What's wrong with West Ham? The sorry plight of a club in need of a plan
West Ham don't appear to have received much in return for their expenditure. They have re-emerged from relegation and become relatively safe within the top flight, but there's little evidence of progression
Secondly, they only occasionally buy or develop players who become desirable to other clubs. They may have recently sold Dimitri Payet back to Marseille at a healthy profit, but there are few other players in the current squad, barring Winston Reid and Michail Antonio, who would definitively command fees greater than their purchase price.
Losing players is galling for supporters, but still a necessary part of healthy Premier League life. As too is the elevation of academy prospects which, once a club hallmark, has become a rarity.
While not damning, it's certainly indicative of dysfunction and, when compared to the strategy of clubs like Southampton, Everton and Tottenham, casts West Ham's recruitment in an unflattering light. Clubs of their size and standing naturally prioritise progression up the league table, but generally also defer to certain imperatives. Players are important, but so too are assets.
Perhaps there's no greater evidence of wastage than in the succession of loan deals completed in the years following promotion. In the seasons since, West Ham have signed Emmanuel Emenike, Alex Song, Marco Borriello, Marouane Chamakh, Antonio Nocerino, Pablo Armero and Roger Johnson. Roger. Johnson.
Loans, when not bookended with a permanent contract, represent pure loss: a fee is due to the parent club, wages are paid out (possibly shared), and those costs can never be recovered through a sale.
The only real benefit is in performance itself and, perhaps, through the achievement of certain short-term objectives. They are, in effect, stigmata of an organisation seeking quick bounce rather than a more gentle or sustainable progress. In this case specifically, West Ham have almost universally been unsuccessful: with the exception of Song (reported wages: £140k per week), none of the aforementioned players left a trace of impact at Upton Park.
Worse still, the past isn't obviously instructing the present: 2016/17 delivered another batch of costly, pointless loan deals, with neither Jonathan Calleri nor Gokhan Tore faring any better than Zaza.
Progressive clubs tend to radiate calm, logical order, whereas West Ham seem to exist in mild chaos
Regrettably, this transfer malaise neatly frames what West Ham are: a club with plenty of ambition, but who are either unsure of how to satiate it or incapable of doing so. The 2016 off-season was a pertinent example of just that: they had the wherewithal to be bold, but floundered like a club who hadn't really planned their steps. And that, unfortunately, is a thread which binds much of their activity, from their recruitment to their stadium delivery, and is reflective of an operating procedure which continues to create problems.
In the absence of a more considered culture, they appear to have become overly reactionary, with organisational energies sapped by the need to firefight this never-shortening list of issues. There is always either an unhappy player, a crippling squad shortage, or a logistical or PR battle which needs plotting. Progressive clubs tend to radiate calm, logical order, whereas West Ham seem to exist in mild chaos.
There is always some kind of drama.
These needn't be terminal problems. Irrespective of the mood surrounding the London Stadium tenancy, it has lifted the club into a theoretically advantageous situation. Without the enormous overheads involved in constructing a ground (and the planning issues that would have been faced in the East End), they have been defaulted up the food chain.
That will count for little, however, unless clear thinking prevails and they allow themselves to be led by a coherent ideology. If they don't, they will continue to stumble around this world, unsure of whether they actually want to be a successful side or just to walk around with a strut.
West Ham remain one of this country's great clubs, garnished as they are by substantial history and enviable tradition, but that identity has never been weaker than it is right now. The gap between what they are as a club and what they should be is, unfortuantely, as broad as the chasm between the London Stadium's pitch and its stands.