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.

Is There Any Plan To West Ham’s Transfer Window?

Still no light at the end of the London Stadium tunnel as West Ham continue to stumble through the transfer window.

The beauty of the transfer window is that it provides an opportunity to get depressed during the summer as well as during the season.  After the shocking effort of the previous two windows I was convinced that the club would pull out all of the stops to secure the three or four game changing players that have been so enthusiastically spoken about.  This is not to be the case, so it seems, as once again the window follows the familiar pattern of temptation without satisfaction.

It is difficult to know precisely who is to blame (board or manager) for the current shambles and our tendency is to direct contempt according to one’s own prejudices.  Are the board penny pinching, is the manager poor at picking players or is West Ham not an attractive proposition?

The recent Iheanacho situation has taken West Ham’s transfer dealings to a new level of absurdity and, for me, illustrates a collective, disconnected incompetence that is almost too ludicrous to grasp.  In what reality would you pursue a player for six weeks, reportedly agree a deal with the selling club, only for the manager to pull the plug at the eleventh hour.  While it is understandable that a manager might see a deal as eating too much into a finite transfer budget shouldn’t such parameters be agreed to beforehand?  The suggestion that Bilic also felt Iheanacho was not sufficiently proven is implausible for the exact same reasons but it also speaks volumes about his mindset with regard to young players.  That the self-proclaimed Academy should have to send young players to Germany to be properly developed is an amazing contradiction.

For all the talk of next levels and increased capacities it is obvious that West Ham is a club without a realistic plan as far as the playing side is concerned.  The impressive level of season ticket renewals together with a nice growing slice of Premier League pie means that revenues continue to grow and serve, for now, to maintain the club’s slot in the world’s top twenty richest clubs.  To focus solely on revenues, though, without an equal focus on playing staff, coaching, youth development and training facilities is a short sighted strategy in the extreme.  Several more seasons like the last one will surely see supporter numbers evaporate rapidly.  A club whose only boast is a big stadium (and a big screen) does not make it a success.  If nothing else is to change then West Ham will become another Sunderland, not a club with stated ambitions to break into the top six.  Words are very cheap and although it is unfair to suggest that the board have not invested they have not spent money wisely; always looking for a great deal rather than the best value.

The reasons ascribed to Henry Onyekuru for choosing Everton over West Ham were also revealing and it is easy to see why a player would such a decision.  Since Farhad Moshiri took a controlling interest at Everton they have become a far more progressive club that saw a disappointing 11th place finish in 2015/16 as a reason to upgrade their manager and a recruitment policy that has invested sensibly in the future.   In comparison the West Ham’s strategy is to do just enough to survive in the Premier League; no matter what the cocky words coming out of the boardroom might be.  Opportunity has come knocking at the London Stadium in the form of the deal of the century but rather than answer the call everyone appears to be hiding behind the sofa.

Turning to the latest speculation, several new names have appeared as each of the old ones are gradually struck off the list.  Prevalent opinion is that the option of old man Giroud is no longer on the table and that the inflated wage demands of Javier Hernandez are likely to preclude any deal from being completed.  Taking their place on the leader board are a pair of 26 year-olds in Columbian Luis Muriel and Frenchman Gregoire Defrel, although more recent reports has them both destined for greener pastures.  Outside of these the striker cupboard continues to look depressingly bare.

The not unsurprising obsession with strikers has in many ways deflected attention away from other areas of desperate need within the squad.  Where the greatest deficiencies lie depends on what the manager’s preferred style of play will be.  Unfortunately, after two years we are no closer to an answer to this conundrum.  If the plan is to mainly rely on three at the back then the ageing back line looks suspect.  If the preference is to be a back then wide midfield players with defensive attributes are required.  If there is an ideato play two strikers then central midfield reinforcements are badly needed.  Other (non-striker) names in the frame over the last week have included Marko Arnautovic (Stoke), Jota (Brentford) and Badou Ndiaye (Osmanlıspor).  I have to admit that the suggestion of recruiting a player from a team that no-one has ever heard of in the Turkish League makes me shudder.  I still believe that Fabian Delph would be a smart move.

The remaining slow burner is the Joe Hart from Manchester City where the stumbling block is reportedly that West Ham are after a season long loan while City want a permanent deal.   Not sure that Hart is a massive upgrade on Adrian but going for a loan would be the typical short-term West Ham manoeuvre that only confirms belief in the survival only strategy.

