As West Ham United and English soccer waved goodbye to the Boleyn Ground on Tuesday night, sentiment enveloped the stadium and club. A passing of an era in the history of this great English club was mourned as the Hammers prepare to move into the massive Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 Premier League season. The electric atmosphere and sentimental statements from the match commentators harkened back to the past but in fact the best days for West Ham United might lie in the very near future.
Long viewed as a club that favored a certain style and pedigree over the ruthlessness of results-oriented play, West Ham’s supporters have long wanted to be entertained. This season, those loyal supporters were both entertained and given a taste of what competing for trophies and European places feels like. Ultimately, West Ham fell short of winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League but it was a season to remember in the final campaign at the Boleyn Ground.
Leicester City’s title run of this season proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything is possible in English football, and titles are no longer the exclusive province of the big spending clubs. While the Foxes might be seen as a one-off, we’ve hit a point of diminishing returns in the Premier League where the excessive spending of the “bigger” clubs no longer dwarfs that of other teams by five or ten times. We are in a more competitive environment, which makes the timing of West Ham’s stadium move almost perfect.
While Tuesday night’s matchup against Manchester United did not turn out to be the UEFA Champions League play-in game it appeared it might be just a few short weeks ago, the Hammers gave a spirited effort. While the build-up to the match was partly ruined by the spectacle of some West Ham supporters attacking the Manchester United team bus, for the most part the evening proved to be a great showcase for the club and the English game. It was a magical night that reminded us that late evening kickoffs and intimate grounds go together. Unfortunately, the new venue that West Ham will be occupying beginning next season won’t be as intimate or magical – but it will be better for the club’s bottom line and overall business.
The Hammers will not be qualifying for UEFA Champions League next season, but will not only open the Olympic Stadium era with Premier League football, but perhaps with the ambition to push on toward the type of glory that has long eluded the club. While West Ham fans have been often satisfied with stylish play and emphasized that over results, the club might now be in a position for the first time in the Premier League era to push for both.
Slaven Bilić has assembled a cosmopolitan side that was a few defensive breakdowns away from really contending for honors this season. With the increased revenue of the Olympic Stadium, and ambition to match it, West Ham could soon join the elite of English and European soccer.
The Premier League’s new television deal which kicks in next season gives each side enough cash to buy several squad members and perhaps more importantly in West Ham’s case not be required to sell anyone to balance the books. In Dimitri Payet, the Hammers have an elite level creative attacking player who now can either be retained with the squad or sold to the likes of Real Madrid adding even more to the club’s budget for future transfers.
Mark Noble has had a career season, and now at 29 the midfielder who came up through the club’s youth system has emerged as a top two-way player in the English game. His improvement under Bilić has been so dramatic that despite having never been capped for England’s senior team, he has been seriously discussed by soccer writers as someone who England could select for the Euro 2016 finals this summer.
Cheikhou Kouyaté was signed two seasons ago by former manager Sam Allardyce to offset the loss of Mohamed Diamé, and what the Senegalese International has provided is a unique box-to-box threat who can control the tempo of a match. This season his rampaging runs created difficulty for most of West Ham’s opposition and served as the perfect compliment to Noble’s industry.
When combined with Michail Antonio who has labored in the lower divisions of English soccer for his entire career prior to being signed this past summer, Noble and Kouyaté form arguably the best two-way trio of players currently in the Premier League.
West Ham United being in London and having sold 50,000 season tickets for next season loom as an attractive team for potential summer signings. The core of players detailed above will largely return and with a well-respected manager throughout Europe in place and a clear recruitment policy in effect, West Ham United’s best days lie ahead.
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