Sharing The Transfer Window Pain

Much ado about nothing in the first week of the January transfer window.

Transfer WindowIt promises much but the January transfer window is generally an anti-climax, although that does not stop the speculation industry going into overdrive in tempting you to visit their websites with an enticing story about the latest 24 year old goal scoring sensation linked with a move to the London Stadium. Like the Transfer Deadline Day of old the January window is dominated by desperate measures of clubs eager to avoid a relegation battle or to boost their flagging chances of promotion or European qualification.

For me, the winter deadline is characterised by pointless loan deals for the likes of Ilan, Mido, Pogatetz, Chamakh, Diego Tristan, Benni McCarthy and Roger ‘The Relegator’ Johnson. It has rarely led to the recruitment of quality players with the possible exclusion of Dean Ashton in 2006 and Demba Ba in 2011.

West Ham go into the window with a very unbalanced squad that includes some gaping holes of which the most notable are at right back, striker and, probably, central midfield. The failings of the summer transfer deals which focused on quantity rather than quality to support an expected but unrealised Europa League campaign is there for all to see. Summer recruits Zaza, Tore and Calleri are all likely to be out of the door and could soon be followed by Feghouli if in-the-know gossip is to be believed; then there is the question of Dimitri Payet about whom there is a growing consensus that he is unhappy, disinterested and wants away.  If that really is the case is it worth holding on to him?

If West Ham were a few points better off then maybe we could just write the season off as a bad job and address the squad problems in the summer when there is more time and more options. But with the relegation places not too far away then doing nothing in January would be a very foolish strategy despite the fact that getting good value in the window is rare. We were unable to improve the team in the summer so what are the chances of doing so now?

The difficulty arising from our situation is that clubs know we are desperate and so will be inflating prices. We are most likely to overpay for players who are expedient stopgaps and not part of a project to build an ever improving side. The forward players who have been most regularly linked, Defore, Long and Snodgrass, are all in the wrong age profile for the longer term even if they might prove useful for the survival imperative. Scott Hogan is in the right age group but is relatively inexperienced while Moussa Dembélé is likely to be unavailable and destined for greater things than east London.

Something has to be done about the right back position which has been a blind spot at West Ham over many years. The approach reminds me of Sunday morning park football where you put the lads who are no good anywhere else at full back. Maybe Sam Byram will make a injury free return but we need backup and it should be someone other than Carl Jenkinson again.

We are a week into the window and nothing has happened apart from some outgoing loans and the transfer of Lewis Page to Charlton. Usually nothing much happens until the last few days anyway but let’s hope that this time the money is used wisely.

Ponchos for Goalposts

English footballers missing in action.

Tevez and MascheranoWhen West Ham took the field in the EFL Cup Tie against Accrington Stanley there were no British players in the starting eleven. By the end of the game a total of 14 players had been used of whom only Michail Antonio was British. I have to admit that I am not sure whether West Ham have started with an all non-British line-up in the past but it seems unlikely. However, as long ago as 1999 Chelsea had become the first English side to field an all foreign starting eleven.

I was also surprised a few weeks ago when I happened to come across the line-ups for the Championship fixture between Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest to discover that only 8 of the 27 players featuring in the game were English. It has become accepted that Premier League squads were dominated by overseas players but it hadn’t occurred to me that the same was the case in the second tier. So I decided to take a closer look.

There had been the occasional foreign player appearing up in English football ever since Max Seeburg from Germany turned out for Tottenham in 1908.  After a spat with Arsenal over the signing of foreigners and obviously worried by a growing trend the FA introduced a 2 year residency rule in 1931 which served to stem the onrushing tide at the time. Even so, foreign players appeared in each of the FA Cup finals between 1951 and 1956 with one of these, Bert Trautmann becoming Footballer of the Year in 1956.

In 1978 a European Community ruling declared that football associations could not deny access to players based solely on nationality and, as a result, the effective 47 year ban in England was lifted. The arrival of players such as Ardiles and Villa at Tottenham spearheaded the new foreign invasion. At the time various quotas on non-British players applied but these have long since disappeared. When Arsenal won the league in 1989 they were the last team not to use a single foreign player (for the picky, yes the squad did include David O’Leary and Niall Quinn; both from the Republic of Ireland).

