West Ham Have a Hart: Now If We Only Had a Striker!

Putting together deals, closing in, ready to swoop. Is West Ham’s game changer pursuit nearing completion?

Like Dorothy’s companions on the yellow brick road in search of a heart, brain or courage to make them complete there is a widely held belief that all of Slaven Bilic’s problems would be solved “If I only had a striker!”  Although no-one could argue that a reliable regular goal scoring striker hasn’t been a problem for a good few years, it is not the only weakness that causes concern if the target is to create a team capable of a comfortable top eight finish.  Insufficient pace in the centre of midfield and central defence and a general inability to retain possession must also be addressed.

The loan signing of Joe Hart to join former teammate Pablo Zabaleta at the London Stadium has now been confirmed and will surely add some additional security to the back line, at least on a temporary basis.  I have stated before that I am not a fan of loan deals to resolve major shortcomings.  Somehow it seems inappropriate for a club that is among the top twenty richest in the world.  With the Hart deal apparently not having a buy option then I fear we will be left with an even bigger problem in twelve months’ time; particularly if Adrian stomps off with his gloves between his legs.

It would be unreasonable to suggest that Hart and Zabaleta do not improve the squad and both are likely to start the season as first choice.  But transfers should be more than just finding players who are better than what you have; it should focus on the identification and pursuit of the best footballers that you can attract.  A free transfer and a loan who are both over 30 does not yet get the juices flowing for me, although I appreciate that 30 is relatively young for keeper.  Are these two counted as game-changers I wonder?

If reports by a ‘reliable journalist’ in the Evening Standard are to believed then Marko Arnautovic will also become a Hammer within the next day or two.  Then again they also presented him as the answer to West Ham’s striker search.  Now, I believe that if you had surveyed one hundred people to “Name a Proven Premier League Striker” then you would receive a resounding ‘Uh-Uh’ from the Family Fortunes computer if your answer was Arnautovic.  It is encouraging that Stoke supporters seem sorry to see him leave but there is a suspicion that he needs to be thoroughly motivated in order to deliver his best.  I wonder whether our backroom boys have the expertise to ensure this happens.  Arnautovic would arrive as the club’s new record signing and will be happy to know that the bar is set very low in having to live up to that billing.

The name of Javier Hernandez continues to pervade transfer rumour discussion and he is alleged to be edging closer to a move to the east end, where edging is synonymous with the usual imperceptible movement of a West Ham transfer chase.  On the face of it Hernandez is a clinical finisher who has averaged close to a creditable goal every other game during his time in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.   At first glance his Premier League record of a goal every third appearance is more of Carlton Cole proportions but, when looking at goals scored per minute on the pitch, Hernandez comes out fifth placed in the all-time Premier League standings; a result of being used more as an impact substitution than as a starter by Manchester United.

If we end up with Hart, Zabaleta, Arnautovic and Hernandez then it would represent a reasonable but safety first approach to the transfer window; focused more on survival than progression.  It would deliver an outcome where our sights can be set at the top of mid-table rather than on the cusp of the relegation tussle.  For the ‘glass half fullers’ we would have acquired a Premier League winner, England’s number one, a powerful play-maker and a lethal striker.  The ‘glass half emptiers’ might dismiss them as an ageing full back, error prone keeper, moody winger and a striker who is best from off the bench.

As ever it is all about opinions.

The new link on the block over the last twenty four hours of Lazio’s Keita Balde Diao has the hallmarks of fantasy football league about it.  It is nice to dream but this one just seems far too fanciful.


The pre-season friendlies got underway with a less than impressive scoreless draw against an Austrian third tier club.  It is pointless to read too much into these early run-outs even if you might expect a Premier League outfit to have enough in their locker to stroll past such opposition.  If/ when we don’t beat Fulham later in the week expect to hear how they are further ahead in their preparations.  From the very brief highlights of the Sturm Graz II game that I saw I thought Nathan Holland looked lively; looks, moves and runs like a footballer which many of the young players don’t.

England’s Number One on his way to West Ham? Other signings this week?

Will the anticipated arrival of Joe Hart herald a busy week of transfer activity at West Ham?

With the potentially imminent signing of England number 1 goalkeeper, Joe Hart, and the early arrival in the window of Pablo Zabaleta, West Ham will have made two captures that could improve the quality of the first choice team, without spending a penny in transfer fees so far.