Less than five weeks to go to the new season and all we have is one used right back addition to bolster the squad.  The players out may soon be supplemented by the departures of Snodgrass and Feghouli and though I won’t be sorry to see either leave replacing them with new deadwood makes no sense.   Starters are required who can fit into the manager’s tactical master plan not an assortment of bargain squad players.  Recruiting these game changers is going to cost big money in today’s inflated market.

At least we now have one extra day to prepare for the new season with the game at Old Trafford having being put back to Sunday.  What sealed the deal for Lukaku in choosing Manchester United over Chelsea was the guarantee of scoring on his Premier League debut and, from where we are right now, I can only look at the match with trepidation.

On the better news front there are new contracts for Pedro Obiang and (hopefully) Manuel Lanzini which will, at least, ensure higher transfer fees when they leave next summer.

Why haven’t West Ham made any signings yet?

Why don’t there seem to be that many irons in the fire of the summer transfer window?

Apart from the signing of a defender (Pablo Zabaleta) West Ham have yet to make any further signings in this transfer window to date. What are the reasons for this?

None of the players that we are allegedly interested in signing want to come to us? Perhaps we have set our sights too high? The very top players only want to sign for a club that will be competing in the Champions League, or at the very least a team that will realistically be challenging for a place in the top four. They don’t see us as a club in that position. Players just below this level with ambition might want to play in the Europa League at least, or be challenging for a place in the top seven, and they don’t see us doing this either.

The top six clubs from last season will almost certainly finish as the top six next season (albeit not necessarily in the same order), and in addition, Everton have the ambition and seem to attract players who believe that they might be the only club who can perhaps break into this elite group. Have you seen the way Everton have gone about their transfer dealing this summer? At the time of writing they already seem to have snapped up at least half a dozen new players in time for them all to gel in pre-season training, with even more to come. They can work on tactics, formations, and playing together so that they can hit the ground running when the season begins. Other mid-table clubs like Leicester and Bournemouth have already wrapped up some new signings too. Even promoted clubs such as Newcastle and Huddersfield have been successful in the market. Compare that to our position.

We don’t have the finances to attract top players in respect of transfer fees or wages? Given our position in the finance league tables that suggest we are among the top twenty richest clubs in Europe, most fans find this hard to believe. Add to this the increased TV revenues, the sale of Payet, Nordtveit etc. and others that we allegedly want to remove from the wage bill, the financially efficient stadium situation with a very low rent, and other factors, you would have to believe that we do have the money if we choose to spend it. Perhaps, despite all the talk of marquee signings, top quality players that will improve the team etc., the owners don’t really have the ambition to attempt to take us to the next level? However many forget that the top clubs generate huge revenues that are a long way ahead of us (even though we are in the top 20), and can afford to pay massive wages that we just cannot compete with.

David Gold has been at the fore on social media and Talk Sport saying “we have got to find the money”. I listened to his interview with Quinn and Brazil and some of the things he said were: “Without strikers, you struggle in the Premier League. You struggle in any division because strikers are your key players. You have to spend your money wisely but it must be on strikers, particularly strikers that have had experience with Premier League football – the very best we can afford.”

“We have tried the route of going overseas to bring in players – that hasn’t worked. We had a very difficult season because players we brought in from Europe didn’t make the grade and we paid the price. We struggled. We were actually flirting for some time with relegation because we couldn’t score goals. That is why we have got to bring in players with Premier League experience and that is what we are working on now. David Sullivan is working day and night in an effort to solve this problem. We have got good midfielders and a good defence ….”

Whilst not disputing that we do need goalscorers, if you look at last season’s league table we were not flirting with relegation purely because of lack of goals. Only a handful of clubs conceded more goals than we did. If you believe that the defence, and to some extent midfielders are responsible for stopping the opposition from scoring, then perhaps our players in those positions are not as good as David Gold thinks they are.

He also gave the impression that the club have little faith in the Academy players coming through. He quoted the case of Reece Oxford playing a couple of times. It is now two years since Oxford made his debut, and he was universally lauded for his performance against Arsenal. So why hasn’t he progressed from that time? What has gone wrong with his development? Why are we loaning him to a German side who believe he is good enough for the Bundesliga but not the Premier League? I don’t believe that that you can just throw in youngsters in big numbers, but few seem to be given the opportunity.

