Inside the Opposition: West Ham

This season is fast drawing to a close, but securing second position and winning the FA Cup remain priorities for City. Next up for us is West Ham in Saturday’s early kick off. I spoke to West Ham fan Ben ahead of this one to get some inside information on the Hammers. 

Has the style of football Sam Allardyce has introduced been in keeping with the values of West Ham?

I’d have to say that in all honesty, no, it’s not the traditional ‘West Ham way’. We’re used to seeing the ball played on the floor, with intricate passing being a key part of our game. However, the seemingly widespread belief that Allardyce is just a ‘long ball’ manager is completely wrong. Admittedly his football isn’t always the most beautiful to watch, but I’ve seen a lot of exaggerated comments about our style of play.

Would you prefer Sam to extend his contract, or Harry Redknapp to return?

I’d absolutely love for Allardyce to extend his contract. To bring us back up at the first time of asking with a fairly dire, previously unmotivated squad without spending shedloads was brilliant enough, but the fact that we’ve already secured safety in our first season back in the Premier League and are looking to secure a top-half finish with a threadbare squad is nothing short of incredible. I’m not a big fan of Redknapp; although he can do wonders for teams initially, it usually requires heavy investment, which we couldn’t afford to do right now with our current debt. Also, he seems more tactically inept as he ages to me.

You’ve consolidated excellently this year. What would constitute a good second season back in the top flight?

Thanks. I’d say that a top-half finish would represent a good second season, and maybe a cup run to accompany it. We should be able to strengthen our squad somewhat this summer with our safety all but guaranteed and the Olympic Stadium move coming up in a few years. Our finances could get in the way of this, but Gold and Sullivan have shown that they’re willing to invest plenty of their own money into the team with the signing of Matt Jarvis. If we don’t manage to bring anyone of quality in, staying up would be good enough for me in all honesty. We’ve got a small squad as it is, and the position we’re in right now is nothing short of a miracle.

Who’s been your best player this year?

Our best player this year would have to be Winston Reid. He’s been an absolute rock at the back; he reads the game brilliantly, he’s athletic, composed, determined, tackles well, shows tremendous bravery and shows real leadership despite not being the captain. Whenever he’s been included in the team I’ve felt far more assured of our defensive capabilities. Jussi Jaaskelainen has been a close second; his incredible displays have single-handedly got us points at times, and his performance against Spurs at the Boleyn was one of the best I’d ever seen from a West Ham goalkeeper (although we did go on to lose that match…)

Where do West Ham need to strengthen in the summer? And have you got any specific players you’d like to see arrive?

I’d say that we need to strengthen our full back positions. Guy Demel has been an absolute liability at times this year, and although Joey O’Brien has performed consistently well on the left there’s very little cover for either of them, with rookies Jordan Spence and Dan Potts being the only back-ups (George McCartney doesn’t count, seeing as he’s always injured). Ideally, I’d like to see us bring in Jesus Gamez from Malaga; he’s a classy defender and at 28 he’s got the necessary experience to be a real success. He shouldn’t be too expensive either, due to Malaga’s financial woes and expulsion from UEFA competitions next year. We could do with strengthening our front-line too; beyond Andy Carroll (who might not even stay) we’ve got no guaranteed goals whatsoever.

Should West Ham try to sign Andy Carroll permanently?

I’d say yes, we should try to sign Carroll. His impact on the team has been incredible – when he plays, we have a real focal point for our attacks, and we look far more likely to score compared to when Carlton Cole plays. Carroll’s goalscoring record hasn’t been the greatest this year, but he’s been playing with injuries for large swathes of it, and he’s shown in recent weeks what he’s truly capable of. He might be a bit expensive at the rumoured £17m, but his impact on the team, especially as he develops with age, could see it looking like a very astute acquisition.

What do you think of Mancini?

I’ve a real mixed opinion of Mancini. Anyone that says he’s a bad manager is wrong – no matter what anyone says, a bad manager will never win the league, no matter what players they have at their disposal. Also, he managed to get a bunch of players that had mostly never played together before to be playing attractive, winning football within weeks, and that can’t be underestimated. I’m not sure he’s the correct manager for City in the long-term though; he’s shown in the last 2 seasons as well as at his time with Inter that he doesn’t really know how to set up a team in the Champions League, and seeing as winning that trophy is almost certainly Sheikh Mansour’s ambition, I’m not sure he’s the right man for City in future years.

If I offered you one City player on a free transfer and subsidised wages, who would you choose?

I’d have to choose Sergio Aguero. Although he’s had quite a poor season, his ability is incredible, as he’s shown in flashes this season as well as seasons past. When he’s on form, he’s one of the best strikers in the world, and I’m sure that he’ll be back up to that if he’s properly rested in the summer. He’s the obvious choice, perhaps, but the best one for me.

Prediction?

I’m going to say it’ll be 1-1. That loss to Spurs last week will probably be playing havoc with your team’s morale, particularly considering the way in which they lost, whilst our morale will be superb off the back off some really solid form, not to mention we look like having a full-strength squad for the first time in a couple of months. You’ve undoubtedly got the more talented players, but the morale should make the game about equal in my opinion.

interview by Rob Pollard

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