It is all a matter of opinion of course, and I am fully aware that some of our fans on social media would not agree with me, but I am more than happy with these two new arrivals, that is of course if we finally complete on Hart. We do seem to take a lot longer than other clubs to get deals over the line. Zabaleta will undoubtedly be the first choice at right back, and whilst recognising that he is not one for the longer term, he will add stability and experience to a defence that conceded far too many goals last season.

Some writers seem to believe that Hart will be a liability and is no better than the two keepers already on our books. I would disagree. He does make mistakes, but in his position, almost everybody does at times. You don’t earn over 70 caps for England without being a very good player, and you have to remember he is still the first choice England keeper, and has been so for seven years now. You only have to look at the custodians of the top teams in the Premier League to realise that none are infallible. De Gea, Courtois, Mignolet, Bravo, Cech, and Lloris were all at fault at times for goals conceded by their clubs last season, and personally I would personally put Hart in a the same bracket as some of those. At Manchester City, Guardiola didn’t rate him and cited his distribution as not being of the quality he wanted. So he went for Bravo. I know who I would want in goal for my team.

City have now gone out and paid £35 million or so for another keeper, Moraes from Benfica. He is a young Brazilian yet to win his first cap. How does that fit with the work permit regulations that exist for footballers transferring into this country? We were never going to be spending that sort of money, anyway.

And what will we be actually paying? That is a good question, and one that has a different answer according to the source of what we read. As a loan deal, I have seen reported from some sources that City are apparently paying half of his £100,000 per week wages, and we will have the option to buy him at the end of the loan for around £10 million. I have seen other variations that quote City paying as little as 10% of his wages, and the option to buy fee being up to £15 million. In addition there is a loan fee of between £2 million and £5 million, again depending on the writer. Whatever it turns out to be (if it happens) I believe it will be an excellent move for a very good goalkeeper, who in my opinion is certainly a better number one, and a more commanding one, than the two currently in situ.

I’m not entirely convinced of the logic in obtaining a player in this way (as opposed to an outright buy), and some would argue that it only defers our outgoings for a year (and reduces next year’s transfer budget), but our owners are obviously in favour of this method. I’m also not sure of the fairness of the loan system as a whole which surely was devised in respect of young players to let them gain experience, rather than fully fledged international footballers. It will mean that for the two games against Manchester City we will need an alternative keeper, although recent experience suggests that it would make little difference against these opponents.

The best keeper I have ever seen at West Ham is Phil Parkes. He was more or less the same age as Hart is now when we signed him, and he gave us more than ten years of top class goalkeeping. The fee we paid for him was a world record for a goalkeeper at the time, and showed our intent to want the best. Parkes only earned one international cap, although part of the reason for that was that there were two excellent keepers ahead of him in the pecking order, Shilton and Clemence, who between them won almost 200 caps.

I’m always amazed that goalkeepers don’t command the same level in transfer fees as some outfield players. In my opinion, after top class goalscorers, the keeper is one of the most important positions in a team, yet mostly they seem to be undervalued in the market. How many of the current England squad could be picked up on loan for a year, with their current club paying some of their wages, with an option to buy for a relatively modest fee (in today’s inflated market) at the end of the loan period? And look at some of the fees we have paid for our most recent (panic) acquisitions such as Snodgrass, Ayew, and Fonte. Compared to those, we would be spending our money on someone who will actually improve the team, rather than just an addition to the squad.

Of course, we still need to do more in the way of bringing top quality players to the club who can be “game-changers”, and the two that seem to be at the top of the list at the moment according to the media are Arnautovic from Stoke, and Hernandez, currently plying his trade in Germany. It would appear that Arnautovic could be signed for a fee in the region of up to £24 million, which to some seems a lot, but in the current market is probably not. Some commentators have described him as trouble, and a bit of a maverick, but he undoubtedly has talent, as he has shown at times (perhaps inconsistently) for Stoke. I remember a certain Mr. Di Canio being described in similar terms when we bought him and look how he turned out.

According to reports, Hernandez can be bought for around £13 million with his release clause, but the stumbling block is apparently his wage demands, said to be approaching £150,000 per week. Many fans on social media believe that we should just pay it, bearing in mind his goalscoring record at the top level, but they forget the potential unrest this can cause amongst other leading players at the club who would believe that they should be on a par with those figures. But if we really want him, and I believe he could be the type of striker we need, then I am sure that there can be creative ways around giving him the sort of money he wants, for example, a hefty signing-on fee with payments spread over the term of his contract, or perhaps bonus opportunities based on performance. If these two apparent targets were to sign we’d have greater pace and more attacking options. And I’m sure that some current players that we wouldn’t particularly miss would go in the opposite direction.

