West Ham’s Transfer Tribultions: Your Infrequently Asked Questions

We wonder what is going on as the Hammers embark on yet another haphazard venture through the troubled waters of the transfer window. There’s still plenty of time to do nothing!

Who Is Masterminding West Ham’s Cunning Transfer Plan?

The oft repeated mantra is that it is David Moyes who has full control over transfers. That sounds straightforward enough but is open to interpretation depending on where you believe the boundaries of full control lie. I take it to mean that no player will be signed unless it has Moyes blessing. There are to be no more ‘Sullivan Specials’ signed from a favoured agent and presented to the manager as a surprise birthday gift. Beyond giving that stamp of approval to his targets it is improbable that any manager these days is intimately involved in the complexity of contract negotiations. He may, however, be asked for input on the fees and terms being demanded where this has significant implications on the size of overall budget available.

But Isn’t Dave Moyes Known To Be A Ditherer?

Moyes picked up the ‘Ditherer’ sobriquet during his time at Everton. It was the result of the lengths that he went to in checking out the character as well as the footballing abilities of potential targets. Whether that diligence paid dividends in the long run is impossible to tell, but it allegedly led to opportunities being missed according to Everton fans. Nevertheless, in his ten years at Everton he signed seventy-four players and, despite the occasional duds, there were plenty of success stories, including: Cahill, Jagielka, Arteta, Kilbane, Howard, Baines, Lescott, Yakubu, Saha, Fellaini, Coleman, Distin, Pienaar, and Stones. It has been a difficult reputation for Moyes to shake off and was further reinforced during his brief reign at Old Trafford. The jury is still deliberating as to whether dithering was at play in last January’s debacle.  

What About This Rob Newman Fella? What Exactly Does He Do?

There are a variety of views as to what the responsibilities of a Head of Recruitment might be. In the absence of any clarification from the club you can make up your own mind. Ideally the role should be independent from the manager, but with close co-operation. He should be focused on strategic long-term planning and succession as well as finding short term tactical targets. Possibly working something like this: the manager has identified a need for a pacey, left sided central defender so the head of recruitment calls on his extensive scouting knowledge/ network to draw up a shortlist of candidates potentially within the club’s price range. Then its back to the manager to decide.

His true value would be in unearthing up-and-coming talent and those from lower leagues capable of playing at a higher level. West Ham are not a club able to compete for established stars and signing fading ones has not been a rip-roaring success in the past.    

Why Do West Ham Complete Deals Inch By Inch? What Happened To The Good Old Fashioned Transfer Swoop?

I remember tuning into the radio on my drive home from work and hearing that Harry Redknapp had signed Eyal Berkovic for West Ham. It was out of the blue and a shock because everyone believed he was on his way to Tottenham after a successful season long loan at Southampton. There had been no weeks of stories about bids being prepared, contact being made, deals hitting the buffers or hijacked by Newcastle. Wham, bam, he was a Hammer. It was different days back then of course. No internet clickbait, just Club Call and Ceefax to keep us informed, or misinformed which is more often the case.

Completing deals at West Ham does appear to be a far more drawn out and complicated process than elsewhere. Or is that just a perception as we don’t typically follow all the chatter from other clubs? Negotiations are the most probable cause of delay and if you have a Chairman who is obsessed by brinkmanship and pulling off the smartest deal, then delay is sadly inevitable. Pay the full asking price and a swoop is still possible, but may not provide the optimum value.

Who Keeps The Keys To The Transfer Kitty War Chest?

Although it is the size of transfer fees and net spends that make all the headlines, for the owners it is a matter of cash flows, budgets, and operating expenses. The totality of a deal includes wages, signing-on fees, agent fees, image rights and add-ons (whatever they might be). While the board will agree overall budgets collectively, it is David Sullivan who is said to lead the final negotiations. And that may well be where most of the problems lie. Sullivan’s art of the deal, with low-ball bids, loans to buy, low deposit, extended repayment terms – as if he’s buying a sofa – have the potential to scupper any negotiation. The type of person who when buying a house comes back with a much reduced offer just as contracts are about to be exchanged.   

What Is Needed To Bring The Hammers Mother Hubbard Squad Back To Respectable Levels?

