West Ham United has plenty to look forward to as it plans its move into the Olympic Stadium in 2016. And the Hammers will want to make sure they’re still in the Premier League when they do.
Coach Sam Allardyce’s team finished 13th in 2013-14 but did so in dreary fashion, and a 0-8-3 stretch run ensures that the pressure will be intense this fall. If Big Sam is to make it through his fourth season, West Ham will need to start strong and play with a bit of style.
In January, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho accused the Hammers of playing “football from the 19th century.” Many West Ham fans agreed, and the club’s board took note. The May statement that confirmed Allardyce’s continued employment also noted that he was asked to appoint an assistant to help with the attack, “to ensure the team provides more entertainment next season.” That coach is former West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United striker Teddy Sheringham.
The board also expects a top-10 finish. Injuries will increase the level of difficulty. Forward Andy Carroll, who was hurt during the first half of last season and scored only twice upon his return, is out for another four months with a left ankle injury. Meanwhile, Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson and fellow defender Guy Demel may miss time with hamstring issues.
Allardyce will need newcomers Enner Valencia, Ecuador’s top World Cup goal scorer, and Argentine Mauro Zárate to blend in quickly and provide an offensive spark. Kevin Nolan can’t do it by himself. Otherwise, there could be more dramatic changes at Upton Park.
KEY ARRIVALS: D Aaron Cresswell (from Ipswich Town), D Carl Jenkinson (from Arsenal), D/MF Cheikhou Kouyaté (from Anderlecht), F Enner Valencia (from Pachuca), F Mauro Zárate (from Vélez Sarsfield).
KEY DEPARTURES: MF Joe Cole (to Aston Villa), MF Alou Diarra (to free agent), D George McCartney (free agent), MF Matthew Taylor (to Burnley).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Enner Valencia. It will be fascinating to see how the 24-year-old Ecuadorian, a robust attacker with genuine flair on the ball, combines with the likes of Kevin Nolan, Carlton Cole, Carroll and, of course, Allardyce. West Ham needs a bit of flair and unpredictability and it will fall to Valencia to provide it. He cost the club some $20 million.
KEY STAT: Last season marked only the second time in 20 years that West Ham lost at least 20 league games.
STADIUM: Boleyn Ground (Built in 1904; Capacity 35,016)
After 110 years, the fate of Boleyn Ground is sealed, with West Ham moving to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2016 and selling the old site—which has a castle-like motif and was once known as Boleyn Castle—to developers. The venue is also known as Upton Park.