LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 19: Kevin Nolan, captain of West Ham, celebrates with the trophy after the the npower Championship - Playoff Final between West Ham United and Blackpool at Wembley Stadium on May 19, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
West Ham earned promotion thanks to winning the Championship playoffs. Now comes the hard part of re-establishing themselves in the EPL.
Sam Allardyce did the job last season for West Ham United and secured the Hammers' return to the top flight despite a late season slump that forced them into the Championship playoffs. With that done, the real work begins for Big Sam as the illustrious duo of Gold & Sullivan will expect him to keep them in the Premier League.
A ton of faces from the promoted side have moved on in the off-season including goalkeeper Robert Green (who signed with QPR), Julien Faubert, Frank Nouble, Freddie Sears and Abdoulaye Faye all on free transfers. John Carew and Papa Bouba Diop were outright released. At first glance, it's not exactly a list that should concern anyone, right?
The incoming transfer list is just as robust, as you might expect from anew promoted side. Big Sam replaced Green with Jussi Jaaskelainen, his trusted keeper from his Bolton days. Modibo Maiga is the big money signing so far, joining the Hammers from Sochaux. West Ham managed to beat Newcastle to his signature and he'll battle for minutes up front with trusted strikers Ricardo Vaz Te and Carlton Cole. Alou Diarra, a defensive midfielder, was also signed from Marseille.
Defenders James Collins and George McCartney were added to provide some experience in the back and Mohamed Diame will compete with Diarra for playing time. Basically, there is a plethora of new faces in claret and blue and how well everyone integrates will determine West Ham's success this season. Rocket science, I tell you!
The new signings combined with a strong roster that features the previously mentioned Vaz Te and Cole, along with captain Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Matt Taylor, should allow West Ham to avoid the relegation fray. The ambitious ownership should also help ensure that Allardyce, who has never relegated a team from the Premier League, will have the resources he needs to keep the Hammers where they want to be, which is not back in the Championship.
The pressure will be on Big Sam to get results and help reestablish West Ham's place in the top flight of English football. The fans of the club are not all completely on-board with him as the manager, so he'll have to prove to them, along with the owners that he's the man to lead West Ham forward. It's a situation he should be used to. There's also going to be the added weight of West Ham being the likely new tenant for the Olympic Stadium, a home Gold & Sullivan will likely want being showcased in the Premier League.
It should be an interesting year in East London.
Last year: 3rd (nPower Championship); 24W 14D 8L.
This year: 15th; Really it's all about staying up this year and West Ham should be able to do that.
Key player(s): Kevin Nolan. The experienced midfielder who somewhat surprisingly signed with West Ham last summer, proving he really really likes helping teams get promoted from the Championship (he'd done the same with Newcastle in 2010. More likely he wanted to reunite with Big Sam, who he'd played under at Bolton. Nolan, the team captain, helped guide West Ham back to the Premier League and he'll be looked to as the leader of this Hammers roster.