It is not often that a football club will have a stadium ready and waiting for their arrival once they feel they have outgrown their current ground. This was the fortuitous fate that befell West Ham United after the Boleyn Ground was deemed a stadium that they should leave. However, while their move to the new stadium was fairly seamless, their first season at the London Stadium has been anything but perfect.
West Ham finished last season in seventh place with 62 points, above Istanbul touting Liverpool and ‘they only play when they want’ Chelsea, and, incredibly, they were just four points short of Manchester City and the final Champions League spot.
With their team playing at such a high level, and Dimitri Payet, the most loyal player in world football, playing some sublime football, everyone at West Ham was swept up in the optimism that had engulfed the club.
This season, though, a mini crisis has erupted. The results have not been as positive, the team has struggled to perform and the London Stadium is not quite the fortress that the fans expected it to be. To top it all off, Payet suddenly decided to do his best impression of a toddler and forced through a move back to France, made all the more laughable by the million pound loyalty bonus he was awarded last September, with the only thing more ridiculous than that being any sort of good behaviour bonus for Granit Xhaka.
BREAKING: West Ham United have erected a statue in honour of Dimitri Payet at their training ground… pic.twitter.com/eC0UhvMnEa
— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) March 9, 2017
With all of these problems compounding their early season, the question must be asked: what are West Ham really capable of? Last season they were outstanding and fully deserved their European place, however, they were knocked out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds and they found things difficult in the league, causing many fans to call for the head of Slaven Bilic.
It came as quite a surprise to many, but the rather shock sacking of Sam Allardyce back in 2015 should have taught everyone better. They kept faith with the manager and they now find themselves in 11th place with 33 points, nine clear of the relegation zone, but 16 short of Manchester United in sixth.
Most fans will say that being safe was never actually an objective this year, with that being something they should achieve almost immediately. But can they really keep up with the money splashing and scoring might of those above them?
Right now, arguably the two weakest teams in the top six are Liverpool and Manchester United, due to their seeming inability to consistently beat the teams that they simply must defeat. West Ham do not really come close to either side at the moment, with Liverpool a real force when they actually decide they want to play well and Manchester United are an incredibly tough team to beat under Jose Mourinho, even if Zlatan Ibrahimovic does decide to get banned on purpose just to reinforce how much his team need the striker.
West Ham’s recent loss to Bournemouth, a team that had not won this year, is very telling then, with a team that is chasing Europe having to beat an opponent that were yet to win in 2017. The move to the London Stadium has not seen any sort of dash up the table akin to Usain Bolt’s exploits, while their Mo Farah long distance skills are more akin to ‘Mo Fatter’, Farah’s overweight alter-ego.
With this move has grown an unhealthy view that they should be challenging the top six, something they are not currently equipped to do. Arsenal put a lot of time and money into moving to the Emirates Stadium, something that caused them to sacrifice the ability to really bolster their squad with star studded names over the years. This has caused them to miss out on the title time and time again, but their already very talented squad allows them to continually challenge at the top.
West Ham though sacrificed a lot of the momentum they had built up at their old stadium in the hope that it would immediately transfer to their new home, which it did not. All in all, the stadium move has caused a deluded sense of success, with the gold medals of yesteryear overshadowing what West Ham are doing.
Dimitri Payet holding nothing back on why he left West Ham… ? pic.twitter.com/I8AcwuhZl8
— TheFootballRepublic (@TheFootballRep) March 10, 2017
The above tweet regarding Payet is one that will hurt the supporters, with their former talisman refusing to hold back as he took aim at his previous club. In particular, the final part of his statement “I had no desire to play in the lower reaches of the Premier League” will cause everyone at the club a huge amount of frustration, but is he right? West Ham will not be able to attract the top talent if they are not able to break into the top six and secure regular European football, something they are a long way off doing.
Can West Ham become a great club? Of course, the likes of Everton and Southampton, with their limited budgets, look like very good teams and they are continually closing the gap on the so called ‘big boys’. However, the two do not have a complex surrounding what they should achieve, whereas the Hammers seem to think the gap between themselves at the top six is smaller than it actually is.
West Ham need to go back to square one and build up their reputation at their new ground. From there, they can begin to challenge the bigger teams at home as they start to win games on the road. With the right funding and good squad retention, West Ham could become a real force in England, but first, they must now realise that the gap between themselves and the top six is now bigger than it was last season.
How does the Olympic Stadium compare to some of sports’ greatest venues, though?