West Ham showing ambition ahead of Premier League season

When West Ham made the move from Upton Park to the London Stadium ahead of the start of the 2016-17 season there was a great deal of excitement from the clubs hierarchy.

While fans were understandably critical of the relocation more than three miles away to the former Olympic Stadium in Stratford, the clubs vice-chair Karren Brady was busy talking about the “opportunity to change brand values”, the “dynamic impact” of the move and “getting the culture right”.

Inspired by Dimitri Payet, Slaven Bilics West Ham had just finished seventh with 62 points – a club record in the Premier League era.

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The hope was that success on the pitch would continue and detract from the discontent off it. However, a chaotic season followed in which Payet left under a cloud and a scattergun approach to recruitment landed more than its fair share of duds.

Barring creative midfielder Manuel Lanzini, 2016-17 was notable for flops: from then-record signing Andre Ayew, through Robert Snodgrass to Havard Nordtveit, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sofiane Feghouli.

On the pitch things werent much better. Europa League hopes were ended early in the play-off round by Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, while they went on to finish 11th in the Premier League.

Last season followed a similar pattern. Nine first team players left, the club transfer record was broken again but disappointment and a 13thplace finish followed.

Jordan Hugill was signed on January deadline day for £10m, but has made just three appearances for West Ham (Source: Getty)

Marko Arnautovic arrived for an initial £20m along with Javier Hernandez (£16m), Jordan Hugill (£10m) and Sead Haksabanovic (£2.7m), while Pablo Zabaleta arrived on a free transfer and Joe Hart and Joao Mario on loan.

Fans were thoroughly fed up. Anger at the stadium move, underperformance from the team and perceived ineptitude from the board spilled over in March. Supporters invaded the pitch, confronted players and gathered in front of the directors box during a match with Burnley.

Co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold were escorted from their seats amid ugly scenes. While the actions of some were unacceptable, four months later it appears that their voices were heard.

With 20 days to go until their opening Premier League fixture against Liverpool, West Ham appear to be getting their affairs in order.

From issuing a robust denial that they would be quitting in November, Sullivan, Gold and Brady are now presiding over something quite unfamiliar in E20: cautious optimism.

West Ham United v Stoke City - Premier League
West Ham's London Stadium is unpopular with the fanbase (Source: Getty)

The Hammers have a new manager, a new director of football and seven new players. For the third season in a row 52,000 season tickets have been sold. Could this be the start of a new era?

Thats certainly the hope, as West Ham have effectively pushed all their chips across the table and gone all in. Having spent a long time failing in their attempts to sign William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon last year when David Moyes was at the helm, the club have changed tack and landed some exciting names.

The biggest of the lot is the manager. Manuel Pellegrini was lured back from the fortunes of the Chinese Super League, but he has not come cheap: the Chilean is set to earn £10m per year, putting him behind only Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho on the Premier League manager salary scale.

West Ham have invested in clout. The former Manchester City boss won the title in 2013-14 and brings with him another important change in Mario Husillos.

The Argentinian director of football, who had previously worked with Pellegrini at Malaga, joined in June and has moved away from the chaotic approach which defined the club previously.

“It was important that we appointed someone with knowledge and experience of the Premier League, who already has an understanding – not only of the teams and players we face – but of West Ham and our ambitions,” said Sullivan of Pellegrini.

Ambition. It is a word often repeated in football, especially in pre-season, but in this case its hard to argue with Sullivan.

SS Lazio v UC Sampdoria - Serie A
The signing of attacking midfielder Felipe Anderson is a statement of West Ham's intent (Source: Getty)

So far this transfer window the club have spent £86m, with £36m attacking midfielder Felipe Anderson from Lazio the headline attraction. In his wake have come French defender Issa Diop (£22m), Ukraine winger Andriy Yarmolenko (£17.5m), Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski (£7m), Paraguay defender Fabian Balbuena (£3.5m) and full-back Ryan Fredericks and midfielder Jack Wilshere on free transfers, from Fulham and Arsenal respectively.

“Theres no doubt this is an exciting time to join West Ham,” said Anderson. “Id seen that the club had made these signings and wants to keep improving.”

The addition of Pellegrini clearly brings pulling power in the transfer market. Would “one of the most exciting talents in European football”, as Husillos called Brazilian Anderson, be coming to east London if Moyes was still in charge?

“The club have made a very big investment this summer and I must thank the owners for their support and backing,” said Pellegrini.

Hes right. After years of questionable work, West Ham appear to have a clear plan which they are working to. It may cost a great deal, but it was needed to get out of the familiar rut they had dug for themselves.

The question now is whether the expenditure brings returns on the pitch.

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