Perhaps potential signings believe there are other problems with West Ham? Our injury record is poor. Why is that? Our training facilities do not match up to those of other clubs – certainly not clubs among the richest in Europe, and many clubs without our finances have far superior facilities in this respect. Perhaps they don’t like our style of play? Perhaps they believe that the manager doesn’t have a strategy? Perhaps they believe he picks his favourites and shoe-horns them into the team without considering the overall picture? Perhaps they are put off in their dealings with the club when considering a move to us?

The Sullivan family have been very quiet so far. Perhaps they have some tricks up their sleeve, and suddenly we will announce some top quality signings, without shouting about them first? Perhaps all the speculation regarding some of the players we are allegedly being linked with is really a red herring to throw others off the scent of our real targets? Perhaps it is all media speculation? How many of the players who we are apparently interested in will be here next season? Is Andre Gray of Burnley really on our radar? Hernandez? Giroud? Iheanacho? Batshuayi? Does our scatter-gun approach put people off? Who knows anything for sure?

But we can all rest easily! David Sullivan is working day and night! Don’t go to bed! I remember the days when we broke world records to sign players. We certainly weren’t a rich club in those days, but players were keen to come here. Now that doesn’t appear to be the case. This transfer window has the same feel as the last summer window. I hope I am wrong. Let’s hope we can tie up our business in the near future with some decent signings, and not resort to transfer deadline day desperation.

West Ham’s One Piece At A Time Striker Search

Is there any plan beyond just sign a a proven striker. Do they need to fit into a certain style of play?

Imagine that you have been traipsing around Westfield at Christmas for over three hours and the only present you have bought so far is a box of bath salts for your Auntie Ivy.  By now you regret not writing a list beforehand and have realised that a mental note to not screw up like last year by visiting different shops is not really a plan.

If there a wish list for West Ham’s transfer shopping activity does actually exist it would appear to go no further than stating ‘buy a proven Premier League striker’.  The rationale being that the club are well served in the midfield and defensive departments despite having the sixth worst goals against record last season.  All that is required, apparently, to mount a sustained assault on the top six is that missing person to tuck away the steady stream of chances that the team creates each weekend.

It would be comforting to believe that when Sullivan, Bilic and Henry get together in the Chairman’s hot tub to discuss the latest transfer targets, over a bottle of crème de menthe and a packet of Hamlet cigars, that there is a detailed specification as to exactly the type of player required to complete the tactical jigsaw master plan.  If the list of players linked in the media is anywhere near accurate then this seems rather unlikely.  That the extent of the plan is to find someone, anyone, who has scored goals at some point in their career and then find a way of shoehorning them into the starting eleven.  Perhaps beggars can’t be choosers but it would be encouraging to know that the search went beyond just finding another target man.  What is needed in the modern game are players that offer pace, mobility, athleticism and intelligence; someone who can score goals but is also able to hold the ball up, bring others into play and contribute to a more fluid playing style.

With the July 1st player contract milestone now passed and pre-season training underway several new names have been added to the list of potential targets over the past few days.  Striker speculation stalwarts such as Giroud, Sturridge, Iheanacho and Batshuayi have not yet gone elsewhere but are now allegedly joined on the West Ham radar by the likes of Javier Hernandez, Anthony Modeste, Cedric Bakambu, Andre Gray and Raul Jimenez.  Refreshingly, most of these are under thirty and a few are even in their mid-twenties.  Of the names mentioned, however, only Giroud, Sturridge and, maybe, Hernandez can be said to be the proven Premier League striker that the club has spoken so frequently about.

The other scenario, of course, is that there will be more than one striker arrival at the London Stadium.  Previous experience would suggest that the chances of completing not one but two striker deals would be slim but it could serve to reduce the predictability of our attacking play, particularly against teams more committed to defence.  On the other hand the prospect of playing two strikers, while nostalgically appealing, would ask many questions of a defensively flimsy and out-numbered midfield.  If only we knew what style of football our manager liked to play!

One player crossed off the list in the last week was Henry Onyekuru who chose Everton over a move to the London Stadium and only time will tell whether this was an opportunity missed or a dodged bullet.  Everton are also reportedly in for Giroud, a move that would appear to go against their largely forward looking transfer strategy of buying players with potential sell-on value rather than those searching for a final pay-day, and who would be equally happy with a move to the Chinese Super League.

A potential alternative to Onyekuru to emerge in the week was José Izquierdo, a Columbian also currently playing in the Belgian league.  As with many other targets he looks great on Youtube, where he demonstrates delightful skills as a speedy goal-scoring winger who actually takes a look up before crossing and who has a range of goal celebrations to rival Michail Antonio.  Certainly looks interesting but I imagine that work permit could be an issue with his limited international record.