As things stand, the squad comprises seventeen senior players. And that includes several who are for emergency use only. Far too many positions have no cover at all while others have the numbers but lack the quality. On top of that, more variety is needed if Moyes is to address the difficulties seen too often last year in overcoming apparently ‘lesser’ opposition. I make that a minimum net increase of six to eight over what we have today – goalkeeper, left back, centre back, defensive midfield, a truly creative attacking midfielder and two strikers. Each of the other clubs aspiring to challenge for a European place – Leicester, Newcastle, Wolves, Villa – will be busy strengthening. West Ham must be recruiting to improve, not to tread water.

Will Any Players Be Leaving?

The assumption is that neither Declan Rice nor Jarrod Bowen will be leaving this summer. There has been talk of potential leavers featuring Nikola Vlasic, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop and Said Benrahma. Not that we couldn’t do with upgrades on each of those but it only further complicates the recruitment requirements. Could we really sign ten players in total if two of those left? We might also be aware of the possibility that Angelo Ogbonna might still be a long way from, or never regain, match fitness. I hope he does, but the best part of a year is a very long lay off for a 34-year-old.

When Will Something Happen?

By all accounts the signing of Nayef Aguerd is as imminent as something can be without actually being finished. The deal for Alphonse Areola is rumoured to be not far behind. It’s a start, I suppose. If Aguerd turns out be as good as his reviews and Youtube reel, then he is just the type of player we should be after, ready to challenge for a starting role from the off. I don’t see the club shelling out BIG money for a left back, not when strikers and attacking midfielders will be making a major dent in the budget.

How Will It All End?

Past performance tells us that we will be underwhelmed and disappointed once the transfer business has been completed. It is 48 days to the start of the Premier League season and 72 days until the transfer window closes. Even at the best of times, integrating a host of new faces into a team in one go is a challenge. Especially when you are team where cohesion and discipline are one of the major strengths. The level of confidence in West Ham completing a significant number of deals in advance of pre-season is low. A maximum of one or two new faces running out against Manchester City on the opening weekend would be my guess. It would come as no surprise if we are still be scraping around for signings in the final hours of deadline day. Ending with a four or five player net increase to the squad, rather than the six to eight required, wouldn’t be a surprise. Perhaps the academy can help out at last, but that should be viewed as a bonus not as a solution to the chronic lack of numbers. Still, there’s always January.

West Ham’s Transfer Window Of Shame And Betrayal

It was the perfect time to back up performances on the pitch with further investment in the squad. True to form the owners have failed to deliver yet again.

Well, I wasn’t expecting that. I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by West Ham’s eventual January window signings. But it never occurred to me that there would be no incomings at all. Why would a club with one of the thinnest squads in the Premier League – with a reasonable chance of Champions League qualification (on two fronts) and a shot at an FA Cup run – decide not to improve its playing strength?

Media reports have suggested that West Ham fans will be frustrated and scratching their heads at the lack of activity. I would say it is far worse than that given the potential implications. Most are furious that a glorious opportunity to push on from a position of strength has been negligently squandered. A statement of intent was what we wanted but once again it never came. So, who is to blame?

As I said in a previous article, my assumption is that the part played by David Moyes and Rob Newman in the recruitment process is to come up with a list of potential targets that would complement and improve the current squad. It would be based on their assessment of key priorities, the type of player required and (I would imagine) would some take account of affordability. Ideally, they would also be taking both a short and a medium-term view, but for the January window it would focus primarily on immediate needs. Players able to make a telling contribution during what is left of the season. If for some reason they weren’t unable to identify any targets, then they should be rightly criticised. But that seems to be a highly unlikely scenario.

Some supporters suggest Moyes is complicit in the club’s transfer shortcomings because he is too much of a ‘Yes’ man. That seems a rather unfair observation to me. His character is the type to want a good working relationship with the owners, rather than ranting and raving about them in public, but what else can he do? His only other option would be to resign. Would you do that?

I don’t know the precise responsibilities in Newman’s job description, but I am confident that it doesn’t involve negotiating transfer fees and contracts. None of us can know what input he had made or whether he has earned his salary until signings have been made. Negotiation of those deals are handled by the Board and through their representatives (agents). In West Ham’s case it is under the direct supervision of David Sullivan, facilitated by the various agents he works with.

