It’s 4 July. Pre-season training started yesterday. Since the end of last season we have signed one player – a free transfer, Pablo Zabaleta. I’m getting slightly worried that none of our other targets look even close to signing with us.
Our striker targets seem no closer to signing for us than they were in the middle of May. And as every day passes, the price will increase. We were said to be interested in Cologne’s Modeste, but his club are now trying for a fee of £35 million. Well, good luck with that.
Michy Batshuayi and Manchester City’s Iheanachu remain the top targets, with former Man U striker Chicarito Hernandez also of interest. But none of the three deals look close to completion and there is competition for the first two from Everton and Leicester respectively.
Given the injury records of Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho, there’s no doubt we need two top quality strikers. Indeed, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Carroll was offloaded if a decent offer came in. We need proven goalscorers, not the likes of Andre Gray, a player who scores in fits and starts but isn’t the top class international class player we need.
There are also rumours that Arsenal pair Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are on West Ham’s radar. Giroud is also being targetted by Everton and a host of French clubs but is said to want to stay in London. He’s never been a player who has particuarly excited me, but you can’t argue with his scoring record, both for club and country. Trouble is, he’s 31 in September, so would we really get more than a couple of seasons out of him? He will certainly be trying very hard this season so he can make the French World Cup squad next summer, but after that? Do we want to pay upwards of £20 million for a two season player?
Theo Walcott would certainly be an upgrade from Feghouli and Snodgrass, and can also play through the centre. But can I see Arsenal releasing him? Not really. But if they did, he’s certainly someone who would get us on our feet if he can become a little more consistent.
The two striker signings will define our season. Get them right and we can aim for the top eight. Get them wrong, and, well….
Another week gone, still no further new arrival(s) at West Ham. Plenty of irons in the fire by all accounts though, but more of that later. Let’s get Concordia out of the way quickly as they had their first two preseason games over the weekend, the first one on Saturday by way of helping a club called Stapelfeld to officially open their new little ground.
Cordi acted as party poopers though (not that surprising as Cordi play several levels above Stapelfeld), it was a 7:0 win for the Cordi lads although in fairness it could and should have been 15:0 easily, so I suppose Concordia were trying to be well behaved and respectful guests after all by missing some of those sitters in order to avoid a double figure scoreline.
Sunday then offered us a look at St.Pauli’s U23 team, a promising bunch of young prospects who play one level above Concordia but it didn’t really show on the day as St.Pauli won a decent game by a narrow margin of 2:1. Most of last season’s squad are still around at Cordi plus some new additions who so far look like useful acquisitions.
One sad news though is that our best goalkeeper will have to hang up his gloves due to recurring issues with his knee. What makes this even more galling is the fact that only last season he had returned to the pitch after successfully fighting the big C, so to then be denied the opportunity to play just one more season in goal for the club he loves feels incredibly unfair after all the guy’s been through.
Meanwhile Cordi’s goalkeeping coach Oliver Hänke (the Everton fan who named his dog Neville after their former goalkeeper Neville Southall) casually told me after the game he met West Ham’s first team coach Edin Terzic recently while holidaying in Mallorca.
Singing his praises, he told me that Terzic apparently is very happy at West Ham and also highly upbeat about the upcoming season. Let’s hope he’s right…
Over the last weekend numerous names have popped up in the rumour columns of strikers West Ham might be interested in signing. We are apparently still in for the likes of Giroud and Iheanacho, with other clubs being hot on their heels as well, obviously. There is an added legal issue attached to any deal for Iheanacho due to the player having to sort out which agent is actually legally entitled to represent him. So this could take a few more weeks, if a deal does actually happen at all this summer. We shall see.
Also a deal for Anthony Modeste could be back on. The striker was China bound until the club over there and Cologne couldn’t agree on a payment plan for the transfer fee which was rumoured to be a whopping 35 million Euros. So it initially looked as if Modeste would stay in Cologne after all, he even claims he never wanted to leave in the first place and was deeply in love with his club from the bottom of his heart.
