Five West Ham Takeaways from the Betway Cup

Ramping up my personal pre-season preparations with a look back at what we learned from the Betway Cup.

They are only pre-season games but …..

The primary purpose of pre-season friendlies is as preparation for the main event which is now just two weeks away even though an increasing number of teams have started to be use them as commercial revenue generating exercises in far off lands.  Numerous Champions Cup competitions featuring European giants have been spawned to replace what used to be a trip down the road to play against local lower league opposition.  Previously any notion of turning out against other top level sides from the same domestic competition before the Charity Shield had been held would have been vigorously shunned but now overseas exhibitions are now becoming the norm.  Results should still not matter though and although the Betway Cup might have been our best chance of silverware this season, defeat is of much less importance than building fitness and developing cohesion in the squad.   So what has the experience taught us?

Do We Have a Better Balanced Squad?

With the knowledge of hindsight I am confident that we look to be starting the season with a far more balanced squad.  Then again had you asked me that question at the same time last year I would no doubt have answered in the same way; basking as I was in the afterglow of a creditable seventh place finish, expecting more of the same from a happy Payet and without the knowledge of how bad our player recruitment would turn out.  This year’s transfer business feels a lot smarter with welcome in-comings and sensible out-goings.  My assumption is that rumours of Liverpool (and others) sniffing around Manuel Lanzini and the comical £9 million interest by Everton in Winston Reid are no more than wishful thinking on the part of the clubs involved.  Losing either would be a major blow to the make up of the squad.  The full-back situation appears to be more stable, at least for the time being, and the signings of Javier Hernandez and Marka Arnautovic provide better and more dangerous attacking options.  I remain hopeful that our transfer business is not complete and that the lack of pace in central midfield and at the centre of defence can yet be addressed.  The ‘One Out One In’ transfer policy, if it exists, should dictate more signings following Fletcher’s move to Middlesbrough and the imminent departure of Feghouli.

Are there any early signs of tactical changes?

The manager’s preferred style of play is still not clear to me.  Admittedly we have not been able to feature key individuals such as Lanzini, Hernandez, Reid and Michail Antonio in any of the pre-season games but, nevertheless, I would expect a manager to be clear and consistent  as to how he wants to set up his team, with occasional tweaks depending on opposition and available personnel.  The key decision for me surrounds the deployment of Hernandez; will he play in an unfamiliar loan striker role (which in West Ham history has involved chasing long hopeful high balls) or as part of a front two.  If there is a front two how does Bilic also accommodate Lanzini as well as ensuring that the midfield retains a solid defensive base to protect the back-line? A task that requires two defensively minded midfield players in my opinion.   From what I have seen of the pre-season games (only on streams unfortunately) the general level of fitness and stamina looked to be of a higher standard, suggesting that the training camp approach was an excellent decision.  The players also appeared to be more willing to press (rather than retreat) when the opposition had the ball and while recovering and keeping possession were notable improvements using that possession wisely was less impressive.

What do we do with the ball now that we have it?

Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was the absence of the key players that contributed largely to the lack of ideas once in possession.  Even without the retarding influence of Mark Noble the reluctance to move the ball forward quickly remained with the first instinct still being to pass the ball sideways or backwards.  If a team is going to use a slow buildup then it needs players capable of producing unexpected quick bursts to create openings, either individually or through quick inter-passing movements.  In the matches against Bremen movement off the ball was still patchy, particularly in central areas, and the primary tactic was to get the ball out wide when in attacking areas, presumably to aim for the head of a ghostly Andy Carroll.  The approach reminds me of my Sunday League playing days where most goals are the result of defensive error rather than attacking craft.  Pump it forward with the hope that a defender will make a mistake and let the striker in.  It is encouraging that we now have a ‘fox in the box’ but even a fox needs something to feed from.

Give Youth A Chance?

An undoubted positive from the pre-season games has been the encouraging performances of academy players such as Nathan Holland, Declan Rice, Reece Burke and Toni Martinez.  In the last two seasons youth players were used in Europa League fixtures only to disappear off on loan once the season started.  I hope that this doesn’t happen again this time and that the pick of the crop are kept in the squad and introduced gradually and carefully into the first team.  I don’t mean to sit on the bench as an unused substitute for thirteen games or to come on as a ninety second minute time wasting replacement but to be given reasonably regular meaningful run-outs.  I believe that playing regularly in the Premier League 2 competition with the odd ten or fifteen minutes in the first team is better for a player’s development and integration than turning out for Peterboro against Rochdale in a League 1 relegation scrap.  I am not advocating throwing young players in at the deep end but why not use them as backup rather than keep rolling out the same older or under-performing senior squad members?

