The Carvalho saga lingers on for West Ham

As if we didn’t have enough of the William Carvalho saga for the whole of the last month of the transfer window, we find that it continues even though the window has slammed shut.

I dislike the international breaks that disrupt the domestic football season. It is a bit like starting off any activity and then finding that it continually gets interrupted. It wouldn’t seem so bad if the breaks were spread more evenly throughout the season, but no, we have to have a break for World Cup qualifiers (or Euro qualifiers) every year. The first one has arrived (as usual) just as the season has got underway, this time after just three games. We play four more games before the next break, and then a further four prior to the following one. So we will have only played eleven games and had a weekend off three times! At least it might help West Ham’s players to combat the tiredness that was put forward as a lame excuse following the disastrous performance in our last match in Newcastle.

The transfer window itself was seen by many, before a ball had been kicked, as being a relatively successful one for West Ham, although the evidence of the first three games has suggested to quite a few of us that the jury is out on our new recruits, with the possible exception of Chicarito. Lots of theories are put forward as to why we are currently bottom of the table, and the real reason is probably a mixture of all of them.

But one glaring weakness (of many) in the team from where I sit, is the number of goals that we are conceding. Poor defending is just part of that, which may be down to the individuals themselves that occupy those positions, or may be down to the way that they are organised, and the lack of consistent selection which suggests that the manager doesn’t really know his best defence. Of course this was not helped by the injury to Reid, but nevertheless we have a whole range of international defenders at our disposal.

But a modern football team needs to defend as a whole unit, and this means everyone in the side playing their part when we don’t have the ball. And this happens a lot as we have a tendency to give the ball to our opponents more easily than we should. A vital position in most successful teams is that of the central midfielders, and the ideal players in this position are those that can give cover to the defence whilst at the same time being comfortable in possession, and able to launch attacking moves. Last season’s champions, Chelsea, had Kante and Matic fulfilling this important role. They’ve lost Matic, but bought Drinkwater to resume the partnership with Kante that was an integral part of Leicester’s title winning season the year before. This season’s early leaders, Manchester United, have Pogba and Matic. The great Arsenal side of a few seasons ago had the dream pairing of Vieira and Petit.

In my opinion our best two players in this position in the current squad are Obiang and Kouyate. They haven’t yet started a game as the central pairing this season, with Obiang inexplicably only starting one of our three games, and Kouyate playing just twenty minutes as a substitute at St James Park. Incredibly we began the game at Newcastle with Rice and Noble as the partners in the middle. Now I see Rice as a very promising central defender, and Noble has looked a shadow of his previous self for over a year now. Both Obiang and Kouyate were warming the bench. I just didn’t get it myself, but the manager picks the team and stands or falls by his decisions. The way things are going then falling might come sooner rather than later.

According to the multitude of transfer news in the media during the window, our key target for the last month was William Carvalho, an experienced Portuguese international footballer, who would presumably fill one of the two central midfield slots. And from what I’ve seen of him he would be a perfect addition to the team. I would compare him in style of play to Patrick Vieira. Allegedly we continued to make bids for him, never quite reaching the figure that Sporting Lisbon supposedly wanted us to pay. As time went on I could see that it was unlikely that it would happen, and I was genuinely disappointed when we failed to land him as he looked to me just the type of player we needed.

At the last moment, just as it appeared the transfer wouldn’t happen, we apparently switched our target to Gomes from Barcelona, yet another Portuguese international midfielder, who at 24 (a year younger than Carvalho) was another who might satisfy the demands of fans as an exciting new recruit. Now while this may be the case I would question our strategy in the transfer market. Did we really want a (primarily) defensive midfielder (Carvalho), or one who fulfils a more attacking role? Whilst both would have been excellent acquisitions, we seem to be just trying to get good footballers, rather than looking to fill specific positions in the line-up.

Some West Ham fans have taken to social media slamming the board (in particular David Sullivan) for once again failing to bring in another top level signing, and at the same time Sporting Lisbon are now claiming that we didn’t even lodge a bid for Carvalho. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems destined to fill some pages during the international break, and will continue to do so until the Premier League resumes next weekend and we can once again concentrate on football. The whole saga though just seems to me to be a typical West Ham transfer scenario, and doesn’t shed a good light on the club.