The transfer news hasn’t all been about strikers, however.  In midfield there has been talk of interest in another Manchester City outcast, Fabian Delph, who I believe would be good value, plus a move for Vicente Iborra from Sevilla.  As we are reportedly battling it out with Watford and West Brom for Iborra I think that is one that is best ignored.

A rumour from last winter’s transfer window has also resurfaced in respect of  Saint Etienne defender Kevin Malcuit .  Malcuit translates to badly cooked in English and, having already signed ourselves a new right back, this has the whiff of a half-baked idea to it, with the player more likely to join Marcelo Bielsa at Lille.

The one done deal of the West Ham week was a new five year contract for 29 year old Angelo Ogbonna.  I am somewhat ambivalent about Ogbonna.  He currently gets my vote ahead of veterans Fonte and Collins but I still feel he is prone to switching off and allowing opponents too much room in dangerous positions.  I can’t see him performing at the top level beyond another two years, making a five year deal worrying, but maybe he gets the benefit of the doubt as a result of last season’s injury.  It is a shame, in my opinion, that West Ham did not pursue an interest in Nathan Ake who has since moved to Bournemouth.

West Ham Transfer Roundup: The Window To Watch

With little action to report we dwell on the gossip, rumour, blather and insinuation of the transfer window.

With less than seven weeks to go before the season opener, and with the imminent start of pre-season training, my confidence for the new campaign has descended to lower basement level along with the old paint pots, spare lawn mower parts and unopened gym equipment.  Any hopeful notions that West Ham would pull off a succession of inspired signings and get them on board for a full pre-season have rapidly evaporated.  Had the requirement been for cosmetic changes to a mostly functioning squad rather than a much needed overhaul of playing staff then the lack of early activity might not be so worrisome.  No news, in this case, is certainly not good news.

Mostly probably the scarcity of news is making me paranoid as, to date, the transfer window has been dominated by big talk of huge transfers rather than actual deals being struck.  Moreover, if some of the numbers being quoted are to be believed then you won’t be getting much for less than £20 million this year as the full effect of the new TV deal kicks in with a vengeance.  The most significant news of the past week has been the appointment of Mauricio Pellegrino at Southampton and the impending appointment of Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace.  Both are ambitious moves and throw in big spending Everton, a determined Leicester and newly promoted Newcastle and my sense is that, unless something unexpected happens, any thoughts of a top half finish next season are little more than a daydream.

So who are the rumoured signings that can return my glass to its half-full status?

The issue around buyback clauses continues to complicate any deal for in demand striker Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City.  A number of clubs are said to be interested including West Ham, Leicester and Palace.  Iheanacho has an impressive scoring record for City coming on as a substitute and tucking away chances created by de Bruyne and Silva against shell-shocked opponents.  Whether he would be as prolific left up front on his own at the London Stadium remains to be seen; but it seems fairly certain that he will end up with whichever Premier League club is willing to accept City’s terms.

It has been reported that Henry Onyekuru is now in possession of a shiny new UK work permit and is weighing up the various options presented to him by Arsenal, West Ham and Birmingham.  I always understood that work permit application came after a job offer but maybe footballers now have different rules.  Unless Onyekuru is prioritising the opportunity of regular starts over all else then he is most probably Emirates bound.

It is said the Gunners are also keen to bring in Alexandre Lacazette, and that such a move that will prompt the departure of Oliver Giroud with West Ham an oft mentioned potential destination, although Lyon are also rumoured to be showing an interest.  Giroud is a player with a proven Premier League goal-scoring record but, for me, I can’t get past the fact that he will be thirty –one years old at the end of September.  With an already ageing squad and an apparent reluctance to blood youngsters elsewhere in the side this is not a forward looking strategy.

It seems that Arsenal cast-offs are all the rage at the moment and expect to hear about the return of Carl Jenkinson anytime soon.  Until that happens we will have to make do with speculation about battling it out with Huddersfield for Jack Wilshere and a bold swoop for wayward wallflower Theo Walcott.  I have, in the past, been an admirer of the Hammers-supporting Wilshere but don’t believe that yet another injury prone midfielder is exactly what is needed right now, unless the club needs to fulfil an obscure diversity target as part of the London Stadium deal.  Winger-cum-striker Walcott is something of a luxury lightweight, the type of player who regularly does well playing against West Ham rather than for them.  In any case his reported salary is likely well out of our league without causing massive disruption to existing wage structures.  It is wages, more than transfer fees, that sets the big boys apart from the pack and is the very reason why Tottenham will eventually struggle to hold on to their most prized assets.

