Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

David Sullivan: ‘I Feel I Haven’t Done Well Enough. Nobody’s Done Well Enough’

David Sullivan: ‘I Feel I Haven’t Done Well Enough. Nobody’s Done Well Enough’

Tuesday, 12 December, 2017 - 11:30
David Sullivan may bring in a director of football at West Ham. ‘There’s one very good one in the Premier League,’ he says. ‘I would seriously think about taking him on.’ Photograph: Andy Hooper/ANL/Rex/Shutterstock

“I feel like I haven’t done well enough,” David Sullivan says as he considers how swiftly and brutally West Ham United’s grand ambitions have unravelled after 18 troubled months in their huge new stadium. “Nobody’s done well enough. I work my socks off but sometimes it’s not good enough.”

West Ham’s co-owner pauses, giving himself time to reflect on everything that has happened since the move to the London Stadium, and it is clear he is hurting. Those who have worked closely with Sullivan respect his intelligence and they talk of a West Ham fanatic.

But there are other points of view. One former executive describes Sullivan as dictatorial and argues that West Ham are the most dysfunctional club in the Premier League. There is a feeling they need to focus more on analytics, sports science and recruitment and, while David Gold and Karren Brady are influential figures, Sullivan has the power to execute change. He is the one blamed by many supporters for the club’s woes.

In that context it is to Sullivan’s credit he has agreed to speak. It is a month since he replaced Slaven Bilic with David Moyes on a six-month deal but West Ham’s relegation fears have not eased before they host Chelsea on Saturday and there were anti-board chants during the recent defeat by Watford.

“I think we’re the most honest, open people you’ll ever deal with,” Sullivan says, however, and he denies he has any plans to sell the club. “David Gold is 81, it’s his whole life. He has nothing in his life except West Ham. He has no hobbies. He has a family but he has one granddaughter. I love football and I want to be nowhere else but West Ham. We’re not in it for a quick buck.”

Those comments lend weight to the theory that Sullivan will hand control to his sons one day. Jack became the managing director of West Ham Ladies in the summer, while Dave Jr started working at the club this week.

“Jack’s learning his trade,” Sullivan says. “He was desperate to do it. He worked in every department at West Ham for a week. He knows everyone. He has opinions on everybody.” Could Jack be chairman in the future? “Possibly. Or Dave. Or both of them. We’ll see. They may get bored with it. Jack’s going to make mistakes. He’s 18. I make mistakes and I’m 68.”

Sullivan’s critics feel he has made too many but he rejects the suggestion the facilities at the training ground in Rush Green are not up to scratch, saying £4.8m has been spent on six new pitches, and responds to questions about Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium by pointing out West Ham have made tickets affordable to young fans. “I think Daniel Levy has done a fantastic job at Tottenham,” he says. “But his cheapest season ticket price will be three times ours. There might be a tiny little corner with 200 kids he calls the family stand. Maybe we should have gone a different route and borrowed it all. We would have bankrupted the club.”

However, Sullivan admits he is not entirely happy with the 57,000-capacity London Stadium, revealing the club is pushing for it to look and feel more like West Ham’s home. “We’re about £10m a year better off,” he says. “It’s not going to change our lives.”

So why bother moving? “I just think we feel like a big club,” Sullivan says. “Not a tinpot club. When players come to look at West Ham, they look at where you play.”

But West Ham’s critics would say they are not showing proper ambition and Sullivan is contrite when reminded about all the times he has spoken about qualifying for the Champions League. “I’m sure there’s 100 things I’ve said that I regret,” he says. “I didn’t realise how hard that task was. The money going into the top six is getting bigger.”

Now Sullivan says West Ham, who had a season in the Championship after going down in 2011, are even money to be relegated this season. “It’s going to be very damaging if it happens,” he says. “We’d have to do whatever it takes to keep the club afloat. If we go down, we’ll come straight back up. We always come straight back up. We had to put £30m in the last time.”

