With the 2012-13 English Premier League season on the horizon, Tezini’s crew of soccer experts is here to get you ready for all the cracking finishes, devilish challenges and unforgettable drama. Over the next two weeks, we’ll give each club its proper due in a free-flowing roundtable discussion. We begin with West Ham United.
AJ: Given the prospect of Blackpool returning to the Premier League or Cardiff joining it and giving us two Welsh sides, it was more than a little disappointing, to me at least, to see Sam Allardyce’s side triumph in the Championship playoffs and come straight back in to England’s top flight. West Ham have never been ones for attractive football and neither has manager Big Sam Allardyce, but at least in the latter’s case, what he lacks in aesthetic appeal he makes up for in graft and absurd, if unattractive, work ethic.
I hated Allardyce when he managed Newcastle. But I can’t help but notice that his departure was part of a downward spiral that sent my beloved club into the second division. And I can’t help but notice that a similar fate has befallen his two other most recent managerial stops. I bet Bolton and Blackburn fans would trade more pleasing attacking football for a place in the Premier League is what I’m trying to say. In the grander scheme, I’m also saying that while West Ham may wind up being one of the least appealing sides to watch during the upcoming season, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were effective all the same.
This is largely the same group of characters that were relegated two seasons ago, yes, but they are also largely the same group that floated comfortably in the lower mid-table range year after year before that.
There are other things to talk about here, not the least of which is the return of Mr. Chicken Dance himself Kevin Nolan and their impending move to the Olympic Stadium, but I think we’ve got a good start.
Mark: Two things before discussing, you know, actual soccer. First, not enough has been made of West Ham’s (possible) impending move to the Olympic stadium. We’re talking about a team that might have essentially tripped over itself into an 60,000 seat stadium (since 20,000 seats are going to be taken out after this summer’s Olympic Games). As a reference point, that’s precisely the same number of seats as the Emirates and nearly twice the size of Upton Park, their current home. Will this have any discernable impact on West Ham’s revenue stream? Is the uncertainty about where they’re going to play in two years going to cause even more dysfunction for a team that has, I think, put together a pretty slapdash group of players over the past few years? Does this have anything to the fact that West Ham has been linked with everyone from Andy Carroll to Romelu Lukaku to Nicolas Freaking Anelka this transfer season?
Second, I cannot get enough teams wearing claret and blue. It’s why I’m continuously an Aston Villa apologist.
As for the actual team, I’m almost glad to see Sam Allardyce back in the Prem, just because, for me, there were not enough suitable villains in coaching boxes last year, though Alex McLeish’s ineptitude and Tony Pulis’ constant “the-court-ordered-me-to-stay-1,000-meters-away-from-schools-and-libraries” visage kept me going through the cold English winter. You’re right AJ that this is generally the group of underachievers from the 2010-11 campaign, only minus then-footballer of the year Scotty Parker, but I’m sure you’ll agree that Kevin Nolan is a legitimate creator, perhaps enough so to provoke a few moments of brilliance and carry them to a 13th-17th place finish. As for the rest of the squad, it seems to be a case of running in place and hoping. A Robert Green for Jussi “The Mad Fin” Jaaskelainen swap? I see no discernable impact. Mark Noble has always been a solid piece for them (and is only 25, which is 10 years younger than I thought he was) and Carlton Cole always has those two games a year in which he bags a brace and reminds everyone that he played for the national team a few times. But honestly, there’s just not a lot to be excited about here.
AJ: Looking over their current team is … well … unimpressive. I don’t think I’d peg them for relegation, mostly on the strength of Allardyce as a manager, but this might be the worst side on paper in the entire league. Yes, there’s Kevin Nolan. James Tomkins and Ravel Morrison are interesting youngsters [Ed. Note: Morrison has since been loaned out to Birmingham for the season], and I have always had a soft spot for Frederic Piquionne, but it’s a side that’s devoid of real quality. Andy Carroll makes a ton of sense in that regard, but it’s hard to see him opting for Upton Park — even with the prospect of reuniting with Cap’n Kev on offer — when there are other more attractive options.
I guess I’m mostly disappointed at having them back because crappy teams from London bore me relative to crappy teams from other parts of England. Ben. Mark. Former/current denizens of London. Feel free to disagree with me vehemently. I have great admiration for West Ham fans, but isn’t one QPR enough for the Prem? It is in my idealistic vision of it.
Ben: No — the more London teams the better, especially in East London, where there is currently no Prem team. East London is basically its own city. It’s been working class since forever and its fans are rabid. They’ll fill the 60,000 seats (at Olympic Stadium), especially if West Ham isn’t atrocious. There’s no reason to think they can’t vault above Wigan/Aston Villa/Norwich/QPR to sit solidly bottom half. West Ham mostly cruised back into the Premier League because the rest of the teams in the Championship were shit. I would know, as since ESPN and Sky took over the Premier League, the Championship is the only footy on free TV.
