Colossus, Enforcer and Powerhouse Wanted. Apply: London Stadium

With less than six weeks to go to the start of the new Premier League season there is still some way to go in Manuel Pellegrini’s transformation of West Ham.

With just 40 days and 40 nights until the start of the new Premier League season it is time to dust off the Under The Hammers almanac and begin to contemplate what the coming months might have in store for us.

The known knowns are that West Ham have a new manager, director of football, a state of the art backroom team and, at time of writing, three new players.  The known unknowns are which of the hundreds of players that have so far been linked with a move to the club are more than just a media or agent’s fantasy; while the unknown unknowns are just how deep will the Board really dig into their pockets in order to freshen up and maintain the quality of the squad.  The reality being that squad investment and renewal is a never-ending journey not merely a once in a lifetime spree.

Now that Manuel Pellegrini has named his backroom team there is a very Hispanic feel around El estadio de Londres that promises a new brand of tippy-tapas football for us to feast on and the prospect of David Sullivan swapping his Soviet hat for a sombrero.  As the players prepare to embark on the start of pre-season training it will be an education to see how they adapt to the new regime.  No doubt there will be a few bumps ahead in the road if transitioning our current crop to a more possession based style of football is to be expected.

The role of Mario Husillos as Director of Football is an intriguing one and it will be enlightening to see how it evolves.  Is he just in charge of recruitment or does he have a wider remit to introduce a more consistent footballing culture at all levels of  the club and to instil a degree of planning into previously chaotic and haphazard recruitment practices?  Revitalising the academy and making it productive once again would be a major breakthrough and essential for future development.

On the playing front there will be at least three new faces at the club when the season gets underway in the form of Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop and Lucasz Fabianski.  All three appear to be decent signings even if, individually, they are unlikely to be game changers.  Fredericks will provide useful competition for Pablo Zabaleta’s ageing legs and offer a greater threat going forward; Diop comes highly rated and could either be so good that he will be off to greener pastures within two years or he will be unable to adapt to the English game and return to somewhere warmer; Fabianski may or may not be an upgrade on Adrain.

General consensus is that Pellegrini is looking to sign another four of five players before the transfer window closes.  Whether these include any of the many players that have been the subject of consistent speculation in the media remains to be seen.  If those involved really are keen to keep their cards close to their chests for a change it would be unlikely that so much information would find its way into the hands of reliable journalists and insiders.

This absence of real news, however, will never dampen the appetite of the online transfer speculation industry.  This remains in overdrive during this most productive time of year when punters, desperate for information, will happily click away all day long to drive website traffic and advertising revenue for even the most fanciful stories.  Each spurious rumour is able to generate an initial story which can then be followed up by others that summarise the polar extremes of fan twitter reaction, explain how the team might line-up next season with said player in the side, provide in-the-know insights into the ongoing haggling over price and finally the epilogue revealing that the player has now signed for someone else.

When posting a transfer rumour writers will use smoke and mirrors to craft an enticing headline that remains as obscure as possible as to who the target really is while, at the same time, creating the illusion  that this is not the same story you have read a dozen times over already.  The trick is to never use a name but feature the player’s age, height, expected transfer value, other physical attribute or an reference to a playing style – the most popular this window being: colossus, enforcer and powerhouse.  Thus ‘Hammers Linked To 34 Inch Inside Leg World Cup Enforcer – Pellegrini Must Move Quickly With £25m Bid’ would produce a typically seductive link.

Accepting that 90% of what we read is probably nonsense I do have an outstanding concern that little of what is written seeks to address the obvious weakness in the centre of midfield.  No amount of colossi (or is it colossuses) at the back will be much use if defensively the midfield offers little resistance to opposition attacks. Introduce as many attack minded flair players as you like but if we continue to rely on Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate as the springboard for rapidly transitioning defence into attack then we are doomed to more disappointment.  Perhaps Declan Rice might be considered as a defensive midfield alternative but, great prospect that he is, I’m not convinced he has all the attributes needed for that role – it would be an Eric Dier-ish alternative, competent in dropping back to help the defence but not offering enough offensively.  The modern game at its most effective has moved beyond the water-carrier role.

