Every football club is consistently on the look-out for a top striker. This is the second successive summer where the pursuit of a regular goal-scorer has been the transfer priority for West Ham. A hat-full of names have come and gone from the radar without success. The failure of last year’s recruitment is now history while this time around the same names have been bandied around for several weeks but with no tangible progress and few clues coming from the club. It is early in the window but we seem to be stuck in a stale striker loop of Batshuayi, Iheanacho, Onyekuru, Giroud and (occasionally) Sturridge. Now that Wenger has carved “Arsene ❤ Oliver” on the Emirate’s dressing room door that list may now have become shorter still. I cannot be alone in wanting to hear news of more enterprising links or, better still, of completed transfer swoops. Yet even the normally resourceful ‘In-The-Knows’ have become increasingly desperate in their struggle to bring crumbs of transfer comfort to the anxious ears of troubled supporters.
There are two main possible scenarios as I see it:
The club have a clear idea of their preferred transfer targets and are working diligently and discreetly behind the scenes to put together the proverbial deals that will turn those targets into signed-up West Ham players. Such deals may or may not be contingent on the domino effect of other transfers being finalised;
The club are adopting the more commonplace and indiscriminate scatter-gun approach in their search for anyone who might, or has in the past, scored a few goals. Such targets are weighing up the potential wages, attraction of playing in London against any other better offers that could come their way.
Whichever of these two scenarios (or somewhere between the two) is closer to the truth, the twenty goals per season striker looks just as elusive as ever. Of course, this is a feat not yet achieved by a West Ham player in a Premier League season where Paolo Di Canio’s sixteen in the 1999/2000 season remains the record to beat. You have to go back over ten years to find a season where a Hammer scored more than ten league goals in a Premier League season; and back to 1986/87 for the last time a West Ham player scored twenty top flight league goals (Tony Cottee, 22).
It is true that goals are not as easy to come by as they once were, and there are now not as many games in which to score them, but despite this, the twenty goal barrier has been breached seventy times in Premier League history. Admittedly the top six clubs feature most frequently in the hit list but there are also entrants from the likes of Newcastle, QPR, Sunderland, Blackburn, Norwich, Southampton and Nottingham Forest.
The absence of a top notch striker may not necessarily be such an issue where goals are freely distributed around the team. Last season, for instance, West Ham netted a creditable sixty-five times in the league (equal fourth highest overall) without any individual hitting double figures. However, almost all successful teams have at least one prolific goal-scorer. Then there are forwards who have other attributes in their game and are adept at creating chances for others; players, such as Sanchez at Arsenal, and I’m sure if assists were counted back in 1999/2000 then Paolo would have had earned a fair few to sit alongside his already impressive goal tally.
The undoubted advantage of the clinical striker is evident in those circumstances where chances are few and far between; you will find them converting that breakaway to snatch victory in tight away matches or snaffling the half chance at home against unambitious bus-parking opposition. Of course, it’s great and makes more headlines for a player to nab a hat-trick in a 5-0 romp but the true value of the best strikers is in nicking points from positions where they looked unlikely. I have always thought this was where Frank McAvennie just edged out Tony Cottee during the famous ’86 season. How we would dream to have such a thrilling partnership again nowadays but I guess one striker is a big enough ask and two is just being greedy.