AJ: Then we need to send QPR back from whence they came then. West Ham supporters by all accounts are terrific, so that’s a net positive to be sure. Really, I don’t know why I made this a London thing, I just think Cardiff or especially Blackpool — with its appealing football and tremendous quote-machine manager Ian Holloway would have made this year’s Prem a little more fun than the Hammers. I guess I’m just bored by the Mark Hugheses and Sam Allardyces of the world.
Ben: I also love Blackpool and Cardiff.
I also hate Allardyce more than any other manager. I think we should vilify him while welcoming one of the Prem’s great selling clubs back into the fold. Seriously they are like the Expos of the Premiership.
AJ: Ben — this sounds like the start of a terrific infographic. To get more topical here — they were one of the great selling clubs in the Premier League; it may say a lot about their hopes of staying up that there isn’t much in the way of valuable sell-on assets here, other than Tomkins and a few others.
Sam: You want to look at how much they sold vs bought when they were in the Prem? I’m just excited for the triumphant Frank Lampard return to West Ham at the end of his career (shouldn’t that be now?). Also I’m happy Barack has a team to root for this year.
AJ: Maybe it’s not the worst thing that they don’t have a lot of sell-on assets. I mean, Sam Allardyce, who in my opinion is not as thoroughly worthy of my ire as Alex McLeish, seems peculiarly attuned to succeeding with that sort of team.
Ben: This is great:
I will start off by stating the very obivous, and that is that West Ham get a massive amount of bookings per game and over a season.
West Ham scored the second most goals and had the second highest goal differential in the Championship last year, which is possible when you are more physically talented and play hoof-and-chase ball with Carlton Cole up top. God, I hate Sam Allardyce.
I like the way Southampton plays, Juice, and think they could fill in nicely this year for Blackpool if they maintain their style.
Sam: Gross — their average score time is from 77-90 minutes, which means there’s going to be a lot of waiting for a late-game set piece with 10 men behind the ball until the last 10 minutes.
Think about how disgusting a Stoke-West Ham game is going to be. I can’t believe that’s going to happen twice, but at least Alex McLeish got fired so we don’t have to see that abortion of a match.
AJ: There’s little doubt in my mind that this thread is sputtering mostly because the combination of West Ham and Sam Allardyce is enough to bore anyone to tears. I’m happy to see Kevin Nolan back in the Premier League, and that’s about it for me. I think West Ham will struggle to survive, but ultimately hang on, though I certainly won’t shed a tear if they can’t manage it.
I think they need the most help of any team in the league right now, in terms of player additions.
Worth noting that since we began this little project, the Hammers have signed another striker — former Newcastle target Modibo Maiga. Given the Toon’s recent success in the transfer market and the low cost (a reported £5 million), you have to like this signing at least a little. He’s big and strong. He didn’t end up with Newcastle because of a failed medical, though, so you have to wonder what the exact issue was and whether it has now passed.
It feels like we need to talk about the Hammers just a little bit more because there are reports flying around now that Andy Carroll is set to join West Ham on loan. This is interesting to me because it gives them what might be a very, very good strikeforce with him and Maiga. But it’s also interesting because of what it says about the coming Olympic Stadium windfall we touched upon, but just barely, earlier on in this preview. Carroll makes in excess of £80,000 a week. The loan deal costs £2 million up front and will be £17 million total if the Hammers simply avoid relegation. You don’t see Southampton or Reading splashing that kind of cash. Heck, you don’t even see Fulham splashing that kind of cash.
New stadiums, publicly funded ones especially, can help a team write its own ticket. We know this from Major League Baseball, and it looks like West Ham is about to become the latest data point to prove it.
Sam: Unless they completely blow it again. Let’s not forget that they haven’t addressed any of their defensive woes, which is really what sunk them last time around. And let’s not forget that they have no Scott Parker this time around. The only thing that I think might save them is the fact that there are teams that might be worse than them.
AJ: That’s always the way it is at that end of the table …
Sam: I just don’t see how this team is any better than the team that got relegated:
Parker > Nolan
Ba > or = Carroll (in current form)
AJ: Well, for one, they only had Ba for half a season. For two, they didn’t have Maiga. For three, Allardyce > Avram Grant. For four, they just have to be better than three other teams in this year’s league, and I think they are … right now at least. They don’t have Carroll yet, though, so I won’t go too crazy. [Ed. Note: It now appears they won't land Carroll at all.]
Mark: Momo Diame is a fine pickup for them as well, and you could do a lot worse than an attacking menu of Cole/Maiga/Andy Carroll. I stand by my statement that there’s not a lot to be excited about with this team, but excitement and 99 pence gets you a copy of The Guardian. I’d pip them to stay up, but barely, without Wor Andy. With him? I could see them returning to lower-mid-table flotsam.