“The crowds at West Ham have never been rewarded by results but they keep turning up because of the good football they see. Other clubs will suffer from the old bugbear that results count more than anything. This has been the ruination of English soccer.”
–Ron Greenwood, West Ham manager 1961–1974.
Is a club with an empty trophy room – where a single cabinet holds “all” the silverware with room to spare – just a sad story or an exciting adventure just waiting to be unfolded? If you’re more inclined to think the first, then you can stop reading now. If you like the sound of the latter, then welcome to West Ham United FC.
The club was founded in 1895 as Thames Ironworks and reformed in 1900 as West Ham United. West Ham have never won a first league title, neither before or after the introduction of the Premier League. However they have never fallen below the second tier of English football, with 61 of 93 league seasons in the top flight. This is an achievement they only share with seven other clubs.
West Ham’s biggest achievements trophy wise are the three FA Cup titles won in 1964, 1975 and 1980 together with the 1964/65 European Cup Winners Cup trophy. In the 1985/86 season they reached their best league position yet, finishing 3rd in the First Division.
Since the return to the Premier League in 2012, following a single season in the Championship, they have finished 10th, 13th, 12th, 7th, 11th, 13th, and 10th.
So without any real results to talk of you have to profile yourself differently. West Ham have chosen to appoint themselves the talent factory of England, by calling themselves “The Academy of Football”, a title originally given to them by the media. This epithet was mainly used in the 1960s and 70s but saw a revival in the 90s, with the academy producing players like Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole. After this very prolific period the most renowned player coming out of the youth system is probably current captain Mark Noble.
What about now?
Well, now that we’ve established that the best years for West Ham are quite far back in the past, let’s look at the Club Vision to see what the current board expects from you as the new West Ham manager.
The Club Vision is in my opinion an excellent addition to this year’s version of the game and gives you a great overview of what is expected of the club and of you as a manager. The board’s expectations are graded from “Favoured” to “Required” in importance and are divided into two sections; “Club culture” and “5 year plan”.
When looking at the “Club culture” part of the Club Vision it becomes apparent that the board wants the club to go all-in on the “Academy of Football” view of West Ham United. You are encouraged to sign players aged 22 or younger or use the youth system to produce first team players. They want a younger team, which is emphasized by the expectation for you to NOT sign players over the age of 30. The only thing that stands out a bit is the fact that they want you to combine this with signing high-reputation players. I guess it’s up to you to make this combination work…
In the “5 year plan” you are expected to perform better than basically any other West Ham manager in modern time. A top half finish in you first season is a step up from the last six out of seven season, even though it’s not by a lot. After that you get a season’s rest before it’s desired by the board for you to take the club to the next level. You are supposed to separate yourself from the rest of the middle of the pack clubs and establish West Ham as “best of the rest”. This is a term used to describe the best Premier League team if you remove the “Big six” clubs Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City and Tottenham from the equation. I guess the easiest way of doing that is to consistently finish in seventh place!? Sounds like good fun…
This is pretty much what you could expect from a mid-table Premier League club. Top corporate facilities at the relatively newly built 60.000 capacity London Stadium, built for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Great training facilities is good. Overall the youth facilities are good as well, but in no way outstanding. Neither junior coaching nor youth recruitment is more than decent at this level, especially if you want to call yourself “The Academy of Football”.
The actual squad looks good, albeit a bit top heavy. This is a team that has the potential to finish in the top half of the league straight away. However, the goalkeepers are both old and won’t get any better and the defense is lacking a bit of quality, especially in the wing back positions. Further up the field the wings are covered with good quality players like Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko. Up front major signing Sébastien Haller will try to fill the large void caused by the departure of Marko Arnautovic. The wage structure looks decent with no player earning more than £115k p/w. There is quite a large chance that you’ll need to start rebuilding the squad fairly soon. A lot of players are getting old, and you may very well lose your currently best players to the top clubs.
Let’s look at three players that will play important roles for your West Ham side right from the start!