Bridges though already seem to burn away at both ends with Cologne accusing Modeste’s agent of sabotaging the transfer to China with his own personal greed.
Modeste is not prepared to accept that criticism, he in fact has accused the club of not wanting him anymore being the main reason for them trying to engineer a deal with a Chinese club, cashing in on him in the process.
I’ll nail my colours to the mast here and say: Modeste would be a great signing for us, he is exactly the kind of player we need. Cologne have mainly him and his goals to thank for the fact they finished last season in 5th place, giving them Europa League football again after a 25 year sabbatical from International competition.
25 goals and three assists in 34 games, that’s a stat I can’t and won’t argue with.
Why is Modeste a perfect fit ? Because he is a natural finisher, because he is an aerial threat and because he is at his best when playing on the counter.
Perfect for a team like West Ham who rarely dominate in terms of ball possession and ball retention.
Another one I’d love to see in claret and blue next season is Little Pea Chicharito aka Javier Hernandez whose release clause stands at only £13m which should pretty much fall into the bargain category in today’s crazy transfer market. For that price I’d expect many potential takers for the Mexican striker who at 29 years should still have plenty of good seasons in the tank. He reminds me of Tony Cottee insofar as he is a nippy little player with a natural eye for goal.
He is a finisher first and foremost and due to his diminutive physique not much of an aerial threat, but give him an opportunity in the box and he will put it away more often than not. Ice cold in front of goal, clinical, those have been attributes to describe Little Pea in his career so far. He also uses both feet equally well, has great acceleration and is also a very decent passer of the ball, I could see him building a nice understanding on the pitch with Manuel Lanzini. Those two would also win us a ton of freekicks I reckon.
Other rumours I’ve read were Villareal striker Cedric Bakambu (great name!), Benfica striker Raul Jimenez and Burnley’s Andre Gray. It looks though as if the only way we will have a chance of signing any of these players if we are willing to pay about 5 million more for targets like Modeste and Bakambu than we apparently are prepared to offer at this point. I know our board keep telling us we are not exactly flush with money, but surely we have a transfer kitty not significantly smaller than last season.
Which should allow us to begin getting two new strikers in before other teams make quick, decisive moves.
Every target signing elsewhere limits our options, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier (or cheaper) for us to sign any of the remaining targets. I really hope we see some movement in that respect in the coming days as our team today start with their preseason training I believe and new arrivals will need some time to bed in.
I’m still happy as a cat that has found an unguarded bowl of prawns about our shake-up in the medical department. We now have Gary Lewin (Ex-England and Arsenal) as new head of Medical Science at West Ham. And Lewin has wasted no time in bringing in his tried and trusted former England colleague Dr. Ian Beasley as new club doctor, the position he previously held for both England and Arsenal.
I’m convinced the changes won’t stop there. Lewin and Beasley (does that sound like a London based law firm or what?) will surely have a close look at our training regime, warm up and cool down routines and also the way players are being reintroduced to training and playing games after suffering injuries. I reckon there will be some very useful input of these gentlemen which should significantly cut down both the number of injuries we suffer and also the layoff times of the injured players too. Which alone may be enough to let us finish one or two places higher up the table compared to last season.
The new medical set-up will most probably serve as the biggest key to a more successful season for us this time, on par maybe with strengthening and upgrading our options upfront.
However, I don’t expect us to be pleasantly surprised by the board and their efforts in the transfer market. In fact I am in no way even mildly optimistic. My breath while waiting for new signings is not exactly bated anymore.
Miracles do happen from time to time. I know that. But modesty (or penuriousness) doesn’t get you far in the Premier League in 2017. It’s a tough old business. Are we ready to do what it takes ? I feel the owners are out of their depth, trying to take on too much stuff on their own.
We need more professionals at the club to help them improving things at West Ham, for instance a proper director of football. Who knows though if the board would even want a move like that to happen.
