The Fans Are Back, Expectations Are High But West Ham Badly Need Reinforcements

Maintaining momentum in domestic and European competition with a wafer thin squad will be a massive challenge for West Ham. Recruiting wisely in the remainder of the transfer window will be critical to success.

At some point in history ‘News’ evolved from reporting on recent or important events to an entertainment that centred mainly on speculation and opinion. Perhaps transfer news has always existed at the imaginary end of the spectrum, but this year rumours have hit record proportions.

With the transfer window once again extending beyond the start of the season there is little chance of the procession of clickbait headlines disappearing any time soon. Likewise, the anger of fans outraged that the club are considering a bid for whatever is the latest made-up transfer target.  Yet, like the stopped clock or infinite number of monkeys some speculation will eventually turn out to be spot on.

It does seem that the club has at last put a stop to conducting transfer business in public with heroic announcements from the Chairman or leaks put out through favoured sources. Now whether no news is good news or whether it is a sign of an unwillingness to spend any money is a matter of opinion. It has unfortunately (for them) left the usual In-The-Knows with something of a dilemma and they must now resort to putting out vague horoscope-like transfer announcements that can be interpreted multiple ways.

I don’t imagine any manager would choose to wait to the last minute to bring in new signings. It is hardly ideal with the pre-season hugely important for preparation as Premier League teams increasingly become well-drilled units. Even a manager as famously cautious in the transfer market as David Moyes would have preferred to give new players time to settle into the team’s style of play.

Looking through the list of completed Premier League deals, there hasn’t been that much activity given the new season is less than a week away. No doubt the impact of Covid has led to a complicated transfer landscape with cash strapped clubs across the continent staring each other out before agreeing on valuations.

I wish I could have more faith in the owners but the idea that they could scupper any deal for a ha’p’orth of tar is firmly fixed in my mind. But equally it would be wrong pay over the odds from what is a finite transfer pot – only Manchester City and Chelsea can do that! The recent experiences of Anderson, Haller, Yarmolenko and Wilshere – absurd wages and ludicrous transfer fees – are painful reminders of the folly of vanity signings. A transfer strategy based on players with no subsequent re-sale value is not sustainable for a club like ours. That’s the reality for all but a handful of clubs and West Ham’s record on smart transfer trading has been abysmal.

As the new season looms, the already thin first team squad is even lighter than at the end of last season following the departures of Fabian Balbuena and Jesse Lingard.  With Europa League as well as Premier League campaigns to contend with it is inconceivable that reinforcements are not brought in. How else can it compete on numerous fronts with the inevitable injuries and suspensions that come with it. If I were manager, I would be pushing for five of six new arrivals – centre back, left back, defensive midfield, attacking midfield and at least one striker – while understanding there may be a need to prioritise. Ironically, I would probably have risked not signing a backup keeper until next summer – although the recruitment of Alphonse Areola on loan is a decent move.

The Lingard situation has dominated much of the close season speculation. West Ham looked their best last season when he was in the side, even if he did go off the boil towards the end. He offered an energy, dynamism, and directness in the final third not apparent elsewhere in the squad. It is not clear whether the failure to secure a permanent deal is down to the player or his club, but it is very dangerous to put too many eggs in this basket if it means passing up on other options.

Despite a wide range of speculation, the absence of any striker cover remains the elephant in the room. Michail Antonio has looked outstanding in pre-season and his strength and power must be every defender’s nightmare. But everyone must know that his hamstrings are unlikely to last an entire season without careful management. Bringing in backup and support has to be the topmost priority. Decent strikers don’t come cheap, though, and the Hammers have depressingly poor form for searching for quality in the bargain bucket.

Moyes has so far done well with transfers during his time at the club (Jordan Hugill aside) and all hopes are that sensible and well researched recruitment can continue. Striking a balance between what is acceptable quality and what the board are prepared to pay will not be an easy task. If there was to be an equivalent of a dating app for striker recruitment, then I do hope that the manager will be swiping left when Abraham and Origi appear on screen.

It has been interesting to see the club signing several young players over the summer. The assumption is that these have been made with an eye to the future rather than the upcoming season. But I wonder whether this reflects dissatisfaction with the output from the academy. It really has delivered little in the past ten years or so. I would like to see more of Ben Johnson this season (but not a left wing back) but not sure how many others there are knocking on the first team’s door.

Until all the ins and outs are settled it is difficult to know how optimistic to be about the new season. I have no reason to fear a relegation battle, but a repeat of last season’s top six finish looks a huge stretch as things stand. The two smaller north London clubs will be hoping to bounce back, and Villa, Everton and Leeds will all be looking to progress.

A clutch of inspired new signings could change that perspective and perhaps even greater rewards can await now that the Hammers have two potential routes to Champion’s League qualification. Get those cheque books out!