The beauty of the transfer window is that it provides an opportunity to get depressed during the summer as well as during the season. After the shocking effort of the previous two windows I was convinced that the club would pull out all of the stops to secure the three or four game changing players that have been so enthusiastically spoken about. This is not to be the case, so it seems, as once again the window follows the familiar pattern of temptation without satisfaction.
It is difficult to know precisely who is to blame (board or manager) for the current shambles and our tendency is to direct contempt according to one’s own prejudices. Are the board penny pinching, is the manager poor at picking players or is West Ham not an attractive proposition?
The recent Iheanacho situation has taken West Ham’s transfer dealings to a new level of absurdity and, for me, illustrates a collective, disconnected incompetence that is almost too ludicrous to grasp. In what reality would you pursue a player for six weeks, reportedly agree a deal with the selling club, only for the manager to pull the plug at the eleventh hour. While it is understandable that a manager might see a deal as eating too much into a finite transfer budget shouldn’t such parameters be agreed to beforehand? The suggestion that Bilic also felt Iheanacho was not sufficiently proven is implausible for the exact same reasons but it also speaks volumes about his mindset with regard to young players. That the self-proclaimed Academy should have to send young players to Germany to be properly developed is an amazing contradiction.
For all the talk of next levels and increased capacities it is obvious that West Ham is a club without a realistic plan as far as the playing side is concerned. The impressive level of season ticket renewals together with a nice growing slice of Premier League pie means that revenues continue to grow and serve, for now, to maintain the club’s slot in the world’s top twenty richest clubs. To focus solely on revenues, though, without an equal focus on playing staff, coaching, youth development and training facilities is a short sighted strategy in the extreme. Several more seasons like the last one will surely see supporter numbers evaporate rapidly. A club whose only boast is a big stadium (and a big screen) does not make it a success. If nothing else is to change then West Ham will become another Sunderland, not a club with stated ambitions to break into the top six. Words are very cheap and although it is unfair to suggest that the board have not invested they have not spent money wisely; always looking for a great deal rather than the best value.
The reasons ascribed to Henry Onyekuru for choosing Everton over West Ham were also revealing and it is easy to see why a player would such a decision. Since Farhad Moshiri took a controlling interest at Everton they have become a far more progressive club that saw a disappointing 11th place finish in 2015/16 as a reason to upgrade their manager and a recruitment policy that has invested sensibly in the future. In comparison the West Ham’s strategy is to do just enough to survive in the Premier League; no matter what the cocky words coming out of the boardroom might be. Opportunity has come knocking at the London Stadium in the form of the deal of the century but rather than answer the call everyone appears to be hiding behind the sofa.
Turning to the latest speculation, several new names have appeared as each of the old ones are gradually struck off the list. Prevalent opinion is that the option of old man Giroud is no longer on the table and that the inflated wage demands of Javier Hernandez are likely to preclude any deal from being completed. Taking their place on the leader board are a pair of 26 year-olds in Columbian Luis Muriel and Frenchman Gregoire Defrel, although more recent reports has them both destined for greener pastures. Outside of these the striker cupboard continues to look depressingly bare.
The not unsurprising obsession with strikers has in many ways deflected attention away from other areas of desperate need within the squad. Where the greatest deficiencies lie depends on what the manager’s preferred style of play will be. Unfortunately, after two years we are no closer to an answer to this conundrum. If the plan is to mainly rely on three at the back then the ageing back line looks suspect. If the preference is to be a back then wide midfield players with defensive attributes are required. If there is an ideato play two strikers then central midfield reinforcements are badly needed. Other (non-striker) names in the frame over the last week have included Marko Arnautovic (Stoke), Jota (Brentford) and Badou Ndiaye (Osmanlıspor). I have to admit that the suggestion of recruiting a player from a team that no-one has ever heard of in the Turkish League makes me shudder. I still believe that Fabian Delph would be a smart move.
The remaining slow burner is the Joe Hart from Manchester City where the stumbling block is reportedly that West Ham are after a season long loan while City want a permanent deal. Not sure that Hart is a massive upgrade on Adrian but going for a loan would be the typical short-term West Ham manoeuvre that only confirms belief in the survival only strategy.
Less than five weeks to go to the new season and all we have is one used right back addition to bolster the squad. The players out may soon be supplemented by the departures of Snodgrass and Feghouli and though I won’t be sorry to see either leave replacing them with new deadwood makes no sense. Starters are required who can fit into the manager’s tactical master plan not an assortment of bargain squad players. Recruiting these game changers is going to cost big money in today’s inflated market.
At least we now have one extra day to prepare for the new season with the game at Old Trafford having being put back to Sunday. What sealed the deal for Lukaku in choosing Manchester United over Chelsea was the guarantee of scoring on his Premier League debut and, from where we are right now, I can only look at the match with trepidation.
On the better news front there are new contracts for Pedro Obiang and (hopefully) Manuel Lanzini which will, at least, ensure higher transfer fees when they leave next summer.