Pre-season was an optimistic time for West Ham. The spending that was attempted in 2016 was actually being carried out in 2017, and last season’s dark days were long forgotten.
Then the season started.
They were whopped on the opening day by Manchester United, star summer signing Marko Arnautovic cost his team at Southampton with a moronic red card and Newcastle dispatched them 3-0. Slaven Bilic’s future was discussed and rumours spread that emergency talks were being held at the club.
While a shortage of quality could be blamed against Manchester United and the red card at fault against Southampton, it was a calamitous performance at Newcastle. The midfield of the inexperienced Declan Rice and limited Mark Noble was dominated and failed to provide any protection to the defence. The Magpies are far from the most fearsome attack West Ham will face this season, but they picked holes in the
Hammers’ backline with ease.
Bullied and outclassed by a newly promoted team – who have had many of their own problems this summer – speaks volumes. The numerous attacking signings in the last couple of seasons are of little value if the midfield and defence continues to capitulate.
Crisis is an overused word in football, but the Hammers are at that point once again. It is not just the fact they have zero points from three matches, it is deeper than that, it is the manner of defeat and the questionable decisions by Bilic. They have won six Premier League matches in 2017 in 22 attempts, a pitiful record given their squad and wage bill.
The move to the London Stadium was shrouded in ambition and hope. From the unsavoury episodes that led to the departure of Dimitri Payet last season that ambition has waned. As this season started many – including myself – saw West Ham as one of the strongest squads outside of the top six. Many expect that failure to win their next match after the international break – which is at home to Huddersfield – will mean the end for Bilic. That speaks volumes for the uncertainty at the club.
The spending in the summer saw Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta arrive. The Hammers were expected to be contesting with Everton and Southampton in the top half, but the patience with Bilic is understandably limited.
This puts them at a challenging juncture. Bilic was backed this summer financially, but if he is sacked in the coming weeks a new manager will arrive without being able to change the squad until January. If Bilic was so close to the sack in the summer, why was he not removed to give a new manager a window to make their own signings?
Bilic could stay beyond this difficult period, of course, but the trajectory of this West Ham team suggests that would throw them into a relegation battle.
Their choices are limited. Once Bilic has stayed beyond the close of the window – which is almost guaranteed at the time of writing – any new manager is stuck with the personnel already there. If Bilic is the problem, then a new manager should be able to lift the Irons out of this rut, but the managerial market is hardly loaded right now.
The solution is unclear, but how Bilic kept his job past this summer is harder to understand. With their pursuits of William Carvalho and Mamadou Sakho supposedly grinding to a halt too, the Hammers have left themselves in the lurch with deadline day creeping closer.
A couple of late blockbuster deals will change the feeling around the club. That, however, is a big ask for the Hammers who must be finding it hard to convince players that their club is heading in the right direction under this management.
This squad is capable of a top 10 finish, yet a repeat of their massively underwhelming 2016/17 seems far more likely with Bilic at the helm. A managerial change should have come in the summer when a project could have been sold to potential replacements, instead they will be recruiting in a blind, mid-season panic to avoid relegation.