As well as new arrivals there are sure to be further departures.  I would be very unhappy at losing Marko Arnautovic (and Rice as an outstanding prospect) but other that I wouldn’t be too disappointed whoever else left if better options were available.  The big money modern game leaves no room for sentimentality.  According to reports those possibly heading for the departure lounge include Michail Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna.  Both have their plus points but both are also not without flaws.  With Manuel Lanzini due to miss most or all of the season it leaves an big gap in attacking midfield and I can’t see that Joao Mario is the person to fill it – he only really shone in those few games where West Ham were dominant and I would see little value in making the move permanent.

It would be a surprise to me if Winston Reid and Noble saw much game time in the coming season.  Both have been fine servants to the club but their future role is now as squad players as they see out the remainder of their lucrative contracts.

Of course, all this recreational speculation takes place in the shadow of a World Cup that still has some way to run in Russia.  With Spain now joining Germany and Argentina back in their respective homes, the list of potential winners is now shortening to one where you might be tempted to include England.  While that might still be a stretch it is not entirely impossible – as long as Harry Kane doesn’t score a hat-trick in the final.

Seventy Five Days To Lift The Hammers

With the promise of a bulging war-chest, a stream of new players and a new enterprising style of football what can Manuel Pellegrini realistically achieve in the next seventy five days?

It has been an interesting week down in the East End as for once the club moved with uncharacteristic efficiency to install Manuel Pellegrini as West Ham’s seventeenth manager, and the sixth in the last ten years.

The ink was barely dry on his £5m/ £7m/ £10m per year contract (delete as applicable) before reliable journalists and in-the-knows close to the club were headlining a rag-tag assortment of new recruits for the Chilean to bring to the London Stadium.  Typically, these included any player that Pellegrini had previously worked with during his managerial career, as well the usual pick of players that were not good enough to prevent their own team being relegated last season.  Of all those names mentioned so far that fit the hill (Toure, Hart, Rondon, Cazorla, Shaqiri) none of them fill me with great excitement.

Pellegrini was initially reported as saying that he wanted to bring four or five new players into the squad (leaving us still at lease three short of a comfortable top ten side) but subsequently extending his shopping list to seven new faces; presumably after watching re-runs of some of last year’s matches.

The change of manager has certainly lifted the mood around the club and it will be fascinating to see how long the positivity lasts once the nature of summer recruitment starts to reveal itself.  At least we can draw a veil over the 2017/18 season and pretend it didn’t happen.

There has been a good deal of speculation about the size of Pellegrini’s transfer war chest with a figure of £75m being bandied around, while others are reporting that this could be even higher depending on the proceeds of player sales.  One assumes that the new manager has some assurances regarding what he is able to do but it is always a little bit fuzzy on what war chests are meant to include.  Is it only for transfer fees paid or does it also include agent fees, signing on fees, loan fees and player wages?  It is rare for a club to pay the whole of a transfer fee in one lump sum and wages add a significant extra over the course of a contract.  Take Andy Carroll for example who was signed for £15m in May 2013 but has probably been paid somewhere in the region of a further £20m in wages during his time at the club.

David Gold said on Talksport something to the effect that “we will probably spend more than we have ever done during the transfer window.”  Now that is a bar that is not set very high and we could have done without the ‘probably’ in there as well. If the club does not better its transfer spend record then there could well be mutiny.

There has been some speculation as to whether the protest at the Burnley game in March  spurred the Board into action.  Perhaps it had some effect but it was more likely the dwindling season ticket waiting list that set their alarm bells ringing for the two Daves.  I have been told that those who were number 22,000 on the list a year ago are now being asked exactly where they would like to sit!

My recollection of transfer windows during the summer of major tournament is that they become a little fragmented as clubs, players and agents hope that a Gary Breen like performance can inflate transfer fees, wages and commissions.  There is not too much West Ham interest in this year’s finals although Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate, Javier Hernandez, Edmilson Fernandes and Joao Mario (who I guess is still shown as a Hammer until his loan expires at the end of June) may all play a part.  I wonder how many of them will still be with us by August?

