Guardian writers’ predicted position: 10th (NB: this is not necessarily John Brewin’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 6th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): :
More of the same is the aim. But that will not be easy. David Moyes must strike against the very rhythms of Hammers history. Part of the enigma that is the West Ham Way is that serious slumps habitually follow success.
Third place under John Lyall in 1985-86 was followed by 15th in 1986-87 and seventh in 2001-02 under the late Glenn Roeder was followed by relegation the very next season. Alan Pardew was sacked the December after reaching the 2006 FA Cup final and ninth place with a promoted team, and seventh in 2015-16 was followed by an 11th place that flattered Slaven Bilic’s team. His departure soon followed.
Repeating last season’s push for the Champions League and eventual sixth place will have to be achieved by what looked a thin squad in 2020-21 and hasn’t yet been fattened up. The club’s penchant for late-night shopping as the transfer window slams shut will surely be making a reappearance. Sixth was achieved without a recognised centre-forward for half a season, with further glaring gaps in a squad with which Moyes worked near-miracles. He used 24 players, with only Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds using fewer with 23.
There is also the distraction of the Europa League to come. Participation in Europe has usually come at a cost to domestic form for West Ham. Even if the club has been no further than the first round of the old Uefa Cup this century, added fixtures in early season have had a knock-on effect. This time, the Europa League group stage beckons in September with no qualification necessary, but that means a Thursday-Sunday routine into mid-December at the earliest.
The David Moyes within whom Sir Alex Ferguson once saw a young version of himself was highly adept at making do and mending gaps in his Everton squad. Memories abound of players such as Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill up front in the absence of a striker, as many a stopgap came and went (Denis Stracqualursi anyone?). The notion of the inspirational Michail Antonio as any kind of emergency option is dismissed by the south Londoner’s status as top scorer for the past two seasons but his variable fitness record denied Moyes his foremost striking option for that late-season push for Europe.
Moyes, notoriously cautious in issues of recruitment, and the co-chairman David Sullivan, one of the market’s more enthusiastic participants, have been quiet, worryingly so with vacancies to be filled. The striker Sébastien Haller joined Ajax in January with no replacement forthcoming and a centre-back is required with Fabián Balbuena allowed to leave on a free.
In midfield, Hammers fans desperately hope Declan Rice will stay for at least one more season before going the way of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick et al. A permanent return for Jesse Lingard, revelatory after his January loan from Manchester United, would cost serious money. And such money may be available only if another asset is realised; West Ham’s finances did not allow them to soak up the heavy losses of the pandemic.
Last season was a pleasant surprise but now presents plenty to live up to. A further variable can be added. Is it outlandish to suggest West Ham’s vast improvement was partially down to home matches not being played in front of an infamously scathing support? Did it take the London Stadium being empty for it to finally feel like home? Perhaps a long absence might now make fans’ hearts fonder for the place.
David Moyes’s reputation was made at Everton in overachieving by harnessing limited resources to challenge far wealthier opponents. A second spell at West Ham has seen him revive that act, begging the question why the owners cut him loose after he had saved the club from relegation at the end of the 2017-18 season. Sixth place, two points off Champions League qualification, was a personal triumph for someone written off as a dinosaur and who had become a meme for the failure of old-school football man values. Moyes’s spiky personality does not conceal someone who never lost faith in his own abilities; last season at West Ham saw a return of the swagger he showed in his Everton heyday. Just don’t mention Manchester United, Sunderland or Real Sociedad. A rather different David Moyes managed those clubs.
The comparisons of Tomas Soucek to the former Moyes talisman Marouane Fellaini are too simplistic, and mostly centre on both players being tall and dominant in the air. The Czech has been important to Moyes’s restoration of West Ham, his arrival in January 2020 certainly helping the development of Declan Rice in beefing up the centre of midfield. Soucek does not have the grace of Trevor Brooking or Alan Devonshire but instead represents another branch of the Hammers ethos: the hard-bitten professional who can play a bit; the Billy Bonds tradition.
As they have since 2010, Davids Sullivan and Gold continue to rule the roost, with Lady Karren Brady the eyes and ears actually running the show. The summer saw a bid for the club from an American consortium rebuffed. A revolving door of managers, myriad controversies, a relegation and a distinct lack of popularity among fans have occasionally led to things getting a bit hairy down the London Stadium. And yet the sense is that Sullivan and Gold enjoy being their beloved club’s custodians and would be very reluctant to give it all up.
At what point did it become apparent that England may not, after all, win the Euros? The sight of a physically and mentally exhausted Rice leaving the field in the 72nd minute of the final, his face betraying his disappointment, felt significant. England have only ever won a major tournament with a Hammer on the field. The summer of 2021 saw Rice become a senior player for his country, and that may present problems for West Ham. Chelsea, featuring best pal and England colleague Mason Mount, are fully expected to make a move.
We’ll be singing
Any visitor to either the old Boleyn Ground or the London Stadium will recognise that no ditty could ever drown out the popularity of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. In pre-match, at half-time and at full-time, the 1975 FA Cup final team’s version – featuring funky wah-wah – rings out. The fans sing it too, though the London Stadium’s goal music is, incongruously, the Beatles’ Twist & Shout.
Back to the London Stadium
The good Culture vultures will soon be able to visit the BBC Music Studios, Sadler’s Wells East and the V&A annexe being built near the stadium.
The bad That long trudge across a windy former Olympic Park to Westfield or the wilds of Hackney Wick will never be fun.
Overhauled in 2014 before the stadium move, the Hammers’ crest is a marriage of 21st-century minimalism and pretensions to blue-chip capitalism. A pair of crossed hammers provide an iconography to link back to the club’s 19th-century ironwork roots while the addition of the word ‘London’ reminded potential exec box occupants of the club’s presence in a world business capital.
“We really should have sold Yarmolenko after that Sweden performance.”
“Beginning to think Craig Dawson is the second coming of Alvin Martin.”
“Who needs a striker when you can get it launched up to Arthur Masuaku?”
“Where did you go, Jesse Lingard? The Hammers nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
Hammerhead, who replaced Herbie the Hammer in a 2011 coup, looks like a Battlestar Galactica Cylon wearing a replica shirt.