We must move on now, and if rumours are to be believed, then we need to start performing and picking up points very quickly if we are to move away from the bottom, and for the manager to keep his job. Mr. Sullivan issued an unusual statement last week saying that the manager got exactly the players he wanted in the window, and that to me suggested he was preparing to show him the exit door very soon if the results don’t arrive very soon. We shall see.

What Will Deadline Day Have In Store For West Ham?

The most eagerly awaited day of the football calendar has finally arrived. After 63 days of gossip, speculation and downright made up madness the transfer window finally closes (sorry, slams shut) at 11 pm tonight.  Spending has already topped the £1bn mark but with many believing the window is not complete without a last minute deal or two that figure is destined to hit new inflated heights.

A number of long running transfer sagas have dominated the window since it opened back in June and so today we may well finally find out what will happen to the likes of Coutinho, Costa, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and Van Dijk .  One thing that we know for certain is that none of the above will be heading down the Jubilee Line to the London Stadium.

Whether there will be any more comings and goings at West Ham is a confused picture and subject to contradictory information.  Some say that our business is done and we can all go to bed early while others maintain that players from all corners of the  globe are making a beeline to the London as we speak; in order to thrash out terms, undergo medicals and ink deals with the Hammers.

The apparent pursuit of William Carvalho has kept the West Ham faithful entertained for a few weeks now and, despite being exactly the type of player needed to make us harder to beat, it has the whiff of a token affair about it.  A traditional part of every West Ham window has been to target a big name dream signing but to eventually come up short when it gets down to agreeing a fee; tweeting with an air of faux frustration that we had tried our best but failed even after checking down the back of every sofa in Sullivan Mansions for loose change.

With seven of last season’s squad having departed and only four new recruits then the squad looks light on quantity as well as the obvious gaps on quality.  Throw in a median figure of six or seven out injured at any one time and a reluctance to blood those young players who have yet to be sent out on loan and you might get the impression that there is a self-destruct element to our season’s preparation.  At the risk of labouring a point I can’t go along with satisfied self back slapping that has been going on regarding our transfer business.  Apart from Javier Hernandez (although even there I remain curious as to how we can support him from our midfield assets) I think we could have done better than the other recruits where proven experience has blinded us to current and future potential.

Further confusion has now arisen from the Diafra Sakho situation with the striker seemingly trying to arrange his own transfer back to France.  I have to admit to always having liked Sakho as he brings attributes of strength, mobility and defending from the front to forward areas that were otherwise missing.  Allegedly he has some attitude issues but he is far from the first to have fallen out with the management.  If he does end up staying I wonder what possible use he is going to be.  On the other hand relying on Hernandez alone (to score and stay fit) plus a fragile Andy Carroll is as thin as it possibly gets up front.  The continuing noise about cliques and favourites at the club is indeed worrying.

On the subject of noise, the Manuel Lanzini to Liverpool (as a replacement for Coutinho) refuses to go away.  It would be a disaster to lose the team’s only creative player on the last day of the window but I think we need to accept that, even if  he stays for now, it is only a matter of time before he is off to seek the brighter lights of European football that he is unlikely to find at West Ham anytime soon.

There have been a few new West Ham targets to emerge in the media over the last few days.  These include diminutive striker Abdul Majeed Waris from just down the road at Lorient (oh, not the Barry Hearn one!) and a loan deal for Barcelona central midfielder Andre Gomes.  My sense is that if there is any business done today then it is more likely to be loans than permanent deals.  Maybe a loan for Jack Wilshere could be on the cards.

I am always open to a touch of shock and awe in the transfer window and so will not be able to resist sitting by the computer, impatiently refreshing the deadline day news-feeds to see which players have been spotted changing trains at Canning Town or going into a Pie and Mash in the Roman Road with the Sullivan family.  If the Board could just see their way clear to bringing in William Carvalho and Moussa Dembele (every club needs a Dembele) then I am prepared to upgrade my transfer window assessment from ‘Slightly Disappointed’ to ‘Quietly Encouraged’.

Sullivan: Give Me Just A Little More Time!

Do the Chairman’s comments about short termism and balancing the books suggest that the next level is as far away as ever?

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” was a 1970 top ten hit for Michigan based US soul band Chairman of the Board (the song was later recorded by Aussie songstress, Kylie Minogue).  This week our own Chairman of the Board, David Sullivan took to the airwaves to celebrate what has largely been acknowledged as a triumphant week of West Ham transfer dealings.  During his interview Sullivan accepted that by focusing on proven and experienced ability (i.e. older players) the club had adopted a short term view for its player recruitment.  In effect, we need to give him (and the rest of the Board) a little more time before that promised assault on the next level becomes a reality.

