LONDON: West Ham have been missing from the Premier League for only one year. They start at Swansea on August 25 with a team which manager Sam Allardyce is building in a very different image from the old ‘football first’ style of years gone by.
The Hammers were relegated in 2011 along with Birmingham City and Blackpool. They finished bottom of the table, seven points from safety, and it was no surprise that manager Avram Grant was sacked after only one year by owners David Sullivan and David Gold.
Relegation was cushioned by the Premier League ‘parachute payment’ system but West Ham had an extra reason for wanting to regain top-flight status as soon as possible. This concerned the club’s to become tenants of the London Olympic Stadium in 2014: West Ham’s credibility and crowd potential depended on being in the Premier League.
Hence Allardyce, with his reputation for disciplined, hard-working footballers, took over in the summer of 2011. Many fans were unimpressed by the football Hammers played last season but the fact was that Allardyce fulfilled orders in gaining promotion.
It was close. West Ham finished third, three points behind Reading and two points behind Southampton. That meant fighting their way through the play-offs. They beat Cardiff 2-0 and 3-0 and then Blackpool 2-1 in the Wembley final. Portuguese winger Ricardo Van Te, who had played under Allardyce previously at Bolton, scored the 87th-minute winner.
West Ham were first of the 20 Premier League clubs to start pre-season training and Allardyce wants his team to make a similarly good early start to the season. He wants his men in a good position after the first nine games of the season because he expects November and December, including a clash with Manchester City, to be particularly tough.
Allardyce said: “The first nine games up to Manchester City are ones in which we must try to achieve as many points as we can. It will be hugely difficult but not as difficult as what follows. We must get off to a flying start and achieve as many points as we can in the first nine or 10 games.
“The pressures are huge and the expectation is fantastic. So you have to be ready to work that little bit harder. The end goal and the end goal is to finish as high up in the Premier League as we possibly can.”
New signings include former Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, Senegal midfielder Mohamed Diame and returning fullback George McCartney. Jaaskelainen played under Allardyce before and takes the place left by the departure of England reserve goalkeeper Rob Green to Queens Park Rangers.
Julien Faubert has left for Turkish side Elazigspor after five years with the club which also included a loan spell with Real Madrid. Czech Republic Under-21 goalkeeper Marek Stech has also left, having made only three appearances in the League Cup in his six years in east London.
All three newcomers made their Hammers debut in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat by FK Austria in Vienna. The game ended a week-long training camp in Austria.