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Pellegrini and the future


Filed: Saturday, 16th March 2019
By: Alex V


It seems like quite a good time to assess Pellegriniís future - before the swings of a few end-of-season results muddies the picture based on our final placing. Iím broadly in favour of a change of coach/manager over the summer break.

Itís not a Ďfire the managerí situation, I just think weighing up the pros and cons Iíd prefer a change. Many will disagree and thatís fine. Obviously the overwhelming likelihood is that the club continues happily with Pellegrini. And the three-year deal on a rumoured very high wage means it might cost up to £20million just to get out of it after a year.

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So not a decision for the club to take lightly, but my view is that when youíre talking about something so fundamental as the first-team coach, then almost whatever the cost of course-correction the right decision must be taken. Because it affects everything else, you canít really put a price on it.

My view is that overall this season is, if at all, only a very small improvement on the previous two. Many of the broad indicators (shots for/against, possession) seem to suggest little or no change from previous seasons. There are some red flags in some areas - aerial duels, shots against. Set pieces for/against is a major weakness.

The club is bottom three in xG against, suggesting that good fortune may be the prime reason we dodged trouble. These stats tally with my own observations. In my opinion the team has shown promise for sure, and some aspects of our attacking have definitely improved, but it so often has seemed entirely hapless on the pitch. Looking through the games thereís only a handful I was genuinely happy with.

Put short, I havenít seen enough from the team to back the coach.

Fundamentally, with this group of players, I think of the three stock Pellegrini team shapes (4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, which he has used exclusively since records of his tactics began) only the last offers enough solidity to function consistently in the current Premier League. OPTA's records of starting formation suggests that for only 13 games out of the current 30 Pellegrini has utilised a shape that I think Ďcouldí work.

So over half the time Iím unhappy - I just canít back that approach. And whatever the shape, you canít carry players who are given little responsibility to work backwards and offer cover in defensive phases. The strikers and wingers simply donít cover diligently enough and I think this comes from the coach.

My read of Pellegriniís approach is a Ďboom/bust gambling mentalityí. Simply sacrifice defensive solidity for attackers and see if it floats. On occasion it will - many more times it wonít. Weíve seen all the evidence of that. Crucially what I think was a fortunate win away at Newcastle parlayed into a good run of results at a crucial time with a favourable set of fixtures. During which we played a disfunctional shape and approach but got away with it - thatís the basis for avoiding a relegation scrap this season.

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Compare to Sam Allardyce. Allardyce prioritised defensive solidity and physical strength and hoped to snatch enough draws and wins for an acceptable return in terms of points. Turgid to watch, but I can see the logic. It usually works. Pellegrini prioritises attacking flair over solidity - sounds attractive in theory but you are betting everything on those attackers. If it doesnít work there isnít much to stop the house of cards collapsing. It relies massively on confidence and momentum.

Iíd like to see the third way, which is any flexible or moderate plan that operates between these two extremes. Thatís what Iíd be looking for from a new first-team coach.

I think a key factor with the current manager is buying into this idea of a Ďbig team mentalityí. I think itís an empty concept that sounds good to supporters but means nothing. Of course being confident and comfortable on the pitch is a plus. Yes of course I want us to attack opponents where given opportunity - if only our shooting stats matched that aim.

They donít. For shots per game we are 15th in the table fractionally above Cardiff. xG 14th. Of course, I want us to control the ball more so we can decide the course of a game rather than play reactive football. We just havenít achieved that. Possession-wise we are 12th in the league, joint with Huddersfield.

Now it would be remiss not to say that the current manager works within a structure I also think isnít fit for the demands of modern football. And perhaps Iím most disappointed by the lack of progress in this area. But I see Pellegrini as fundamentally an embodiment of these outdated ideals. He seems to have more control over targets and signings than any manager in our recent history, so actually represents imo a further step backwards in terms of modernising our approach with transfers.

Itís effectively just the next iteration of the cult of personality driving the clubís decision-making. The focus on South American flair is actually less progressive than Bilicís pragmatism. And the further we go with it, the bigger the task for whoever follows. I think weíre already in the situation where the next manager will need to speak Spanish. I consider that a massive limitation for an English club, and might yet prove very troublesome post-Brexit. It works directly counter to homegrown quotas and Academy integration.

I think Iím in a minority of West Ham supporters over being disappointed with the clubís summer window, presumably driven largely by Pellegriniís targets (through his DoF Husillos). I think of the huge £90million+ outlay, we brought in roughly £50million+ of talent - hugely wasteful.

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Balbuena obviously a good value signing within that - a carefully measured catch, or a punt? Diop a talent too, but at an ultra-premium price. Fabianski quite brilliant, but at near-record price for a short-term fix given his age. Anderson for me is the sort of trap player the club must move away from - these mercurial high-ability creative forwards, so prevalent in less frantic leagues, so hard to implement in the Premier League.

My view is that the return from these players has been actually highly positive given possible outcomes. Maybe the coaching deserves some credit there. But it betrays the reality that even with those outcomes it still hasnít translated into much of a positive impact on the pitch. It all adds up to one of the oldest squads in the league, with declining resale value, that doesnít seem to offer more than small pockets of hope for genuine progress in the future. I canít back the architects of that.

January too, for me, was desperately disappointing. Safe in the league, a great opportunity to rebuild, and the club sits on its hands. I think this is a crucial error and misses an opportunity that it might be years before the club sees again.

Pellegrini and the Academy production line? At face value, Rice has delivered, Diangana has been introduced, with a handful of other brief opportunities for younger players. I think itís a step forward from Bilic and Allardyce who seemed to all but ignore that resource.

But Rice was a gift that any manager would have benefitted from. Diangana has stalled, including a weird attempt to play him as a striker. Others have come and gone. Overall Iím disappointed. Most crucially, given a period of calm where young players could be blooded in the team for the clubís long-term benefit, thereís been almost no sign of them. The last few benches have been development-free. I can only conclude that when push comes to shove, the selector again has no interest in our young players and their future.

I want the club to build up and around the talent we produce from the Academy. I want a coach who will commit to doing so. Of course a Ďbig club mentalityí is to ignore the Academy, and bank instead on expensive senior mercenary talent. My guess is the current approach is what a big-club mentality used to be in Pellegriniís heyday - we actually see big clubs starting to change their approach.

Spurs have changed their whole outlook by questioning this received wisdom. So weíre playing into a losing strategy. We will not be able to match the spending power of the top clubs. We will be paying over the odds to get the players the better clubs donít want. Weíre emphasising our weakness and ignoring a potential strength.

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A counter-argument might be that Pellegrini is a positive factor in a bad structure. But it is the duty of an influential leader to question this structure, not to double-down into it. My guess is it suited him massively to exploit it. My read is that Pellegrini wanted to gamble with our budget, gamble with an attacking style, with mercurial attacking players, as a calculated risk to maybe climb back up the career ladder. Had it worked, heíd be back in the mix for a top job. It might still do - weíll see.

I just donít think itís the best thing for West Ham. I donít think itís the worst either. I think this period might well be a useful stepping stone for us towards a ball-playing style that can be built on by the next coach. I look forward to seeing that.

* You can read more from Alex on twitter


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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