The problem is that breaking out of a short term strategy carries the same degree of difficult with each successive season.  It is a dilemma.  Buy experience players to ensure survival and you have no resale value to re-invest plus an ageing squad.  Buy youngsters from lesser leagues and it is a gamble where anyone who excels is looking for better things after two years in any case; albeit with a tidy profit.

Overall it was a reasonable interview by Sullivan although there was some licence with the way it was subsequently reported turning a reasonable commitment to be competitive in all of the competitions that West Ham entered into a claim that the club were looking to win the Premier League.  I think many of us would be more than happy with a top half finish and some exciting cup runs.

The other comment catching the attention of the headline writers were those suggesting Javier Hernandez might be the best player West Ham have ever signed (although I wasn’t sure whether ever in this context only related to the Gold and Sullivan era or to all-time).   Although I am more than happy to see Hernandez in a West Ham shirt I think I will wait a while before hailing him as the new messiah.  Until we see how Slaven Bilic integrates a player who is used to playing as part of a front two into his own system it will be impossible to assess his eventual effectiveness.

There were also some hints that there could yet be more London Stadium arrivals during the transfer window although this was offset against a ‘One In One Out’ policy and the need to ‘balance the books’ with that old chestnut the £100m debt once again rearing its head.

I guess ‘One In One Out’ makes some sense in that there is only a finite squad size but I hope that we would not pass up on a great deal simply because we hadn’t been able to shift some left over deadwood.  There is continued speculation that Feghouli will be off to Turkey quite soon plus other assorted rumours concerning bids for Ayew, Snodgrass, Fletcher and Adrian.   How an Adrian departure might work leaving the club with just one on-loan keeper is a mystery but I wouldn’t lose any sleep over any of the others taking their boots elsewhere.  I would really liked for Ashley Fletcher to have worked out but, to me, he doesn’t have the balance or gait of a natural athlete.  So if that results in five out then we should reasonably expect another five in; and please let one of them be Moussa Dembele!

Bringing up the subject of the debt was rather disingenuous given that much of this (although not all) are loans owed to the Board themselves.  As I understand it, the club is clear of bank debt although it does have an external credit facility borrowed against future TV revenues.  There is no incentive for the Board to repay their own loans and so the figure is unlikely to change over time; so please stop mentioning it!  Although the concept of a transfer budget or war chest doesn’t really exist in isolation from other costs such as player wages (apart from in the media) our net spend on player trading remains modest in what is otherwise a red hot market.  Revenues must surely be up considerably with the new TV deal and stadium and so ambition should be reflected by directing much of this to recruitment.

Another Chairman in the news this week was everyone’s favourite Bond villain, Daniel Levy, expressing his views that the escalation of transfer fees and wages in the Premier League are not sustainable.  It is difficult to argue with him on that one as the agenda is largely set by clubs who are immune from normal business practices.  In terms of revenues Spurs have massively over-achieved in the last two seasons; they are way behind the big five clubs and find themselves in a difficult position trying to compete.  They have also performed well in recent years in player trading but are unable to match the salaries offered by the elite teams.  It is only a matter of time before their major assets (players and manager) jump ship for larger rewards.  The construction of their new stadium will also take its toll and it was amusing that Levy could not stop himself from having a sly dig by mentioning that it was being built without state aid.

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” was written by prolific Motown songwriters Holland, Dozier and Holland but someone who may not need much more time is Nathan Holland, if reports coming out of the West Ham training camp are to be believed.  I had previously mentioned him as looking lively during the Austria warm up games and as Slav loves a winger I am hoping we get to see more of him during the season.  Please no loan deal with a club likely to be fighting a League 1 relegation battle.

A Stronger West Ham. But Are There More To Come?

Are things suddenly taking shape at West Ham and could there be more new arrivals on the horizon?

What a difference a week makes as all of a sudden the mood has become far more upbeat in the West Ham camp.  The confirmed signing of Marko Arnautovic, the anticipated arrival of Javier Hernandez , rumours of more exciting recruits and a pre-season victory against Fulham has lifted spirits to the point where talk of Europe is once again not purely limited to Brexit.  The increased optimism tempered only by a worrying injury to Cheikhou Kouyate that threatens to keep him sidelined for the first month of the season.

