With less than seven weeks to go before the season opener, and with the imminent start of pre-season training, my confidence for the new campaign has descended to lower basement level along with the old paint pots, spare lawn mower parts and unopened gym equipment. Any hopeful notions that West Ham would pull off a succession of inspired signings and get them on board for a full pre-season have rapidly evaporated. Had the requirement been for cosmetic changes to a mostly functioning squad rather than a much needed overhaul of playing staff then the lack of early activity might not be so worrisome. No news, in this case, is certainly not good news.
Mostly probably the scarcity of news is making me paranoid as, to date, the transfer window has been dominated by big talk of huge transfers rather than actual deals being struck. Moreover, if some of the numbers being quoted are to be believed then you won’t be getting much for less than £20 million this year as the full effect of the new TV deal kicks in with a vengeance. The most significant news of the past week has been the appointment of Mauricio Pellegrino at Southampton and the impending appointment of Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace. Both are ambitious moves and throw in big spending Everton, a determined Leicester and newly promoted Newcastle and my sense is that, unless something unexpected happens, any thoughts of a top half finish next season are little more than a daydream.
So who are the rumoured signings that can return my glass to its half-full status?
The issue around buyback clauses continues to complicate any deal for in demand striker Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City. A number of clubs are said to be interested including West Ham, Leicester and Palace. Iheanacho has an impressive scoring record for City coming on as a substitute and tucking away chances created by de Bruyne and Silva against shell-shocked opponents. Whether he would be as prolific left up front on his own at the London Stadium remains to be seen; but it seems fairly certain that he will end up with whichever Premier League club is willing to accept City’s terms.
It has been reported that Henry Onyekuru is now in possession of a shiny new UK work permit and is weighing up the various options presented to him by Arsenal, West Ham and Birmingham. I always understood that work permit application came after a job offer but maybe footballers now have different rules. Unless Onyekuru is prioritising the opportunity of regular starts over all else then he is most probably Emirates bound.
It is said the Gunners are also keen to bring in Alexandre Lacazette, and that such a move that will prompt the departure of Oliver Giroud with West Ham an oft mentioned potential destination, although Lyon are also rumoured to be showing an interest. Giroud is a player with a proven Premier League goal-scoring record but, for me, I can’t get past the fact that he will be thirty –one years old at the end of September. With an already ageing squad and an apparent reluctance to blood youngsters elsewhere in the side this is not a forward looking strategy.
It seems that Arsenal cast-offs are all the rage at the moment and expect to hear about the return of Carl Jenkinson anytime soon. Until that happens we will have to make do with speculation about battling it out with Huddersfield for Jack Wilshere and a bold swoop for wayward wallflower Theo Walcott. I have, in the past, been an admirer of the Hammers-supporting Wilshere but don’t believe that yet another injury prone midfielder is exactly what is needed right now, unless the club needs to fulfil an obscure diversity target as part of the London Stadium deal. Winger-cum-striker Walcott is something of a luxury lightweight, the type of player who regularly does well playing against West Ham rather than for them. In any case his reported salary is likely well out of our league without causing massive disruption to existing wage structures. It is wages, more than transfer fees, that sets the big boys apart from the pack and is the very reason why Tottenham will eventually struggle to hold on to their most prized assets.
The Daniel Sturrdige rumours blow hot and cold which is highly appropriately for the player himself. Lots of talent but hampered by a sulky attitude. Not ideal when what is required is a team prepared to work their socks off for each other.
Another name to hit the West Ham transfer headlines this week is Yann Karamoh, a teenage striker currently strutting his stuff with Ligue 1 side Caen. On the face of it, given the current regime’s nervousness with young players, this seems an improbable signing unless seen solely as ‘one for the future’. With cash rich Champion’s League qualifiers RB Leipzig also said to be in the hunt any interest may be largely academic anyway.
One very creative report I read claimed that West Ham had missed out on a player who, from what I could make out, we were never interested in. This was former Arsenal defender Johan Djourou who has just moved from Hamburg to Montpelier. I am not sure whether we are in the market for new defenders (apart from Carl Jenkinson – you heard it here first!) although there have also been mutterings about Nathan Ake from Chelsea. Ake has had impressive loan spells with both Watford and Bournemouth and now looks set to be yet another profitable sale from the Stamford Bridge trading academy. If we are actually in the market for a versatile defender then Ake would be a great option.
I have still yet to understand how Reece Oxford is good enough to play for a mid-table Bundesliga side but not a mid-table Premier League side with an ageing back-line. Add to this the further speculation that Reece Burke will now be sent out on loan for the third season running and the club’s commitment to young players is concerning. I would much rather see the better academy players developed by gradual introduction into our own first team. Anyone who thinks that the departure of Havard Nordtveit will open the door for Josh Cullen next season has a very trusting and optimistic nature.
It looks like we will say farewell to Enner Valencia very soon. I had high hopes for him on his arrival after the 2014 World Cup but he wasn’t really cut out for the demands of English football. Despite that he would have been far more value at West Ham during last season than the hapless Jonathan Calleri.