Europe or bust

The new season is almost upon us and for West Ham the target is Europe, nothing less. As Declan Rice correctly puts it, anything else is failure.

This is arguably the most important season in our recent history. Manuel Pellegrini has arguably assembled the best squad we have had in a very long time. Three times in recent seasons the club's transfer record has been broken, now we have a galaxy of attacking talent to do the job.

Minds, most certainly, have been concentrated. The margin for error in modern football is small, we are a big club who should be in European competition.

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For David Sullivan the gamble was a 'next level' manager to make the big move to the Olympic Stadium a success. But Sullivan's business plan is to run a tight financial ship, and this time around we are being told that we have to make the very best from what we have.

The pressure is on from both ends of the spectrum. Pellegrini has talked of a points target that would have put us third last season, while at the other end of the scale, the transfer budget has been reined in.

This is clearly the time for getting it right; no more criminal defeats at places like Cardiff, no more dreadful away defeats in the Cup to teams just up from park football. No more insipid displays like we witnessed at Brighton, at Burnley, home and away to Bournemouth.

I am desperate to be positive about this season. The two big money signings Sebastien Haller and Pablo Fornals have been excellent in pre-season - in particular the French lad with his assists and obvious quality.

I hope Felipe Anderson puts a decent settling-in season to good use and tears up the Premier League. I want Rice to mature into an England regular, for Jack Wilshere to stay fit and prove he still has it to perform at the very highest level.

I'd like Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio to have solid, consistent seasons; one to show the guile and flair, the other to produce those powerful performances. For Issa Diop to emerge as a great, dominant defender.

It's all there in front of us. Now is the time lads to do your jobs, to give these 62,000 fans the season of their lives.

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But the backdrop to all this enthusiasm has again been money, how much and where it's spent. The last few weeks have seen the usual suspects - the ones fans think are far too close to the board - getting it in the neck for the message coming down from on high.

"Splash the cash"; "open your wallet"; "where's the money gone?" There's nothing new with any of that abuse, or the defence of the owners. But we can't say we were not warned. It was going to be ?30million plus all Pelle could raise from sales.

Well, some 18 players are off the pay roll... either sold, released, freed or loaned out.

Something upwards of ?42million has been raised. Add to that the ?30million budgeted and you have ?72million. Six players, all told from youth to record signing, have arrived. Teenager Goncalo Cardoso was the latest. That comes to roughly ?72million.

No wonder the calls for us to splash out further have been ignored.

The key to Sullivan's hesitance has been the deficit from the three transfer windows under Pellegrini. In those three window we have sold ?54million of players, and spent ?163million. The gap is alarming, around ?106million.

A lot of the damage was incurred last summer when over ?90million was spent and just ?12million recovered from sales.

There has also been a 'correction' in terms of squad size. That's obvious from the amount of sales, frees and loans outgoing. The squad has been reduced over three windows, I saw someone say that West Ham had too many players for a club not performing in European competition. And this summer alone the wage bill has been cut by something around ?31million.

Balancing the books takes precedence at the LS, and no amount of shouting at the owners will change that.

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This summer the reluctance to take on any more debt has contrasted with the buying of clubs who we would see as rivals for European spots. Leicester, Aston Villa, Wolves, Everton, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United all have something in common.

They have all benefited from cash injections from new foreign ownership. It is something that has eluded West Ham and Sullivan, apart from the relatively limited investment from the American J.Albert Smith.

And this is another reason why this season it is so important that we crack that top seven. The sort of financial muscle coming from clubs all around us in the Premier League is not going to stop.

Plus, the FFP rules have changed. No longer, I believe, do clubs have to adhere to a small extra increase of their budget from the previous season. Now the rules relate to a three-year figure which cannot be exceeded. It gives mid-range clubs more wriggle room and does not protect the status quo with the top six as much as it did.

This has seemingly helped new foreign investors boost transfer budgets. And it underlines my belief that our owners cannot take us much further. It's why this season's spending has to work in terms of qualifying for Europe.

We need it to continue to attract top-class players. The ones we have won't stay if we cannot offer European football. Rice will want European football to enhance his career.

This could be one hell of a season folks, the attacking players we have can see to that. Haller looks like a cracking acquisition. The two assists against Bilbao were of top quality, similarly the one he created against Hertha Berlin.

I don't hold out much hope against Manchester City on Saturday, it's a shame we have to start with such a tough match. They are in a different class. But I think we can shock a few this season. Let's hope so.

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