Premier League: Crisis-laden West Ham to get relegated
Alex Keble argue that West Ham will go down this season after a decade of stagnation under David Gold and David Sullivan...
Given most football fans cannot afford the price of a season ticket, and with the televised output growing all the time, the importance of the stadium can be overlooked. But it is the soul of any football club, the single most important asset in terms of defining identity, creating community, and dictating the limits of the hopes and expectations of both fans and players. A raucous atmosphere in an intimidating venue gives clubs the gifts of optimism and self-belief.
The London Stadium is not a place for dreamers. A vacuous concrete bowl, there is a haunting disconnection between pitch and supporters that cannot be overcome.
There will never be a good atmosphere there, it is simply impossible. The players - tiny stick figures - play silently, the sounds of the ball being struck or the net rippling lost over the running track. Supporters can talk to one another in hushed tones even when the two ends are singing at the top of their lungs. It is not a football stadium. It is a soulless shell.
The problem for West Ham United is that football clubs tend to be reflections of their stadium. There is plenty of fluctuation in the short-term, of course, but the culture as defined over a five- or 10-year period tends to fit neatly with the nuts and bolts, with the paint-job and the tiered seating. The best example is Old Trafford, a gradually crumbling ground that mirrors Manchester United's demise.
Another classic example used to be West Ham's Boleyn Ground, a claustrophobic and fierce venue that invited the likes of Paulo Di Canio or Joe Cole to inspire the fans with their flair and charisma. The club's trade-in has got to be the worst in English football history. It is no surprise, then, that they are in serious decline as relegation (2.32) beckons.
Gold and Sullivan to blame
Tracing the history of West Ham's current malaise takes us back to the beginning of the Gold & Sullivan era. Although the club were hardly in a good state on their arrival in 2010, a decade of stagnation means the vast majority of the blame lies with the current owners.
Put bluntly, their record of hiring managers and signing players has been abysmal - and scattergun, yo-yoing between empty romanticism and fire-fighter options. The appointment of Avram Grant was hopelessly naïve, the lurch to Sam Allardyce bizarre and unpopular. Slaven Bilic was another coach with a big name but little substance, and then David Moyes was parachuted in.
Manuel Pellegrini was the ultimate illustration of the board's vision: the hollow, unstructured pursuit of glamour, a vague waft towards the glorified ideal of a West Ham Way but with none of the clear thinking. Pellegrini was a luxury appointment to match a host of luxury signings similarly past it or uncaring, such as Pablo Zabaleta, Jack Wilshere, and Javier Hernandez.
Fool's Gold personnel for a Fool's Gold stadium. West Ham fans deserve so much better.
Moyes is the wrong fit
The latest mistake, and possibly a fitting end to the sorry story, is a return to Moyes - a fire-fighter manager whose defensive instincts border on the paranoid. Substituting Michail Antonio for Arthur Masuaku when 3-1 up against Brighton only to draw 3-3 perfectly captured how Moyes' anxious decisions are affecting the players.
Hire a fire-fighter, and sure enough the players will spend their days worrying a fire is about to break out.
That result in particular has damaged the assumption West Ham are too good to go down. Their first 11 has considerably more talent than any of their rivals at the bottom of the table, and yet it is hard to see where the fight or the form will come from. The Hammers cannot rely on home wins (just three from 13) and, worse still, have a horrendous run of fixtures ahead of them.
Assuming the postponed Man City clash happens in the next week, their next seven in the Premier League reads: Man City (h), Liverpool (a), Southampton (h), Arsenal (a), Wolves (h), Tottenham (a), Chelsea (h). West Ham could be firmly stuck in the bottom three by the time their games get a little easier.
Tactically, Moyes's plans are not proving fruitful. Negativity has gripped the squad and, without particularly ordered counter-attacks, they appear to be relying on old-fashioned tropes: set-pieces, early crosses, and long balls into the channels. This simply doesn't suit the likes of Manuel Lanzini or Felipe Anderson.
But that problem is dwarfed by the issues in central midfield, where Declan Rice is increasingly struggling and Mark Noble's influence is waning. West Ham lack control or discipline in this zone, hence conceding nine goals in their last three league games. That Sebastien Haller can't buy a goal leaves West Ham in a brutal, aimless slog.
Rivals seem better equipped
Relegation is made more likely by the fact Bournemouth 2.24 won two on the trot and appear to be over their blip and Watford [2.92] look to have more secure foundations despite a recent downturn in form.
Brighton 5.30 and Aston Villa 2.12 are looking particularly vulnerable, and yet given Crystal Palace 8.80 and Newcastle 9.20 surely have enough points on the board already to scrape over the line that leaves West Ham as one of three clubs fighting against two spots alongside Norwich.
That's worrying for West Ham fans, because the key difference between West Ham and their two biggest rivals, Brighton and Aston Villa, is that Graham Potter and Dean Smith are wholeheartedly supported by their clubs' fans. Whatever happens in the remainder of the season neither club will become mutinous and neither dressing room will become toxic.
The same cannot be said for West Ham and Moyes. More protests are coming. Unrest is the one constant at West Ham under Gold and Sullivan.
It can be hard to feel anything at all at the London Stadium, but with good reason the Hammers' faithful are seething with anger. Relegation seems like the natural endpoint.