*Blind Hammer is worried about West Ham’s defensive Squad Analysis.
David Gold’s interview with TalkSport this week was revealing for a number of reasons. Before I start my critique of what appears to be the plan for squad development at West Ham I want to stress that I personally believe we are lucky to have 2 committed and devoted West Ham fans owning our club. I would prefer a hundred times more Gold and Sullivan rather than the tainted Oil money associated with a Russian Oligarch, or a Qatari Monarchical dictatorship. I am old fashioned enough to believe Human Rights are important and every season I give thanks that we have not sold our corporate soul in this respect.
This does not prevent me constructively criticising the recruitment strategy when I believe it is skewed. Listening to David Gold’s analysis of our squad he basically argued that;
1. Our defence is fine.
2. Our midfield is fine.
3. Our weakness is up front where we have injury prone forwards.
4. As a result of this weakness we flirted with relegation.
I could not disagree more with this analysis. It is obvious that we flirted with relegation last year but the evidence that this was due to our attacking weaknesses simply does not hold water.
Our flirting with relegation was far more to do with our defensive weaknesses. We consistently shipped goals throughout the season, apparently conceding more points from winning positions than any other team in the Premiership. During our worsts runs we were conceding an average 3 goals a game. As I said in a recent post, if we now recruited Ronaldo and Messy it is likely we would still flirt with relegation if we replicated this defensive performance.
The obsession with Carroll’s and Sacko’s injury records is well known. What baffles me is the apparent blindness we have to similar injury records in our defence. Obonna was missing for half a season last year, the half of the season he did play was apparently through the pain barrier. Collins was unavailable for large parts of last season with recurrence of his yearly hamstring problems. Reid was similarly in and out of the team with injury, with surgery finally being offered to help his back problem. Fonte only came to us after a lengthy period of injury for Southampton, during which he lost his place in their first team. All of these four have records of missing significant portions of the season due to injury problems. I won’t even bother looking at similar injury problems for Byram, Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku who all missed large parts of the season. Our injury record in defence is dreadful.
This frail central defensive quartet is the backbone on which we are planning to cover our defensive requirements next season. This would perhaps be just about supportable if we had a definite game plan of only playing 2 out of these 4 in a flat back 4 for the entire season.
However if the plan is to build the squad around this single option for a flat back 4, I am even more worried. The only periods of last season that we appeared to gain some semblance of defensive discipline and solidity was when we reverted to 3 at the back in the latter parts of the season. Fonte in particular only started to resemble an international performer of quality whilst operating in the security of a back 3.
If we are to play 3 at the back for any sustained part of next season is it is obvious that 4 injury prone options to cover these 3 positions is simply not enough. 4 defensive options into 3 positions do not cut it in a squad of 25.
The club have apparently decided that Burke can go to Bolton and Oxford to Germany to further their development. This may be the correct path for their longer term development but this leaves the even less experienced Declan Rice as the fall back if the injury jinx which has beset our central defensive performers rears its ugly head again.
Of course I want a 20 goal striker as much as the next West ham fan but it is time to bang the drum and remind people that the real horror of some of our performances last year were not because of problems up front but in the abysmal defending against not only top 6 sides but throughout the season. We tend to blot out these because of the pain but remember we lost after leading not only against Spurs but against teams like Watford at home. West Ham should never concede 4 goals to Watford, especially at home. Recruit the striker, that is fine, but ignoring the defence may be one of the most ill-advised decisions in our history. It may dwarf the poor transfer priorities of last summer which resulted in disastrous recruitment. If we completely ignore the weakest part of our team this may result in a further season of struggle and negativity.
There is an incredible geographical supporter mix on the WHTID site and with this in mind I thought I would revisit an article I wrote four years ago. We have regular bloggers that are season ticket holders but many of the rest are a mixed bunch and include people from all over the World. Even amongst our authors we have an American writing match reports, a German with a weekly column and of course myself writing nostalgia and a variety of other West Ham related topics from Australia. In 2013 Iain Dale had asked me to write an article to give a perspective of what it is like to be a Hammer living overseas and the following is an updated version.
