After quite a long period of significant pain and underachievement for West Ham, the last three seasons have seen a constant, steady improvement at the club. It hasn’t all been plain sailing by any means, and it is fair to say that not all of the supporters have been completely satisfied by some of the football that has been served up at times. But by and large things really have been getting better – starting after relegation to the Championship in May 2011.
A really good illustration of this progression can be made simply comparing the team sheet of a match around four years ago on the 25th of September 2010 against Tottenham Hotspur, and that of last Saturday’s fixture versus Liverpool. The difference between the two, I am sure you will agree, is stark and telling;
Squad to play Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park on the 25th of September 2010:
Lars Jacobsen Manuel da Costa Mathew Upson Danny Gabbidon
Kieron Dyer Scott Parker Mark Noble Luis Boa Morte
Victor Obinna Frederic Piquionne
Subs: Marek Stech, Tal Ben Haim, Carlton Cole, Pablo Barrera, Radoslav Kovac, Julien Faubert, Benni McCarthy
Squad to play Liverpool at Upton Park on the 20th of September 2014:
Guy Demel James Tomkins Winston Reid Aaron Cresswell
Alex Song Cheikou Kouyate
Enner Valencia Diafra Sakho
Subs: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Mauro Zarate, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carl Jenkinson, James Collins, Morgan Amalafitano, Carlton Cole
West Ham actually defeated Spurs 1-0 on that September day back in 2010, courtesy of a Freddie Piquionne header, but nevertheless I don’t think there would be too many who would attempt to debate which side contains the superior players. Indeed I cannot think of even one player from that matchday squad from four years ago who would even be considered for the starting eleven now, even as they were back then.
Who the better keeper is out of Green and Adrian is probably a matter of some debate, but for the rest of the team, there is absolutely no question about which contains better players from the defence to the forwards. Even the stand out player from the side from 2010, Scott Parker, wouldn’t replace any of the midfielder quartet of Noble, Song, Kouyate and Downing for me. As for Noble himself, few could deny that last seasons Hammer of the Year is now a much-improved player from four years ago.
And just check out the options manager Sam Allardyce had at his disposal on the bench during the 3-1 victory over Liverpool last weekend. Instead of having to rely on the likes of Benni McCarthy and Radoslav Kovac to bring in an attempt to influence the game, he was able instead utilise the players of the ability of James Collins, Morgan Amalafitano, Mauro Zarate. As such, the strength in depth of the overall squad can also be seen to have increased drastically.
It is therefore a good idea for Hammers fans to simply sit for a moment and consider those two squads, and appreciate how far we have actually come as a club. In my view, manager Sam Allardyce and co-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan can take most of the credit for this development.
Such a shift cannot happen overnight, and the stability that the club has had over the past few seasons with Sam Allardyce at the helm has provided the base from which to build such a powerful squad. Promotion at the first attempt, followed by two solid seasons in the Premier League has created the footballing and financial platform that was required to really set about improving the squad for this season in my opinion.
So full credit to Allardyce, who has taken us from a frankly dismal position when he first took over, to where we are today – a strong and competitive Premier League side, capable of causing anyone in the league problems on our day. And also to Messrs Gold and Sullivan, who stuck by a manager with a proven track record throughout the dark days of last season, and didn’t push the panic button when so many were demanding that they do so. And credit also for the funds that they have provided to make this improvement over the years. I haven’t agreed with every decision that the pair have made since their takeover back in 2010, but overall they really have been a force for good.