Sullivan: Give Me Just A Little More Time!

Do the Chairman’s comments about short termism and balancing the books suggest that the next level is as far away as ever?

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” was a 1970 top ten hit for Michigan based US soul band Chairman of the Board (the song was later recorded by Aussie songstress, Kylie Minogue).  This week our own Chairman of the Board, David Sullivan took to the airwaves to celebrate what has largely been acknowledged as a triumphant week of West Ham transfer dealings.  During his interview Sullivan accepted that by focusing on proven and experienced ability (i.e. older players) the club had adopted a short term view for its player recruitment.  In effect, we need to give him (and the rest of the Board) a little more time before that promised assault on the next level becomes a reality.

The problem is that breaking out of a short term strategy carries the same degree of difficult with each successive season.  It is a dilemma.  Buy experience players to ensure survival and you have no resale value to re-invest plus an ageing squad.  Buy youngsters from lesser leagues and it is a gamble where anyone who excels is looking for better things after two years in any case; albeit with a tidy profit.

Overall it was a reasonable interview by Sullivan although there was some licence with the way it was subsequently reported turning a reasonable commitment to be competitive in all of the competitions that West Ham entered into a claim that the club were looking to win the Premier League.  I think many of us would be more than happy with a top half finish and some exciting cup runs.

The other comment catching the attention of the headline writers were those suggesting Javier Hernandez might be the best player West Ham have ever signed (although I wasn’t sure whether ever in this context only related to the Gold and Sullivan era or to all-time).   Although I am more than happy to see Hernandez in a West Ham shirt I think I will wait a while before hailing him as the new messiah.  Until we see how Slaven Bilic integrates a player who is used to playing as part of a front two into his own system it will be impossible to assess his eventual effectiveness.

There were also some hints that there could yet be more London Stadium arrivals during the transfer window although this was offset against a ‘One In One Out’ policy and the need to ‘balance the books’ with that old chestnut the £100m debt once again rearing its head.

I guess ‘One In One Out’ makes some sense in that there is only a finite squad size but I hope that we would not pass up on a great deal simply because we hadn’t been able to shift some left over deadwood.  There is continued speculation that Feghouli will be off to Turkey quite soon plus other assorted rumours concerning bids for Ayew, Snodgrass, Fletcher and Adrian.   How an Adrian departure might work leaving the club with just one on-loan keeper is a mystery but I wouldn’t lose any sleep over any of the others taking their boots elsewhere.  I would really liked for Ashley Fletcher to have worked out but, to me, he doesn’t have the balance or gait of a natural athlete.  So if that results in five out then we should reasonably expect another five in; and please let one of them be Moussa Dembele!

Bringing up the subject of the debt was rather disingenuous given that much of this (although not all) are loans owed to the Board themselves.  As I understand it, the club is clear of bank debt although it does have an external credit facility borrowed against future TV revenues.  There is no incentive for the Board to repay their own loans and so the figure is unlikely to change over time; so please stop mentioning it!  Although the concept of a transfer budget or war chest doesn’t really exist in isolation from other costs such as player wages (apart from in the media) our net spend on player trading remains modest in what is otherwise a red hot market.  Revenues must surely be up considerably with the new TV deal and stadium and so ambition should be reflected by directing much of this to recruitment.

Another Chairman in the news this week was everyone’s favourite Bond villain, Daniel Levy, expressing his views that the escalation of transfer fees and wages in the Premier League are not sustainable.  It is difficult to argue with him on that one as the agenda is largely set by clubs who are immune from normal business practices.  In terms of revenues Spurs have massively over-achieved in the last two seasons; they are way behind the big five clubs and find themselves in a difficult position trying to compete.  They have also performed well in recent years in player trading but are unable to match the salaries offered by the elite teams.  It is only a matter of time before their major assets (players and manager) jump ship for larger rewards.  The construction of their new stadium will also take its toll and it was amusing that Levy could not stop himself from having a sly dig by mentioning that it was being built without state aid.