I’d really love to see us buy a top class creative midfield goalscorer such as Sigurdsson or Barkley, but believe that they are well out of our reach at the moment. We have picked up some very good players at modest prices in recent times, with Cresswell, Kouyate, Obiang, Fernandes, Masuaku (perhaps), Antonio, Lanzini (and even Payet!) as prime examples, and it would be good if our scouting network could unearth some other gems of this calibre. You don’t have to have marquee signings at ridiculous prices to improve the team or the squad. And you never know, one or two of our youngsters could prove to be stars of the future if they are given a chance.

The new season is now less than a month away. Let us hope for some exciting, positive news on the transfer front in the coming week.

Slaven Bilic and the Management of Expectations

As the season draws nearer are our transfer expectation starting to be managed down?

It is now just four weeks to the big kick-off.  The circus of pre-season friendlies has begun, the Scottish League Cup group stage is underway and our old friends Astra Guirgiu take a 3-1 advantage into next week’s Europa Cup Second Qualifying Round second leg tie against FK Zira of Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile at West Ham, Director of Recruitment, Tony Henry and Chairman/ De Facto Director of Football/ Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, David Sullivan are working tirelessly behind the scenes to secure those game changer signings that we have heard so much about.  Despite such selfless endeavour all there is to show for their efforts is the free transfer of Pablo Zabaleta; is he classed as a game changer or is it just a stop-gap signing?

In the run-up to the transfer window there was talk by Slaven Bilic of three or four of these game changers coming in while Henry spoke on the club’s website of the two or three signings maximum needed to make the Hammers a really good side.  Over the last two days we have been hearing suggestions that it is now two new signings that are close to the line.  Is it my cynicism of is this our expectations being managed now that the true size of this summer’s transfer fees have been realised.  My suspicion level was further raised when Bilic started to explain how well we had done towards the end of last season despite having nine first teamers out injured.

The concept of a game changer is, of course, rather imprecise.  While for many supporters it might conjure up images of players setting the Premier League alight with their match-winning flair and creativity, the club’s definition might be very different; maybe someone like Zabaleta, surely a regular starter when fit, is exactly what they have in mind.  Our priority, or so it said, is not for youthful potential or squad players but for proven Premier League quality; the concern, however, is that this is shorthand for uninspiring or old players.  After all, Bilic was describing Andre Ayew as a game changer when he signed last summer.

Recruitment supremo, Henry, talks of a worldwide scouting network who are monitoring players and submitting scouting reports throughout the year.  If it is really is a case of proven Premier League quality only then he might as well pack up and just watch Match of the Day.  He also says that every transfer is a gamble which suggest to me (if past performance is anything to go by) that we should not expect both signings to fulfil game changing potential.  Or perhaps the view is that the long, lousy run of transfer signing luck has to change sometime.

It was revealed this weeks that Oliver Giroud is another name now crossed off the ever shrinking striker shopping list.  It is difficult to know which of those remaining are at the same time good enough and within our transfer and salary price range; only Andre Gray, probably, if you are inclined to be generous with the good enough criteria.   Marko Arnautovic has been the most heavily touted link of the week and although not a striker is perhaps seen as the ideal left-sided attacking midfielder to set up chances in the event of a striker being found.  Personally, I can’t say I have ever been wowed by Arnautovic although I rarely go out of my way to watch Stoke matches.  He also has something of a bad-boy reputation and may require stronger management than what our fist bumping Croat can offer.

I am ambivalent about the signing of Joe Hart particularly if it is on a loan basis as reported.  He is, in fairness, an upgrade on Adrian but a one-year loan just seems to be deferring the problem.   In a year’s time we are either back to square one or have to fund his hefty fee out of next year’s budget.  In truth, I believe we will see him transferred permanently elsewhere.

To bring in some perspective it is probably true that most transfer business of the window is still to be done.  I am certain that both the Manchester clubs and Chelsea will each spend the equivalent of several years worth of West Ham budgets over the next few weeks.  We are, however, lagging behind the field and only Tottenham, who love a deadline day deal (odds on Ross Barkley this year), have signed fewer players so far (i.e. none).  The Hammers are level on one apiece with Southampton and Palace, two clubs with new managers settling in.  All others have been far more successful in finalising deals with Everton (ten) and Huddersfield (nine) leading the charge.

