Filed: Monday, 10th August 2015
By: Paul Walker
Sometimes you just have to take a step back, forget all the bickering about transfers, money, new stadiums and attention-seeking owners, and just soak up the very special feeling than comes from an amazing victory nobody thought possible.
That’s what it’s like as Irons fans; we have collectively taken so much rubbish and disappointment over the years that you dare not let something pass without making sure it is real.
OK, so we all scoffed at David Gold‘s nonsense about closing the gap on Arsenal, and how much they were looking over their shoulders. You do not wipe away 18 years or so of Champions League qualifications in a stroke and suggest we are closing the gap.
Reece Oxford was only eight the last time we won away at Arsenal, they had won all ten of the previous Premier League matches against us. They play a brand of football we want from our own heroes, and if I was left with the hopeless choice of West Ham not existing and supporting Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, I would be forced to say the Gunners.
Right, that’s out of the way, painful it certainly was and only a very, very hypothetical question.
It was one of those Sundays where I sink into a very quiet room, the wife knows not to come anywhere near, and watch us on TV expecting absolutely nothing. Even the dogs hide.
And then you experience something that will live long in the memory. A fabulous West Ham display. A performance that stuffs down the throats of all the so-called expert ex-player pundits, their theories of doom and gloom. A performance completely alien to the way we would have played under Sam Allardyce, with a different style and general approach.
He would have said we didn’t have the players to compete at that level. It would have been all long-ball. But I barely saw anything like that, it was so refreshing.
Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness clearly knew nothing about Reece Oxford on Sky TV. It was painful to witness their lack of preparation. They just scoffed. If Alan Hansen had been around he would have been waffling on about not winning things with kids.
But young Reece was amazing. Dominating midfield, making top, top stars look ordinary (yes I mean you Mesut Ozil). He’s got a long way to go, sure, and the club should now remove him from the spotlight and forbid any further interviews or exposure (a bit like Fergie did with Ryan Giggs).
I don’t want to see anyone, board members, press department, manager or coaches, talking about him again unless it is absolutely impossible to avoid.
That will be hard, Wayne Rooney and Giggs are examples of how young players should be managed, and I accept that goes against the grain of everything I stood for in my former life in the media. But this is West Ham we are talking about, it‘s all I care about now. Enough said.
But us Irons have known about Oxford for some. The lads that venture down to Chadwell Heath have come back with tales of this super kid, yes, the new Rio. Right, I am tempting to ask just how many times I heard “he’s the new Giggs” in the days I had a proper job. And how many “new Messi’s” have there been?
I recall being told once by former Everton manager Walter Smith that I should pop down to their Bellefield training ground on a Saturday morning to see this 13-year-old who was playing in the under 16s. I did and was surprised by the amount of Everton first team players there on their way to a Goodison Park home game.
And there was this man/child running the show. We were watching Rooney, and it was worth the early start. He was amazing, and Oxford’s maturity and easy talent, reminds me of the current England captain in his baby years.
Some of the things said about Oxford make me recall those days. He could have gone to Arsenal and Manchester United this summer, and we had to thrown vast amounts of money at him and his family to get him to stay. Word is that he’s on around £10,000 a week already. In the current market, money well spent because that’s what you have to do to keep your best youth products.
But Oxford was only part of the story at the Emirates. This was not the familiar backs-to-the-wall performance we are used to in such games. This was a team playing to a system, a collective high pressing game, constant movement and controlled defiance. Plus the ability through the outstanding Dimitri Payet to break at pace and cause trouble.
There was not a bad performance on the pitch, and even Mauro Zarate finally accepted being taken off to allow a more tactical defensive introduction of Matt Jarvis and new, fresh legs, with little more than a whimper. A quiet word of explanation from coach Edin Terzic in his ear, and the decision was accepted. Considering Zarate’s previous of sulking and causing problems at other clubs, QPR and in Italy, that was a major step forward.
And before I forget. What has happened to Slav’s supposed assistant manager, Nicola Jurcevic? The rest of the Croatian crew seem to have got their work permits by now, why nothing on him? Our club really do keep such things close to their chests.
(l-r) Miljenko Rak, Nikola Jurcevic, Slaven Bilic & Edin Terzic
I must admit to smiling at that now infamous picture at the Irish training camp of Bilic and his three Croatian buddies. Put the fear of God in me. They looked like the mafia on holiday in their trainers, jeans and shades.
For all the world it could have been a bunch of gang masters standing outside an Edgware Road petrol station at 5.00am about to sort out the labour rotas for the day. And then they added Julian Dicks to the group. We seriously do have the hardest bench in the league, can you imagine what will happen if Jose and his dodgy mob start performing on the line in front of Slav’s bunch? Can’t wait.
Anyway, I digress. I find it’s best not to get dragged into the days of twitter/fans’ forum abuse that has gone on now for weeks, with so little of substance to justify it. You really should wait before jumping to conclusions at this time of the year.
Slav has gone through the most complex pre-season I can remember. One manager and his staff ousted, another lot in, new players, Europa League, travelling, etc.
OK, the exit from Europe was tough, but had it not been for James Collins’ unfortunate red card, we would have cruised through that round and been able to get away with fielding a young side in Romania.
Planning like that is hard. Terry Westley was put in charge of the first couple of rounds and we got away with using the kids. It was an eye-opener, for sure.
That level of European football is full of a clubs with a very different mind-set. They are inferior and use tactics that make you blink. Rotational fouling it has been called.
Every trick in the book with poor, young referees being blooded by UEFA. Slav was upset with the standard, but it’s only what you get in the very lower levels of European competition. San Marino have been doing it for years, and I saw far too much of them in seasons gone by.
But there is a play on the old adage…what would you want? To see England win the World Cup or your own club winning the league title. No contest from me. So when the choice is progressing in the Europa League or winning away to Arsenal, again, no contest. Sunday was the perfect result for Slav and his policy.
It worked. It was a gamble, and he got away with it. Football is like that, fine margins. But the European exit--which I tried to follow, painfully, on a slow train from Nottingham to Stoke after a great Thursday at the Test, but with shocking mobile reception--was worth it if a win at Arsenal is the end product.
There was a very valid theory beforehand that we always lose at Arsenal, so send the best team to Romania and take our punishment at the |Emirates. It’s always easy in hindsight, but Slav took a different view, and it worked for him. Maybe he’s a positive, lucky manager, it’s about time we had one.
I am sure I was like the rest of you, struck dumb for long periods, desperate for us to hang on, and slowly seeing a performance of resolve and planning(probably the same game plan Slav used at Besiktas with some success against Arsenal in the Champions League last season). Eventually the Gunners won that qualifier, but with no little problem.
This time Slav went one better. He is animated, he cares, and he says all the right things. He growls, he has killer eyes and the players are warming to him, if they have any sense. And he is doing something big Sam may not have done, risked Oxford at this level.
It was a risk worth taking. The result of the weekend and it gave us fans that unfamiliar warm glow (helped by a drink or two later) that we can stand toe to toe with the elite and get a result, and deserve him.
Who would have said that we would be playing Leicester in our first home game of the season with the top spot in the Premier League at stake? Yes, I know, I am now getting carried away...
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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