What's wrong with West Ham? The sorry plight of a club in need of a plan
From a distance, the London Stadium looks every inch the sporting venue it's supposed to be. Walk towards it from the Westfield Shopping centre and its eclipsing size and radiant video screens will take you in. Cranes loom in the distance and on every side theres's evidence of sprouting modernity; yep, this is a place of great progress.
But the stadium, like its tennant football club, looks better from afar. The impression inside the ground is of just enough having been done to make it feel like West Ham's home. Andy Carroll's thundering volley has been stencilled onto the fascia, the club's crest beams out over the London skyline, and the colours appear with enough frequency to be convincing.
The stadium's press box sits high up, almost in the atmosphere, affording a view so detached it's almost voyeuristic
But step closer and see what a strange sort of home this is. The stewarding and segregation issues have been well covered and the team's form hasn't helped with the transition, but there's something incurable in the air; an irritation, maybe, or perhaps even regret? There's a very real sense that nobody actually wants to be here and that those who do are engaged in self-deception.
The stadium's press box sits high up, almost in the atmosphere, affording a view so detached it's almost voyeuristic. But it's a revealing perspective: it shows the gaps between the tiers and the incongruous details which were likely never considered during the planning phase.
The easy route?
Shortcuts are becoming a theme at West Ham.
Bold promises were made and transfer targets were callously leaked onto social media by the ownership's children; the club were newly rich and wanted the world to know
One of last summer's great sagas involved the club's hunt for a forward to smash across the stadium's bows. Bold promises were made and transfer targets were callously leaked onto social media by the ownership's children; the club were newly rich and wanted the world to know. Even, ridiculously, the clubs they intended to negotiate with.
Across Europe they traipsed, £31m cheque in hand, but with no joy: Alexandre Lacazette passed, Michy Batshuayi said no and only Simone Zaza could be convinced to join – but even then only on loan.
Still, a player people knew: a name. Regrettably, that seemed to be the priority. Not the creation of a balanced squad nor the systematic curing of its weaknesses, but the pursuit of a 'sit up and take notice' moment – and a set of headlines.
Until as recently as January 2017, the club were taking the bizarre step of publishing transfer intentions on their own official website. The Insider column, presumably birthed by nepotism, was both staggeringly naive and a transparent attempt to dictate the news cycle.
It has subsequently been put out of its misery, but its memory helps guards the perception of amateur decision-makers bumbling through an ultra-professional world.
West Ham's transfer policy has been vague for some time, with no clear indication as to how powers are separated and decisions are made. What's more clear, however, is that they have grown increasingly less efficient under joint-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan.
According to transfermarkt.com, the club have made a net loss on all their market activity in each season from 2011 onwards. The last time they recorded a net profit was 2010, but that was a reality obfuscated by the sale of Carlos Tevez, the true beneficiary of which remains unclear.
It's troubling for two reasons: firstly, although the loss itself is largely offset by the current broadcasting contract, 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 in the sides they construct.
They are built for seasons rather than eras and rarely mature into more than the sum of their parts.