x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A season that went horribly wrong for West Ham United

The owners have reduced the debts and a move to the Olympic Stadium was secured, but their handling of the football department has erred.

Avram Grant has come up with a number of excuses for West Ham United's poor season. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
Avram Grant has come up with a number of excuses for West Ham United's poor season. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

If only it had been a simple as the marketing exercise. On November 27, a mere 15 matches into West Ham United's calamitous campaign, and along comes the infamous "save our season" game. Ticket prices are cut, the home support bumped up, and Wigan Athletic reassuringly defeated 3-1.

West Ham's season was not saved.

Again rock bottom of the Premier League, followed by at least 34 club-subsidised bus loads of their own supporters, West Ham re-encounter Wigan today aware that either a defeat or draw at the DW Stadium, or a win or a draw for Birmingham City at home to Fulham at the same time will relegate them.

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The end of the road for Avram Grant

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Even if West Ham win and Birmingham lose, they will still be three points behind Alex McLeish's side going into the final day of the season, likely with an inferior goal difference.

How does a team centred on a footballer of the season, Scott Parker, find itself in this position?

With Avram Grant as manager there is never a shortage of excuses. Grant regularly cites injuries, referees and sheer misfortune. On one memorable occasion he blamed puddles on the Stamford Bridge pitch for becoming the only side to cede a goal to Fernando Torres in a Chelsea shirt.

By Grant's reckoning even concerns over being relegated have contributed to his team fighting inadequately against it.

"I felt that it was panic around the team too soon," Grant said. "If you remember everybody thought after a few games that we were already relegated. I think to say it after 10 or seven games was not serious.

"I'm not speaking about the last Wigan game. 'Save our season' was a good gimmick. Look, we won and we didn't save our season - yet. I think we wanted to show something to the supporters. I think these things didn't help, but they didn't disturb us."

Expected to return today from an Achilles problem that has seen him miss four games from which West Ham have gathered just a solitary point, Parker has questioned how a squad stronger than the one that escaped relegation last year is on the verge of it this time around.

Grant's most coherent argument is that this season's Premier League is more formidable than the one from which his Portsmouth side was evicted 12 months ago.

"I think Scott is right," he said. "Since January we have a better squad than last year, but also we need to remember there is no Hull City and Burnley, no team [like Portsmouth] under the threat of liquidation. So all the league is stronger than last year because last year the teams at the bottom were very, very weak.

"You see where Hull and Burnley are now - they are not even fighting to come back [to the Premier League]. I agree that I like the team we've had since January. Unfortunately, we lost almost all the midfield for the last month. But when we had everybody we played very, very good football."

Very good or merely passable, Grant's football has delivered just seven league wins all season. Hardly adequate for a club with "a seven-year plan" to play in the Champions League, at least according to David Sullivan when he became West Ham's co-owner 16 months ago.

While he and fellow chairman David Gold have reduced West Ham's debts and won an important fight to secure a move to the Olympic Stadium, their handling of the football department has erred.

Calculating that the coaching team of Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke were overpaid last season, Sullivan heavily criticised the team's performances in the second half of last season. Many saw it as an attempt to undermine Zola, who was sacked, along with Clarke after keeping West Ham in the top tier. Clarke has since demonstrated his qualities in assisting Liverpool's revival.

Finally allowed their own choice of coach, the owners selected Grant, an individual whose achievement in taking Chelsea to within a penalty kick of Champions League success in 2008 was offset by him overseeing the relegation of Portsmouth last season.

Player recruitment, meanwhile, remained primarily in the hands of a favoured football agent, Barry Silkman.

By January, Grant's relationship with Karren Brady, the club's part-time chief executive, was badly strained and a plan was devised to replace Grant with Martin O'Neill, only for the Irishman to think the better of it.

For a second winter running, West Ham's manager had been weakened by his own employers then left to carry on regardless.

Ask around Upton Park and there are complaints of a lack of leadership. Grant can be a taciturn figure, sometimes absent from training without explanation and hazy in his tactics.

The Israeli espouses the importance of psychological preparation yet can leave players bemused by his guidance.

Nor does Grant help his cause by claiming that he "lost an average two games a season" before taking over troubled Portsmouth last season. His record leading strong Israeli club sides is of losing at more than three times that rate. Few expect him to be at Upton Park next season whichever division the club is in.

When he is asked about his future, Grant steadfastly refuses to discuss it, indicating an expensive compensation wrangle when Gold and Sullivan wield the axe.

Contrast that with Wigan, where Roberto Martinez has been promised continued employment whether his team survive or fail.

The cost of relegation will be severe. More than half of West Ham's 2009/10 turnover of £71.7 million (Dh430.2m) derived from Premier League revenue distributions.

The minimum £40m of television and central sponsorship income taken this season will be exchanged for a £16m parachute payment next. Gate receipts, commercial and merchandising income worth £33.1m in the last financial year will also be significantly hit.

According to Sullivan there is no viable exit through administration and "West Ham really is a club where the football and bank debts exceed the value of the club. Should the worst happen, we will have to inject loans" of £20-£40m.

An exodus of players will cut wages still further. England internationals Parker (wanted by Harry Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur), Robert Green and Carlton Cole can expect to be sold, while Thomas Hitzlsperger's contract allows the Germany midfielder to leave on a free transfer.

Kieron Dyer, Danny Gabbidon, Victor Obinna, Lars Jacobsen, Jonathan Spector and Matthew Upson are all out of contract. Wayne Bridge and Robbie Keane will return to their parent clubs.

Having played a Premier League season on a lower-division budget, Blackpool, if they go down, can afford to retreat to the Championship with financial equanimity wondering only about how many of their star performers pass on the return ticket.

West Ham could have done with some of their rational thinking.

sports@thenational.ae

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