Why West Ham buy badly

Little David Sullivan

Learn from history or you’re doomed to repeat it

Jesse Ventura

WEST HAM’S dealings in the transfer market since the arrival of Chairman David Sullivan have been little short of disgraceful. For all the brave words about how much money the club spend (in reality a deceit) the fact remains too many signings have been old, injury prone or just not up to it. Far too few players have any appreciable resale value.

As an example, look at the table below of the club’s signings since the move to the Olympic Stadium (fees from Transfermarkt). Less than a third have enjoyed a substantial run in the side with over half having played fewer than 15 games. While the attributed ratings might be arguable it is a fact that only one (Havard Nortdveit) has earned a profit of £5million or more.

There is no plan

Without a Director of Football it’s all but impossible to set out a framework for player abiliies in each position. Instead the club rely on the requirements of each individual manager. Again, there is an inconsistency – under Sullivan the five managers have fluctuated between idealist (Grant, Bilic and Pellegrini) and pragmatist (Allardyce and Moyes). It’s little surprise that, shorn of players to fit a philosophy, the idealists fail before the club then mrelies on the pragmatists to clear up the mess. For all Sullivan’s nonsense about “The West Ham way”, until he steps aside the club will only succeed under a pragmatic manager.

The exemplar of the West Ham transfer policy under Sullivan was Javier Hernandez. The Hammers paid £16m to Bayer Leverkusen (who couldn’t believe asking price was agreed) for the Mexican striker in the expectation of goals plus the bonus of a hefty social media following in Central America. Chicharito only arrived after the club were turned down by then Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud. The difference between the two is as though a man at a bar asked for a pint of bitter but received a Bacardi and Coke instead as “They’re both alcohol innit!” Unlike the Frenchman, Hernandez couldn’t run channels, play with his back to goal or hold the ball up. His effort off the ball was negligible and any pace he once possessed had gone.

Javier Hernandez was a failure

It very quickly became clear Hernandez was hopeless at leading the line on his own and needed a partner despite the Hammers having no midfielders with the defensive presence to play a four. Classic Sullivan to buy a player based only on what he is good at, not his all-round game and with no thought for what formation he wanted the man to play in.

Investment is unevenly spread

For the best part of a decade fans have had to endure a side stuffed with costly attack-minded footballers who might as well be teleported out of the stadium once the ball is lost. Investment in any other area is minimal. Only once has the club paid more than £10m for a defender – for Issa Diop from Toulouse. The 22-year-old is already worth at least twice that amount – begging the question why we don’t attempt more such purchases.

Sullivan wouldn’t appear to understand the necessity of players with more than one string to their bow. Heaven knows what he sees when he views the midfield of Manchester City or Liverpool, the two most successful teams in the country at present, as no Hammers player functions without the ball in the manner all of theirs do.

Sullivan must go

Those seven (count ’em!) scouts in a Europe of 51 countries that Karren Brady was so pleased about may as well not be there as Sulley will usually go to his favoured agent for a recommendation anyway. In case anybody needs reminding, the main motivation of every football agent comes in the form of cash. An individual club’s welfare is very far down the list and Will Salthouse would only worry about relegation as it might affect the value of players he’s moving about.

The original Napoleon

All attempts to remove the Chairman from his player recruitment position have failed. Whether it’s for financial gain or to satisfy his rampant Napoleon Complex is unclear but either way the man refuses to budge. Sadly, he iev’t even very good at the mechanics of the stuff – how many times have we heard about how much work he’s putting in on a transfer only for it to fail? This stuff really shouldn’t be difficult, especially when he most often caves to player or external club demands anyway.

The club needs to learn how to sell

Instead of offering long-term contracts to ageing players (Mark Noble, Aaron Cresswell and Winston Reid are all recent instances), thereby at a stroke reducing the players’ sell-on value and increasing the chances of injury in a squad renowned for it, the club need to learn when to sell players at the peak of their value. Instead our record at selling players is atrocious. Sullivan hangs onto players in a possessive fashion in order to wring all the available drop of value from their deteriorating bodies. It’s almost as though his experience in these matters is not that of a football man but a pimp attempting to dredge every last penny from his stable of girls. Oh.

The Academy is failing

A lack of real term investment since Sullivan arrived at the club has resulted in a cliff edge fall-off of talent emerging through the West Ham youth set up. By all accounts many of the coaches are of insufficient quality, with the good ones leaving when they see for themselves how poorly the place is run. Instead of providing good facilities and great tutors the club instead use the Academy as an opportunity to give favoured former players a “nice little earner”.

Academy product Declan Rice

The production line has ceased. Declan Rice (originally a Chelsea product) is the only first team regular to emerge in the Sullivan era. More strain is put on our esteemed Chair to work his magic in the transfer market as a result.


The result of our failing system is a squad never capable of ridding itself of deadwood as the cycle of failure continues. Players are seldom bought with thoughts of progression – but more often as emergency cover for a previous failure. Nine years into the Sullivan experiment and here we are still sitting at Year Zero.


There May Be Trouble Ahead

MANUEL PELLEGRINI’S preference for playing three attacking midfielders behind a lone striker is a real problem. The gains made from such a line-up are more than outweighed by losses in defensive solidity given the personnel available.

Don’t believe us? Perhaps you should read today’s report from football analytics experts Statsbomb that confirmed all our worst fears.

Essentially, our defensive expected goals or xG (the odds on us conceding) are the worst in the league. Our attacking xG is a bang average tenth. Not only do these statistics make expectations of a top six finish appear fanciful in the extreme, they point, once things settle down, to a possible relegation scrap with only Newcastle possessing a worse combined xG.

At this point it is worth saying that if Sebastien Haller stays fit there is little chance of the club going down – but that is pretty cold comfort given the money spent over the past two seasons.

On a sliding scale of manager Manuel Pellegrini’s attitude to team selection you might term it idealism, stubbornness or arrogance. Whichever you prefer, the fact is he has boxed himself into a corner.

For various reasons (return from injury and unfamiliarity with the Premier League prime among them) our attacking trio are just not firing. They have scored just three times between them in nine games; all from the left foot of Andriy Yarmolenko. Individually none have created more chances than Watford’s much maligned Tom Cleverley.

Given the alacrity with which we give up chances the obvious answer would appear to be replacing one of the attackers and reverting to a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 with strength added in the middle of the park.

Unfortunately, the three players in our squad capable of playing the role are Jack Wilshere, Carlos Sanchez and Robert Snodgrass. The first has neither the defensive capability nor fitness to fulfil the role with Colombian Sanchez one of the worst ever players I’ve seen in the claret and blue. That leaves us with the 32-year-old former winger Snodgrass as the man to shore up the team alongside fellow 32-year old and skipper Mark Noble in the position that traditionally requires the greatest miles run per game.

As much as we might recommend the club buy one or preferably two fit central midfielders who are mobile and can defend as well as pass, we have to ask why Pellegrini and his Director of Football Mario Husillos preferred buying attacker Pablo Fornals (who is yet to realise his potential) over the summer to replacing the wantaway Pedro Obiang with a player that gives the team better value.

If either Noble or fellow deep midfielder Declan Rice cop a bad injury things could get even nastier than one of David Sullivan’s straight-to-DVD films.