‘This is Fine’ is a meme that depicts self-denial in the face of a hopeless situation and after a six-game winless run and the world crashing down around him, Manuel Pellegrini bears an eerie resemblance to the protagonist. Is it time for West Ham to do a little self-preservation?? It just might be.
West Ham fans don’t ask for much. They don’t even expect their side to win because they know better than to ask for the impossible. But what the Hammers faithful do expect is for players to give everything on the field, a half-decent football team, and a stadium to watch it all in. Now they had the stadium in Upton Park that went by Boleyn Ground and it was a historic one. But the shift, partly caused by low rent and partly because owners wanted more fans and more money, saw them shift to the London stadium.
Since then nothing has gone right. Dmitri Payet walked away after throwing several tantrums, Marko Arnautovic joined him a few years later and now their £180 million-plus team can’t seem to win a single game. But then again, the Hammers are no strangers to setbacks. They’ve been relegated twice since the turn of the century, spent a lot of time in the Championship, have had to watch atrocious football and more often than not turned to the past for some of their best memories. Of days where the West Ham way filled their coffers and made sure that the fans had something to brag about at the end of every season.
And yet, them singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” at Wembley after they won promotion back into the Premier League in 2012 is infamous. But, then in walked in Manuel Pellegrini. Here was a man that promised the world, the milky way and maybe even a pathway to a better life away from their fading and dying dreams. Because here, was a Premier League-winning manager, the man that broke the Barcelona/Real Madrid duopoly with Villarreal no less and the same man who took Malaga to the Champions League for the first time all the while playing fluid and aesthetically pleasing football. What more could they ask for?
He gave them hope for maybe the first time in a really long time but eighteen months on and if nothing more, hearts have been broken. Pellegrini himself looks a little confused and maybe even flabbergasted at the situation he has woken up and found himself in but it’s so much more than that for the Hammers. In an ever-changing Premier League, thanks largely to the TV deal, the club had a lot of money to burn. How much money?? Well according to Forbes, as of May 2019, West Ham had a team value of $616 million and their revenue was set at around $236 million.
That puts them higher than Everton, AC Milan, and Newcastle United, although both Everton and AC Milan have a higher revenue than the Hammers. But that hasn’t stopped them from spending an absurd amount of money on players, £180 million, and yet Pellegrini looks flabbergasted. And therein lies the problem because more often than not the players will follow exactly what their manager does. It’s exactly what is happening for the club with the likes of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Roberto and a few others all treating the game of football like a lackadaisical kickabout.
It wasn’t always the case this season with the club even beating Manchester United but since then, in seven games played, the Hammers have managed just two draws. Even Oxford United, a League One side, thrashed the Hammers 4-nothing in the EFL Cup despite Pellegrini putting out a star-studded side. Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, Pablo Zabaleta, Pablo Fornals, Jack Wilshere and Robert Snodgrass all started. And therein lies a rather immense problem for the Hammers because at the moment, their entire team feels like an unrealistic aim, an over-reach or a show of strength by a drunk frat boy. It’s filled with players who have and should be playing European football and as Seb Stafford Bloor put it “They've been tempted into mid-table by a large contract, with their performance depending on their determination to return to a level they've already attained.”
It’s one of the many reasons that the Chilean has struggled to get them motivated to try and hit a level they know they’ll get to at even if the Hammers get relegated. But that’s just the tip of the problem because, on the other hand, their recruitment has been down-right abject. An absurd dependence on Marko Arnautovic last season should have been a big red-mark but then this season things have become even worse. Mark Noble may have been good last season but even in his prime, he was never a great player. His energy and willingness on the field are laudable but it's a telling sign when he starts every game. And with him in the twilight of his career, things were always going to go downhill.
The Hammers, to add to that, let go of not one but two midfielders who could have made an impact. Especially after the success a midfield three of Pedro Obiang, Noble, and Declan Rice brought to the club. It wasn’t a world-class combination but it distributed the pressure equally between three players and it got the club out of a rut. That has now changed and it demands answers from both Manuel Pellegrini and the club. Because for a club that is chasing after a European spot, and maybe even hoping for a 4th place finish, they need to do everything better. But more importantly, 56 games into Manuel Pellegrini’s career in London and why hasn’t anything changed??
Why have West Ham managed just 22 wins and lost a flabbergasting 24 games under the Chilean manager?? Is it down to his tactics, style of play and even training methods, although reports indicate that the latter is as good as a top-six side. Or is it something more?? Because this is clearly not the club or the team that Pellegrini envisioned, he’d be at the helm of when he did sign for the Hammers. His vision was a football club in ship-shape condition, a team performing at its peak and more importantly attractive football played by a languid yet fluid side capable of going toe-to-toe with the best of the best.
Not this shaky, inconsistent and defensively dependent on Lukasz Fabianski of a mess which brings about a startling reminder of Portsmouth after their expensively assembled squad collapsed like a house of cards. But then again, even they won the FA Cup in a run to the final that included Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City. In the end, even if West Ham fails, the broadcasting money will save their blushes. But what of their pride?? What of their fans, who will save them? A trophy may give the team something to fight for but even that doesn’t look like a possibility and that's what Manuel Pellegrini needs to change.
This is, after all, the squad, the players and the director of football that the Chilean asked for built around money that West Ham hope he will be able to get them. Otherwise, like most managers who end up at West Ham, Pellegrini too will one day find himself much like those pretty bubbles Hammers faithful bellow sing about.
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