Former West Ham fan favourite Danny Gabbidon has exclusively given us his view on West Ham’s season, Bilic’s decision to move to Rush Green ahead of Schedule and what the Olympic Stadium move could mean for the club’s future.
The former Wales international represented West Ham with distinction from 2005-2011, playing under the likes of Alan Pardew and Alan Curbishley, forming formidable partnerships with Anton Ferdinand and current Hammers defender James Collins, as well as accumulating 49 international caps for the Welsh national side.
The ex-QPR and Crystal Palace centre half began by praising the team’s recent results against elite clubs in England’s top flight but also insisted there is still more work to be done.
“I think it’s been a good start to the season for them. You had fans that thought Allardyce did quite well and felt it was a bit harsh that he left, but the fans wanted to see better football and take the club in a direction,” Gabbidon said.
“Slaven Bilic has come in and done really well. He’s had some good results, especially against the top teams but they’ve also had their struggles when they’re expected to control the game and win against some of the lesser teams.
“It’s been a bit of a mixed bag but there have been some good performances. Dimitri Payet has been a really good signing, James Tomkins has been performing really well when he has played out of position at right back and you know what you’re going to get from Mark Noble every single week.
“It’s been a good start and they’ve had some good results but they just need to keep going in the second half of the season and avoid what they did last season, when they started brilliantly but tailed off in the second part. It’s just about being more consistent.”
The likes of Dimitri Payet and Victor Moses, who arrived at the club during the summer, have made a significant impact at the club and have adapted well to Slaven Bilic’s playing style.
However, Gabbidon reckons that fellow summer recruit Manuel Lanzini, who has scored four goals after joining as an unknown player, deserves as much of the spotlight as Payet.
“They [Payet and Lanzini] were actually playing really well together, they were playing some really good football and were pushing West Ham to go forward,” he added.
“After Payet got injured Lanzini has carried it on. He’s really impressed me and you can see technically he is really good. He’s definitely brought something extra in terms of going forward and perhaps he has been overshadowed a little bit.
“When he came to the club he came in under the radar and no one really knew too much about him and obviously the fee wasn’t as big for Payet.
“Because of that no one really knew what to expect from him and what he was about, but they certainly do now.”
West Ham travel to Wales to take on a manager-less Swansea side on Sunday. The Swans are currently low in confidence, which could work in our favour given our superb away form and the Swans winning none of their last six home games at the Liberty Stadium, failing to score in four.
Despite Swansea’s downfall, Danny Gabbidon has warned Slaven Bilic’s men not to get complacent and starting thinking it’ll be a straight forward three points.
“It definitely won’t be a walk in the park. As you’ve seen in the Premier League already, everyone seems to be beating everyone.
“There are no God given results any more and Swansea are a very good team who are struggling at the minute. Maybe West Ham will look at that game and think they can get something out of it but you just never know, especially in this league.
“It’s still going to be a tough game. Swansea are trying to get back on track and were unlucky against Manchester City last weekend, so they’ll be targeting West Ham and will think they can get something in order to get their campaign back on track.
“It’ll be a decent game against two teams who like to play football. West Ham like to go forward more often and are bit more open now, so I can see goals in that one.”
One pitfall that has deterred West Ham’s campaign has been the plethora of injuries to key players. Former Besiktas chief Bilic recently took drastic action by moving from Chadwell Heath to the new training facility in Rush Green six months ahead of schedule.
As a player who has experienced the Chadwell Heath first hand, Gabbidon recalls how slippery the pitches were and called for the training base to be updated as it is “too old, considering most training grounds are very modern.”
He admitted: “I saw that they were going to move and I was thinking ‘where is this place? But is mostly because it’s such an old training ground and it’s been there for so long.
“The one thing I would say is, during the summer, the pitches at Chadwell Heath are fine where everything is hard and the grass is lush.
“But when the weather starts to turn and it starts to get a little bit softer then that’s when the problems set in. From my experience playing there, that’s what it tended to be like. The ground would become softer during the winter, it would become very slippery, and it was very hard to stay on your feet.”
“That might be the reason for so many injuries as your body has to work harder on a softer surface and you’re using more of your muscles a bit more than you normally would.
“That is something they will have to look into ahead of the move to the Olympic Stadium. It’s one of the oldest training grounds in the Premier League and you look at the other training grounds in the league and most are state of the art.
“This is something West Ham are a little bit behind in terms of the training facilities so I think it’s something they’ll address in the future.”
Nevertheless, Gabbidon is in favour of the move to Rush Green and explains how it will be good for the long term, especially when it comes to moving into the Olympic Stadium.
“I think it’ll be fine. After a couple of days it becomes normal again. You do get used to going into one place all of the time and you’re used to what goes on, but it’s not something that’ll affect performance and hopefully it will be for the better.
“It’s the manager’s choice to move and the pitches are better at Rush Green so it should affect the team in a positive way rather than a negative one. After one or two days it becomes natural and normal and you get used to the surrounding, so in the long run it should help the team massively.”
Staying with the impending and much anticipated move away from the atmospheric Boleyn Ground, many of the fans are in two minds whether it’s a good idea to leave Upton Park, where it has been the home of ‘the Academy of Football’ since 1904.
However, Gabbidon understands why some supporters are so sceptical about the move through his own experience with Cardiff City, and above all else, hopes the atmosphere at E13 can be transferred to the new arena.
“It’s a tricky one because I think the fans are torn. I had a similar situation at Cardiff when I played at the old Ninian Park, where there was a great atmosphere, and the fans were torn as well.
“One half wanted to stay and one half wanted to progress. It’s mainly a good thing because of the good fan base but I think they’ve got to make sure they keep the same atmosphere at Upton Park into the new stadium because everyone wanted to go to West Ham’s ground because of the atmosphere.
“I was the same when I played there – the fans were so passionate and it’s a really enjoyable place to play, so hopefully they won’t lose that. I can understand what the owners are trying to do in progressing the club and they can get more crowds into a bigger stadium, meaning bigger revenues, but you don’t want to do that at the expense of the incredible atmosphere at Upton Park,” Gabbidon admitted.
Finally, Gabbidon added his delight that England and Wales were drawn in the same Group at Euro 2016 next summer and cannot wait to see the two nations collide.
But there has been very little talk about it amongst his Welsh counterparts, especially James Collins, but occasionally he still speaks with some of the players at the club.
“I haven’t really spoken to him to be fair. I’ve got a few of the Welsh boys on a group chat messaging thing but no one’s really mentioned it. I saw one of his tweets go up and I know he’s really excited about it and I think it’s fantastic for both nations.
“It’s going to be one of the stand out matches in the group stages and everyone will be tuning in. It should be a really good game and I hope both teams have fully fit squads so we get a good spectacle.
“I am sure James is really looking forward to it and to be involved in a major tournament. Not every player in their career gets to perform on a stage like that so, for James, it’s just a case of getting back into the West Ham team.
“He played at the weekend and did really well so cementing that place would be ideal, especially ahead of Euro 2016. He was pretty excited when the draw came out, as I was, and it’s a great chance for both nations to progress from that group and I am looking forward to looking at both of the nations during the tournament.”
“There’s not many at West Ham now during my time but occasionally I still get in touch with Tomkins, Nobes, James Collins and to Kevin Nolan, when he was at West Ham.
“I came up for one of the Europa League qualifiers at the start of the season and that was the first time I had been back. I went to the training ground the next day and saw some old faces and most of the staff are still there from my time so that was really nice.”
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