My decision to emigrate from England to Australia in 1981 was the hardest in my life. To leave friends and family was hard to do but I knew that my opportunities in life would be greater if I made the move. The other heartache for me was discarding the fortnightly visit to my beloved Hammers. I had been supporting the club since the Moore, Hurst and Peters era, rarely missing home fixtures and often following them away from home as well. In the final two years of my life in England the Hammers had won the FA Cup final against Arsenal, made the League Cup final against Liverpool and had won promotion back to the top flight by winning the old second division. It was so hard to leave all this behind.
The first decade living in Australia was like living on a different planet football wise. Pay TV and the internet were a long way from their inception here and in fact the only chance to see English football was a half hour goal highlights show at 11.30pm on a Monday night. Australia was so far behind in the pre-communication World that even number one single tracks in the UK would only get into the charts here some 9 months later. In the first few years the only chance I had of following West Ham was the newspaper cuttings from the games that my mum would send me by post. These used to arrive about 3 weeks after the games but it was the best we could manage. Some years later the local TV station extended the football show to an hour, showing the highlights of one game and the goals from the rest of the division. However, the station was so biased to showing just one team that we renamed the program, “The Liverpool show”. Worse was to come though as the Hammers got relegated in the late eighties and again in the early nineties meaning that all TV coverage of West Ham disappeared. Back again to the wait for mum’s newspaper clippings.
From the mid eighties through to the mid nineties I had bought myself a short wave radio. At last I could tune into the BBC World Service as they gave a commentary of the second half of one game on a Saturday afternoon and also updated latest scores. That meant getting out of bed at 2am on a Sunday morning and trying to tune the radio station in, as the reception was at best fuzzy and more often very crackly! The constant need for retuning meant that you often got West Ham 1 Arsenal zszszszszsz. My wife was really doubting my sanity by now as I would climb back into bed at 4am, often only learning what the final score was for my nocturnal efforts. Then for a few years we had a 1300 phone number we could ring on any given morning for all overnight football results. It was pricey and you paid by the minute. It was a real rip off as you listened to minutes of drivel before they even started to give you any scores. It was unreliable too. I remember a Cup quarter final game in 1998 against Arsenal where they actually said we won the penalty shoot out when in fact we lost! For a few hours I thought we had made an FA Cup semi-final and I was already making enquiries about a quick return back home.
Finally in 1999 we had the introduction of Pay TV and at last PL games were shown on a regular basis, although watching all West Ham games was still not guaranteed. Only selected games were chosen for viewing but that was to change in the following years. Provided we paid for the Pay TV subscription we could watch any game we desired in the PL, just by pressing a select red button on the control. Unfortunately, last year Foxtel the Pay TV provider lost the Premier League contract to a telecommunications company and now Australians can only get the games streamed and in most areas the quality of picture is very inconsistent. It is a lot better than a short wave radio though! The 21st century also provides the internet where we can catch up with all the latest news and also blog on sites like these. Holidays back to the UK are always planned with the fixture list in mind and in recent years the trips back are even more special as meeting up with the ever growing WHTID “clique” makes match days even more enjoyable. Like the prolonged wait for Pay TV and internet, I am now waiting for the “beam me up Scotty” technology, that will mean getting to the Olympic Stadium and back before the missus gets out of bed on a Sunday morning.