While Sullivan was right to sack Bilic, whose squad was not fit enough, the situation was allowed to persist for too long. He begged the Croat to shake up his fitness team but Bilic would not listen. “I should have got rid of him in the summer,” he says. “But beating Tottenham in the last home game and beating Burnley was just enough. My family gave me such grief for not doing it. I thought he’d sorted things out.”

That reluctance to act wasted time and exposes West Ham’s muddle. Following the thread is tricky. Sullivan is referred to as the club’s director of football in the most recent set of accounts – with no one to scrutinise him – but he is surprised to hear that. “Well, I’m not really the director of football,” he says. “I never go to the training ground. The manager had a policy of wanting older, proven Premier League players. That gives you an old squad and players who you’ve seen the best of.”

It is said Sullivan takes an active role in identifying transfers but he claims he mostly signed Bilic’s targets. “I’m very involved with physically bringing in the players,” he says. “I’m not involved in the strategy. The manager said he wanted Fonte from Southampton and Snodgrass from Hull. My kids begged me not to sign them.”

Sullivan goes on to take the credit for signing Manuel Lanzini, Ashley Fletcher and Havard Nordtveit but he adds that Bilic wanted Marko Arnautovic, Joe Hart, Javier Hernández and Pablo Zabaleta. “I regret it in a way, the first year I was more involved and the next two years I was less involved. We’ve let the manager pick who he wants.

“Maybe going forward we won’t. We have to take a look at the age of the players we’re signing. We will have to bring in two or three in January. They won’t be old journeymen, they will be young players. They won’t be 32.”

West Ham have broken their transfer record in the last two summers, spending £20m on André Ayew and £24m on Arnautovic, but their squad has holes and Sullivan is thinking about hiring a director of football. After all, someone performing that role could have challenged Bilic’s training methods at an early stage. “There’s one very good one in the Premier League,” he says. “I would seriously think about taking him on in due course and I know he would come because he’s approached me.

“But I also want to sign the next Mr Stones, who Everton got for £500,000. He was found by David Moyes and Tony Henry, our current head of scouting. Tony is frustrated because we’ve signed who the manager wants. We’ve put names up to the manager and he’s said he won’t take a chance on people straight from South America.”

The conversation turns to whether Sullivan, who anticipates improvement under Moyes, has undermined his managers by talking too much. Bilic was deeply unhappy when West Ham failed to sign William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon last summer. In a farcical episode Sullivan released a statement detailing how close he was to a deal for the midfielder, revealed Bilic had turned down Grzegorz Krychowiak and Renato Sanches and threatened Sporting with a lawsuit after the Portuguese side said there was no offer for Carvalho.

The two clubs made up this week, although Sullivan is still keen to tell his side of the story. “We’re not liars and we did make an offer,” he says. “The manager came to me and said he had an agent working on this who assures me if we give the player 70 or 80 grand a week and pay €25m to Sporting Lisbon, they will take the deal. I’ve gone in with a €20m offer. They said no.

“I told Slaven that I was going in with €25m. They said: ‘We want €35m guaranteed plus another €15m of achievable add-ons.’ I told Slaven that all we had was €25m and even that’s a stretch. I did what Slaven wanted and his agent couldn’t deliver. If he had said at the start it was €35m plus €15m of achievable add-ons, I would have said that I couldn’t do it.”

Sanches and Krychowiak have not impressed at Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion respectively, though. “The manager was probably proven right on those two,” Sullivan says. “Maybe I shouldn’t have made it public.”

Sullivan still thinks Krychowiak is a fantastic player, though, and he tells a story about the time he let Sam Allardyce know that Chelsea would listen to a £10m offer for Romelu Lukaku. “I asked Sam if he fancied Lukaku,” he says. “Sam said he’d take him on loan but he wouldn’t buy him for that. Again I’ve supported the manager.”

The phone on Sullivan’s desk is starting to ring with increasing persistence. Henry has arrived to discuss transfer plans. There are deals to be done and a relegation battle to be won, but Sullivan is still dreaming. “We have to get in the top six eventually,” he says. “We’ve had a go and it hasn’t worked. We’ll keep having a go. We’ll keep changing the model and try different things. We dare to dream.”


Editor Picks