In hindsight, a rat should have been smelled on what we were up to immediately the spurious, unrealistic bids for unavailable players started to hit the headlines. What club is going to sell their best players in the final days of the window when there is little or no chance of finding replacements anyway. It was a typical Sullivan tactic. The grand gesture designed to give the impression of ambition but, lacking any foundation or expectation of success. Does he think we are stupid and have forgotten all the previous distractions? Or does he simply hold supporters in contempt? Any softening of attitudes towards Gold and Sullivan that had taken place due to improvements on the pitch will have hardened back to rock solid animosity once again. I wonder what Kretinsky makes of it all, or what role he played in the process?

I was left wondering whether there was ever any intention of making new signings right from the start. What groundwork had been made during the first thirty days to get deals over the line. Which players did we actually miss out on? You don’t just pick players names out of a hat on the final day.

As I have also written before, deals are complex affairs and include agreements of transfer fees, payment terms, player’s contracts, image rights, agent fees and so on. It is the easiest thing in the world to engineer a snag or sticking point if you don’t want to make it happen. There must be 50 ways to leave a transfer – Just bid a low fee, Lee; Or ask for loan, Joan.

Sullivan’s fixation with loan to buy agreements will likely scupper many deals. It stems from previous signings who have failed to settle into English football at great cost to the club. A try before you buy might be attractive for the buyer but offers little value to the selling club. No wonder they are so frequently rejected. Continuing to insist on these deals in the future will only lead to further pain. Even if they did get their fingers burned by backing Pellegrini’s poor recruitment in the past, they shouldn’t be placing that mistrust onto the shoulders of Moyes and Newman in the future.

Several West Ham websites with close links to the owners had started dropping hints about Dithering Dave (Moyes) in the final few days of the window. A classic attempt to distract from the Board failings in my view. Did Moyes turn down suggestions for the odd Sullivan special picks that have featured prominently in past transfer windows?  Should Moyes have lowered his standards for the purpose of expediency? Would an erratic backup striker (such as Origi or Benteke) have been better than no backup at all? It is all very unsatisfactory!

The transfer furore will slowly die down as the games start up again. The extent to which that is allowed to happen will depend on events on the pitch. The same key players will now be expected to see out the rest of the season with precious little chance of a rest. And that is without injuries and suspensions in a squad that is severely exposed at key positions including centre back, left back and striker. A squad where the game changing options from the bench are Yarmolenko and Masuaku.  Where we could have been flying high, it now feels like a season of great promise that will simply fade and die.

The transfer window was an opportunity sadly and inexplicably lost. It sends out a terrible message to those players in the squad with ambition who might have believed something special could be built at West Ham. Finishing top four or winning the Europa League might have convinced those admired by the bigger clubs to stick around for a little bit longer. Such dreams have suddenly become far less attainable.

The Gordian Knot Of West Ham’s Transfer Window Indecision

As the ceremonial January window slamming edges ever closer the arrivals lounge at the London Stadium remains conspicuously empty. Who is holding things up?

We will all be familiar with the movie cliché where the hero dives through the rapidly closing door just as they are about to be trapped and abandoned to their fate. That is West Ham’s approach to the transfer window. Whether by accident or design all business will once again be at the last possible minute, a month’s worth of opportunity condensed into the final few hours.

There are contrasting views to the root cause of our transfers inactivity. Is it Dithering Dave or Scrooge Mc’Sullivan to blame? Or is it simply a feature of the January window? After all, relatively little business has been done so far, with the exception of Newcastle, Watford, and Villa.

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Window Slams Shut

There are few clues as to what is really going on. In some respects that is a good thing, although it is also frustrating. Not so long ago, the club had more leaks than a Welsh allotment, but these have all but dried up. What’s left is pure speculation. I’m sure there is activity, but activity is not the same as progress.

An absence of information does nothing to stop the steady stream of bogus transfer stories to be found online. Pundits, reliable journalists and in-the-knows are never short of rumours linking the Hammers to the latest beast, powerhouse, or wonderkid. Internet traffic and advertising revenues must be booming. For the sake of sanity it is best to treat such stories as entertainment rather than information.

