West Ham United are not a club immune to the headlines. The last two to three years have become infamous in recent history. What has gone on will be recorded and depending on fans’ opinions seen as a moment where their side have travelled backwards in time or taken a step into a necessary new chapter.
The removal men have come and gone and it was thought that a shining new arena, combined with a manager who’s Premier League experience is unarguable, would create a rippling effect outwards. Yet unfortunately, the dust has not just failed to settle but is currently being blown around like a hurricane has swept over Stratford.
Watch the club’s TV fan channel and you’ll realise that the move to the London Stadium, away from what a majority saw as their spiritual home Upton Park, created a tremendous deal of animosity between supporters and the three owners of the club: Karren Brady, David Gold and David Sullivan.
Yet there were fans who, although were not particularly pleased with the specific details of the move, realised that it was time for a change, signalling that it was the chance to try and match Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur for the market share of London’s football success.
West Ham didn’t know that all three would have new stadia by the time the Hammers re-located to the Olympic Park, but there was no doubt that given expansion has become second nature for clubs at the moment, new and gleaming infrastructure would inevitably occur.
Now it looks like David Moyes’s tenure will also stop short – whether or not the club stay in the Premier League – after damaging defeats to Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League and Wigan Athletic in the Emirates FA Cup.
The decision, albeit unusual to become public this early, is thought to have been made after Moyes failed to land January targets, with the club ending up signing just Jordan Hugill from Preston North End. It will no doubt divide those who follow the club.
But although it might look like the club is marred by division between board and supporters, there is a general feeling that debate is needed amongst those most faithful fans to work out what the best is for the side they have looked up to all of their life.
The time for debating abruptly stopped last week, and rightly so. Not about the atmosphere at the London Stadium, neither an evaluation of the credentials of David Moyes, but instead a topic which even raised the eyebrows on the most poker of faces.
When you hear of back-room staff and personnel receiving suspensions the mind wonders of the seriousness of the allegation posed. Here, director of player recruitment Tony Henry was alleged to have said that West Ham would not be signing any more African players because they “can have a bad attitude” and “cause mayhem”.
The alleged comments are also being fully investigated by the Football Association, and West Ham have stated that they will not tolerate discrimination and have “therefore acted swiftly due to the serious nature of these claims” through an independent investigation.
These allegations surfaced after a report in the Daily Mail, where Henry supposedly told an agent, via an email also sent to another West Ham official regarding an inquiry about a player of Cameroonian descent, that the club did not want to sign any African players in the transfer window.
When asked why, Henry allegedly stated that not only African players are renowned for their “bad attitude”, but even more incredible, that this was a policy supported by the club’s management.
Henry went on. He reportedly said: “We had problems with Sakho, Diafra Sakho. We find that when they are not in the team they cause mayhem. It’s nothing against the African race at all.
“I mean, look, there are top African players. There’s not a problem with them. It’s just sometimes they cause a lot of problems when they are not playing, as we did with Diafra. He’s left, so great. It’s nothing personal, at all.” It is important to note that Henry allegedly went on to say that you can also have problems with English players.
Both Senegal striker Sakho and Ghana international Andre Ayew pushed for moves away from West Ham in January, the former to French club Rennes and the latter back to his old club Swansea City.
The club were also close to the signings of Leicester’s Algeria forward Islam Slimani, who joined Newcastle on loan, and Lille’s Cameroon defender Ibrahim Amadou.
And West Ham do have six first-team squad members of African descent: Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang, Joao Mario, Angelo Ogbonna, Arthur Masuaku and Edimilson Fernandes.
So it was not a surprise to see that the club ended up terminating Henry’s contract. The investigation will decide if the allegations are true, but nonetheless, these claims could not be associated with West Ham, and therefore only one decision could be made.
Much as this was a shock to the system, not just to any football fan, but to anyone with a moral compass, it is sadly a piece of a jigsaw which paints an unsavoury and distasteful picture, encompassing the worst of West Ham.
And that’s saying something. Last year Gold issued a damning outlook for the club’s youth players, confirming that prospects of playing in the first-team were looking bleak. He said: “I think we all have to (accept) that it is extremely unlikely that a teenager will break into a (Premier League) team full of seasoned internationals.
“Playing teenagers doesn’t guarantee success. Hull came fifth (in number of youngsters played) and got relegated. Chelsea came last and won the league. Sam (Allardyce) played the teenagers at Nottingham Forest (in 2014) and we got beat 5-0. Teenagers gain experience by going out on loan to the first (or) second division and the Championship.”
Yet look at Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli, Tom Davies from the last campaign and Rhian Brewster, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Andreas Christensen this season, and Gold’s point seems somewhat folly at best.
On the pitch, the phrase crisis still applies. Injuries to Marko Arnautovic, Andy Carroll and Manuel Lanzini, and being turned down by FC Krasnodar’s Fyodor Smolov have created a dark shadow over the club, and even the arrival of Mario on loan from Internazionale last week could not provide the shining light needed to break through that cloud.
Interest in Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, Fulham’s Tom Cairney, Norwich City’s James Maddison and Stoke City’s Joe Allen came to nothing, while the cautious optimism of Leander Dendoncker evaporated after a bid of just £4.4m, with Anderlecht not deciding to sell.
What is perhaps even more frustrating to a myriad of Hammers supporters is the treatment of Javier Hernandez. Signed from Bayern Leverkusen in the summer for £16m, it was thought the snatch and grab aura of the Mexican international would encapsulate football fans across the country, given his pedigree at Manchester United.
Yet a return of just six goals in 20 appearances are not stats of a player synonymous with being in the right place at the right time. Asked to drop deep and forage, especially in matches against those sides in the top half of the table, Chicharito has looked isolated and out of sorts.
And to top it all off another report surfaced which stated that the reason Leicester pulled the plug on the Slimani deal was due to the fact Brady’s column on the sacking of Claudio Ranieri last year upset Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
She said: “A fellow Premier League director reports that last night he bumped into the Leicester chairman at London’s most- expensive wine shop. The Leicester owner told him they’d sack Claudio Ranieri.
“He then casually settled his bill for wine and champagne. Since the sum was close to £500,000 I guess the compensation to his old manager is pocket change. At least the owner can drown his sorrows in style.” Apologies eventually occurred but that was not water under the bridge as far as the King Power club were concerned.
It’s the recent comments from Henry and not Brady though which epitomise the crisis at the club. They speak of an era we all thought had been left behind, one in which resonates with a certain title of a recent film. This is West Ham’s Darkest Hour.