Are West Ham leading a new middle-class charge?
For all its criticisms and shortcomings, rarely have we seen a start to a season to captivate the public quite like this current term. With our nations finest clubs crashing and burning in Europe, the plucky underdog claws back ground at an ever-increasing pace. The draw of the Premier League is less for the inherent qualities of its royalty, more so borne out of the competitiveness of its middle classes.
No club seems to typify this shift more than West Ham United; a team that has for too long now languished within the lower reaches of our league. Yet the 2015-16 season brought with it new hope; the departure of the increasingly unpopular Sam Allardyce opened the door for Croatian Slaven Bilic to take the helm at the Upton Park. A marked shift in philosophy has helped bring the swagger back to the Boleyn Ground this term; but given the rise of a clutch of sides, is there something more systemic at work here?
Notable Transfers Summer 2015
Yohan Cabaye- £13m
Connor Wickham- £9m
Shinji Okazaki- £7.5m
Gokhan Inler- £5m
Virgil van Dijk- £11.5m
Jordy Clasie- £8m
Andre Ayew- Free
West Ham United
Dimitri Payet- £10.7m
Angelo Ogbonna- £7.9m
The above isn’t necessarily meant to highlight lavish spending from the middle clutch of Premier League clubs, but that calibre of player that these teams are able to attract. The majority of these players have considerable European pedigrees, and have in most cases walked away from either the Europa or Champions League to take their place amongst the ranks of the Premier League.
Dimitri Payet’s meteoric rise is an excellent case-in point with his four goals and three assists to date already helping to bolster his burgeoning reputation in England. Yet it has been rare for West Ham to attract such established names in recent years, and when you add the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Pedro Obiang to the mix you do sense a noticeable shift in policy.
The record £5.14bn TV rights deal has clearly played a part; with Premier League clubs now enjoying a clear comparative advantage over their continental rivals. This isn’t to imply that the footballers acquired are mercenary, more so that like in most areas of life money does carry significant weight. Such a financial imbalance has led to reports that Michel Platini will slacken the FFP restrictions in a bid to increase the opportunities for clubs on the continent to spend.
The middle order may be strengthening, but that doesn’t on its own point to a more competitive Premier League. Surely the established ‘Big Four’ are loosening their grip?
Clearly the biggest clubs are still spending and invariably strengthening, but not enough to keep pace with the closing pack and there is a very good reason for this. As clubs get better, the added marginal effect of adding quality players to the side become less and less. The effect of York City signing Lionel Messi would be more profound than say if someone like Manchester City were to sign him. This may seem like an extreme example, but the point still holds in the Premier League. Dimitri Payet may not be quite the prospect that Kevin de Bruyne is, but at the same time his marginal benefit to West Ham United is greater. De Bruyne is complementing an already gifted forward line, for West Ham United Payet represents a genuine step-up in quality.
Yet for a club like West Ham the ambition has to stretch beyond the second-tier. With a new stadium on the horizon and the added financial clout to go with it, competition with the ‘top four’ should become the norm.
The redistribution of Premier League wealth is the single biggest reason for the ever-tightening gap between sides, and as we move forward it will only continue to influence the balance of power.
For West Ham fans this is understandably exciting, for the established four increasingly worrying.
Just how far can this West Ham side go?