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HAMMERS FOCUS: Olympic Stadium move could take West Ham to the next level

West Ham United only have six more games left at Upton Park and while the visits of Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United are sure to provide plenty in the way of football spectacle, few encounters will have been as satisfying for Hammers fans as their 1-0 victory over Sunderland.

Currently deep in the relegation mire, a home fixture with the Black Cats, on paper, looked little more than a routine win for the Iron.

However, the visit of Sunderland was significant for another reason: Sam Allardyce.

Returning the club that had somewhat controversially ousted him as their manager, it was Allardyce who had brought West Ham back to the Premier League big time but it was also Allardyce who had urged the club to know its limitations.

Throughout his time at the Boleyn Ground, Big Sam had constantly rallied against the notion of 'the West Ham way' with fans criticising Allardyce's style, which ran counter to 'The Academy of Football' and a club that provided the spine of England's 1966 World Cup winning side.

"The fans were being brainwashed into thinking that, historically, the club had a particular style of play which was akin to Barcelona, which was potty," Allardyce explained last year.

"I once called the supporters deluded and I stand by that. I don't know who invented the West Ham way phrase, but it's a millstone around the club's neck."

Millstone or not, fast-forward just a couple of months and talk of the 'West Ham Way' has died down considerably – but not for the reasons Allardyce may have hoped.

Having installed Slaven Bilic as manager, the Hammers have embarked on a superb campaign in the Premier League with the club sitting in sixth and just four points off fourth and subsequently a Champions League qualification place.

Galvanised by summer signings like Dimitri Payet, Angelo Ogbonna and Manuel Lanzini, the squad has undergone a major overhaul to become a West Ham team that not only plays attacking, attractive football but is also in contention for European qualification.

West Ham fans know who, or rather what, to thank for this as well: the Olympic Stadium.

Scheduled to move in to their new home this summer, the change of grounds could take West Ham to the next level - and you don't even have to be a fan of the club to understand why.

Speaking to the Sunderland Echo recently, Allardyce succinctly outlined just why the move is so significant.

"It could be the best golden period in West Ham's history if they get it right," he explained

"It frees up so much more money for David and David (co-chairmen Sullivan and Gold) to spend on the team, having clinched a £700m stadium for £2m a year rent. Had they had to build that stadium themselves, there would be little or no funds for Slaven [Bilic] to improve the squad.

"Slaven has had more money this year and he'll probably get more money again in the summer, particularly with the £120m coming his way."

Though unlikely to be a fan of either David Sullivan or Gold, Allardyce still has the clarity to outline just why the move is so significant.

Not only will the club benefit from an increase of stadium capacity from just over 35,000 to 54,000 (rising to potentially 60,000 depending on demand) but the switch of grounds also represents an upgrade in status.

After all, part of what attracted the City Football Group to Manchester City was the presence of their 55,000-capacity City of Manchester (or Etihad) Stadium – a venue left over as a legacy from the city's Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Based in London and boasting an impressive, modern footballing venue, West Ham now represent a more palatable prospect not only for potential investors but big name players too.

The likes of Payet and Ogbonna have already arrived from Olympique Marseille and Juventus respectively – two of Europe's biggest clubs with rich histories both domestically and in Europe – and more big names could follow.

Reports, for example, of Zlatan Ibrahimovic potentially joining the party at West Ham next term may not be as outlandish as first thought.

More importantly, with West Ham circumventing the cost and budgeting that previously restricted Arsenal's success during the early years of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea as they prepared to move from Highbury to the Emirates, substantial funds are readily available.

Meanwhile, with Tottenham and Liverpool embarking on similarly expensive stadium construction projects, West Ham could steal a march on these sides in the battle for top four domination.

Spurs may be flying high for now but with many of their young stars likely to attract interest from elsewhere and the club hamstrung by plans for a new ground, they could struggle to maintain their current upsurge.

The arrival of Emmanuel Emenike, player long-linked with a possible Tottenham switch, offered further signs of a potential power shift in two of London's clubs with the Nigerian evidently sold on the Gold/Sullivan project.

London still remains a lure for foreign players – Alexis Sanchez partly choose Arsenal over Liverpool because of this – and with West Ham able to offer big contracts thanks to more money in the club coffers, the likes of Tottenham could suffer in the transfer market.

In Bilic, meanwhile, the club has a manager capable of getting the best out of big name stars.

Luka Modric emerged as a major force in an otherwise average Croatia team under Bilic while the Hammers boss knows how to handle the pressure at club level too having sat in the dugout at footballing hotbeds in his homeland (Hajduk Split), in Turkey (Besiktas) and in Russia (Lokomotiv Moscow).

With more money set to come into the club with the next television rights deal, even bigger names could be on the way but West Ham would be wise to exercise some caution – we all remember Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano – and the club's status as 'The Academy of Football' should not be forgotten.

Mark Noble still represents a fine example that English talent can thrive in the Premier League and West Ham would be wise to seek out further bright young things to join the likes of Reece Oxford in and around the senior squad.

A new ground is a great starting point but, aside from signing well-known players to bring European football to the club, West Ham would be wise to sink more money into their highly-regarded youth set up.

While the atmosphere of Stratford's Olympic Stadium and ability to fill the ground week-in, week-out remains to be seen, for now Hammers fans are more than entitled to be blowing a few bubbles and dreaming of the 'West Ham Way' until their hearts are content.

By Jack Beresford

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