The 20 year old academy product caused a bit of a stir when he decided to represent England instead of Ireland. An academy wonderkid is always tempting to build your team around and Declan Rice sure has all the ingredients to become a long time leader and potential future West Ham icon, but it will be a real struggle keeping him at the club when the big clubs come in for him.
The Ukrainian winger is a really well-rounded winger and will most likely play an important part for your offense, no matter what tactic you choose.
The third and final player to focus on is the current star player of the team, Brazilian winger/inverted winger Felipe Anderson. Quick, technical and full of flair he can be an attacking threat on both wings since he can use both his left and right foot.
Now, let’s start looking at how well West Ham have prepared for the more or less inevitable rebuild I mentioned above by checking out the Development center.
Talents – The Development center
Another great addition to this year’s game is the Development center. Here you’ll find an overview of the up-and-coming players of your club. It is an excellent tool to help you keep track of your talents and wonderkids in your pursuit of nurturing the next batch of academy products to either sell for a nice profit or use to lift West Ham to new heights.
Ok. Well, it’s not the deepest pool of talents I’ve ever seen, far from it actually.
Grady Diangana is the only player anywhere close to taking the step up into the first team squad anytime soon. With great acceleration and good technical ability combined with a bit of development left in him he can hopefully fill a winger spot if (I actually mean when) you lose one of your star wingers.
If we look a few years further down the line we find the most promising players who are not considered close to the first team in the section “Ones to watch”. Here two players really stand out.
Not being an actual academy product since he was brought in from Portuguese team Boavista ahead of this season, he is at least one of two U18 players with a 4.5 star potential. Considering that at least two of the four central defenders in the first team squad are past their prime he may very well get his chance sooner than later if he keeps improving.
At only 16 years of age it’s terribly hard too predict how good he’ll turn out, but Amadou Diallo at least possesses the speed and potential to turn into a decent winger in a few years time.
Sadly, that’s pretty much it when it comes to premium talents, even though there are a couple of more players that could turn into decent players.
So, what sort of money do you have at your disposal to start changing things around straight away?
Well, that’s not great. Perhaps you could persuade the board into giving you a bit more!? Well, actually no, since the £16M transfer budget is pretty close to the actual overall balance. This basically means that you’ll need to sell players in order to buy new ones.
Final verdict and save ideas
“The biggest single contributor to the current England national squad is not Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, but the West Ham Youth Academy.”
– ITV Football article, 13 September 2004.
In 2004 West Ham was considered the no #1 academy in English football and built their team mainly on British players. That has changed a bit since then, to the worse unfortunately. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the fact that West Ham since then have needed to keep selling their best players in order to survive.
If you decide to manage West Ham the aim is to establish the club as “best of the rest”, which feels like a reasonable vision for a club that have subscribed to lower mid-table finishes the last seven years. However, it becomes a bit dull when you realize that once you’ve reached that stage, the goal is simply to keep reaching that 7th place according to you first “5 year plan”. Therefore I have two save ideas for you if you want to mix things up:
The Academy challenge
Let’s put your money where your mouth is. In order to keep referring to the youth setup as “The Academy of Football” you seriously need to step things up. Your first order of business should be to invest into the youth facilities in order to bring them back to top level and after that really try to produce high quality players. What to do with them, you ask? Either keep selling them in good old West Ham fashion or really try to keep them long enough to reach some real results. Imagine if Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick had all stayed at West Ham? It could have been the beginning of something great. Now it’s up to you to make it happen! If you want to make it harder for yourself you could restrict yourself to only signing U21 or even U18 players.
The All English challenge
If you want to take things even further you could try the “All English challenge” where you restrict yourself to only signing English players. With only six English players in the current first team squad this would really be a tough challenge, but you’d really pay tribute to the history of West Ham United. It would probably take a couple of seasons as well to fill the squad with decent English players, so don’t go firing all those foreigners in the squad straight aeay!
These are mere suggestions from my side, play the game any way you like. This is the beauty of Football Manager in my opinion. Everyone plays the game differently and there is no “right way” to do it. I assure you though, after playing two seasons with West Ham in the beta, I can tell you that you’re in for a challenging but fun ride, potentially trying to break into the “Big Six”.