Let’s hope that there is some exciting and positive news soon.

West Ham and Football’s Magic Money Tree

Never-ending revenue growth or heading for a crash? What does the financial future hold for football?

Football finances were back in the news this week; firstly, with a report by a company called Vysyble claiming that football was heading for financial disaster and secondly, a contradictory upbeat article in the Evening Standard trumpeting the fact that London was leading the charge in the game’s unstoppable revenue growth.

The Vysyble report, entitled “We’re So Rich It’s Unbelievable! – The Illusion Of Wealth Within Football” uses a very different methodology to most analysis of football accounts by applying a concept known as economic profit.  Usually when clubs are ranked according to wealth (i.e. those lists which put West Ham as somewhere between the 14th and 17th richest club in the world) the metric used is typically revenues received, the amount of cash coming in through the turnstiles, broadcasting rights and commercial activities.  If profits are ever considered then it is usually based on accounting profit; a simple calculation of revenue less total costs during the appropriate accounting period.  In their last financial accounts West Ham showed revenues of £142 m and an operating profit of £31.5 m, a figure that reduced to a modest pre-tax profit £1.2 m once player trading was taken into account.  With these accounts relating to the period before the London Stadium move and the new TV deal kicked in then expect these numbers to increase significantly next year.

I am no accountant but from what I understand the difference between accounting profit and economic profit is that the latter also factors in costs related to lost opportunity had the capital been invested more wisely elsewhere.  For example, could the owners have enjoyed a better return on their money from investing in stocks and bonds, drug smuggling or on the 2:30 at Ascot?

To see all of Vysyble’s workings out you have to buy their report but from an image posted online it suggests that only five Premier League clubs made an economic profit in 2015/16 compared to the fourteen that were in the black if using accounting profit.  West Ham were ranked midway with a loss of around £5m.

The big questions for me, though, is what does this actually mean and does it make sense to attempt to analyse football in the same way that you would a bank or soft drinks company?  Some big numbers were highlighted from the report to illustrate how much money had been collectively lost by Premier League clubs over the past eight years but with over half of this down to two clubs, Manchester City and Chelsea, where there is no pretence to operate as a profitable business, it somewhat detracts from the overall conclusion.

On the other hand, it is clear that it is the actions of the money-no-object teams like Chelsea and Manchester City that are fuelling player wage inflation and the associated jackpot in agent’s fees.  It doesn’t really make a load of sense for clubs to channel most of its new found riches directly into player’s pockets but to compete with the billionaire playthings it is seen as a necessity.  It is just a shame that the TV windfall has not been used to make the match-day experience more affordable and pleasurable for those attending games.

Ironically, there seems to be no shortage of new investors prepared to get involved in the game; not for any expectation of annual profits but because it is largely an ego trip with the opportunity of an endlessly increasing asset at the end of it.   If football really wanted a level playing field then limiting the impact of the billionaire owner is the area that financial fair play should really have addressed rather than entrenching existing inequalities.  Expect regulation to be introduced the moment that West Ham get a sugar daddy of their own.

Usually, I find accountants, like economists, better at hindsight than insight and although I am not convinced by the Vysyble arguments (or at least what was reported of them) I would agree with another of their conclusions that we will, sooner or later, end up with a European Super League.  But I see this happening not as a result of the Premier League hitting a financial wall but because the worldwide broadcasters want it and the bigger clubs will be unable to resist the even greater rewards that this would bring.  The worldwide TV audience is massive and even though we may think West Ham versus Everton could be a thriller it holds little attraction for the overseas viewer who would happily watch the same few teams play each other week-in and week-out.

It is probably a rather pessimistic view of the future but I do sometimes wonder if the domestic English league would be a far more competitive and exciting spectacle if the mega-rich clubs were off playing their European exhibition games elsewhere.  What was once the icing has now become the cake and despite Leicester’s triumph in 2015/16 the current trajectory is for the gap between the bigger clubs and the rest to get even larger in the future.  There is no way that a club like West Ham will ever grow organically to challenge for regular European football.

Of course none of this doom and gloom is any reason for our owners to keep their hands in their pockets during the next few weeks.

