With the move into the Olympic Stadium just over a season away it’s an exciting time to be a West Ham United fan. Many big clubs like Chelsea would love to have their own version - potentially having 54,000 supporters shouting and bellowing. Having said this, it could all be a bit of an anti-climax should The Hammers go down next year and have to host Burton Albion in the 2016-17 Championship season – a situation which is very possible.
The talk is of expansive football for an expansive stadium, but most of the talk of the last few months, if not years, surrounding West Ham centred on Sam Allardyce’s future them. Well, that’s now settled and it could be the club’s biggest mistake in years.
Leaving it until the end of the campaign to offer a manager a new contract is how Hammers’ chairmen, David Gold and David Sullivan operate, which is fair enough. They also employed this approach at Birmingham City beforehand. However well a side is doing and however rosy everything seems, things can change quickly, as the form since December testifies.
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But Allardyce has got the club promoted and secured finishes of 10th, 13th and 12th in three seasons in the top-flight. They had been in relegation form since the turn of the year, but the season lasts nine months not four or five. Of course, West Ham fans want more and the club should aim for more than mere safety or mid-table, but Big Sam improved their positioning from where they were when he took over – as he has done at all the clubs where he was given more than a season to manage. What is arguably more telling is the fact that they - Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers - all went downhill and got relegated soon after he left or was ousted.
This is not to say that the Irons should settle for their current state, but Allardyce is stable. He has achieved more than that at other clubs – most notably at Bolton where he led them to 7th (a position where Manchester United and Liverpool have finished in recent years), a League Cup final and UEFA Cup football - so achieving stability is the least you can say about him. It is exactly what a yo-yo club like West Ham need now, particularly with that move to the Olympic Stadium just a year away, and they had it with Allardyce.
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If they can go and get Jurgen Klopp or Rafa Benitez, who have both managed at the top level and won trophies, then fine, go ahead and do that. But if they were and/or are thinking of bringing in Michael Laudrup – who did okay in his one and a half seasons in England, but soon gave up on his managerial career by going to Qatar – not now (he’s reportedly knocked it back anyway).
And the same applies to Slaven Bilic, who did well with Croatia before leading Lokomotiv Moscow to 9th in the league - their worst league position since the establishment of the Russian league in 1992 – and Besiktas to third last season with a potential tile this campaign. But that’s only to be expected of one of the Big Three in Turkey, so again, not now.
Does anyone really think Laudrup and Bilic would do better than Allardyce? It would be safer to have Tony Pulis at the helm. Again, the club may not want to settle for mere mid-table and safety, but with the upcoming season being the last at the Boleyn Ground and the very real possibility of playing second tier football in a Champions League stadium, it is a pivotal one.
Now Allardyce is gone, it is touch and go whether The Hammers will be gracing their first season in their new arena in the top-flight. I would like to think Gold and Sullivan are football men and are different to others in their positions, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if they appointed a young manager with a slick made-to-measure suit who has had a couple of seasons finishing in the top half of La Liga or wherever.
If so, forget it. Unlike a club such as Chelsea, West Ham are not yet in a position where they can change manager and guarantee their Premier League status. Keeping hold of Sam Allardyce would have, though.