As far as I know, the first foreign player to play for West Ham was Clyde Best who I assume qualified to play under the two year residency rule before getting a first start in 1968. An attempt to sign Israel skipper Mordecai Spiegler after the 1970 World Cup was thwarted by the red tape still in play at the time. After the 1978 ruling West Ham were relatively slow on the uptake with the first overseas player, Francois Van der Elst, not clearing customs until January 1982. By then everyone was in on the act and even second division Charlton had signed former European footballer of the year Allan Simonsen from Barcelona.  In 2013, West Ham had become the first English club to have fielded players of 50 nationalities; the majority of whom, it has to be said, barely made an impression.

I spent some time going through squad lists to see how teams in the Premier League and Championship currently shape up with regard to foreign players. For the purposes of the analysis I have used the squads listed on Wikipedia. Players are categorised on their FIFA registration and I have treated players from the Republic of Ireland as foreigners (possibly harsh seeing as any English player who has seen Riverdance more than once is probably eligible to represent the Republic).

In the Premier League, 60% of players are foreign. Watford are top recruiter with 84% of their squad hailing from overseas. At the other end of the spectrum, Hull and West Brom have only 25% foreign representatives. The top 6 clubs for foreign players are Watford (84%), Manchester City (81%), Chelsea (76%), Arsenal (72%), West Ham (70%) and Sunderland (69%). If you were to exclude players fro the other Home nations the percentage of English players overall drops to 35%. The top 6 origins of Premier League players are England, Spain, France, Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Netherlands.

In the Championship, 40% of players are foreign. Newcastle and Reading are joint top with 62% followed by Brighton (54%), Fulham (54%), Brentford (52%) and Nottingham Forest (51%). Two more teams have at least 50% of overseas players.  Rotherham brings up the rear with a mere 16% foreign contingent.

There has been a long running debate about the impact of the foreign invasion on the fortunes of the national side. In that we have just the single 1966 tournament victory to show for a period both before and after the invasion then you could make a case that it is neutral. However, it does raise the question of what happens to all the kids who dream of becoming a professional footballer. Many of us had that dream at one time living out the fantasy over the park, even without the lure of the vast financial rewards of today, but at least for some the dream came true making it into teams that were largely home grown. Sure squads are much larger now but my instinct is that if we looked at game time the proportion for foreign players will be even higher (in the 6 Premier League games to date 78% of West Ham starters have been foreign players) than that for the squad as a whole. I will delve deeper into this at another time.

With all the recent revelations about shady deals between managers and agents let’s hope this is not a contributing factor to the skewed make up of English club squads.  Was there some truth to Ravel Morrison’s claim as to why he was banished to the reserves at West Ham?

The Premier League is a worldwide phenomenon which has been enriched by foreign players; there is no getting away from the fact that the most exciting and flair players are from overseas. The multi-million dollar question is why this is the case? Are the local lads not up to the challenge? Would they rather chase Pokemon than a football? Have we not sorted out grass roots youth development despite Sir Trev’s best efforts? On those occasions that I have seen kids football they all seem to have mastered the Cruyf turn and the Rabana but not the basics.  For now, the mystery of the disappearing English footballer deepens.

 

All The Young Dudes

Is there any place for optimism from within the youth ranks?

In a similar way that North Korean leaders insist on fancy titles such as ‘Peerless Leader’ or ‘Great Sun of the Nation’ our club has adopted as its own the moniker of the ‘Academy of Football’. While initially this was attributed by the football press in recognition of West Ham’s proficiency in coaching young players it has in recent year become more of a self-proclamation.

The development of Moore, Hurst, Peters and Brooking set the standard back in the 1960s but there then followed, with the odd exception, a long unproductive period for the youth system until the arrival, over the course of just a few years, of (Rio) Ferdinand, Lampard Jr, Cole, Carrick, Defoe and Johnson. That the potential of the golden generation was dismally squandered is a painful tale of woe that we won’t go into here.

Awash with pre-season optimism there was much chatter that part of West Ham’s glorious future; along with a new stadium, a reinforced squad and European football was a new crop of youngsters that would soon be knocking on the first team door. As the early season has developed most of these dreams have turned out to be like beautifully wrapped Christmas presents that turn out to be very disappointing once opened. But can our young players give us real hope for the future?

In an article I read before the season started Slaven Bilic described the difficulty of introducing young players in the modern Premier League. My interpretation of what he was saying is that it was a risk not worth taking in a scenario where a few bad results can have fans (and owners) clamouring for your head; just like we have now!  For young players, the more normal route is to spend time out on loan to get experience and see how they cope. Ferdinand, Lampard, Carrick and Defoe all had successful loan spells whereas Cole and Johnson went straight into the West Ham first team.

