David Sullivan must be loving this.
He’d already found an unlikely shield for fan anger in the form of David Moyes. Now, as the hype machine surrounding our new manager goes into overdrive, it appears that West Ham’s co-owner has yet again succeeded in deflecting attention away from his failures. We all seem to have forgotten in a hurry that Sullivan remains the single biggest obstruction to our progress.
Moyes and the club decided to part company earlier this week, ending a successful spell in charge in which he guided us to finish a full nine points above the relegation zone. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Scot succeeded in finding the most solid team and formation available to him, which gave us our best chance of playing to our limited strengths and hiding our many weaknesses. He did this while having no money to spend (thanks again, Sulley) and having inherited an indisciplined, unfit squad with no real core ethos or togetherness, under-performing players like Marko Arnautovic and lots of injuries.
You’d think most observers would credit Moyes with a respectable turnaround and question those above him making the decisions as to why: 1) the squad was allowed to fall in to such disrepair and imbalance; 2) money is almost never forthcoming when it is most needed, and when it is it is not spent wisely; and 3) farcical events off the pitch continue to cause distraction and embarrassment to the club.
I understand to a degree why many fans were frustrated with the manager. It’s not easy to see us, for instance, go to Swansea and get battered, or never really attack a desperately poor Stoke side, or not be able to lay a glove on Man City. But I think the level of responsibility attributed to the manager here was completely disproportionate. It meant our owners didn’t have to face up to their responsibilities, their broken promises, lies and failures.
Where has the hate towards Gold, Sullivan and Brady gone? After Burnley, it looked like fans en masse had finally woken up to the reality of our situation and where the blame lay. It’s obvious there’s still a huge amount of frustration and discontent with our position, and a lot of anger among supporters. But there seems to be so much going on (and so much going wrong) that maybe we’re not exactly sure what we’re specifically angry about. Or maybe we’re angry about so many things that it’s difficult to capture, such that we don’t really know where we should direct it. With no mass-organised protests, it’s difficult to find an outlet. Maybe this explains why Moyes has borne the brunt of our frustration. The manager is always the easiest target.
It should never have been like this. Everything came to a head at Burnley but the anger towards the board had been growing for a while. It wasn’t just that shambolic transfer window after shambolic transfer window has passed us by. It wasn’t just that the board repeatedly criticised fans in public for daring to hold them accountable for their incompetence. It wasn’t just that they moved us to a soulless, lifeless athletics stadium on the empty promise that it would transform our fortunes and attract world class players. It wasn’t just the amateurish management of club affairs at all levels, from media leaks to farcical transfer negotiations. It wasn’t just that they would seemingly put any promise out there to keep us quiet but with no plan or way of delivering it. It was all of it and more.
What I find most annoying is that every single one of these problems we have with the board – every single one of these reasons for the Burnley protest – have still not been dealt with in any meaningful way. The board has got away with it again.
We continue to look far from planning and delivering a smart transfer window in which we target value players to address our weaknesses. Brady and co. continue to blame fans, or ‘malcontents and keyboard warriors’ for their own poor record. Nothing has been done about the stadium, except for a few flags, and the club continues to embarrass itself in public with one co-owner calling for Moyes to stay, in the middle of the other doing the complete opposite.
Let us remind ourselves what exactly Sullivan said earlier this year, in the build-up to and surrounding Burnley, as anger towards him grew:
“[On recruitment] I’m going to delegate the whole thing to a huge analysis and scouting system with a new Head of Recruitment. We’ll have a massive video analysis department, increase the scouting department. Every player will be looked at five or six times.... the manager will go and watch them play”
And here’s Brady from the minutes of the Emergency Supporters Advisory Board meeting after Burnley:
“[The club] have addressed some of the concerns that have been raised by supporters, including the appointment this summer of a Director of Football to handle the transfer policy.”
The fact of the matter is that the board will do anything to protect themselves. Brady will evidently blame anyone but herself for the not executing a better business policy and not delivering on the promises made for the stadium.
Sullivan, meanwhile, will say literally anything to temporarily take the heat off him. With Burnley, it was the Director of Football and total reform of recruitment. Did he get the fans off his back for saying it? Yes. Have we seen any evidence yet that this is coming? No.
This brings me to now, and the hype surrounding the new manager. Is all this not just another huge deflection to allow the board to not have to face up to their failures. Fans put their anger to one side to help the team stay up. Now that the season’s over, the spotlight should be on the board once more. How convenient that Sullivan is saturating the press with managerial gossip. (If there’s one thing that man is good at, it’s putting his bullshit out into the media quicker than you can say ‘loan striker’.)
Don’t get me wrong. The appointment of the correct manager is one of the single biggest decisions a club chair ever has to make. It deserves attention. In addition, as I write this Sullivan could be close to pulling off a deal to bring a manager with a good record and a big reputation to the club. Personally, I’ll be reserving any interest in this until it gets done. We know through eight years of evidence with these owners that their actions never speak louder than their words. Do we really believe it this time?
On the other hand, as West Ham Twitter is completely flooded with speculation, excitement and debate over the new boss, have we really forgotten the reality of the situation? Whoever we appoint will have to work under Sullivan. Whoever we appoint will have to put up with the same crap from upstairs – the inevitable media agenda against them, the lack of planning and intelligence in the transfer market, the off-field circus surrounding the club, the empty promises.
Nothing will change until Sullivan changes. For me, it doesn’t matter who we appoint. Whoever we appoint, whether it’s Rafa Benitez or Manuel Pellegrini, Steve McClaren or Peter Reid – they will all have to work within the severe constraints of our arrogant, deluded owners who will always choose to protect themselves over the interests of the club. Whoever gets the job will have to perform near-miracles to give these fans the success they crave. Moyes was deemed well below standard. Best of luck to his successor!
Meanwhile, the transfer window is already open, and with this pledged restructure already seemingly behind schedule, I still fully expect West Ham to spend another window miles behind our rivals in terms of the quality of our transfer policy, from scouting, to identifying the right players, to the end result of being able to close the deal. The new manager will only be able to work with what they’ve got.
Ultimately, we need to focus our attention as fans on what’s really important at this club, and what is going to make the key difference to our fortunes next season. While appointing the right manager is a priority, we need to ask ourselves what the common denominator in our struggles for the past several seasons actually is.
We also need to remember exactly who to hold accountable for delivering success at this club, especially given the promises they made only a few months ago. A big name manager will not make this go away.