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” was written by prolific Motown songwriters Holland, Dozier and Holland but someone who may not need much more time is Nathan Holland, if reports coming out of the West Ham training camp are to be believed.  I had previously mentioned him as looking lively during the Austria warm up games and as Slav loves a winger I am hoping we get to see more of him during the season.  Please no loan deal with a club likely to be fighting a League 1 relegation battle.

West Ham: Arrivals, Lineups, Formations and Substitutions

With our new arrivals, what is the best West Ham team for the coming season? Have we now got enough quality players to use impact substitutions to change a game if necessary?

I am old enough to remember the days when football was strictly eleven-a side. Teams would start with 11 players and finish with the same 11 players. If anybody was injured or out of form then that was just tough; there were no substitutes sitting on a bench to replace them. When West Ham won the FA Cup in 1964, the same 11 players started and finished every game in every round, including the Cup Final itself. Those days are long gone.

The ability to use increased numbers of replacements was a gradual one.  In the English leagues in the mid-1960s each side was permitted to use one substitute (just one player was nominated to sit on the bench), but only if a player was injured. This rule was relaxed a couple of years later to allow the substitution for tactical reasons. As time has progressed the number of substitutes that can be used has gradually increased so that now (in competitive matches, as opposed to friendlies) a maximum of three new players can be brought on, out of seven who are sitting waiting for a chance to come on.

As a follower of Rugby Union I have noticed a similar situation, where although 15 players start the game, the squad consists of 23, and I believe all 8 who start on the sidelines can be brought on at some time. If football follows a similar pattern then I can see the day not far off when perhaps five substitutes can be used, and a whole team sits on the side, allowing for tactical substitutions to be made in all positions on the field.

But, even though the game is now 14-a-side, do managers make the best use of the players at their disposal in each game? How can West Ham make better use of players sitting on the bench?

With the new players that have arrived during the current transfer window, many West Ham fans have taken to social media to set out their favoured starting eleven for the new season assuming everybody is fit, which of course is a situation that never seems to happen with our club. I have analysed a number of these, and it would appear that the following 11 players are the ones most nominated (in the manager’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation):

Hart

Zabaleta, Reid, Ogbonna, Masuaku

Obiang, Kouyate,

Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic,

Hernandez

Of course not everyone is in agreement, (and the manager himself may be one of those!) and the players closest to appearing in the starting eleven not in this team, would appear to be Cresswell, Noble, and Ayew. So our most recently capped England international, our captain, and our (until recently) record signing would be amongst those sitting on the bench. Other contenders for substitute would be Fonte and Collins at centre-back, Byram at right back, Fernandes in midfield, and the (seemingly) perpetually injured Carroll and Sakho up front. Snodgrass, Feghouli and Fletcher would also come into the equation if they remain with us, together with the young players such as Rice, Burke, Cullen, Quina and Martinez and perhaps others, if they are given a chance.

Of course, at times as last season progressed, we stumbled upon a 3-5-2 formation which had some initial success, and if this formation was deployed, who would be the back three? Even though Zabaleta is a full back by trade, he could perhaps be used alongside Reid and Ogbonna, although perhaps Fonte could come in? No doubt Byram or Antonio would be used as the right wing backs, and Cresswell or Masuaku on the left.

Assuming Obiang, Kouyate and Lanzini are picked whatever the formation, this would leave Hernandez and Arnuatovic as the two up front, with Carroll and Sakho (if fit) being more than useful substitutes, especially the former if a tactical variation was used. However, I personally doubt that we would start with a 3-5-2 formation with the players in the squad now, but it would be good to think that the players could adapt to this (mid-game) if necessary.

Most observers and fans seem to agree that this has been a superb transfer window so far (although some will never be happy, of course), and according to various media we haven’t finished yet. But I doubt if there will be more additions unless some go out of the exit door. But whatever your opinion, we now have much greater pace in attacking positions, allowing for a potentially completely different dimension to our forward play. We have a variety of alternative attacking options, and hopefully we will use substitutions wisely to make full use of them. We now seem to have a squad which will allow us to play with a Plan B, C, D, and I hope that we make full use of all the possibilities to enable us to score more goals.

My concerns for the forthcoming season are diminishing, although we will still rely on Lanzini to make us tick in the middle, and I’m not sure we have anyone to fulfil a similar role if he is out. If only we had another £40-£50 million to splash out on a Sigurdsson or Barkley? Similarly, whilst we have four very experienced international centre backs to choose from, I worry about a lack of pace in that area when facing nimble attacking opposition.

