A few weeks ago I stated that winning all four of our matches in February was vital to our chances of Premier League survival. Not just because we were in dire need of points but rather who we would be taking points from by winning those games.
There were shades throughout February of our “Great Escape” season finale a few years back, only this time around we weren’t relying on a great like Carlos Tevez to secure us points. The entire team from Adrian forwards played cohesively and consistently.
Everyone put a shift in and for the first time this season we looked as good as we did last year; delivering our longest league win streak in decades to boot.
Our results in February took us from odds on to be playing Championship football next season to only having a 5% chance of relegation. We improved so much that we can now go into tough games like this weekend’s home fixture with Manchester United thinking we are good value for at least a draw.
Whilst we played brilliantly when required, we also had help from other teams who seem to be deliberately sabotaging their seasons through truly awful club management decisions; I’m looking at you Cardiff and Fulham.
It’s no coincidence that the owners of both of these clubs are relative strangers to football, as wealthy foreigners they appear to treat their acquisitions more like expensive playthings than labours of love. Of course when the financial realities of relegation began to sink in they panicked and made a series of terrible decisions that only worsened their situation.
At one point this year Fulham had four (!) managers working for the club at the same time, whilst Cardiff appointed a manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that is simply out of his depth in a relegation battle this early in his career.
What stands West Ham apart from these teams is that our owners truly understand how to run a football club without petro-dollars from Russia or the Middle East.
Just take a look at how our debt under Sullivan, Gold and Brady has reduced year on year. Delivering the Olympic Stadium just as they promised may prove controversial, but it also opens up other avenues for investment that simply aren’t available at the Boleyn Ground.
Not pressing the big red eject button on Allardyce, a man who truly knows his way around a relegation battle, shows courage as well as top class decision making.
All of these attributes – financial acumen, delivering promises, creating expansion, unwillingness to make knee jerk decisions, great communication with the fans and an understanding of the game – are exactly what anyone could want from their board; amazingly there appears to be owners in the Premiership that exhibit none of them.
What about Mr Allardyce? Seemingly one of the most divisive West Ham managers in recent memory. Yes, there are better managers than Sam out there. Yes, he is overpaid and yes, mid-table is likely his limit but, right here, right now, just six points above the relegation zone, there is no-one better.
Whilst some fans over the December-January period were calling for Big Sam’s head, the most pertinent question that Karen and the David’s posed to the fans and journalists was “Who else?” and that simply couldn’t be answered satisfactorily.
For the foreseeable future, West Ham are not a club that could attract managerial talent like Guardiola, Simione or Klopp. So that limits our options somewhat. However, I don’t doubt that in the summer Sullivan, Gold and Brady will be looking closely at Big Sam’s tenure and deciding if he truly is the man to take us any further.
Our style of football under Allardyce has – unfairly at times – come under attack and this, along with the general under performing of the club this year should certainly be looked at. We already have the basis for a great team, the spine of which is full of young, talented players yet to reach their potential.
The manager has always been given the public vote of support from the board but there was a telling response this week from David Gold to a fan on Twitter who had stated that Allardyce’s football was destroying West Ham. Gold’s response was short and to the point: “Our club is indestructible”.
This statement can be read in several ways but one thing it certainly does not do is justify or praise Big Sam’s brand of football. In fact it seems to suggest the opposite. It recognises and acknowledges our current limitations under Allardyce, yet still shows their faith in the West Ham brand.
Certainly the right decision was made in keeping Big Sam in the job for the whole season. An absence of viable alternatives combined with most players giving us a wide berth during the January transfer window, demanded that our owners stayed strong. Had they bowed to fan pressure or buckled and made nonsensical decisions like Vincent Tan or Shahid Khan, we would be odds on favourites for the drop, right alongside Cardiff and Fulham.
However, should a manager like (current free agent) Michael Laudrup be convinced to join the West Ham project early this summer with some decent financial backing and a full pre-season, there is no reason why the future won’t be anything but very bright for us.
A young, tactically astute manager with a great reputation amongst players and an eye for a bargain, playing attractive football in a brand new 54,000 seater stadium with decent financial backing? We’re not asking for too much, are we?