The Daniel Sturrdige rumours blow hot and cold which is highly appropriately for the player himself.  Lots of talent but hampered by a sulky attitude.  Not ideal when what is required is a team prepared to work their socks off for each other.

Another name to hit the West Ham transfer headlines this week is Yann Karamoh, a teenage striker currently strutting his stuff with Ligue 1 side Caen.  On the face of it, given the current regime’s nervousness with young players, this seems an improbable signing unless seen solely as ‘one for the future’.    With cash rich Champion’s League qualifiers RB Leipzig also said to be in the hunt any interest may be largely academic anyway.

One very creative report I read claimed that West Ham had missed out on a player who, from what I could make out, we were never interested in.  This was former Arsenal defender Johan Djourou who has just moved from Hamburg to Montpelier.  I am not sure whether we are in the market for new defenders (apart from Carl Jenkinson – you heard it here first!) although there have also been mutterings about Nathan Ake from Chelsea.  Ake has had impressive loan spells with both Watford and Bournemouth and now looks set to be yet another profitable sale from the Stamford Bridge trading academy.  If we are actually in the market for a versatile defender then Ake would be a great option.

I have still yet to understand how Reece Oxford is good enough to play for a mid-table Bundesliga side but not a mid-table Premier League side with an ageing back-line.  Add to this the further speculation that Reece Burke will now be sent out on loan for the third season running and the club’s commitment to young players is concerning.   I would much rather see the better academy players developed by gradual introduction into our own first team.  Anyone who thinks that the departure of Havard Nordtveit will open the door for Josh Cullen next season has a very trusting and optimistic nature.

It looks like we will say farewell to Enner Valencia very soon.  I had high hopes for him on his arrival after the 2014 World Cup but he wasn’t really cut out for the demands of English football.  Despite that he would have been far more value at West Ham during last season than the hapless Jonathan Calleri.

Who Will Strike When The Irons Are Hot?

The search for the elusive West Ham striker seems stuck in a Groundhog Day!

Every football club is consistently on the look-out for a top striker.  This is the second successive summer where the pursuit of a regular goal-scorer has been the transfer priority for West Ham.  A hat-full of names have come and gone from the radar without success.  The failure of last year’s recruitment is now history while this time around the same names have been bandied around for several weeks but with no tangible progress and few clues coming from the club.  It is early in the window but we seem to be stuck in a stale striker loop of Batshuayi, Iheanacho, Onyekuru, Giroud and (occasionally) Sturridge.  Now that  Wenger has carved “Arsene ❤ Oliver” on the Emirate’s dressing room door that list may now have become shorter still.  I cannot be alone in wanting to hear news of more enterprising links or, better still, of completed transfer swoops.  Yet even the normally resourceful  ‘In-The-Knows’ have become increasingly desperate in their struggle to bring crumbs of  transfer comfort to the anxious ears of troubled supporters.

There are two main possible scenarios as I see it:

The club have a clear idea of their preferred transfer targets and are working diligently and discreetly behind the scenes to put together the proverbial deals that will turn those targets into signed-up West Ham players.  Such deals may or may not be contingent on the domino effect of other transfers being finalised;

The club are adopting the more commonplace and indiscriminate scatter-gun approach in their search for anyone who might, or has in the past, scored a few goals.  Such targets are weighing up the potential wages, attraction of playing in London against any other better offers that could come their way.

Whichever of these two scenarios (or somewhere between the two) is closer to the truth, the twenty goals per season striker looks just as elusive as ever.  Of course, this is a feat not yet achieved by a West Ham player in a Premier League season where Paolo Di Canio’s sixteen in the 1999/2000 season remains the record to beat.  You have to go back over ten years to find a season where a Hammer scored more than ten league goals in a Premier League season; and back to 1986/87 for the last time a West Ham player scored twenty top flight league goals (Tony Cottee, 22).

It is true that goals are not as easy to come by as they once were, and there are now not as many games in which to score them, but despite this, the twenty goal barrier has been breached seventy times in Premier League history.  Admittedly the top six clubs feature most frequently in the hit list but there are also entrants from the likes of Newcastle, QPR, Sunderland, Blackburn, Norwich, Southampton and Nottingham Forest.