I firmly believe that we now have the players that will enable us to comfortably finish in at least eighth place in the Premier League. It would be good to think that we could challenge for a higher finishing position, and we should hopefully be closer to the top teams than we were last season. It will still be difficult to break into the elite six or seven teams at the top, but you never know.

A Stronger West Ham. But Are There More To Come?

Are things suddenly taking shape at West Ham and could there be more new arrivals on the horizon?

What a difference a week makes as all of a sudden the mood has become far more upbeat in the West Ham camp.  The confirmed signing of Marko Arnautovic, the anticipated arrival of Javier Hernandez , rumours of more exciting recruits and a pre-season victory against Fulham has lifted spirits to the point where talk of Europe is once again not purely limited to Brexit.  The increased optimism tempered only by a worrying injury to Cheikhou Kouyate that threatens to keep him sidelined for the first month of the season.

Assuming that the Hernandez deal goes through smoothly, and he is not kidnapped at Heathrow by Daniel Levy, then many of us might have suspected that the bulk of the summer business was now completed.  After all the club had been hinting at maybe two, three or, at a stretch four new signings as the game changers required to contest the coming campaign.  Despite this speculation continues to throw up new West Ham bound names with several players being regularly linked with a move to the London Stadium.  Alleged targets on the Hammer’s radar include Keita Baldé Diao (Lazio), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Jota (Brentford) and Badou N’Diaye (Osmanlispor).  It is impossible to know whether any of the latest links have any substance but with the new policy of ‘keeping cards closer to their chests’ there could be a chance the Board may yet surprise us with a serving of ambition.

For me, strengthening central midfield and the centre of defence by the injection of more pace remain priorities to produce a more competitive unit.  Further unless our new Head of Medical, Gary Lewin, has developed the most miraculous of magic sponges for Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho then a second striker option is also needed.  A twin Mexican strike-force of Hernandez and Jimenez, though, would surely put an end to any thoughts of future pre-season tours to the USA.

The other persistent rumour is that of Jack Wilshere who seems to be nearing the end of his time at Arsenal.  Potentially a fit Wilshere would be a great addition but there are, of course, serious concerns over his injury record and troublesome ankles.  Possibly some form of pay as you play deal would make sense.

Going into the new season with better balance in the squad then raises the question as to how these new riches will be deployed on the pitch.  My inclination is that with Pablo Zabaleta at right back the default will be for a back four rather than back three with wing backs.  Maybe that assumption will be proved wrong but if not then it would require the wide midfield players (two from Michail Antonio, Andre Ayew and Arnautovic) to accept greater defensive responsibility.  A reluctance to track back is one of the criticisms, along with consistency, levelled at Arnautovic during his time at Stoke.  Similarly, it is not an obvious feature of Ayew’s game and the problematic trade-off between attacking flair and defensive cover is a key challenge for the coaching staff.

The major pre-occupation of the summer has been, understandably, the search for the elusive striker but last season was also notable for leaking goals.  The recruitment of Joe Hart and Zabaleta are positive upgrades but it was the way that we defended as a team that is the wider problem, not just the back-line personnel.  Principally greater pace and discipline are required in the centre of midfield; where Mark Noble lacks the pace and Kouyate lacks the discipline to effectively support Pedro Obiang.  West Ham have been particularly vulnerable against the better footballing sides attacking through the middle as witnessed in assorted capitulations last term.  Central defence during Winston Reid’s periodic absences also remains a cause for concern.

With Antonio and Arnautovic likely to be providing the width, the play-making responsibilities in the central areas would seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of Manuel Lanzini with the only backup coming from Edmilson Fernandes.  Possibly this is a position where Jota from Brentford could provide more competition.

The transfer widow has also seen a steady flow of departures with Darren Randolph the latest to leave while Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass should also be aware of the writing on the wall marked ‘Exit’ by now.  All of this has generated a tidy inflow of funds which can hopefully be quickly re-invested to further strengthen the squad.

In the wider Premier League world there is certain to be a lot more money changing hands over the coming weeks.  To see Manchester City paying over £120 million for three full backs shows just how insane the transfer market has become and how fanciful the dream to become an established top four club is.  At least we can now feel that we have a shout in the top of the mid-table mini league – and who knows there could even be a chance of a welcome extended cup run..

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.