Going into the summer West Ham were thought by many to be in dire straits. They finished in 17th position, a late season swoon bringing them dangerously close to relegation. Ownership declared that every player save Scott Parker was for sale, and the firing of manager Gianfranco Zola left many with a sour taste in their mouth.
What a difference a summer makes. The ownership group, led by former Birmingham City chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan, seems to have stabilized. The underrated Avram Grant has been appointed manager, very few players have left, and several useful pieces have been brought in.
I have to admit I like the Grant hiring. I think he handled an impossible situation at Portsmouth with a lot of class, and he has shown an ability to get solid performances out of his players. A team with Grant leading them will finish where they are supposed to, based on the squad available to him. West Ham probably have the twelfth best squad in the league, and it is very likely that they will finish twelfth, provided the previously threatened fire sales do not take place.
Robert Green will still be in goal. He is a fair keeper, nothing special, adequate for West Ham's position in the table. I imagine he will be severely booed the first few matches of the season because of the part he played in England's World Cup adventure. Will it get to him?
The back-line is fairly poor. Mathew Upson is overrated because he is English, and no one else stands out. I wish I could talk up Jonathan Spector, but his performances last season at a variety of positions were not good.
The midfield is the Hammer's strength. I already mentioned Scotty Parker, and he will anchor a midfield three, probably alongside Mark Noble and new signing Thomas Hitzlsperger. There is also depth in the center of the pitch with Jack Collison, Radoslav Kovac, and Valon Behrami.
Attack is a problem. Carlton Cole will be the central striker, and he is good for 10 goals or so, but he isn't a prolific scorer, and he doesn't create goals for his teammates. Cole wil be flanked by some combination of flawed players. The candidates are Luis Boa Morte (well past his prime and injury prone), Kieron Dyer (has not played 30 games in a season since 2002-2003), Alessandro Diamanti (makes Ronaldo look unselfish), Benni McCarthy (older version of Cole), Frederic Piquionne (31 year old's career high for goals in a season is 7), and Fred Sears (only 20, but 1 goal in 60 appearances).
There are 2 attacking youngsters on West Ham's books that I do rate rather highly, but i think both are a year away from having a major role to play. One is Zavon Hines, a lightning quick 21-year-old who still needs to learn how to use his speed. The other is 23-year old Pablo Barrera, the Mexican winger who impressed in three substitute appearances at the World Cup. There have been a few Mexicans in England, but none of them have settled well. Barrera may be the first, but he is raw, and I think it will take a season for him to settle in. He will provide some entertainment, and a few moments of shear brilliance, but I don't think he will truly make an impact until 2011.
When all is said and done, West Ham United will still be in the Premier League. They may give their supporters a scare, much like last season, but I think they will ultimately be pretty comfortable. They could finish as high as tenth, or as low as fifteenth. I will make one provision to my prediction. If they sell Parker or Cole in the next few weeks, there could be big trouble. As in, praying they finish 17th trouble.