Is There Any Plan To West Ham’s Transfer Window?

Still no light at the end of the London Stadium tunnel as West Ham continue to stumble through the transfer window.

The beauty of the transfer window is that it provides an opportunity to get depressed during the summer as well as during the season.  After the shocking effort of the previous two windows I was convinced that the club would pull out all of the stops to secure the three or four game changing players that have been so enthusiastically spoken about.  This is not to be the case, so it seems, as once again the window follows the familiar pattern of temptation without satisfaction.

It is difficult to know precisely who is to blame (board or manager) for the current shambles and our tendency is to direct contempt according to one’s own prejudices.  Are the board penny pinching, is the manager poor at picking players or is West Ham not an attractive proposition?

The recent Iheanacho situation has taken West Ham’s transfer dealings to a new level of absurdity and, for me, illustrates a collective, disconnected incompetence that is almost too ludicrous to grasp.  In what reality would you pursue a player for six weeks, reportedly agree a deal with the selling club, only for the manager to pull the plug at the eleventh hour.  While it is understandable that a manager might see a deal as eating too much into a finite transfer budget shouldn’t such parameters be agreed to beforehand?  The suggestion that Bilic also felt Iheanacho was not sufficiently proven is implausible for the exact same reasons but it also speaks volumes about his mindset with regard to young players.  That the self-proclaimed Academy should have to send young players to Germany to be properly developed is an amazing contradiction.

For all the talk of next levels and increased capacities it is obvious that West Ham is a club without a realistic plan as far as the playing side is concerned.  The impressive level of season ticket renewals together with a nice growing slice of Premier League pie means that revenues continue to grow and serve, for now, to maintain the club’s slot in the world’s top twenty richest clubs.  To focus solely on revenues, though, without an equal focus on playing staff, coaching, youth development and training facilities is a short sighted strategy in the extreme.  Several more seasons like the last one will surely see supporter numbers evaporate rapidly.  A club whose only boast is a big stadium (and a big screen) does not make it a success.  If nothing else is to change then West Ham will become another Sunderland, not a club with stated ambitions to break into the top six.  Words are very cheap and although it is unfair to suggest that the board have not invested they have not spent money wisely; always looking for a great deal rather than the best value.

The reasons ascribed to Henry Onyekuru for choosing Everton over West Ham were also revealing and it is easy to see why a player would such a decision.  Since Farhad Moshiri took a controlling interest at Everton they have become a far more progressive club that saw a disappointing 11th place finish in 2015/16 as a reason to upgrade their manager and a recruitment policy that has invested sensibly in the future.   In comparison the West Ham’s strategy is to do just enough to survive in the Premier League; no matter what the cocky words coming out of the boardroom might be.  Opportunity has come knocking at the London Stadium in the form of the deal of the century but rather than answer the call everyone appears to be hiding behind the sofa.

Turning to the latest speculation, several new names have appeared as each of the old ones are gradually struck off the list.  Prevalent opinion is that the option of old man Giroud is no longer on the table and that the inflated wage demands of Javier Hernandez are likely to preclude any deal from being completed.  Taking their place on the leader board are a pair of 26 year-olds in Columbian Luis Muriel and Frenchman Gregoire Defrel, although more recent reports has them both destined for greener pastures.  Outside of these the striker cupboard continues to look depressingly bare.

The not unsurprising obsession with strikers has in many ways deflected attention away from other areas of desperate need within the squad.  Where the greatest deficiencies lie depends on what the manager’s preferred style of play will be.  Unfortunately, after two years we are no closer to an answer to this conundrum.  If the plan is to mainly rely on three at the back then the ageing back line looks suspect.  If the preference is to be a back then wide midfield players with defensive attributes are required.  If there is an ideato play two strikers then central midfield reinforcements are badly needed.  Other (non-striker) names in the frame over the last week have included Marko Arnautovic (Stoke), Jota (Brentford) and Badou Ndiaye (Osmanlıspor).  I have to admit that the suggestion of recruiting a player from a team that no-one has ever heard of in the Turkish League makes me shudder.  I still believe that Fabian Delph would be a smart move.

The remaining slow burner is the Joe Hart from Manchester City where the stumbling block is reportedly that West Ham are after a season long loan while City want a permanent deal.   Not sure that Hart is a massive upgrade on Adrian but going for a loan would be the typical short-term West Ham manoeuvre that only confirms belief in the survival only strategy.