Assuming that the Hernandez deal goes through smoothly, and he is not kidnapped at Heathrow by Daniel Levy, then many of us might have suspected that the bulk of the summer business was now completed.  After all the club had been hinting at maybe two, three or, at a stretch four new signings as the game changers required to contest the coming campaign.  Despite this speculation continues to throw up new West Ham bound names with several players being regularly linked with a move to the London Stadium.  Alleged targets on the Hammer’s radar include Keita Baldé Diao (Lazio), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Jota (Brentford) and Badou N’Diaye (Osmanlispor).  It is impossible to know whether any of the latest links have any substance but with the new policy of ‘keeping cards closer to their chests’ there could be a chance the Board may yet surprise us with a serving of ambition.

For me, strengthening central midfield and the centre of defence by the injection of more pace remain priorities to produce a more competitive unit.  Further unless our new Head of Medical, Gary Lewin, has developed the most miraculous of magic sponges for Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho then a second striker option is also needed.  A twin Mexican strike-force of Hernandez and Jimenez, though, would surely put an end to any thoughts of future pre-season tours to the USA.

The other persistent rumour is that of Jack Wilshere who seems to be nearing the end of his time at Arsenal.  Potentially a fit Wilshere would be a great addition but there are, of course, serious concerns over his injury record and troublesome ankles.  Possibly some form of pay as you play deal would make sense.

Going into the new season with better balance in the squad then raises the question as to how these new riches will be deployed on the pitch.  My inclination is that with Pablo Zabaleta at right back the default will be for a back four rather than back three with wing backs.  Maybe that assumption will be proved wrong but if not then it would require the wide midfield players (two from Michail Antonio, Andre Ayew and Arnautovic) to accept greater defensive responsibility.  A reluctance to track back is one of the criticisms, along with consistency, levelled at Arnautovic during his time at Stoke.  Similarly, it is not an obvious feature of Ayew’s game and the problematic trade-off between attacking flair and defensive cover is a key challenge for the coaching staff.

The major pre-occupation of the summer has been, understandably, the search for the elusive striker but last season was also notable for leaking goals.  The recruitment of Joe Hart and Zabaleta are positive upgrades but it was the way that we defended as a team that is the wider problem, not just the back-line personnel.  Principally greater pace and discipline are required in the centre of midfield; where Mark Noble lacks the pace and Kouyate lacks the discipline to effectively support Pedro Obiang.  West Ham have been particularly vulnerable against the better footballing sides attacking through the middle as witnessed in assorted capitulations last term.  Central defence during Winston Reid’s periodic absences also remains a cause for concern.

With Antonio and Arnautovic likely to be providing the width, the play-making responsibilities in the central areas would seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of Manuel Lanzini with the only backup coming from Edmilson Fernandes.  Possibly this is a position where Jota from Brentford could provide more competition.

The transfer widow has also seen a steady flow of departures with Darren Randolph the latest to leave while Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass should also be aware of the writing on the wall marked ‘Exit’ by now.  All of this has generated a tidy inflow of funds which can hopefully be quickly re-invested to further strengthen the squad.

In the wider Premier League world there is certain to be a lot more money changing hands over the coming weeks.  To see Manchester City paying over £120 million for three full backs shows just how insane the transfer market has become and how fanciful the dream to become an established top four club is.  At least we can now feel that we have a shout in the top of the mid-table mini league – and who knows there could even be a chance of a welcome extended cup run..

West Ham Have a Hart: Now If We Only Had a Striker!

Putting together deals, closing in, ready to swoop. Is West Ham’s game changer pursuit nearing completion?

Like Dorothy’s companions on the yellow brick road in search of a heart, brain or courage to make them complete there is a widely held belief that all of Slaven Bilic’s problems would be solved “If I only had a striker!”  Although no-one could argue that a reliable regular goal scoring striker hasn’t been a problem for a good few years, it is not the only weakness that causes concern if the target is to create a team capable of a comfortable top eight finish.  Insufficient pace in the centre of midfield and central defence and a general inability to retain possession must also be addressed.

The loan signing of Joe Hart to join former teammate Pablo Zabaleta at the London Stadium has now been confirmed and will surely add some additional security to the back line, at least on a temporary basis.  I have stated before that I am not a fan of loan deals to resolve major shortcomings.  Somehow it seems inappropriate for a club that is among the top twenty richest in the world.  With the Hart deal apparently not having a buy option then I fear we will be left with an even bigger problem in twelve months’ time; particularly if Adrian stomps off with his gloves between his legs.

