Just where are we going?

I'm going to park my backside on the seats last occupied by Barcelona fans on Saturday evening, knowing that is almost certainly going to be as close as I ever get to Champions League football.

Pessimistic maybe, but realistic, certainly. I will gaze out at the Old Trafford pitch with my usual trepidation of facing Manchester United on their own patch, just a couple of days after Barcelona were there in all their glory. Next level, for sure, a level I never really expect to see West Ham gracing.

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Forgive forever loyal West Ham fans, who have once again sold out their away allocation, for wondering just where our beloved owners are taking us, three years after the move from Upton Park and nowhere near the dreams we were peddled.

Now I have seen some real nonsense written recently about what 'next level' means and what our owners really meant when they were spouting off about a rosy future once we reached the now London Stadium.

I know what I heard, what was said at the time and exactly what they meant. To suggest that they were talking about being established in the top flight and not having to fight relegation every season, is just rubbish. They talked of Champions League in five/six/seven years, certainly European football, so lets stop kidding ourselves.

I never really bought that anyway, I recall writing on this site back in March 2017 and September 2016 about the myth of Champions League qualification. I take back none of that. It's not our owners' fault, they are faced with Financial Fair Play, and all the rules that prohibit clubs like us from cracking the glass ceiling.

Frankly, our owners don't have the financial resources, they do not have the outside investment now needed for such an upwards move. They may have the big stadium, but it is not really making the money quick enough. We are being overtaken by medium sized clubs with massive foreign investment, and the top six are just marching away from us.

So it has to be asked. Where are our owners taking us as the task they set themselves gets harder and harder? They have managed only two top half Premier League finishes since taking over in 2010.

Since moving from the Boleyn, the position is painful. Seventh in their last season at Upton Park has been followed by 11th spot in 16/17, 13th place in 17/18, and about the same this term. Currently 11th with the same points tally we finished with last term.

Our five games left include Man United, Spurs, Leicester and Watford - all above us - and a revitalised Southampton. The optimists will say we can win two or three of those. Me, after 62 years following this club, optimism is not a feeling I have experienced much of.

Last summer we pushed the boat out, an expensive new manager, ?90m spent on transfers, but erratic slow progress since. Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to give us a new belief, expansive football and his insistence to 'play and think like a big team.' Trouble is, you need better players for that.

The statistics are even more disappointing. Compared to last season our possession average per match has risen from 44 per cent to 47.6; our passes per match from 378 to 427; our shots from 7.3 to 8.3; shots on target from 3.5 to 3.9; goals from 1.2 per match to 1.3 and points per game from 1.1 to 1.3.

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All this has been compounded by the shocking cave-in since the turn of the year. Three wins in our last 12 games has seen seventh spot disappear, long before the PR spin ran out of steam.

We have been crying out for consistency all season, well we certainly got the wrong sort of consistency with awful displays against Bournemouth, Wimbledon in the Cup, Wolves, Cardiff, Everton, for an hour against Huddersfield and before all that the spineless defeat at Burnley.

I know this all sounds very, very pessimistic, but we have wasted so many chances - five I recall - to go seventh and into a possible European qualification spot, that you wonder sometimes whether the manager has much authority or voice in the dressing room.

Now all this has seen the predictable calls for him to be axed. I am not going to go there, there is surely no chance our owners will abandon the Pellegrini project so quickly. But I was never the greatest fan of his appointment.

He was built up as the top manager from the next level. But his statistics don't back that up. At Manchester City he won 100 of 167 games, when he had money and quality players. Since then it has been a slow regression.

In China with Hebei Fortune he won 22 of 52 matches. With West Ham it's 15 from 38. So at his last two clubs he has won 37 of 90 games. And he is experiencing the worst win ratio of his career with us, 39.5 per cent. In China it was 42.3 and at Manchester City, 59.9.

And now we have been softened up to expect a loss of between ?25-30m, and a budget of ?25m for new players. Plus what he can sell.

It's not rocket science to have worked all that out. When you spent ?90m and recoup just ?12m, and you have had to cover that with an increased pay day loan, and with your FFP already maxed out anyway, there is going to be a big loss on the balance sheet.

And of course - and I am a little tired of explaining this - our owners are not allowed to throw vast sums at the problem, you can only spend what you earn, and our most recent accounts show we are not making enough from the new stadium as we'd hoped. All revenue streams are down, which probably accounts for the 17 per cent season ticket increases.

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And as for the future, you have to wonder how the owners - without massive loans from overseas investors - can cope with all this. The clubs around us - Leicester, Wolves, Watford and Everton, plus Crystal Palace - all have foreign owners. Everton's new owner Farhad Moshiri has given then interest free loans of more than ?300m, for example. And Wolves have circumnavigated FFP and transfer regulations with a dexterity that would impress a card shark.

I hear our fans complaining that Wolves have got to a Cup semi final and could still qualify for Europe in their first season back in the top flight. While we have sold our ground, rented a new one and in three years now have got nowhere near that sort of success.

I know Wolves have not broken any rules, but having Chinese owners, Fosun, with a controlling stake in the Gestifute agency run by the world's top agent Jorge Mendes has prompted howls of anger from initially EFL clubs, and it needed a Premier League investigation too.

Players have been parked by Mendes, who is a personal friend of chairman Jeff Shi, and the fees and loan deals have raised eyebrows. But because Mendes has no official position at Wolves, not a director, co-owner or any official role, Wolves can't be touched.

Mendes can give them or loan them any player he wants, and for any fee he wants, even if it is way below the market price for Champions League quality players. Sorry, it stinks, considering how much trouble and cost we got lumbered with over Carlos Tevez.

So this is the sort of stuff our owners have to compete with. They have not acquired any substantial outside investment, and they don't have the personal wealth to compete with the sort of money that Everton have been lent, with no date for its repayment.

I understood the business plan of a bigger stadium, but now where exactly are David Sullivan and David Gold taking us? This summer's transfer budget is on a tight reign, and we have a lot of deadwood to get rid of which you cannot see making vast sums, why would clubs give us loads of cash for players we don't consider good enough for the top flight? And it's been like that for the last two transfer windows.

It's fair to say that if you don't spend, you go backwards. One summer of ?90m has to be followed by a similar amount the next time. And we clearly are not going to be able to do that.

To really raise the transfer budget, we may have to sell a big asset; Marko maybe, surely not Declan Rice or Felipe Anderson. But if someone offered ?70m plus for either of them, could our board say no, particularly if either player's head had been turned?

Every player has his price, as Pellegrini pointed out so honestly with regard to Rice. And you can be sure his agent knows exactly what is on offer from the clubs who have been trailing him.

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So, as I sit in the seats of Barcelona fans, watching what I expect to be the usual defeat at the hands of Manchester United, try to tell me where our owners are leading us. Or have they taken us as far as they can? It's two years before they can sell the club without having to pay money to the tax payer, are we going to flat line until then?

They have always said they were not going to sell, that the club is being lined up for their kids, a sort of Jack and Jacqueline double act maybe. But how would that take us any further than we are now, with mid-table clubs overtaking us?

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