independent's columnist Lee Dixon watched a practice session at a recent West Ham open day and described it as "a shambles" with players arguing and drills poorly performed.
4 The woeful transfer record
For a club that insists it is watching the pennies, West Ham have wasted a surprising amount of money on unwise transfer deals. Sullivan and Gold began with grandiose talk of signing Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy but ended up getting Mido, Benni McCarthy and Ilan. The McCarthy deal came to epitomise the club's profligate spending. The South African struggled to lose weight, played 14 games, and he agreed to a £2m pay-off in April this year just halfway through his two-and-a-half year contract.
The pay-off went on top of the £2.25m fee West Ham paid to Blackburn Rovers, and during his time at the club he picked up £2.5m in wages, making a total of £6.75m for just 14 games, and no goals.
Other poor buys include Pablo Barrera (£4m), Winston Reid and Lars Jacobsen last summer. The January loan signings of Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge have also failed.
5 Undermining the staff
Grant was not undermined in the manner that his predecessor Gianfranco Zola had been a year earlier, but Gold and Sullivan still could not keep their mouths shut in recent weeks. They failed to turn up for the trip to Manchester City two weeks ago, which sent out the message that they had all but given up on the team, despite their protests to the contrary. Sullivan also gave a couple of interviews in which he rated the chances of staying up at 25 per cent, and questioned the commitment of several out-of-contract players. Vice-chairman Karren Brady has also been critical of Grant.
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