It would be unreasonable to suggest that Hart and Zabaleta do not improve the squad and both are likely to start the season as first choice.  But transfers should be more than just finding players who are better than what you have; it should focus on the identification and pursuit of the best footballers that you can attract.  A free transfer and a loan who are both over 30 does not yet get the juices flowing for me, although I appreciate that 30 is relatively young for keeper.  Are these two counted as game-changers I wonder?

If reports by a ‘reliable journalist’ in the Evening Standard are to believed then Marko Arnautovic will also become a Hammer within the next day or two.  Then again they also presented him as the answer to West Ham’s striker search.  Now, I believe that if you had surveyed one hundred people to “Name a Proven Premier League Striker” then you would receive a resounding ‘Uh-Uh’ from the Family Fortunes computer if your answer was Arnautovic.  It is encouraging that Stoke supporters seem sorry to see him leave but there is a suspicion that he needs to be thoroughly motivated in order to deliver his best.  I wonder whether our backroom boys have the expertise to ensure this happens.  Arnautovic would arrive as the club’s new record signing and will be happy to know that the bar is set very low in having to live up to that billing.

The name of Javier Hernandez continues to pervade transfer rumour discussion and he is alleged to be edging closer to a move to the east end, where edging is synonymous with the usual imperceptible movement of a West Ham transfer chase.  On the face of it Hernandez is a clinical finisher who has averaged close to a creditable goal every other game during his time in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.   At first glance his Premier League record of a goal every third appearance is more of Carlton Cole proportions but, when looking at goals scored per minute on the pitch, Hernandez comes out fifth placed in the all-time Premier League standings; a result of being used more as an impact substitution than as a starter by Manchester United.

If we end up with Hart, Zabaleta, Arnautovic and Hernandez then it would represent a reasonable but safety first approach to the transfer window; focused more on survival than progression.  It would deliver an outcome where our sights can be set at the top of mid-table rather than on the cusp of the relegation tussle.  For the ‘glass half fullers’ we would have acquired a Premier League winner, England’s number one, a powerful play-maker and a lethal striker.  The ‘glass half emptiers’ might dismiss them as an ageing full back, error prone keeper, moody winger and a striker who is best from off the bench.

As ever it is all about opinions.

The new link on the block over the last twenty four hours of Lazio’s Keita Balde Diao has the hallmarks of fantasy football league about it.  It is nice to dream but this one just seems far too fanciful.


The pre-season friendlies got underway with a less than impressive scoreless draw against an Austrian third tier club.  It is pointless to read too much into these early run-outs even if you might expect a Premier League outfit to have enough in their locker to stroll past such opposition.  If/ when we don’t beat Fulham later in the week expect to hear how they are further ahead in their preparations.  From the very brief highlights of the Sturm Graz II game that I saw I thought Nathan Holland looked lively; looks, moves and runs like a footballer which many of the young players don’t.

England’s Number One on his way to West Ham? Other signings this week?

Will the anticipated arrival of Joe Hart herald a busy week of transfer activity at West Ham?

With the potentially imminent signing of England number 1 goalkeeper, Joe Hart, and the early arrival in the window of Pablo Zabaleta, West Ham will have made two captures that could improve the quality of the first choice team, without spending a penny in transfer fees so far.

It is all a matter of opinion of course, and I am fully aware that some of our fans on social media would not agree with me, but I am more than happy with these two new arrivals, that is of course if we finally complete on Hart. We do seem to take a lot longer than other clubs to get deals over the line. Zabaleta will undoubtedly be the first choice at right back, and whilst recognising that he is not one for the longer term, he will add stability and experience to a defence that conceded far too many goals last season.

Some writers seem to believe that Hart will be a liability and is no better than the two keepers already on our books. I would disagree. He does make mistakes, but in his position, almost everybody does at times. You don’t earn over 70 caps for England without being a very good player, and you have to remember he is still the first choice England keeper, and has been so for seven years now. You only have to look at the custodians of the top teams in the Premier League to realise that none are infallible. De Gea, Courtois, Mignolet, Bravo, Cech, and Lloris were all at fault at times for goals conceded by their clubs last season, and personally I would personally put Hart in a the same bracket as some of those. At Manchester City, Guardiola didn’t rate him and cited his distribution as not being of the quality he wanted. So he went for Bravo. I know who I would want in goal for my team.

