West Ham’s season is not going to plan. A move to the London Stadium, née Olympic Stadium, was meant to herald a new era of prosperity. A seventh-placed finish last season meant European football was set to come to east London. This time, they were going to take it seriously and, stewarded by the brilliance of the mercurial Dimitri Payet, forge a new history away from Upton Park.
Yet here we are in October and the Hammers are staring down the barrel of the gun. Payet remains brilliant, but his dazzling footwork has not been able to save Slaven Bilic’s side from some truly atrocious results. With nearly a fifth of the season gone West Ham are 17th and they have won just once, a frankly dire 1-0 victory over Bournemouth in their first Premier League fixture at their new home.
Europe was treated as little more than an afterthought but defeat to Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League qualifiers brought ignominy, and the performance at London Stadium was emblematic of a quite appalling season thus far – West Ham were aimless, muddled, and seemingly without a leader.
Following a 3-0 defeat to Southampton Mark Noble went on the attack, savaging his own side’s performance.
“It can’t get any worse,” was the quote that launched a thousand Twitter predictions, and it is likely to be replayed again and again if it does, indeed, get worse.
A 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough showed that there is spirit within the squad, but the newly promoted side were sharper on the day, creating chances and toying with their opposition’s defence. They were unfortunate to only take a point.
Thus, with the international break over, West Ham face a crunch set of fixtures. Games against Crystal Palace and Sunderland must be taken advantage of ahead of a nightmare run which will see the Hammers travel to Everton, then host Stoke City before facing Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool on the trot.
If their current form continues then the club will be staring into the abyss, and the 2002-03 season may well be repeated, albeit in far more dramatic fashion.
The season prior, managed by Glenn Roeder, the Hammers finished seventh, above fierce rivals Tottenham, but were shockingly relegated the following campaign, after a horrific run which saw them win just three games from 24.
It could be argued that the squad then was perhaps even stronger than it is now, too, with the likes of Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Paolo Di Canio still on the books.
A major turnaround is needed if lightning isn’t to strike twice, but the problems run deep at a club that would appear, currently, to have ideas above its station.
Such is the nature of modern football, Bilic’s position will likely come under question if results continue to slide, despite his brilliant maiden year in England, yet it is the boardroom where fans’ ire should be directed.
A farcical summer transfer window saw a bevy of strikers courted, including Alexandre Lacazette and Michy Batshuayi, but a deal could not be closed, with Andre Ayew and Simone Zaza arriving instead. Ayew is already injured and a number of the signings, including Gokhan Tore and Jonathan Calleri, simply do not look good enough.
A lack of ambition in the transfer market could also see first-team stars, namely Payet, look to leave. Sources told Goal prior to Euro 2016 that the club had placed a £60 million valuation on the Frenchman; the Hammers would be lucky to get half of that were he to agitate for a move in January with the club in the relegation zone.
Worrying times have been made worse by vice-chairman Karren Brady claiming that the influence of David Sullivan, David Gold and herself had strengthened the brand of West Ham, while she also defended the move to the London Stadium as an “opportunity to change brand values”.
Supporters are not interested in brands, however, and instead react better to winning football matches and moving up league tables. There is a poisonous atmosphere at their new digs.
Fans are actively lobbying for a return to Upton Park – a charming, yet fiercely intimidating stadium – though their old stomping ground has been razed to the ground for a movie, starring Pierce Brosnan.
Fighting in the stands has been seen, and the ugly, if somewhat ludicrous, scenes will only continue if performances do not pick up soon.
Seldom do clubs react well to relegation and very few fans would bet on Brady, Gold and Sullivan digging the club out of such a hole.
If this downward trend continues the Hammers will find themselves in serious danger of slipping out of the Premier League and failing to return.