After weeks of fake news, squabbling, outright lies and intense speculation the big day is finally upon us – yes, the summer transfer window opens tomorrow!
As usual, miles of column inches and news feeds have been stuffed full of transfer gossip from the moment the last ball of the Premier League season was kicked just eighteen days ago. Even though we know that the vast majority of transfer stories never materialise we are powerless to prevent ourselves from excitedly clicking that seductive link “goal scoring sensation close to penning Hammer’s deal” only to discover the story concerns an academy player and a one year contract extension. The teasing, yet ambiguous, football transfer headline has to be one of the most creative of modern day art-forms.
I have to admit that I have no idea at all about the abilities or otherwise of most of the players linked with a move to West Ham, unless they are already performing in the Premier League. However, I have developed a filter (or maybe I should call it an algorithm to make it sound more scientific) for the rumours that I want to believe and those that I don’t.
The number one issue for me is who is a realistic target? I doubt that all players have the same motivation and while wages have got to be right up there much is also made of the appeal of European competition. My guess, however, is that £50,000 per week in London with no European games would easily trump £40,000 per week in Glasgow notwithstanding the appealing opportunity of being eliminated in the Champion’s League qualifying round. On the other hand a tug-of-war for a player’s signature where West Ham and Chelsea are both offering an equivalent wedge is only ever likely to end with a decision to go west.
Where a side does not have the lure of European competition to attract top and established talent an effective scouting operation has to be the priority. Many observers were predicting a great future for Moussa Dembélé during his time across the capital at Fulham and now, after just one year at Celtic, he is being touted as a £30 million target of several major Champion’s League clubs. That is the type of deal, for a developing player, that a good scouting system should have been all over; not waiting until someone has made a name for themselves and then pretending to be interested by throwing a token bid into the ring via Twitter.
Whenever a potential transfer is mentioned you will also be told which other clubs are circling the same target. If these include the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Roma or Dortmund then we might as well forget about it. At the other end of the spectrum, if the competition is Watford, Brighton or Stoke then it is a sign that we are aiming too low. At least that is what my filter tells me. Acceptable clubs to be battling it out with are Everton, Newcastle and, maybe, Southampton. Why is it we can never pick up players like Virgil Van Dijk even though his dad, Dick, was an honorary cockney (chim chim cheroo!)
Then we come to those transfer keywords that set my personal alarm bells ringing:
winger: there is a huge difference to me between a wide midfield player and a winger. Alan Devonshire was, and Michail Antonio is, a wide midfielder while players like Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend are wingers. A winger is characterised by a player whose only real attribute is being able to run fast, and is usually spotted haring along the touchline before putting the ball in the crowd. Paradoxically, wingers will occasionally put in an unplayable match winning performance and this is most usually against West Ham;
free agent: usually denotes a player that is not wanted by any other club or has become too old to be offered the length of contract that he is looking for. It might have been expected that there would be more free agents in the post Bosman world but the reality is that the length of a player’s contract is largely meaningless once he wants to force a move. There are occasional but very isolated exceptions to the free agent rule and can be acceptable in an emergency ;
6 feet 4 striker: there is a Pavlovian response that whenever a very tall striker could be coming on the market he is linked with West Ham. The theory being that if only we had a fit Andy Carroll doppelganger then everything in the London Stadium garden would be rosy. What is most definitely not required by a progressive football team is a lanky, immobile target man whose very presence dictates the tactics of the team;
versatile: as a point of disambiguation being an excellent holding midfielder who can seamlessly drop into a back three would be a good thing, whereas a player whose major claim to fame is being versatile is to be avoided. For the latter it is code for not really being good enough in any position. I would go as far as saying that the modern game is becoming more specialised and that useful versatility is largely limited to subtle variations in deployment rather playing in totally different positions. Myself and Slaven Bilic may have divergent opinions on this point;
30 year-old: you may not win anything with kids but you certainly don’t either with a dad’s army. A little bit of experience doesn’t go amiss but in the frenetic environment of the Premier League it is pace, energy and stamina that are becoming essentials. Giving three or four year contracts to 30 year old plus players in the autumn (or winter) of their careers is a short term survival strategy only, not a taking-us-to-the next-level one.
Turkish League: ours is not the only manager who appears to have a fixation with players that he has previously worked with. In general this is a bad idea and more so when the league in question is, well, in a different league. In fact, this criteria stretches a little wider and would encompass other minor competitions such as the Mexican or Uruguayan Leagues (so Mexican winger Jurgen Damm would fail on two counts). As a point of clarification it would be acceptable to consider recruiting an exciting future prospect from outside the major leagues but not an established player expected to step straight into the first team. After all Manuel Lanzini was plucked out of the UAE Arabian Gulf League.
Finally, a word about the reported season long loan of Reece Oxford to Borussia Mönchengladbach. This seems to be one of the most ludicrous ideas I have ever heard coming out of West Ham, and it has a lot of competition for that sobriquet. How is it that a player is not yet ready to play for a middle ranking Premier League team is quite acceptable for a middle ranking Bundesliga club? It defies any logic. I have seen reports of a David Gold tweet where he has stated we already have four experienced centre backs at the club, but that includes two lumbering thirty-three year olds. Now is the perfect time for prospects such as Oxford, Burke and Rice to be given the opportunity to stake their claim. Or perhaps we do not have either the capacity or the imagination to properly develop our own academy players.
Sadly, nothing over the past few weeks has suggested that we have learned any lessons from the debacle of last season’s transfer dealings. I am open to persuasion and willing to be wowed when the window slides open!