City have now gone out and paid £35 million or so for another keeper, Moraes from Benfica. He is a young Brazilian yet to win his first cap. How does that fit with the work permit regulations that exist for footballers transferring into this country? We were never going to be spending that sort of money, anyway.

And what will we be actually paying? That is a good question, and one that has a different answer according to the source of what we read. As a loan deal, I have seen reported from some sources that City are apparently paying half of his £100,000 per week wages, and we will have the option to buy him at the end of the loan for around £10 million. I have seen other variations that quote City paying as little as 10% of his wages, and the option to buy fee being up to £15 million. In addition there is a loan fee of between £2 million and £5 million, again depending on the writer. Whatever it turns out to be (if it happens) I believe it will be an excellent move for a very good goalkeeper, who in my opinion is certainly a better number one, and a more commanding one, than the two currently in situ.

I’m not entirely convinced of the logic in obtaining a player in this way (as opposed to an outright buy), and some would argue that it only defers our outgoings for a year (and reduces next year’s transfer budget), but our owners are obviously in favour of this method. I’m also not sure of the fairness of the loan system as a whole which surely was devised in respect of young players to let them gain experience, rather than fully fledged international footballers. It will mean that for the two games against Manchester City we will need an alternative keeper, although recent experience suggests that it would make little difference against these opponents.

The best keeper I have ever seen at West Ham is Phil Parkes. He was more or less the same age as Hart is now when we signed him, and he gave us more than ten years of top class goalkeeping. The fee we paid for him was a world record for a goalkeeper at the time, and showed our intent to want the best. Parkes only earned one international cap, although part of the reason for that was that there were two excellent keepers ahead of him in the pecking order, Shilton and Clemence, who between them won almost 200 caps.

I’m always amazed that goalkeepers don’t command the same level in transfer fees as some outfield players. In my opinion, after top class goalscorers, the keeper is one of the most important positions in a team, yet mostly they seem to be undervalued in the market. How many of the current England squad could be picked up on loan for a year, with their current club paying some of their wages, with an option to buy for a relatively modest fee (in today’s inflated market) at the end of the loan period? And look at some of the fees we have paid for our most recent (panic) acquisitions such as Snodgrass, Ayew, and Fonte. Compared to those, we would be spending our money on someone who will actually improve the team, rather than just an addition to the squad.

Of course, we still need to do more in the way of bringing top quality players to the club who can be “game-changers”, and the two that seem to be at the top of the list at the moment according to the media are Arnautovic from Stoke, and Hernandez, currently plying his trade in Germany. It would appear that Arnautovic could be signed for a fee in the region of up to £24 million, which to some seems a lot, but in the current market is probably not. Some commentators have described him as trouble, and a bit of a maverick, but he undoubtedly has talent, as he has shown at times (perhaps inconsistently) for Stoke. I remember a certain Mr. Di Canio being described in similar terms when we bought him and look how he turned out.

According to reports, Hernandez can be bought for around £13 million with his release clause, but the stumbling block is apparently his wage demands, said to be approaching £150,000 per week. Many fans on social media believe that we should just pay it, bearing in mind his goalscoring record at the top level, but they forget the potential unrest this can cause amongst other leading players at the club who would believe that they should be on a par with those figures. But if we really want him, and I believe he could be the type of striker we need, then I am sure that there can be creative ways around giving him the sort of money he wants, for example, a hefty signing-on fee with payments spread over the term of his contract, or perhaps bonus opportunities based on performance. If these two apparent targets were to sign we’d have greater pace and more attacking options. And I’m sure that some current players that we wouldn’t particularly miss would go in the opposite direction.

I’d really love to see us buy a top class creative midfield goalscorer such as Sigurdsson or Barkley, but believe that they are well out of our reach at the moment. We have picked up some very good players at modest prices in recent times, with Cresswell, Kouyate, Obiang, Fernandes, Masuaku (perhaps), Antonio, Lanzini (and even Payet!) as prime examples, and it would be good if our scouting network could unearth some other gems of this calibre. You don’t have to have marquee signings at ridiculous prices to improve the team or the squad. And you never know, one or two of our youngsters could prove to be stars of the future if they are given a chance.

The new season is now less than a month away. Let us hope for some exciting, positive news on the transfer front in the coming week.

Slaven Bilic and the Management of Expectations

As the season draws nearer are our transfer expectation starting to be managed down?

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.