A number of backroom staff have cleared out their lockers at Rush Green but I have yet to see confirmation of any new appointments or what that means for the structure of the club going forward; particularly for player recruitment.  Although David Sullivan has made noises about keeping his nose out of transfer business it is difficult to believe that he will not be there in the background jealously guarding the only copy of the West Ham United cheque book and seeking to impress players with a tour of his tasteful Essex mansion.  I would predict that, in the circumstances, it will take several more weeks for Pellegrini to get settled in London, organise his support team and find a hairdresser to tend that magnificent head of hair before he focuses on bringing in new players.

If, as expected, we are to get a style of football that requires our players to keep the ball more then most of the past five years needs to be unlearned.  If that also involves a more athletic and intense approach then it is younger, fit players rather than Manchester City cast-offs that are needed – unless they are prepared to let Aguero, De Bruyne or Fernandinho go.

What would be very disappointing is if we lost either Marko Arnautovic or Lanzini during the summer and I think both players are likley to attract interest.  Whether either is of the quality required to be a regular at a top six side is a matter of opinion but they would certainly be useful squad additions for a number of top clubs.  I am somewhat ambivalent regarding Hernandez as it is difficult to see where, despite his undoubted goal poaching ability, he fits into a side that is set up to graft for each other.  No matter who you are in the Premier League, skill and technique has to be backed up by organisation and hard work.  All of the league’s current top scorers offer more than simply hanging around the six yard box.

There are just seventy-five days until the new season’s curtain raisers on August 11.  It is a relatively short time in which to overhaul the squad, sort out the coaching staff and instil a new style of play that all of the players can master and understand.  It is certainly going to be an interesting summer.

First Class Players Wanted. All Positions.

West Ham once again look set to disappoint as the annual January transfer window frenzy draws to a close. Is the squad strong enough to survive?

Thames_Association_advertWhen the short lived Thames AFC (who played their games at West Ham Stadium in Custom House) were elected to the Football League in 1930 their Directors placed an advertisement in the newspaper in the hope of attracting players of sufficient quality to preserve their new found status.  In the event the ploy was an unsuccessful one and Thames lasted only two seasons in the professional game before being wound up.

With just a few days remaining in this year’s January transfer window and the context of an ever increasing injury list, a wafer thin squad in terms of quality and a long term suspension, then maybe it is time for the current Board to consider a similar approach.  Perhaps David Gold could send out an appropriate tweet to set the ball rolling.

If fake news in the political arena is a recent and growing phenomenon, fake transfer news has been with us ever since the introduction of the window system.  Media outlets have recognised that the recycling of stories, subsequent denials and supporter outrage create a steady flood of click bait traffic to their sites and enhance advertising revenues.  Notwithstanding that the majority of transfer stories are pure fabrication, aspiration or hallucination, the window at West Ham tends to follow a fairly predictable pattern of failing to plan and deliver until last minute panic sets in.  The only good piece of incoming January business that immediately springs to mind is Dean Ashton.

With a window that started with the premise that it was more players the club needed, rather than fewer, West Ham have already seen Diafra Sakho depart and (if reports are to be believed) Andre Ayew could soon be following him out of the door.  It was clear from Moyes preference to play Michail Antonio or Marko Arnautovic in the striker role that he didn’t really fancy any of the supposed forwards on the books.  None of them are really suitable or equipped to play in a style that the majority of also-ran Premier League (including the Hammers) teams now set up for with pressing and rapid counter attack the order of the day.  The lone striker needs to fast, strong, athletic and mobile.  Arguably Sakho was the closest but he unfortunately lacked that final attribute of sanity.

With less than forty-eight hours remaining for reinforcements and cover to be recruited the names resonating with greatest frequency are Russian captain Fedor Smolov or Graziano Pellè up front and Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Cairney or Leander Dendoncker in midfield.

I will admit to knowing nothing about Smolov other than his scoring stats look great at first sight.   Pellè, on the other hand, would be a panic acquisition pure and simply; this year’s Jose Fonte.  Unless I am remembering wrongly he is just another lumbering immobile lump who couldn’t even terrorise vertically challenged Chinese defences.

I was always a big fan of Schneiderlin at Southampton but he is another Saints player who has not travelled well and who now appears to have gone well off the boil.  Maybe he is up for another challenge.  Cairney and Dendoncker look to be decent signings but one feels that the price may be too high for a club who have short arms and deep pockets when it comes to scraping together transfer funds – a consequence in part to the stupid amounts the club wastes on wages.

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..