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.