West Ham United are back in the big time, returning to the Premier League via the play-offs thanks to a 2-1 victory over Blackpool at Wembley.
Built as the biggest game in football, the result means the Hammers net an estimated £90 million in TV rights, revenue and all the other perks that come with playing football in the top tier of English football.
For Blackpool, whose players missed out on a £5 million bonus after falling at the last hurdle, it’s going to be another season in the Football League, with Ian Holloway unable to mastermind a second unexpected promotion via the Championship lottery in three years.
Back in 2009/10, a Charlie Adam-inspired side beat Cardiff City 3-2 under the arch. They came straight back down the following year despite a spirited fight until the end at Old Trafford on the final day of the season.
For Sam Allardyce, a much-maligned manager in east London whose remit at the start of the season was to gain promotion at any cost, the challenge is to now avoid an instant return to the second tier. It isn’t easy to get back, as they and the Tangerines both found this season. Only one of them made it after Reading and Southampton took the automatic places.
Along with the Royals and Saints, West Ham must now start to make their plans for the new season, and a completely new challenge. Whilst expectation for promotion was high at the start of what is now last season, next year survival will be seen as the absolute minimum.
In ‘Big Sam’, the club do have a manager full of experience at the highest level. Given little chance at Newcastle, it’s the job Allardyce was able to do at Bolton Wanderers and then Blackburn Rovers that should really give the club’s supporters hope.
“I was considered the top of my industry at Bolton. We were fifth in the Premier League and I had to suffer two sackings that were harsh,” said Allardyce post-match at Wembley.
“It damaged my reputation, but I’m still achieving great things. Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle in the past all went down. I don’t take any satisfaction from that but I must have done something right at those clubs.”
The issue of attractive football will no doubt raise its ugly head at some stage, but if your winning games in the Premier League, it really doesn’t matter. If it does more than results, then the fans should have been happy in the Championship and not celebrating a promotion.
How the £90 million is distributed at Upton Park will go some way to deciding what happens next season. Co-chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold were willing to bankroll moves that didn’t pay off during their relegation in 2010/11, and will look to give funds to the manager this summer with a view to a much happier ending than last May.
With the chequebook in Allardyce’s hands, a mixture of experienced campaigners and potentially exciting foreign talent could well be on the agenda.
His ability to land Kevin Nolan on arrival at West Ham was a masterstroke, and whilst the previously capped England international hasn’t been at his brilliant best on a constant basis this season, his experience at the highest level makes him an excellent skipper for next season.
Robert Green is the other class act currently in the side, and the England stopper showed his loyalty by staying with the club after relegation. With his contract up, Allardyce will need to make an offer that persuades Green to remain rather than move to Spain amidst reported interest from Malaga.
James Tomkins also has the potential to make a solid impact at the highest level, whilst Carlton Cole is proven at the level and earned England recognition in the past. Expectation will also be high over the roles Mark Noble and Jack Collison will be able to play in the English top flight.
The jury is out on a handful of other players however, with match-winner Ricardo Vaz Te a prime example of a player untested at the highest level. For £500,000 though, Allardyce knows his signing was good business in January.
"I have had some bargain buys and free transfers in my time but somebody you sign so cheaply and who scores so many goals in the Championship deserves a lot of credit,” noted the manager.
“If you add what he has scored with Barnsley, he is well into the 20s this season having come from being down and out in his career. He has worked his way back, come back into English football, scored about 24 goals, including the winner here, and he gives us a new approach."
Vaz Te has scored 12 goals in 19 appearances for the Hammers, and surely earned his chance to shine in the Premier League. But can the same be said of Sam Baldock or Nicky Maynard? Logic suggests that investment will be needed at the front line.
Logic suggests investment will be needed in a lot of positions, but it’s not always wise to make wholesale changes after a promotion. Swansea City and Norwich City experienced great success this season with a core of players that helped them get promoted. QPR made changes, and survived on the last day of the season.
There are big decisions that lie ahead for Allardyce and the Hammers, but there is little doubt that he’s the right man to keep the club blowing their bubbles in the top flight against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
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