At the present time we 8 youngsters out on loan; Burke, Samuelsen, Cullen, Knoyle, Page, Belic, Dobson and Hendrie. Of these only Burke (who is now out injured following a hernia operation), Cullen and Page are getting regular first team football and of these only Burke is playing with a Championship side. Arguably the more exciting prospects (at least in terms of expectation) are still at the club compridsing Oxford, Martinez, Browne and Quina.

The Reece Oxford situation is very strange. An impressive debut against Arsenal over a year ago followed by a more difficult game at home to Leicester and he has only started one Premier League game since. The midweek EFL cup tie would seem to have been the perfect opportunity to give him another opportunity but instead a central defensive position was given to midfielder Nordtveit. It is easy to conclude that speculation about his future is playing a part in selection and my instinct is that he won’t remain a West Ham player for the long term.

Toni Martinez appears from the statistics to be a natural goalscorer something which typically our own academy has found it difficult to produce (Cottee being the last with Defoe having been snatched from Charlton) and how we could do with one of those in the first team at the moment. On the evidence to date it is difficult to see how Martinez and Fletcher would be worse striker choices than Zaza and Calleri.

Domingos Quina came to West Ham as a very highly rated and sought after player. Two substitute appearances against Domzale and nothing since; to the point that he doesn’t appear in any squad on the Official West Ham website. Marcus Browne also had a Europa Cup cameo but has not been considered since including being overlooked for the EFL Cup; and showing his disappointment on Twitter. Martin Samuelsen looks an extremely talented individual but, for whatever reason, he has not been getting regular game time on loan; either at Peterboro last year or at Blackburn, so far, this season.

When West Ham won the FA Youth Cup in 1999 only Bywater, Cole and Carrick went on to have top level careers. Many young players drop by the wayside and there is no reason to suspect that the current crop will be any different. There is nothing better as a supporter than witnessing a youth team player breakthrough into the first team. Obviously they need to have the talent but it would be disappointing if chances were not given simply because the manager is risk averse.  I would like to believe that there are 3 or 4 regular first teamers in the current youth setup.

Another title that has been given to successive North Korean leaders is ‘Great Defender’. Now that would be a novelty this season; but maybe we already have one sitting on the bench.

Shut That Window

The closing of the transfer window sees the culmination of months of speculation. Will anything interesting happen?

Transfer WindowSomewhere in the depths of the FA Headquarters there is a room where every single piece of transfer paperwork is processed. In the room there are two middle- aged men (Kevin and Malcolm) both dressed in sleeveless jumpers and FA ties whose job it is to stamp ‘APPROVED’ on the transfer forms when they are happy that everything is in order. All relevant papers are placed in a buff folder before being passed through a glass partition to a lady called Sonia who enters details into the ‘system’. At 11 pm on 31 August, Sonia will leave her seat for the final time and slide the partition closed representing the metaphorical slamming shut of the window for another summer. Our sources close to the matter understand that this is what actually happens.

With a day to go in the window West Ham have spent a net £43 million on transfers and loan fees made up of 10 incoming players at a cost of £53 million and the departure of James Tomkins for close on £10 million. The players in includes the permanent transfer of Manuel Lanzini at the end of his original loan spell. The complete list of new players is:

Andre Ayew
Manuel Lanzini
Arthur Masuaku
Edimilson Fernandes
Simone Zaza
Jonathan Calleri
Gokhan Tore
Sofiane Feghouli
Ashely Fletcher
Havard Nordtveit

Despite the large number of new arrivals already competing for locker space at Rush Green it has done nothing to dampen the ever increasing number of names to be linked with a move to the East End. It was also revealed today (albeit by The Sun) that at one point during the window we had actually offered £43 million to bring Alexandre Lacazette to the London Stadium. It is difficult to envisage any further big money deals taking place and the latest links are generally of the loan variety and include Wilfred Bony, Calum Chambers and Jack Wilshere; all surplus to requirements at their current clubs or else seen to meet the Hammer’s predilection for injured players.

On the subject on injured Gunners I read at the weekend that forgotten man Carl Jenkinson is still in the process of being rebuilt by the Arsenal surgeons. Not content to just repair the cruciate ligament that he damaged playing for us against Manchester City last January, they have also operated on both of his shoulders – presumably to remove those rather large chips.

