Ten days into the transfer window and fifty four days to the big kick-off and it’s ‘quiet, too quiet, out there‘. Well, it’s not really so quiet if you continue to follow the hundreds of rumours circulating on the internet but it is in terms of actual done deals. According to the Premier League website only seventeen deals have been completed so far this window with Brighton leading the charge with three in-comings followed by Everton, Leicester and Manchester City with two each. West Ham are one of eight clubs to boast a single new recruit to date. We are all expecting more activity but other than knowing that new players are needed, particularly in the striker department, is there a coherent plan being out together at the London Stadium?
The early business conducted by Everton and Leicester is interesting given that these are two clubs who, along with the Hammers, will have their sights set on leading the mid-table mini-league that exists below the top six. Both clubs will potentially have high profile departures (Lukaku, Barkley, Mahrez) during the summer and appear to be targeting younger, lesser-known talent as replacements and to bolster their squads. Everton, who have the added distraction of a Europa League campaign (provided they are not outwitted by eastern European opposition in the third qualifying round) have already invested heavily and can thank a ‘buy low sell high‘ transfer policy in the past which has seen big money roll in when selling players such as Fellaini and Stones, in addition to this year’s probable transfers-out income. Over the last five years the gross transfer spending of both Everton and Southampton has outstripped the Hammers significantly and yet West Ham’s net spending is greater than those two clubs combined. It is a real concern that history will once again repeat itself with the club treading water in survival mode through a safety first approach of ageing players of proven Premier League ability.
Nobody likes to think of their team as a selling club but the reality of modern football is that if you have an outstanding talent, either one brought through an academy system or picked up from a lower league, then they are unlikely to hang around for long once the top clubs come calling. Good seasons for Manuel Lanzini or Pedro Obiang next term could well turn out to be their last at West Ham. It is an unfortunate fact of footballing life but one that can be turned into a positive through an effective scouting setup that reinvests the proceeds wisely.
Naturally there is no guarantee that buying young players will result in saleable assets but, as the saying goes, you have to speculate to accumulate. Only time will tell whether Leicester’s purchases of Harry Maguire from Hull and Sam Hughes from Chester turn out to be as inspired as the signing of Vardy. My assumption is that West Ham do have a scouting network which monitors players in the lower leagues despite the limited success over the years. My sense is that where any risks are taken it is on young overseas players introduced by agents rather than as a result of those unearthed by our own scouting. West Ham have had some recent success with the capture of Antonio and Cresswell from the Championship after they had become established players but I can’t believe there are not more gems to be found for those looking hard enough.
The same names remain in the frame as far as the desperate striker search and most don’t come across as particularly promising. Michy Batshuayi doesn’t sound too keen to end his exile on the Chelsea bench by moving across London, the buy-back fee suggested by Manchester City in the Kelechi Iheanacho transfer hasn’t been well received in east London and Henry Onyekuru may struggle to get past immigration. The default option could, therefore, end up as Oliver Giroud and although he is undoubtedly better than what we have now, is he exactly what we need? I see Giroud as a short term fix to a long term problem, at best, with no sell on value.
Possibly Bilic does have his own vision, reminiscent of the Croatia national team style, where Giroud is nodding and stroking home the numerous chances served up by a speedy wing merchant such as Adama Traore. While Traore clearly showed tremendous energy and potential against an obliging West Ham defence very little finally resulted from it. His contributions at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa were a largely disappointing and sporadic style over substance. His signing would be a major gamble and there have to be questions as whether West Ham have the patience and wherewithal to develop such a player in a scenario where we have been reluctant to provide opportunities to our own academy players.
In what I can only assume are mischievous fabrications we have also be linked with a number of central defenders, most notably Chris Smalling and Lamine Kone. Last I heard West Ham were planning to send exciting young defenders out on baffling season long loans to Germany for the very reason that we are already well stocked with experienced centre-backs. Some reports claim that the Hammers are in pole position to sign the Sunderland defender but the only Kone I would want to see at Rush Green is the one that players dribble around in training.
As well as no significant change to playing personnel it also remains as you were elsewhere in the club hierarchy. David Sullivan continues in his role as self-styled Director of Football while Slaven Bilic is still at the helm of team affairs, along with the same coaching staff who struggled to deploy a fit, disciplined and organised outfit for the majority of last season. What was it that Einstein is supposed to have said about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? The one change that I am aware of is Gary Lewin replacing Stijn Vandenbroucke as Head of Medical Services; good luck with that very demanding role, Gary!
Interestingly, a very different approach to pre-season has been announced with the focus on training camps rather than a magical mystery tour of exhibition games; apart, that is, from a proposed morale sapping drubbing by Manchester City in Iceland the week before the season opens. As the rationale for the training camps is to provide team bonding then it would be highly preferable to get any new signings on board in advance. You are only as good as your last training camp and memories are still fresh with the Dubai jolly last February which preceded a five game losing streak. With a clutch of players recovering from injury it is not difficult to imagine a slow start to the 2017/18 season.
Let’s hope that there is a plan out there somewhere and that we will end up delighted with both West Ham’s transfer business and a storming start to the season.