Between the finale of the last Premier League season and the start of the new one was a total of 90 days. We have now spent 40 of those days in the wilderness and there are just 50 more before it all kicks off again. In two weeks’ time West Ham return to training and the pre-season preparations build on from there.
The 2019/20 season the Premier League sees the introduction of a mid-season break in the middle of February (although it is staggered over two weekends) and along with 4 international breaks (3 before Christmas) plus those annoying getting knocked out of the cup early breaks, it promises to be another disjointed campaign.
The fixture list was, course, published last week and controversially West Ham yet again have to play each of the other 19 teams home and away. With its sense of the absurd, though, the fixtures computer has come up with a sixth consecutive opening day encounter with a top six side for West Ham – on this occasion completing the full set against reigning champions Manchester City. For a welcome change, however, the Hammers find themselves at home on both the opening and closing weekends – an end of season clash against Aston Villa coming just one week before a long awaited return visit to Wembley for the FA Cup Final, perhaps! Still no sign of a home Boxing Day match though; clashing as it would with the start of the post Christmas sales at Westfield.
With less than 50 shopping days until the slamming of the transfer window, the speculation industry is at full throttle. To date there have been more outs than ins as the Hammers embark on one of their periodic dead-wood clearance sales – the hope this time around is that we don’t then start collecting more! Moore than just a club for one last payday!
I have tried to avoid wasting too much time following transfer news on the basis that the majority is made up nonsense. Rumours have become more of a device for generating internet traffic than sharing credible news. Instead, my time-wasting has been focused on watching old Youtube videos of West Ham greatest goals – an enjoyable claret and blue tinted way of viewing the past. One thing that struck me was the contribution from either Eyal Berkovic or Yossi Benayoun to many of the sweeter attacking moments. Both had only fleeting Hammer’s careers but were the type of player that has been sadly missing for much of the interim period. Now I can build up my hopes that Pablo Fornals will be the player to fill that gap.
The recruitment of Fornals came as something of a surprise as I believed another attacking midfielder would not be top of the club’s priorities. I can only assume that there is a fair bit of business still to be done as we remain very light in attack, short of numbers in holding midfield and lacking a defensively competent left full-back.
Not surprisingly the performances of Declan Rice and Issa Diop have caught the attention of the circling richer clubs – both are young players who put creditable Premier League mileage under their belts last season. As long as West Ham remain a mid-tier club, the best players will always be at risk of big money bids from sides offering European competition. Ultimately, every player has a price but I would like to think that both players will realise that another season (at least) in the Hammers first team is beneficial to their long term development. Even worse than losing either player would be taking any washed up Old Trafford cast-offs in part-exchange. Beyond that, any hope of holding on to players such as Rice and Diop (and potentially Fornals) requires significant progress on the pitch and why further recruitment is so vital – players who will be challenging for a starting position, not as back up.
The pursuit of Maxi Gomez is becoming the summer’s long running blockbuster transfer saga. Past performance suggests that it will eventually fizzle out to nothing – but something needs to be done urgently to supplement the club’s meagre striking options – which otherwise will be down to one gloomy pot-hunting Austrian who may still prefer to take his sulking elsewhere. Talk that Gomez was looking for assurances that he would be first choice would seem to be an odd deal breaker – would any manager give such as assurance? Only performance on the pitch can guarantee selection!
Overall, I feel quietly optimistic over what is happening this close season. Much of the deadwood has been shifted and I would expect/ prefer several more to follow (Obiang, Ogbonna, Sanchez, Hernandez), the Sullivan’s have maintained commendable radio silence and player recruitment looks to be focusing on younger (mainly Hispanic) players. Plenty of opportunity for it to all go horribly wrong but so far so good!