No doubt the last hours of the transfer window will bring the usual hysteria as clubs finally realise that time is running out; despite having known the deadline for months beforehand. Sky Sports will have the rolling ticker-tape on hyper speed with reporters roaming the nation for the latest news; managers will drive in and out of training grounds; players will be spotted at airports and service stations; and Chairman’s sons will be tweeting furiously well past their bedtime.

Even though Sky make a big deal of it I don’t think that the commercial possibilities of Window Closing Day have yet to be fully exploited. A Friday evening red-nose day type event hosted by James Corden or similar would be a sure fire ratings winner. There could be audience participation phone in polls as 3 players display their free-style ball skills to decide which one signs for Arsenal. Or perhaps David Gold could come on ask us to “Give us your f*ck*ng money!” in an attempt to fund the purchase of a new right back. As a finale an X Factor or Big Brother winner could countdown the slamming of the window to the chiming of Big Ben. Big potential missed in my opinion.

I’m not expecting will be much business done by West Ham so no need to stay up late. It could possibly be farewell Pedro Obiang and some outgoing loans but that’s about all folks!  All said and done it has been a good window.

Let The Games Begin

A run through the West Ham squad for the upcoming season.

FormationNot long to wait now until we discover if there is going to be any significant change to shape or to the way that the team is set-up following the assorted arrivals at West Ham during the close season. With all the wingers we now have at the club maybe a revolutionary new formation is soon to be revealed.  The approach of getting the ball forward quickly to wide positions has been a feature of the Croatian national team for some years.

Looking through the players that will potentially feature most regularly in Premier League games we look in decent overall shape albeit a little short of cover in some areas given that there may also be the Europa League to contend with.

Goalkeepers: Adrian, Randolph

Our keeper position is good enough if not outstanding. Adrian is a likeable fellow and a very competent all-round keeper aside from the odd ricket (© H Redknapp) and an over-confidence in his dribbling skills. Randolph is capable backup and good to see that he signed a new contract recently. He is an excellent shot-stopper but does not command the area sufficiently well to be a number 1 at this level.

Defenders: Reid, Cresswell, Collins, Ogbonna, Byram, Masuaku (Burke, Oxford)

With James Tomkins leaving for Crystal Palace where he be able to fully develop his beard potential it looks like a few games for Burke and/ or Oxford this season during the inevitable injuries and suspensions to the regualr centre-backs. Some interesting comments made on the difficulties of blooding youngsters in the Premier League by Slaven Bilic, in the Daily Mail interview with Martin Samuel, and mistakes don’t get punished as cruelly as they do as last defender.

Following Aaron Cresswell’s injury we look light at full back even with the arrival of Arthur Masuako. There are two schools of thought regarding the suitability of Antonio as a right back; there are those that think square peg in a round hole and there is Slaven Bilic. Maybe Slav sees a net benefit from his attacking abilities and, at the moment, we owe him our trust.

Midfielders: Nordtvelt, Feghouli, Kouyate, Lanzini, Obiang, Noble, Tore, Payet, Antonio (Quina)

Many of us may have thought that midfield was the one area where there was already an abundance of talent whereas it has seen the most reinforcements (particularly if you consider Ayew as a midfielder rather than a striker). I certainly understand the signing of Havard Nordtvelt as none of the current crop are truly from the defensive midfielder mould (although I don’t think we saw enough of Pedro Obiang to reach a conclusion).

Assuming Payet remains first on the team-sheet and Noble retains his place as local boy, Englishman and skipper then it leaves some very good players vying for a couple of starting berths. Admittedly our injury curse will no doubt ensure that at least 2 or 3 are in the treatment room at any point in time – someone will need to keep Gokhan Tore company).

Domingos Quina seems to be a young player who could be on the fringes of the first team if pre-season appearances are anything to go by.  Or he could be this year’s Reece Oxford and play in the first game and then disappear.

Strikers: Carroll, Valencia, Ayew, Fletcher, Callieri (Sakho)

West Ham were joint 4th highest goal scorers in the Premier League last year but many will agree that it is the strike-force where we are most exposed. We appear to specialise in the 20 injuries a season striker which affects both body and mind – How do you solve a problem like Diafra?

I am looking forward to seeing Andre Ayew in the claret and blue and have high hopes for Ashley Fletcher but know nothing about Jonathon Callieri – except that he is allegedly owned by the Uruguayan equivalent of a Payday Loans company. Not sure there is a Golden Boot (or bonce) candidate in that lot anywhere but collectively they should be able to keep the goal tally ticking over nicely (although one more striker would not be frowned at, Davids.)