West Ham’s season blighted by Zaza and Payet
PUBLISHED: 19:30 01 June 2017
Hammers’ final Premier League finish of 11th was remarkable considering the pitfalls they had to deal
When you consider everything West Ham had to go through during the season, to finally finish in 11th place was remarkable.
A new stadium; injuries to vital players throughout the season; the Dimitri Payet ‘mutiny’; consecutive defeats and huge pressure on manager Slaven Bilic were just some of the problems that the Hammers had to deal with.
It was always going to be difficult to emulate last year’s magnificent seventh place, which should have been higher, and the euphoria of that last victory at Upton Park was never likely to be matched.
But the new stadium had it’s moments. The League Cup win over Chelsea was overshadowed by crowd violence, while the standing up saga also tainted the early games at the London Stadium.
But there were always going to be teething problems. The obvious move of bringing police into the ground solved the violence problems, while moving people to different parts of the ground helped alleviate the standing issues.
It is by no means perfect, of course, and some of the stewarding still leaves a lot to be desired, but it is better and that magnificent night when West Ham ended Tottenham’s title hopes with a fantastic 1-0 win, illustrated what can be done in the new arena.
On the pitch things did not go as well. Bilic and co-owner David Sullivan brought in 12 new players – far too many – and alas, most of them were not good enough.
While Josh Cullen, Reece Oxford, Reece Burke and Martin Samuelsen were denied their chance and sent out on loan, the fans had to put up with Gokhan Tore, Alvara Arbeloa and the biggest misfit of all in Simone Zaza.
It had taken protracted and painstaking negotiations to secure the loan signing of the Italian in the hope that he would be that precious 20-goal striker.
He was an embarrassment to everyone at the club. His only goal at the London Stadium came for Juventus against the Hammers in a friendly.
It was always the next game when he would find his shooting boots, but that next game never came and he was a no-goal striker who West Ham could not play for fear of triggering a clause to make him a permanent player for an extra £20million on top of the £5m they had already shelled out for the misfit.
Signing two right wingers in Tore and Sofiane Feghouli was nonsensical, while even the January signings of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass did not go smoothly and much more will be needed from them next season.
At one stage there was even a social media clamour for Bilic to be sacked. Fuelled by TV and newspapers suggesting who his replacement was set to be, there really seemed a chance that the Croatian might be sacked which would have been a nonsense.
An injury to record signing Andre Ayew on the opening day, plus lengthy absences for Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell and Sam Byram severely hampered the season and was something that could not be avoided.
Heavy home defeats by Manchester City (twice), Arsenal, Watford, Southampton and right at the death, Liverpool, put a strange feel to the first campaign, but it was not all doom and gloom.
There was a distinct possibility at one stage that West Ham could be relegated, but just when they needed some vital wins, the team managed to get them.
The back-to-back victories over Burnley and Hull City in December were awful displays, but vital wins and similarly the away wins at Middlesbrough and Southampton were equally vital at a worrying time.
In the end, the Hammers finished 11th thanks to a last-day win at Burnley – ahead of previous champions Leicester City.
It was an underachievment and a step back from the previous campaign, but there were mitigating circumstances.
The loss of Payet was a huge blow. He was the talisman of the team, a player everyone feared, but his reputation has been severely tarnished by the way he forced a move by effectively going on strike – from hero to zero.
West Ham have to get over that loss, which was a blow to Bilic’s pride as much as anything,
They have already gone into the transfer market for next season and with a couple more shrewd acquisitions, this squad will not be far off the top seven.
The worst is surely over, now it is time to push onwards and upwards once again.