WHO Poll
Q: 2023/24 Hopes & aspirations for this season
a. As Champions of Europe there's no reason we shouldn't be pushing for a top 7 spot & a run in the Cups
b. Last season was a trophy winning one and there's only one way to go after that, I expect a dull mid table bore fest of a season
c. Buy some f***ing players or we're in a battle to stay up & that's as good as it gets
d. Moyes out
e. New season you say, woohoo time to get the new kit and wear it it to the pub for all the big games, the wags down there call me Mr West Ham

Mr Anon 9:14 Wed Nov 5
Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal

Apologies if done

West Ham United’s Cameroonian midfielder Alex Song, right, vies with Manchester City’s Spanish midfielder David Silva at Upton Park on Oct. 25. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The West Ham fans were belting out their song about bubbles on Oct. 25, as they always do, when the referee blew the final whistle and the shock began to set in.

Not only had the side just beaten the defending champion, Manchester City. Not only had it thoroughly earned the victory. But the club had also guaranteed another week in the top four of the English Premier League.

If the league has one unspoken catch, it’s that you can’t finish in the top four unless you’ve finished in the top four before. In the past decade, only seven different teams have done it. None of them was West Ham, a team accused last year of playing “19th-century football” by opponents and downright unattractive soccer by its owners. Things got so ugly that fans threatened to return season tickets if manager Sam Allardyce wasn’t fired.

“It’s well documented that I’m still here,” Allardyce said after beating City and Liverpool in the space of three home games.

His side is showing what it takes to be the interlopers near the top when you don’t have the momentum of a Chelsea or the money of a Manchester City. The Hammers are riding a wave of soccer accidents, tactical flexibility, inspired acquisitions and plain dumb luck.

And they’re doing it with nine new players in a 25-man squad. Those include a guy shunned by his previous manager, a Barcelona reject, a striker who’d never lived in this hemisphere, and a top scorer that Allardyce didn’t want.

The Hidden Gem

None has been more impressive than forward Enner Valencia.

On the surface, Valencia had all the makings of a classic World Cup impulse buy. A speedy Ecuadorean forward who was plying his trade in the obscure Mexican league, he was an unknown to most of Europe. Then he scored against England in a pre-World Cup exhibition in Miami before posting three goals in two games against Switzerland and Honduras in Brazil.

Mexican soccer hardly translates to the Premier League, but Allardyce was convinced. The club, which had in fact been aware of him since at least January, made Valencia its most expensive pickup of the summer for more than $21 million.

The Accidents

Three of those players might have never even appeared on Allardyce’s shopping list if it hadn’t been for West Ham’s miserable preseason. The club won just one of its seven games. “I never take too much notice of our results in preseason but it does create a bit of doubt,” he said on Thursday. “And of course you never quite know how the signings are going to settle in.”

That triggered the arrival of Diafra Sakho, Alex Song, and Morgan Amalfitano —three players who came via their own set of crazy circumstances.

Sakho, for instance, never interested Allardyce. The manager instead had his eye on Connor Wickham at Sunderland, according to a person familiar with West Ham’s transfer dealings. And even when club co-owner David Sullivan brought him to London from FC Metz in the French second tier, Allardyce looked elsewhere. In fact, the person said, Allardyce had him sent back to France.

Only at Sullivan’s insistence did Sakho eventually join the club. Now he has seven goals.

“Valencia and Sakho, I don’t think they really know what they’ve done yet,” Allardyce said.

Amalfitano, meanwhile, spent last season serviceably on loan at West Brom. He became available after a public falling out with Marcelo Bielsa, the manager at his parent club, Olympique Marseille.

As for Song, when was the last time West Ham was able to pick up a midfielder from Barcelona? He joined the Hammers on loan on deadline day as part of the great Catalan clearout. Wary of a two-window transfer ban that will hit Barcelona in January, the club stockpiled younger talent and moved on a few people who weren’t quite seen as essential.

Arsenal bought Alexis Sanchez for almost $60 million. Chelsea signed Cesc Fabregas for $46 million. West Ham borrowed Song for nothing.

“He’s been in the shadow a little bit because of Valencia and Sakho,” Allardyce said after Song’s performance against City. “But this lad is outstanding quality and goes alongside Fernando Hierro and Jay-Jay Okocha that I’ve had in my teams before.”

The Flexibility

Making it all work—and appeasing the fans—is a radical change in approach. And it has nothing to do with the player that West Ham was prepared to stake its future on less than two years ago, Andy Carroll.

When the club signed him from Liverpool for about $25 million, he was going to be the centerpiece of Allardyce’s favorite strategy. Build your team around a big man up front, send in Kevin Nolan behind him, and cross like mad. It’s how West Ham used to play and it’s how Allardyce’s Bolton played before it.

So it should come as no surprise that West Ham ranked 19th in the league last year in possession and passing accuracy. Only one team attempted more crosses.

But without the plodding Carroll, lost to long-term injury, West Ham is built for speed. Sakho and Valencia press high up the field, where they troubled even City captain Vincent Kompany last week. And with excellent passers in midfield, such as Song and former Liverpool bust Stewart Downing, fans at the Boleyn Ground have learned two new words: successful counterattacks.

“The change of system, for us, is working really well at the moment,” Allardyce said.

The Manager

In Allardyce, the Hammers also have the perfect man to put it all together. A manager who has used 45 different players in the league alone since he took this job in 2011, he once turned Bolton into a top eight club for three straight seasons. In 2005, his side even finished sixth, three points from a top-four spot.

Opening up the top four even more these days is the decided mediocrity of a few usual suspects, particularly Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. MANU -0.27% Which should have set up, say, Everton or Tottenham to make a run after a few years of falling just short of the top four. But those clubs have combined for 23 points from 18 games.

West Ham has done the opposite to reach fourth place. The schedule will give it a decent chance to stay there for a while, too: the Hammers don’t face another team in the top five until after Christmas.

As Allardyce said, “I think we’re all surprised.”

Write to Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson@wsj.com

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

norwaytips 10:27 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
Cheers, a good read.

charleyfarley 10:18 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
Don't care where it came from. Thanks, enjoyed reading that

Far Cough 10:01 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
Robbo posted it on ITBS

White Pony 9:57 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
A totally awesome soccerball analysis of the London Hammers.

Gavros 9:37 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
This story was taken off KUMB

geoffpikey 9:35 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
This is ALL GOOD.

WHU being talked about in the USA, no matter how dodgy some opinions printed in this article. It's a boost, even if only psychologically.


Sven Roeder 9:35 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
Good stuff
Nice to be in the WSJ not under the headline "Icelandic owners turn out not to have a puffin between them"

lab 9:32 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
Well thank you.

Obama The Hammer 9:28 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
Good read - cheers...

HairySpotter 9:16 Wed Nov 5
Re: Nice article on us in the Wall Street Journal
great piece, cheers

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