With fans restive and a US consortium circling, what next for West Ham?

At this stage it is hard to see how David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady can possibly repair their damaged approval ratings. The trust is gone after four unhappy years at the London Stadium and the majority of West Ham’s supporters are tired of watching their dysfunctional club shed its identity in return for very little on the pitch.

The past few weeks have been draining. After a period of deceptive calm, West Ham unleashed a wave of negativity when they sold Grady Diangana to West Brom for £18m. Even Mark Noble, the captain, joined in the criticism. Selling the best young talent was not part of the brochure when West Ham left Upton Park in 2016 and, following defeat by Newcastle on the opening day of the new season, supporters are hoping for a brighter future following the news that an American consortium is proposing a takeover.

There is a long way to go before a change at the top. The US bidders have made two unsuccessful offers: £350m at the start of August, £400m a few weeks later. A deal with the owners, Gold and Sullivan, will be hard. Sullivan, who owns a majority shareholding of 51.5%, delivered a brusque response to the first bid.

Although the most important figure at West Ham opened the possibility of investment in return for a minor stake, he said the club is not for sale. A complication is that the deal under which West Ham moved to the London Stadium includes an agreement that Sullivan and Gold will have to pay financial penalties to the taxpayer if the club is sold before March 2023.

The bidders, who do not want a partial sale, are waiting. London Stadium sources have questioned the strength of their interest, pointing out that no proof of funding has been supplied. One figure was dismissive about the bid this week. Yet the Americans are preparing a fresh offer and, in the meantime, are monitoring the team’s form. After visiting Arsenal on Saturday evening, in the league West Ham face Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool. The pressure on Gold, Sullivan and Brady, the vice-chair, will grow if results remain poor.

It has been a mess since Diangana’s departure. The 22-year-old winger, who spent last season on loan at West Brom, did not want to leave. There was fury when West Ham, who need to sell to raise funds, sold the academy graduate.

West Ham fans protest against the board in February.
West Ham fans protest against the board in February. Photograph: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

West Ham argued that selling Diangana would allow David Moyes to focus on defensive reinforcements. But the transfer window shuts next month and West Ham, who have had two bids for Burnley’s centre-back James Tarkowski rejected, have made no signings.

With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the market, money is tight. West Ham made a pre-tax loss of £28.8m in the last financial year and the owners arranged a rights issue to raise £30m during lockdown. Yet moving to the Olympic site was supposed to be transformative and critics point to the interest Sullivan and Gold charge on the loans they made to the club in January 2010. The latest accounts show the pair were paid a combined £2.9m in interest in August 2019 and that a further £1m went to GGI International, a company related to Gold. As of 31 May 2019 the combined balance of unsecured loans advanced by Sullivan and Gold amounted to £45m. Brady’s salary rose to £1.136m.

There has been investment in the squad. The problem is that big signings have tended not to work out. Felipe Anderson is out of form. Sébastian Haller does not look a striker worth £45m. Jack Wilshere, who has a year left on a contract worth around £100,000 a week, missed Tuesday’s victory over Charlton in the Carabao Cup with an ankle injury.

Sébastien Haller scores for West Ham in the Carabao Cup against Charlton this week. He has not looked a striker worth £45m.
Sébastien Haller scores for West Ham in the Carabao Cup against Charlton this week. He has not looked a striker worth £45m. Photograph: Rob Newell – CameraSport/CameraSport/Getty Images

The squad is unbalanced and West Ham risk another relegation battle if they fail to strengthen. Issa Diop is struggling in central defence and the full-backs are vulnerable. There is also a lack of depth behind Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice in midfield and Michail Antonio up front.

West Ham, who fear a Chelsea bid for Rice, cannot continue in this manner. It has turned into another scramble for signings. Although Sullivan has renewed his involvement in the recruitment process since firing Manuel Pellegrini and the Chilean’s director of football, Mario Husillos, the final decisions are down to Moyes. The Scot has money to spend but is taking his time, leading to frustration at the club.

The urgency for movement will grow if West Ham lose to Arsenal. Supporters mounted anti-board protests earlier this year and many will not be satisfied until Sullivan and Gold have left. The fans have not forgotten Brady envisaging “a world-class stadium with a world-class team”. Try saying that with a straight face now.

The Guardian

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