Continuing my look back to some Hammer of the Year winners who I’ve previously written about in the ‘Club Connections’ section of my match previews, today we take a look at the 2004 winner of the coveted prize as voted for by the supporters…
Matthew Etherington began his career at Peterborough, making his debut in May 1997 at 15 years and 262 days. He played 58 games for the Posh before joining Tottenham in December 1999. After three and a half years at White Hart Lane, which included a loan spell at Bradford, Etherington signed for Glenn Roeder’s West Ham in August 2003 – he was valued at £500,000 in the deal which took Frederic Kanoute to north London in the aftermath of the Hammers’ relegation. Peterborough made a formal complaint to the FA regarding the valuation placed on Etherington as they would have benefited from a sell-on clause had it been greater than the £500,000 they had sold Etherington to Tottenham for in 1999.
The 21-year-old Etherington made his debut in claret and blue in a 2–1 opening-day win at Preston in August 2003 and, after Trevor Brooking took caretaker control, he scored his first goal for the Hammers in a 3-0 win at Crewe the following month. With Alan Pardew now at the helm, he was sent off in a 1-1 draw at Norwich in February 2004 but scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 home win against Wimbledon the following month. The left-winger also scored in a 2-1 home victory against Gillingham and was voted the Hammer of the Year for the 2003/04 season. Etherington scored with a stunning strike in the 2-0 play-off semi-final second leg win against Ipswich at Upton Park, played out in front of a raucous midweek atmosphere under the lights – one of my favourite Boleyn Ground memories. The Hammers would be defeated in the Final by Crystal Palace and miss out on promotion.
The former England Under-21 man would score three goals the following season – against Derby in a 1-1 away draw, Nottingham Forest in a 3-2 Boxing Day home win and at Ipswich in a 2-0 triumph on New Year’s Day – Alan Pardew’s Irons achieved promotion at the second time of asking, with Etherington supplying the cross for Bobby Zamora’s winning goal in the Play-Off Final against Preston. Etherington would again score three goals in the following campaign, with Premier League strikes in the curtain-raising 3-1 home win against Blackburn and 3-2 victory at Highbury supplemented by an FA Cup goal as Blackburn were knocked out 4-2 in the fourth round at the Boleyn Ground – the Hammers would go on to make the Final against Liverpool, with Etherington recovering from injury to play a significant part in a memorable Irons performance.
A disappointing, and goalless, 2006/07 season followed as the Hammers narrowly avoided relegation in a turbulent campaign but Etherington returned to his three-goals-in-a-season routine in 2007/08, scoring twice in a 3-0 win at Reading before notching once in the 5-0 rout at Derby. He made a promising start to life under Gianfranco Zola in 2008/09, scoring in successive September league wins against Newcastle (3-1) and at Fulham (2-1) but departed in January 2009 after personal problems necessitated a move away. He had made 195 appearances for the Hammers in all competitions, scoring 18 goals.
The 27-year-old Etherington signed for Tony Pulis’ Stoke for £3m. He was named Stoke’s Player of the Year for 2009/10, his first full campaign with the club. The following season saw him score a last-minute equaliser at Manchester City and the first goal in the 5-0 Wembley win over Bolton in the FA Cup semi-final – just as in 2006, Etherington would face a fitness race for the 2011 Final. He did play but would again receive a runners-up medal as Stoke lost 1-0 to Manchester City. Etherington also saw a penalty saved by Robert Green in the quarter-final as his Stoke side knocked out the Hammers on a controversial afternoon at the Britannia – Etherington’s own fall under Scott Parker’s ‘challenge’ to win the penalty was dubious in itself!
Etherington’s form started to dip and starting appearances became more sporadic before he left Stoke at the end of his contract in the summer of 2014 – he had made 176 appearances for the Potters, scoring 16 goals. On 3rd December 2014, after turning down an offer from Millwall, Etherington admitted a back injury had got the better of him and announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 33.
My video below contains all 18 of Etherington’s goals for West Ham United, including his hat-trick against Wimbledon and double against Reading, as well as his Play-Off Semi-Final stunner against Ipswich. Speaking personally, I always looked forward to watching Matty’s pace and trickery down the left wing, regularly giving his full-back a hard time – Etherington, now 35, remains one of my favourite Hammers of the last 15 years.