Less than five weeks to go to the new season and all we have is one used right back addition to bolster the squad.  The players out may soon be supplemented by the departures of Snodgrass and Feghouli and though I won’t be sorry to see either leave replacing them with new deadwood makes no sense.   Starters are required who can fit into the manager’s tactical master plan not an assortment of bargain squad players.  Recruiting these game changers is going to cost big money in today’s inflated market.

At least we now have one extra day to prepare for the new season with the game at Old Trafford having being put back to Sunday.  What sealed the deal for Lukaku in choosing Manchester United over Chelsea was the guarantee of scoring on his Premier League debut and, from where we are right now, I can only look at the match with trepidation.

On the better news front there are new contracts for Pedro Obiang and (hopefully) Manuel Lanzini which will, at least, ensure higher transfer fees when they leave next summer.

Why haven’t West Ham made any signings yet?

Why don’t there seem to be that many irons in the fire of the summer transfer window?

Apart from the signing of a defender (Pablo Zabaleta) West Ham have yet to make any further signings in this transfer window to date. What are the reasons for this?

None of the players that we are allegedly interested in signing want to come to us? Perhaps we have set our sights too high? The very top players only want to sign for a club that will be competing in the Champions League, or at the very least a team that will realistically be challenging for a place in the top four. They don’t see us as a club in that position. Players just below this level with ambition might want to play in the Europa League at least, or be challenging for a place in the top seven, and they don’t see us doing this either.

The top six clubs from last season will almost certainly finish as the top six next season (albeit not necessarily in the same order), and in addition, Everton have the ambition and seem to attract players who believe that they might be the only club who can perhaps break into this elite group. Have you seen the way Everton have gone about their transfer dealing this summer? At the time of writing they already seem to have snapped up at least half a dozen new players in time for them all to gel in pre-season training, with even more to come. They can work on tactics, formations, and playing together so that they can hit the ground running when the season begins. Other mid-table clubs like Leicester and Bournemouth have already wrapped up some new signings too. Even promoted clubs such as Newcastle and Huddersfield have been successful in the market. Compare that to our position.

We don’t have the finances to attract top players in respect of transfer fees or wages? Given our position in the finance league tables that suggest we are among the top twenty richest clubs in Europe, most fans find this hard to believe. Add to this the increased TV revenues, the sale of Payet, Nordtveit etc. and others that we allegedly want to remove from the wage bill, the financially efficient stadium situation with a very low rent, and other factors, you would have to believe that we do have the money if we choose to spend it. Perhaps, despite all the talk of marquee signings, top quality players that will improve the team etc., the owners don’t really have the ambition to attempt to take us to the next level? However many forget that the top clubs generate huge revenues that are a long way ahead of us (even though we are in the top 20), and can afford to pay massive wages that we just cannot compete with.

David Gold has been at the fore on social media and Talk Sport saying “we have got to find the money”. I listened to his interview with Quinn and Brazil and some of the things he said were: “Without strikers, you struggle in the Premier League. You struggle in any division because strikers are your key players. You have to spend your money wisely but it must be on strikers, particularly strikers that have had experience with Premier League football – the very best we can afford.”

“We have tried the route of going overseas to bring in players – that hasn’t worked. We had a very difficult season because players we brought in from Europe didn’t make the grade and we paid the price. We struggled. We were actually flirting for some time with relegation because we couldn’t score goals. That is why we have got to bring in players with Premier League experience and that is what we are working on now. David Sullivan is working day and night in an effort to solve this problem. We have got good midfielders and a good defence ….”

Whilst not disputing that we do need goalscorers, if you look at last season’s league table we were not flirting with relegation purely because of lack of goals. Only a handful of clubs conceded more goals than we did. If you believe that the defence, and to some extent midfielders are responsible for stopping the opposition from scoring, then perhaps our players in those positions are not as good as David Gold thinks they are.

He also gave the impression that the club have little faith in the Academy players coming through. He quoted the case of Reece Oxford playing a couple of times. It is now two years since Oxford made his debut, and he was universally lauded for his performance against Arsenal. So why hasn’t he progressed from that time? What has gone wrong with his development? Why are we loaning him to a German side who believe he is good enough for the Bundesliga but not the Premier League? I don’t believe that that you can just throw in youngsters in big numbers, but few seem to be given the opportunity.

