With the inevitable opening day defeat to Manchester City out of the way, we should ideally be focusing on the nuts and bolts of the nascent season and the potential for another tilt at a top six finish. Yet, it is the failures, frustrations, and foreboding of the transfer window that continues to grab the attention. Football matches tend to come along as a distraction to the latest blind alley pursuit of exciting major signings from across the continent.
I’m prepared to accept that making sensible transfer decisions might not be as easy as we fans imagine, but equally surely it isn’t as difficult as West Ham repeatedly make it. I’m really not a fan of the transfer window extending beyond the start of the season and had always feared that most of our business would be left right until the end.
The dilemma facing David Moyes & Co is how to find and attract players who will improve the squad, who can be recruited at an affordable (knock down) price, and who are not going to be on the radar of more illustrious and well-to-do clubs. The panacea would be a shrewd scouting network uncovering a stream of young talent, from home and abroad, even if it means they use West Ham as a stepping-stone to future glory elsewhere. Decent scouting has long been neglected at the club although I suppose that is what led to the pursuit of Onana – but his was a hefty price tag for a bet on potential.
It also appears impossible for West Ham to keep any of their proposed deals under wraps until the ink has fully dried. A habit that allows opportunity for others – Everton and Newcastle – to nip in and hijack the deal at the eleventh hour. Especially, with our Board unable to resist the temptation of engaging in drawn out haggling processes, a few quid at a time.
It is unfortunate that the Hammers are starting from such a position of weakness in squad numbers and ability. A consequence of neglect and bad decisions over the preceding years. While Moyes achievements over the last two years have been remarkable it is built around the phenomenal talent of Declan Rice and an effective style of play (organisation, set pieces and counter attacks) that has made the best use of resources available. It has worked wonders but can only do so until opponents understand it limitations and how to combat it – as we saw from Manchester City last week. There simply aren’t the players available with the pace, finesse, and creativity to pose different questions and mix things up. To me, these limitations are equivalent to what Moyes said about the team being stale last Sunday. A team without ideas once their A-game is thwarted.
On the face of it, the signings of Gianluca Scamacca, Nayef Aguerd, and Maxwell Cornet are just the type of players needed. But it is only a start. Another four or five additional top-notch signings, at least, are required before the end of August if the season is going to amount to anything worthwhile. It is staggering that one of the league’s thinnest squads has seen more players leave than arrive so far. OK, so we now have a striker, but remain alarmingly short in other critical positions – left back, centre back, play-maker – with the season already underway – and with another four league games to be played before the window closes. Fair enough, teams can recover from a poor start (Arsenal last season is a good example), but that’s a lot of important points to put at risk due solely to self-inflicted transfer incompetence.
Having fallen into the trap of tunnelling down the transfer rabbit hole, we should turn our attention to today’s Premier League encounter against Nottingham Forest. A first top-flight meeting between the two clubs this millennium following Forest’s relegation in 1998/99. That season witnessing a scoreless draw at the City Ground in September 1998 and a 2-1 Hammers win (Ian Pearce and Lampard Jr) at Upton Park in February 1999.
The hosts were something of a surprise package last year but despite buying enthusiastically looked short on quality when losing to Newcastle last weekend. Still, there will sure to be a cup-tie like atmosphere at the City Ground today and West Ham will need to be on their toes to weather the early storm. And, of course, there is the goalscoring peril of Judas Lingard to keep quiet. It could well be a tough season for Forest and Lingard is an odd choice to build your team around.
It would be a huge surprise to me if Scamacca and Cornet don’t start today but maybe I am underestimating the caution of Moyes. The major West Ham selection issue though is at centre back where, with even less options to chose from, Ben Johnson is a probable to continue alongside Kurt Zouma. Elsewhere, we can only hope the manager can prise more than huff and puff from the combined talents of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma.
I can’t see this game being a classic and assuming West Ham can snuff out the early Forest threat, I predict we will go on to win 3-1. COYI!