West Ham United’s Wembley play-off victory takes them back to the Premier Division, but given the Hammers’ recent history and the meal they made of going up, will life be too tough for Sam Allardyce’s men?
West Ham are currently short of Premier quality, but they do have a cluster of players with the potential to step up a gear. Kevin Nolan and Rob Green have been there before, but they are long in the tooth. Others such as James Tomkins and Carlton Cole have played at that level and could flourish after getting used to winning in the Championship. Jack Collison and Ricardo Vaz Te will be looking to build on the promotion season to show they can do it in the Premier. It is more about promise than reality for most of West Ham’s squad.
Allardyce will need to add some tried and tested Premier talent to his squad. He needs a quality central defender and it could be that someone like John Terry might become available. Terry is an East Ender, has a trial ahead of him and a trail behind him, and is at a club that may just about to undergo a clean-out of the old guard, despite the Champions League triumph. At 31, his best days are behind him and a move to another London club may be next. It won’t be QPR, for obvious reasons, it won’t be Fulham (too close) and it won’t be the North London duo. How about a step across London and the “significant challenge of making West Ham a Premier force”? – you can just see the press release now. Allardyce may like to make tentative enquiries. Similarly, Frank Lampard, a product of the Hammers’ youth system, might be tempted to return home, but he may have more to offer Chelsea. In any case, a central midfielder will surely be on West Ham’s shopping list this summer.
And what of the playing style. Old-tyme Hammers’ fans – “We won the World Cup in 1966” – have been slow to warm to Allardyce, a well known advocate of “brick wall running” and “blood and guts” football. It’s proved successful in the Championship, but they will need a little more savoir faire to compete in the Premier. It’s not really a style favoured by “Big Sam”. The Upton Park regulars will be looking closely at the transfer activity in the close season to evaluate if Allardyce will be changing his approach.
There’s another issue which will dominate the summer. While all eyes will shift to Stratford for the Olympics, the aftermath of the game will trigger off the ongoing debate about what happens to the site – the oft-used “legacy”. West Ham are waiting for the opportunity to move to the Olympic Stadium and Allardyce sees it as the way forward for the club – a move from the homely, intimidating atmosphere of the Boleyn Ground to a modern flagship of a stadium. If it comes off, it could be the ideal launching pad for the new West Ham.
In the meantime, with relatively meagre resources compared to the tycoon-backed big guns of the Premier, West Ham have to bolster their side to ensure a happy new season. It would be a shame if they were to relapse in their first campaign back in the Premier. Without some quality signings, 2012-13 could be tough for Allardyce, but it’s the sort of battle he usually relishes.