The (False) Reality of Repetition

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game

As West Ham were putting in one of their most abject performances in recent memory losing at home 3-0 to Southampton, the commentary team was quick to join the chorus of voices pointing to West Ham’s notable teething problems at their new stadium. The size of the pitch, the new seating of season ticket holders and the nature of policing have all been referenced as reasons for the Hammers’ poor start to the season. This has become one of the overriding stories of the start of the Premier League season and it is obvious nonsense. Rather than attributing a loss of form to a change of postcode, we should be looking at just why we expected them to succeed in the first place.

The stadium storyline is an example of the laziest kind of A+B=C sports punditry. West Ham have moved stadium, and started the season terribly, therefore the two must be related. Never mind the fact that half of your games in a Premier League season are away from home anyway. Never mind the fact that while a home crowd can give players a boost on occasion, it is at most a small advantage, not the thing that holds up the entire performance of the team. It's a cheap narrative that gives Slaven Bilic and his team more credit than they deserve.

The magic has worn off for the Hammers. It’s early days but so far it seems as though the clock has already struck 12 and certain players have turned back into pumpkins. Individuals that excelled last season have looked poor, and the start of the season has spiralled out of control. For all the talk in the summer about the Hammers’ need for a star striker to take the team to the next level, the defending has been comical. It's a lesson for any team to fear the magical season. Last year many of the West Ham players had the best season of their careers and most have so far failed to live up to it. When you rely on players to recreate a once in a career season, and they fail to do it, you end up left looking for answers that just aren't in the squad.

West Ham aren’t the only side suffering the effects of a magical season gone wrong. Leicester City had the ultimate fairy-tale season last year and now they too are struggling. Both of these teams have fallen into a trap that is common in all walks of life - we always believe that trends will last longer than they really will. When we make judgements we stick with them and expect them to be vindicated time and time again. It’s the same reason that a Chelsea side with many of the same players that can win a Premier League title, struggled so badly last term. The players that we see as great often aren’t, but we are blinded by our own initial judgements. West Ham and Leicester need to re-adjust their self-assessments and fast, because as long as they continue to think of themselves as last year’s team, they’ll continue to struggle to repeat last year’s success.  

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search