Loans the only way England Under-21s can show their class
off with the League Managers’ Association manager-of-the-year award, despite Liverpool finishing one place behind City. Even so, taking over at West Ham is an unusual way of proving a point to the LMA. Pellegrini is a highly successful manager who has worked at River Plate, Real Madrid and City and improved clubs much lower down the pecking order.
He pushed Villarreal and then Malaga further than they had gone before in the Spanish Liga and the Champions League, and before that he did the same in Argentina. These are not achievements that should be denigrated or forgotten but, other than the £5million he is being paid annually, those who knew him at City struggle to explain why he took over at West Ham. A club so badly run in recent years that a man with his experience and understanding of successful structure would ordinarily have walked away from. Pellegrini’s appointment was contingent on the club taking his long-standing associate, Mario Husillos, as director of football, and it is understood there was some reluctance on the part of the ownership to do so – although in the absence of any better ideas they went along with it. The high point of Husillos’s career so far was his first time as sporting director at Malaga with Pellegrini – his second spell last season ended in relegation. Otherwise his career has been varied rather than stellar with coaching and director of football roles in Argentina, Spain, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia.
The question being asked at the club is not whether the summer signings are bad players but whether they represent a demonstrable step forward in quality. Is Fabian Balbuena, at 27, better than Declan Rice at 19? Does Issa Diop stand out as a first choice centre-back as one might expect for a £22million player? Is
Andriy Yarmolenko a significant upgrade on Robert Snodgrass? Jack Wilshere on Mark Noble? In the second tier of the top half of the Premier League, where West Ham aspire to be, those incremental upgrades are critical to progress but very hard to achieve. We are accustomed to the elite managers taking the money without a backward glance and given that Pellegrini’s previous job was in the Chinese Super League at Hebei China Fortune, which sounds more like a dubious investment prospectus than a football club, maybe it should not be a surprise.
West Ham require a complete restructure, and perhaps Pellegrini and Husillos feel that they have the authority to do that over time, but that was not the job Pellegrini was asked to do when he last worked in England.
West Ham’s ownership have taken them to the brink, and the stadium move has already secured them an unhappy legacy. But Pellegrini has chosen to be part of it too, which still feels mysterious given how keenly he guarded his own reputation at City. The problem at West Ham has long been their unstable foundations, and you would have thought that Pellegrini above all would have spotted that.
Of the England Under-21 team who started in the win over Latvia on Tuesday, all have parent Premier League clubs with five of them on loan – four in the Championship and one, Jake Clarke-Salter, in the Eredivise. Chelsea’s Clarke-Salter is a regular for Vitesse Arnhem, so too Dean Henderson at Sheffield United from Manchester United and Chelsea’s Mason Mount and Fiyako Tomori at Derby County. Their Chelsea club-mate Tammy Abraham is yet to play for Aston Villa.
The six still at their parent clubs have four Premier League appearances between them, and three of those belong to Tom Davies at Everton. The fourth is Ademola Lookman’s 33 minutes against Huddersfield Town. Dominic Solanke at Liverpool, as well as Everton’s Kieran Dowell and Jonjoe Kenny, have not figured at all and neither has Kyle Walker-Peters at Spurs.
This is England’s foremost development team – and yet so many of their players cannot get a game outside of the international break. It makes you wonder what those who did not go on loan are waiting for.