Perhaps potential signings believe there are other problems with West Ham? Our injury record is poor. Why is that? Our training facilities do not match up to those of other clubs – certainly not clubs among the richest in Europe, and many clubs without our finances have far superior facilities in this respect. Perhaps they don’t like our style of play? Perhaps they believe that the manager doesn’t have a strategy? Perhaps they believe he picks his favourites and shoe-horns them into the team without considering the overall picture? Perhaps they are put off in their dealings with the club when considering a move to us?

The Sullivan family have been very quiet so far. Perhaps they have some tricks up their sleeve, and suddenly we will announce some top quality signings, without shouting about them first? Perhaps all the speculation regarding some of the players we are allegedly being linked with is really a red herring to throw others off the scent of our real targets? Perhaps it is all media speculation? How many of the players who we are apparently interested in will be here next season? Is Andre Gray of Burnley really on our radar? Hernandez? Giroud? Iheanacho? Batshuayi? Does our scatter-gun approach put people off? Who knows anything for sure?

But we can all rest easily! David Sullivan is working day and night! Don’t go to bed! I remember the days when we broke world records to sign players. We certainly weren’t a rich club in those days, but players were keen to come here. Now that doesn’t appear to be the case. This transfer window has the same feel as the last summer window. I hope I am wrong. Let’s hope we can tie up our business in the near future with some decent signings, and not resort to transfer deadline day desperation.

Top Six West Ham Hard-Men

Taking a look back at some of the memorable uncompromising and no-nonsense characters in claret and blue.

There was a time that almost every successful team included an enforcer, a player whose job it was to inject that added element of fear and steel into proceedings.  The hard-man culture reached its peak during the 1970’s and early 1980’s although there were still pockets until recent years, when football became much less of a contact sport.  Now they are finally consigned to the footballing scrapheap alongside muddy pitches and the battering ram centre forward.  Notorious hard-men from over the years have included such names as Dave Mackay, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter, Billy Bremner, Roy Keane, Graeme Souness, Joe Jordan and Vinnie Jones.

At various stages in West Ham history, there have been managers who would have regarded the more agricultural approach to the beautiful game as a tactic that falls somewhat below that expected at an academy.  However,  that has not prevented a number of notable robust individuals turning out in the claret and blue.  Here I take a look at my top six Hammer’s Hard-men:

5 =    Andy Malcolm and Eddie Bovington

I am cheating a little here by lumping together two players who both fell foul of Ron Greenwood’s reluctance to deploy players with a predominantly destructive or physical element to their game.  Quite possibly, Greenwood’s purist philosophy ultimately restricted the 1960’s West Ham side from achieving as much as they could.

Andy Malcolm was born above a grocer’s shop just around the corner from Upton Park and signed for West Ham in 1948, going on to become the club’s first ever England youth international.  Malcolm made his first team debut in 1953 and developed into a ruthless, tough tackling and tenacious man-marker who was assigned to shadow, shackle and stop opposition star players such Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law and Johnny Haynes; England captain Haynes would later describe Malcolm as ‘a butcher’.    An important part of Ted Fenton’s promotion winning side of 1957/ 58 (which included the likes of John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Malcolm Allison, John Dick and Vic Keeble) Malcolm’s contribution was recognised when he won the fan;s vote for the first ever Hammer of the Year award.  When Greenwood replaced Fenton in 1961 Malcolm’s abrasive style saw him quickly fall out of favour and he lost his wing-half berth to a young Geoff Hurst.  Malcolm left for Chelsea at the end of 1961, in a swap deal involving Ron Tindall, having played over 320 games.

North Londoner, Eddie Bovington joined the West Ham groundstaff in 1957 and received his first taste of first team football in an end of season encounter at Old Trafford in 1961.  Bovington’s progress at Upton Park was very slow, however, and it was only after the Hammers were thrashed 8-2 at home by Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day, 1963 that he secured a proper run in the side; Bovington for Peters being the only change for the return fixture two days later which saw a 3-1 win for West Ham.  Bovington’s man marking job on Rover’s Bryan Douglas had made a huge difference and he kept his place for the remainder of the season including the run all the way to Wembley for FA Cup success.  The following season again saw Bovington as a regular starter in his man-marker role but in March 1965 he suffered a bad kneecap injury which kept him out for the remainder of the season, including the concluding games of the European Cup Winners Cup campaign.  Bovington never had a great rapport with manager Greenwood and went on to play just two more seasons before hanging up his boots at aged 26 to join his family’s tailoring business.

