x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

West Ham's horror was fitting finale

Mistakes made on and off the field helped seal relegation, but Avram Grant must shoulder brunt of the blame, writes Richard Jolly.

West Ham United's Robert Green, left, Jack Collison, centre, and Jordan Spence, right, cannot hide their despair after defeat to Wigan Athletic on Sunday sealed relegation from the Premier League.
West Ham United's Robert Green, left, Jack Collison, centre, and Jordan Spence, right, cannot hide their despair after defeat to Wigan Athletic on Sunday sealed relegation from the Premier League.

If relegation is inherently demoralising, it is often understandable. Clubs with comparatively meagre resources, the newly promoted and the annual strugglers, can reflect, reproach and regret while merely meeting lowly expectations.

But there is a subsection of the demoted who deserve rather more castigation, teams who have endured shameful seasons. To the names of Nottingham Forest (in 1993 and 1996), Middlesbrough (1997), Blackburn Rovers (1999), West Ham United (2003), Leeds United (2004), Southampton (2005) and Newcastle United (2009) can be added that of a second Hammers side: the current crop.

Despite spending a solitary week out of the bottom three this season, they belong in the group who should not have gone down, but contrived to stumble and tumble into the Championship anyway. West Ham's year has been an exercise in hubris at a club where lofty ambitions and lowly reality have become ever more distant.

They have been culpable of gross mismanagement, whether ot be the directors who first appointed and then persisted with Avram Grant, eventually sacking him at the DW Stadium after Wigan Athletic sealed West Ham's fate, or the Israeli himself, producing a litany of excuses that fooled few. His was a reign in which team selections, tactics, substitutions and signings were similarly misjudged.

It amounted to a confluence of incompetence in which the players were complicit. Asked who had excelled this season, Grant cited four: Scott Parker, the Footballer of the Year, goalkeeper Robert Green, the improving James Tomkins and Danny Gabbidon. Even then the last was a bizarre inclusion and Demba Ba, who scored seven goals in 10 starts despite Grant's habit of shifting him to the left wing, a strange exclusion.

Rather lengthier, however, is the list of those who did not: half of the much-vaunted spine of England internationals (besides Green and Parker), Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole, neither of whom started at the DW Stadium; Robbie Keane, scorer of 123 Premier League goals, who missed what was effectively an open goal in the dying stages of last Saturday's draw against Blackburn; Wayne Bridge, the on-loan Manchester City left-back, turned with predictable ease by Charles N'Zogbia for Wigan's winner on Sunday; Pablo Barrera and Winston Reid, emerging stars of the World Cup who have vanished into obscurity at Upton Park; the predictably undistinguished Luis Boa Morte, Kieron Dyer, Tal Ben Haim and Herita Ilunga; Benni McCarthy, whose spell at the club cost around £6 million (Dh35,657m) in transfer fee, wages and pay-off and did not produce a single goal.

For all the talk of poverty, West Ham had a £60m annual wage bill, at least £50m higher than Blackpool's. Despite the serial complaints about injuries, this was a seemingly promising cast list: Thomas Hitzlsperger, with a half-century of caps for Germany; Julien Faubert, once borrowed by Real Madrid; Valon Behrami, with Lazio and Fiorentina on his CV; the proven Premier League midfielders, Gary O'Neil and Mark Noble; the unpredictable talents of Frederic Piquionne and Victor Obinna. Yet the seven games the inspirational Parker did not start produced a solitary point: no wonder West Ham were branded a one-man team.

Whereas Wigan, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn and Blackpool have all responded to perilous positions by producing results, West Ham cracked under the pressure. The reality is that the majority of the culprits will not be there next season.

The admirable Parker excepted, no tears should be shed for the underperforming footballers or the unimpressive manager. While co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold may have to absorb the £40 million drop in income as a result of demotion, even that would be cancelled out by the potential profits should they sell a top-flight club playing to capacity crowds in London's Olympic Stadium in a few years. The real losers, as ever, are the supporters.

But while Grant has rightly been dismissed, the guilty men are to be found everywhere from the pitch to the directors' box. That is the way with the most embarrassing relegations. They are the consequence of underachievement at every level.

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