The absence of a top notch striker may not necessarily be such an issue where goals are freely distributed around the team.  Last season, for instance, West Ham netted a creditable sixty-five times in the league (equal fourth highest overall) without any individual hitting double figures.  However, almost all successful teams have at least one prolific goal-scorer.  Then there are forwards who have other attributes in their game and are adept at creating chances for others; players, such as Sanchez at Arsenal, and I’m sure if assists were counted back in 1999/2000 then Paolo would have had earned a fair few to sit alongside his already impressive goal tally.

The undoubted advantage of the clinical striker is evident in those circumstances where chances are few and far between; you will find them converting that breakaway to snatch victory in tight away matches or snaffling the half chance at home against unambitious bus-parking opposition.  Of course, it’s great and makes more headlines for a player to nab a hat-trick in a 5-0 romp but the true value of the best strikers is in nicking points from positions where they looked unlikely.  I have always thought this was where Frank McAvennie just edged out Tony Cottee during the famous ’86 season.  How we would dream to have such a thrilling partnership again nowadays but I guess one striker is a big enough ask and two is just being greedy.

One Man, One Goal, One Transfer Vision?

As the rumours continue to fly in from every direction what is the summer transfer strategy at West Ham?

Ten days into the transfer window and fifty four days to the big kick-off and it’s ‘quiet, too quiet, out there‘. Well, it’s not really so quiet if you continue to follow the hundreds of rumours circulating on the internet but it is in terms of actual done deals. According to the Premier League website only seventeen deals have been completed so far this window with Brighton leading the charge with three in-comings followed by Everton, Leicester and Manchester City with two each. West Ham are one of eight clubs to boast a single new recruit to date.  We are all expecting more activity but other than knowing that new players are needed, particularly in the striker department, is there a coherent plan being out together at the London Stadium?

The early business conducted by Everton and Leicester is interesting given that these are two clubs who, along with the Hammers, will have their sights set on leading the mid-table mini-league that exists below the top six. Both clubs will potentially have high profile departures (Lukaku, Barkley, Mahrez) during the summer and appear to be targeting younger, lesser-known talent as replacements and to bolster their squads. Everton, who have the added distraction of a Europa League campaign (provided they are not outwitted by eastern European opposition in the third qualifying round) have already invested heavily and can thank a ‘buy low sell high‘ transfer policy in the past which has seen big money roll in when selling players such as Fellaini and Stones, in addition to this year’s probable transfers-out income. Over the last five years the gross transfer spending of both Everton and Southampton has outstripped the Hammers significantly and yet West Ham’s net spending is greater than those two clubs combined. It is a real concern that history will once again repeat itself with the club treading water in survival mode through a safety first approach of ageing players of proven Premier League ability.

Nobody likes to think of their team as a selling club but the reality of modern football is that if you have an outstanding talent, either one brought through an academy system or picked up from a lower league, then they are unlikely to hang around for long once the top clubs come calling. Good seasons for Manuel Lanzini or Pedro Obiang next term could well turn out to be their last at West Ham. It is an unfortunate fact of footballing life but one that can be turned into a positive through an effective scouting setup that reinvests the proceeds wisely.

Naturally there is no guarantee that buying young players will result in saleable assets but, as the saying goes, you have to speculate to accumulate. Only time will tell whether Leicester’s purchases of Harry Maguire from Hull and Sam Hughes from Chester turn out to be as inspired as the signing of Vardy.   My assumption is that West Ham do have a scouting network which monitors players in the lower leagues despite the limited success over the years.  My sense is that where any risks are taken it is on young overseas players introduced by agents rather than as a result of those unearthed by our own scouting.  West Ham have had some recent success with the capture of Antonio and Cresswell from the Championship after they had become established players but I can’t believe there are not more gems to be found for those looking hard enough.

The same names remain in the frame as far as the desperate striker search and most don’t come across as particularly promising. Michy Batshuayi doesn’t sound too keen to end his exile on the Chelsea bench by moving across London, the buy-back fee suggested by Manchester City in the Kelechi Iheanacho transfer hasn’t been well received in east London and Henry Onyekuru may struggle to get past immigration. The default option could, therefore, end up as Oliver Giroud and although he is undoubtedly better than what we have now, is he exactly what we need?  I see Giroud as a short term fix to a long term problem, at best, with no sell on value.