4       Tomas Repka

Tomas Repka established a new West Ham record transfer fee when he was signed from Fiorentina by Glenn Roeder in September 2001 to embark on a topsy-turvy career at Upton Park.  Sent-off on his debut at Middlesbrough, Repka then put in a man-of-the-match performance in a 3-0 home win against Alan Shearer and Newcastle before being sent-off again the following week in a 7-1 defeat at Blackburn.  Repka spent much of his West Ham career as part of an accident prone central defensive partnership with Christian Dailly or at right back where his performances were typically commited and uncompromising but with a high probability of a rush of blood at any moment.  He was a regular in the side relegated in 2002/03 (one red card at home to Fulham) but stayed around in the second level for two seasons to help steer the Hammers back to the Premier League (one red card at home to Preston).  Repka played a further half a season back in the Premier League before deciding to return to his homeland for family reasons.  By the time of his final game, at home to Fulham, Repka had turned around the widely held liability status of his early Hammers career into one of cult hero.

3       Martin Allen

Martin Allen or ‘Mad Dog’ was one of the players recruited to the club (from QPR) during Lou Macari’s brief spell as manager in the wake of relegation to Division 2 in 1989.  Allen played through an eventful period of West Ham history as the club endured a string of promotions and relegation either side of the transition to the Premier League, Macari’s resignation, the appointment of Bonds to the manager’s seat and his acrimonious replacement by Redknapp.  Allen has described himself as a destructive player and formed an usually, for West Ham, tough tackling midfield partnership with Peter Butler.  It was a period defined by ill-discipline in the West Ham ranks and Allen was never far away from a yellow card or worse.  He was sent off twice in the claret and blue, once for a two footed lunge at home to Derby and once for a foul on Rufus Brevett of QPR.  In a separate incident he was punished by the club, but not by the referee, for a foul on Carlton Palmer just twenty seconds after entering the field as a substitute.  Aside from his tough tackling reputation, Allen notched a respectable thirty five goals during his two hundred games for the Hammers.

2       Billy Bonds

Six feet two, eyes of blue, Billy Bonds was after you for over twenty seasons as a West Ham player.  Originally signed by Ron Greenwood as an energetic, marauding full-back, Bonds was later moved into midfield to play the role of minder for Trevor Brooking and later still to central defence where he formed long term partnerships with Tommy Taylor and Alvin Martin.  Known to be one of the fittest players ever to wear a West Ham shirt, Bonds was the epitome of hard work and commitment and cultivated a swashbuckling, Viking look to accompany it.  He was quoted as saying that he got as much enjoyment from winning a strong tackle as from a great pass or setting up a goal.  Bonds was known to be a tough opponent and as hard as nails but he was not a nasty or niggly player like some of football’s better known hard-men.    Bonds was sent off just twice in his lengthy Hammer’s career; once for spitting in a League Cup tie away at Hull and once for an all-in fight with Colin Todd of Birmingham.  Following the latter expulsion he was fortunate not to miss the 1980 FA Cup Final but escaped with a one match ban.  Bonds holds the all-time appearance record for West Ham, weighed in with over sixty goals and was even leading scorer in 1973/74.

1        Julian Dicks

The Terminator, Julian Dicks was a four times Hammer of the Year winner from his two spells with the club between 1988 and 1999.  Despite having a sweet left foot and a thunderous shot Dicks is best known in the football world for his poor on-field discipline and his shaven head (which anecdotally prevented him receiving an England call-up).  Dicks was sent off five times as a West Ham player, three of which came in the single 1992/93 promotion season and led to him being stripped of the club captaincy.  He first saw red in the infamous League Cup battle of 1989 against Wimbledon; a match which saw regular scuffles, a series of robust challenges and, at one stage, a seventeen man brawl.  Dicks was finally sent packing for a scything tackle on Dennis Wise.  Offences in the 1992/93 season comprised an elbow in the face of Newcastle’s Franz Carr, a run-in with Steve Bull of Wolves and a pair of reckless challenges on Ted McMinn of Derby.  His final red resulted from two yellows in a game at Highbury in 1995; this was a game played just five days after the alleged but disputed ‘stamp’ on the head of Chelsea’s John Spencer leading to a long running dispute with Sky’s Andy Gray.  Dicks played over three hundred games for the Hammers and contributed sixty five goals.