No doubt football transfers are a more complex matter than many of us supporters realise. For a simplified view I will consider what may have been going on at West Ham into targets, availability, and finance.

Targets

We all have our own ideas as to what is needed to improve the West Ham squad in preparation for the remaining months of the season. It would be a fair bet that many of our wishlists would include, with varying levels of priority: a striker, left back, centre back and perhaps a more dynamic option in attacking midfield. Three or four new players would seem to the average of the supporters I have spoken to.

It is also probable that David Moyes has similar ideas. When the best options from the bench are Yarmolenko, Fredericks and Masuaku, it does not indicate a squad capable of a credible top four challenge. Hopefully, Moyes will have been working alongside Rob Newman, the clubs head of recruitment, on scouring and scouting the football world to come up with a list of potential and realistically affordable targets.

In an ideal world, Newman would also have an eye on the future. Next generation younger players who can provide continuity and succession for the club. It is a model that Moyes has previously said he would like to follow. Yet it looks out of reach at present when what is needed are players who can contribute immediately, not in six or twelve months’ time. Moyes has had mixed success on that front. Soucek, Coufal, Zouma, Lingard (during his loan) and Bowen mostly hit the ground running. Benrahma, Vlasic and Kral have needed time to settle in or have never finally got there.

Availability

It might be obvious but just because we fancy buying a player doesn’t mean he is will be available. The club may not be prepared to sell, particularly in the middle of the season, or late in the window when finding a replacement is even more difficult. Alternatively, the player might not fancy moving to West Ham, London, or England. Received wisdom is that money is the biggest motivator for footballers, but it is not necessarily the only one. Some will be happy to stay where they are or prefer the guarantee of regular game time.

Budgets and Finance

Nowadays transfer negotiations are the preserve of the Board. In bygone days, managers may have been heavily involved in ‘talks’ but that is no longer the case. Calls for Moyes to ‘sort it out’ are well wide of the mark. He may be fussy about undertaking due diligence on player’s character but it is not his responsibility to seal the deal.

The working assumption is that despite changes to the ownership structure it is still Del Boy Sullivan (and his agents) who lead negotiations, in consultation with the other directors. The success of negotiations are ultimately in his hands and down to how effectively he deals with representatives of the selling clubs and the various agents involved. There is plenty of scope for things to go wrong, and many ways to scupper a deal while looking as though you are trying.

The finer details of transfer fees, the schedule of payments, players wages, contract terms, agent commissions, image rights, and so on, all require agreement. Unless a club is desperate to sell, the closer it gets to the deadline, the more power gravitates towards the seller and player. It feels a huge gamble to leave matters so late.

There is much talk in the media about transfer budgets and war chests – usually linked to the headline transfer fee paid. In reality, with fees paid in instalments and all of the other costly add-ons involved, a specific budget is largely hypothetical. The limitation is more likely to be down to cash flow issues. Net spends make interesting media comparisons but play only a small part in how a club approaches player dealing.     

Sullivan has a reputation for submitting low-ball offers – the type that are never going to be accepted – and has recently developed a liking for loans with an option to buy. No surprise that these tactics are not so popular with (and may alienate) selling clubs. The buck really stops with him and his fellow directors. They have said cash is available, they now need to put it where their mouths are and come up with serious offers for the players the manager has identified.

What Might Happen?

Honestly, I haven’t a clue. Probably something will, but most likely we will be disappointed by it. It is an unusual situation that West Ham find themselves in. The right investment could mean a rare and achievable opportunity to earn a Champions League place, either by league position or through the Europa League. But it would come with a hefty price tag, even if bringing in three or four players by Monday night is feasible. It could be a mixture of loans and purchases.

Failure to invest might well lead to the season petering out as injuries and fatigue take their toll. This increases the probability of losing key players (Rice and Bowen) in the summer. January is usually considered a bad time to splash the cash but the consequences of not spending could be significant. For a club in the Premier League not to have cover in key positions (notably, striker and left back) is staggering. If another window goes by without those gaps being filled it would send a clear message on ambition – and would be a clear case of negligence.

What we don’t want to hear is that you tried but couldn’t get any deals over the line. Just do it!