Possibly Bilic does have his own vision, reminiscent of the Croatia national team style, where Giroud is nodding and stroking home the numerous chances served up by a speedy wing merchant such as Adama Traore. While Traore clearly showed tremendous energy and potential against an obliging West Ham defence very little finally resulted from it.  His contributions at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa were a largely disappointing and sporadic style over substance. His signing would be a major gamble and there have to be questions as whether West Ham have the patience and wherewithal to develop such a player in a scenario where we have been reluctant to provide opportunities to our own academy players.

Lamine Kone

In what I can only assume are mischievous fabrications we have also be linked with a number of central defenders, most notably Chris Smalling and Lamine Kone. Last I heard West Ham were planning to send exciting young defenders out on baffling season long loans to Germany for the very reason that we are already well stocked with experienced centre-backs.  Some reports claim that the Hammers are in pole position to sign the Sunderland defender but the only Kone I would want to see at Rush Green is the one that players dribble around in training.

As well as no significant change to playing personnel it also remains as you were elsewhere in the club hierarchy. David Sullivan continues in his role as self-styled Director of Football while Slaven Bilic is still at the helm of team affairs, along with the same coaching staff who struggled to deploy a fit, disciplined and organised outfit for the majority of last season. What was it that Einstein is supposed to have said about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? The one change that I am aware of is Gary Lewin replacing Stijn Vandenbroucke as Head of Medical Services; good luck with that very demanding role, Gary!

Interestingly, a very different approach to pre-season has been announced with the focus on training camps rather than a magical mystery tour of exhibition games; apart, that is, from a proposed morale sapping drubbing by Manchester City in Iceland the week before the season opens. As the rationale for the training camps is to provide team bonding then it would be highly preferable to get any new signings on board in advance. You are only as good as your last training camp and memories are still fresh with the Dubai jolly last February which preceded a five game losing streak. With a clutch of players recovering from injury it is not difficult to imagine a slow start to the 2017/18 season.

Let’s hope that there is a plan out there somewhere and that we will end up delighted with both West Ham’s transfer business and a storming start to the season.


You’re Just A Fit Andy Carroll

As the list of West Ham transfer targets continues to grow, Everton show the way with two shrewd young signings.

Imagine a typical man and woman going out shopping for a pair of shoes.  The man will try two or three shops at the most, find something that is good enough or better than what he already had, before spending the rest of the afternoon in the pub.  The woman on the other hand would try every possible outlet, including those that she knows will be too expensive, with a belief that the next place might just have something better.  Eventually she ends up buying something she saw earlier in a panic because she had ran out of time.  Both of these behaviours can be observed clearly during a West Ham transfer window.

Players that are surplus to requirements at top six clubs would suit the man down to the ground .  They have a proven ability (even if no longer good enough for the high rollers), require little effort to find (in fact they may even come looking for you) and are unquestionably an upgrade on the status quo, although with a few notable exceptions that bar isn’t set particularly high.  Players such as Smalling, Giroud, Zabaletta, Bony and Hart would make the perfect man purchases.  Our woman meanwhile is dreaming of designer labels such as Bacca, Lacazette or Batshuayi no matter how unfeasible those purchases might be – who knows, maybe she can borrow one from a rich friend.

Somewhere between the extravagant dream and the merely adequate is the sweet spot of transfer activity that Everton are exploiting with the recent signings of Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaassen; moves that reinforces a squad already comprising several other exciting young talents.  Their own challenge will be the futures of Lukaku and Barkley and how they respond to their eventual departures , developments that will certainly leave them with a healthy pile of cash to invest on further signings.  With a much more progressive outlook, Everton are showing West Ham a very clean pair of heels in the race for seventh biggest club status.

Of all the players so far linked with a move to West Ham during the current window the potential signings of Henry Onyekuru and Kelechi Iheanacho are the most enticing for me; although I have a feeling that they would be far too adventurous for the current board-manager regime and that both will end up elsewhere.  Of course, they could well end up being massive gambles as both are still very young and ‘Youtube’ compendiums can be very misleading.  A few years back I was very excited about being linked with Greek striker Konstantinos Mitroglou based on his ‘Youtube’ prowess and then disappointed when he ultimately signed for Fulham.  Yet his time at Craven Cottage was a huge disappointment even though he has since been banging them in freely for Benfica.

My personal challenge with a team featuring both Onyekuru and Iheanacho would be in remembering, writing and pronouncing their names, something that was far easier for the average Anglo-Saxon when surnames were mostly single syllable.   Old Roy of the Rovers comics would often incorporate a speech bubble device where a supporter at the back of the crowd handily summarised the action for the lazy artist up against a submission deadline.  This was difficult enough to believe, without time standing still, when the players involved were Blackie Gray and Roy Race but now it would necessarily cause a rift in the space-time continuum.

