When West Ham released their most recent annual financial statement in January, it came with a stark warning.
Retaining their Premier League status was, the Hammers said, “an absolute necessity”.
That statement was written in October, when the club were pushing for a place in the top four. Accounting regulations meant it could not be changed when the Hammers’ financial results to 31 May 2019 were published in January 2020.
So the statement stands as West Ham’s own assessment of the dire position they will be in if they cannot pull out of the relegation mire over the final seven games of a tortuous season. That run of games starts at home to Chelsea on Wednesday.
Troubled times for the Hammers
When David Moyes returned for a second spell as Hammers manager on 30 December, replacing Manuel Pellegrini, he made a bold statement.
“There are only two or three managers with a better Premier League win record than me,” he said. “That’s what I do. I win.”
West Ham won Moyes’ first game in charge, 4-0 against Bournemouth.
Their only success in 11 games since was the 3-1 win over Southampton on 29 February. It gives Moyes a win percentage of 17%.
The Southampton game was preceded by a protest walk, attended by thousands of fans, unhappy at the way the club is being run.
Since then, West Ham have played three Premier League matches, losing all three without scoring. Co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold, and managing director Karren Brady – the trio many fans hold responsible for the club’s plight – might be thankful the remainder of the Premier League season is being played behind closed doors.
The financial background
Last year, West Ham made a pre-tax loss of £28.2m. In July and August, the club borrowed £39m, which has to be paid back next month.
On 10 April the club announced their first-team squad had agreed to wage deferrals because of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, Brady, Moyes and finance director Andy Mollett all took a 30% pay cut.
Sullivan, Gold and other shareholders put in an additional £30m between them.
Should West Ham go down, the feeling is they will have to put in even more.
There are some big financial commitments there. The club spent heavily during Pellegrini’s 18 months in charge, paying out £143.7m on transfer fees.
Last season, salaries were £135.8m, a £51m rise from 2016. The current figure is thought to be higher. Their wages to turnover ratio is 71%.
West Ham’s faith in Pellegrini extended to an £8m-a-year contract. His backroom staff included Mario Husillos, who was appointed as the club’s first director of football.
“We believe we have one of the strongest squads and management teams in the Premier League,” said Sullivan in his chairman’s notes – written in October – that were included in those financial results.
But the big investment did not bring the results needed. Husillos left the club at the same time as Pellegrini as the Hammers tumbled down the table after picking up eight points from 13 games.
The club’s faith in Pellegrini and Husillos was not borne out by their signings.
Sebastien Haller, signed for a club record £45m from Eintracht Frankfurt last July, has scored seven times in 30 appearances in all competitions and missed the post-lockdown defeats by Wolves and Tottenham with a hip injury.
Two high-profile free signings also disappointed. Samir Nasri started just three Premier League games in his half-season at London Stadium. Jack Wilshere, another former Arsenal midfielder, has played in 14 out of 69 Premier League games since arriving in 2018. His last start was on 17 August last year and his only goal for the club came in an EFL Cup tie at Newport.
Those who have been fit, including Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals, have failed to make a sustained impact.
But perhaps no player has received as much focus as goalkeeper Roberto, a free transfer from Malaga given his chance after first-choice Lukasz Fabianski was ruled out for three months with a hip injury suffered at Bournemouth on 28 September.
The 34-year-old started West Ham’s next six games, conceding 14 goals in a run of five defeats and one draw, before losing his place to David Martin.
Roberto made one more appearance before returning to Spain, joining Alaves on loan in January.
Potential problems for Hammers’ landlords too
In October 2018, it was estimated London Stadium, the construction costs of which were largely met by the UK taxpayer, would lose £140m in the next 10 years. The stadium is owned by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).
Should West Ham go down, the immediate impact would be a reduction in the club’s rent by 50% to around £1.5m-a-year.
Because of the terms agreed for use of London Stadium and the minimum £4m cost of converting it temporarily for an athletics meeting, the loss of planned summer baseball, athletics and music events would actually have little financial impact for West Ham’s landlords to absorb.
But there would be additional costs. Lack of fans at games or smaller crowds means no revenue from catering, which LLDC receives.
A planned expansion of capacity to 62,500 next season remains live.
Relegation would also be a blow to the long-running attempts to find a naming rights partner.
All this adds to the scrutiny around a club who have top-six potential on every metric – fans, turnover, transfer spend, wages, location and stadium capacity – but have finished there just once in 34 years.