West Ham Never Learn: Why Big Sam Is Just This Season's Avram Grant

Marquee signings injured, an early win over Tottenham but still struggling in the league - sound familiar? I'm tired of West Ham's history repeating itself...
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You have to feel sorry for West Ham. Their marquee summer signing has missed the bulk of the season through injury and is unlikely to make his return until February, serving a major blow to the survival hopes of a club looking to establish itself in the middle of the pack.

An early-season league win over Tottenham is always a pleasant surprise, but the club failed to build on the result, dropping points elsewhere, with a 3-3 draw in what was termed a must-win game against West Brom just one example.

There has been some cause for celebration at least, with a strong run earning the Irons a place in the League Cup semi-finals, but there remains a danger of that being all for nothing, and the club suffering relegation as a result of distractions away from the Premier League.

Other summer signings have either failed to settle or been restricted by injuries, yet the board looks unlikely to sanction much further expenditure in January, instead merely allowing the manager to pursue loan or short-term deals. And as for the manager himself, at times he has looked destined for the sack only for those upstairs to persist with him, potentially until the damage is already done. And as for the displays of the team captain – let’s not even go there.

Stop me if this all sounds familiar. For 2013-14 you might as well read 2010-11.

After staying up with a frankly embarrassing 35 points the season before, West Ham’s newly appointed manager Avram Grant signed Thomas Hitzlsperger with the hope of the German international forming a formidable midfield trio alongside Scott Parker and Mark Noble. However thigh problems left him on the sidelines for months, with Jonathan Spector a far-from-able deputy in his absence.


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Hitzlsperger did not make his debut until the 5-1 victory over Burnley in the FA Cup fifth round, and while his return bolstered the side somewhat, it was not enough to stave off relegation.

After starting the season with one point from the first five games, it was hoped that Freddie Piquionne’s winner in the home game against Tottenham would allow the team to push on. Improvement came in the Carling Cup, where a shock 4-0 win over Manchester United set up a semi-final against Birmingham City, but not in the league. Grant’s side were bottom at Christmas and ultimately unable to recover.

Of the club’s summer signings, Pablo Barrera failed to adjust to the Premier League, as – initially – did Winston Reid. Tal Ben-Haim also arrived, presumably to help the club field a back-four comprised entirely of centre-backs, while Matt Upson’s ‘leadership’ was so non-existent that most observers assumed Parker was the captain, rather than his fellow England international.

Despite the poor form before the new year, January’s signings were largely stopgaps. Wayne Bridge arrived on loan and proceeded to give the worst debut display in living memory against Arsenal, while both Demba Ba and Robbie Keane came in the knowledge that, were West Ham to drop to the Championship, they would be free to move on.

As for the manager, there was a time at which it looked as though Grant would be replaced by Martin O’Neill (actually the club might have dodged a bullet there), but after a promising February and March – with a 3-3 draw at The Hawthorns kicking off a four-game unbeaten run, the club finished bottom due to an abysmal run of just one point from their final eight games, and even that was at home to Steve Kean’s Blackburn.

So, for Hitzlsperger read Carroll, for Grant read Allardyce, for Upson read Nolan (though the latter has probably set a new benchmark), and for Robbie Keane read Mladen Petric, who has done the smart thing and already moved on.

I’m getting a little tired of history repeating itself.

Follow Tom on Twitter, @tomvictor