The other striking name being bandied about regularly in the media is Oliver Giroud of Arsenal.  He certainly passes the better than what we’ve got test but I’m not convinced that he is exactly what is needed.  A fitter version of Andy Carroll who has a reasonable scoring record at Arsenal but then again has Ozil, Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain setting up chances for him.  In our setup he could well turn out to be John Radford Mk 2 and I would much prefer the club to be on the lookout for a pacier, more mobile front-man.

The sacking by Southampton of Claude Puel shows what a lucky boy Slaven Bilic has been to keep his job.  Most likely, Slav had accumulated sufficient brownie points from the 2015/16 season that our conservative board were swayed to give him stay of execution for the time being.  I was more interested in reading the various online comments regarding Puel’s sacking which were polarised between Saint’s supporters, bemoaning the style of football/ lack of entertainment served up under his stewardship and, what I took be mostly patronising comments from neutrals (i.e. armchair supporters of big clubs), who suggested that Southampton should simply be thankful for an eighth place finish and were mad to sack him.  Sometimes you have to wonder to what degree entertainment is meant to feature for the majority of clubs in the modern game, their part is to make up the numbers and hope for survival if you listened to many in the media.

The West Ham “You’ve Been Done” Deals

Past transfer performance is not an indicator of future cock-ups!

There is a general consensus that the two transfer windows last season constituted largely abysmal business by the club.   It is hard to disagree with that assessment where the shortcomings were amplified by what was viewed as a relatively successful recruitment campaign during the summer of 2015.

If you were to peer further back through the rear-view window, however, it would not be difficult to conclude that, as unquestionably bad as last season’s incomings were, they were fairly typical of West Ham’s transfer dealings over the years, and that rather it was 2015 that was the exception to the rule of unspectacular recruitment.

According to the information available on the Soccerbase website West Ham have signed a grand total of 224 players (excluding loans) in the years since their first promotion to the Premier League .  An assumption as to what makes a good signing might be where the player has gone on to provide dedicated and commendable service to the club or else has been subsequently sold at a generous profit following a period of development at West Ham.

Of the 224 signings, over half (114) went on to make less than twenty starts for the club and although some may have been considered a gamble for the future this appears to be a damning level of success; recognising that a handful are still on the books and may yet establish solid careers in the claret and blue.  A further forty three players made less than fifty starts while just twenty six reached the milestone of a hundred starts or more.  Three transfer signings stuck around to earn the long service award of 200 starts (Green, Lomas and Sinclair) while the rest of the top ten is made up of the mixed bag that is Reid, Repka, Mullins, Carlton Cole, Etherington, Dailly and Moncur.  James Collins, one of seven players regarded as so good we signed them twice (Bowyer, Hutchison, McCartney, Hislop, Sealey and Feuer) would have made the top ten but his two stints at the club have been treated as separate careers.

Unsurprisingly, West Ham’s biggest money signings have been in the more recent years as transfer fees increased alongside TV and other revenues.  The club’s thirty most expensive signings (again according to the Soccerbase stats) have cost a combined total of £220 million and averaged just over 50 starts each.  Among this select group, five managed to make over one hundred starts (Repka, Upson, Parker, Kouyate and Faubert) while only two of this top thirty (Payet and Bellamy) were sold on for any meaningful profit.

The conclusion that I am left with is one of an underwhelming history of transfer business by the club and one which requires a huge improvement if it is live up to the billing of either the fifteenth or eighteenth biggest club in world football (depending on whether you believe Forbes or Deloitte).  So far our transfer powder has been kept mainly dry this summer as we anxiously news of those done deals.  As eternally optimistic supporters we all hope to dream regardless of the contrary evidence that history has generally delivered nightmares.

A body that calls itself the CIES Football Observatory (part of the International Centre for Sports Studies ) have come up with what they say is a science based algorithm (!) to estimate the transfer value of the top 110 players in Europe’s top leagues, each with a value of at least €40 million.  Their computations take account of factors such as performance, age and length of contract and lead to the conclusion that Neymar (at €210 m) is the current top transfer banana, followed by Alli (€155 m) and Kane (€153 m).  Even more comical entries in the list include Raheem Sterling (€98 m), Eric Dier (€85 m), John Stones (€71 m) and Nathan Redmond (€60 m).  Needless to say, no Hammers appear in the list and there is not even a place among the also-rans for a certain Mr Payet.