Talking Point

Kick ‘em when they’re Down – Poaching Bargains in the Summer Sales

“Armageddon” is how David Sullivan described relegation from the Premier League. The financial chasm between English football’s top two tiers has never been greater; demoted clubs currently receive £86m in parachute payments over 3 years on a front-loaded sliding scale, but miss out on a minimum of £100m per season in TV rights. Based on a three-year cycle of ‘bouncebackability’, that equates to a deficit of £214m. The gap continues to widen as the tectonic plates shift further apart.

Relegation inevitably results in ‘fire sales’ as companies look to strip out expendable assets, resource and overheads. Squads are overhauled as clubs seek to underwrite themselves in order to absorb considerable losses and work within EFL financial regulations. Relegation in 2003 decimated our squad – Defoe, David James, Carrick, Joe Cole, Sinclair, Glen Johnson, Di Canio and Kanoute all departed the Boleyn. Our ill-fated inaugural campaign under Avram Grant similarly culminated in the likes of Demba Ba and Scott Parker leaving the Club.

Many of these players moved on cut-price deals. Purchasing clubs have little incentive to act before the latter stages of the transfer window, knowing full well that selling clubs are desperate to offload. Inequality of bargaining power drives down price. Post-season vultures begin to circle in gleeful anticipation of feasting upon the charred remains of another Premier League casualty. Attractive propositions can be readily enticed with a return to the Promised Land. Take Newcastle for example: having been relegated at the end of last season, the following players became available – Krul, Townsend, Coloccini, Cissé, Wijnaldum, Cabella, Janmaat, Sissoko, Tioté, Thauvin and Rivière. Not a bad carcass to pick the bones out of there! Opportunity knocks again this summer and the Hammers must be ready to pounce. Relegated players can meet a variety of business and sporting needs; purchase to plug gaps, develop, upsell or enhance our current squad.

For me, it’s now 3 from 4 for relegation; Sunderland will be joined by Middlesbrough, Swansea and/or Hull City. Whilst I’m not suggesting we should recruit all (or even any) of the following players, I’m curious to consider how we might bolster our ranks by targeting trapdoor teams:

Relegation XI 2016/17

GK: Lukasz Fabianski – The Swansea shot-stopper has always impressed me and, at 31 years of age, still has several good seasons ahead of him. Whilst Jordan Pickford also deserves a mention, we need a keeper to hit the ground running and truly replace Rob Green. There will also be greater competition for Pickford’s signature.

RB: Kyle Naughton – Our relegation candidates lack a stand-out right back. Middlesbrough’s Fabio is a liability and the Tigers’ Elmohamady is a winger by trade who lacks defensive discipline. From the options available in the basement battle, I’d be tempted to take a punt on former Spurs man Naughton. However, the reality is that we need to invest heartily to secure an accomplished PL performer to tackle this problem position properly.

CB: Alfie Mawson – At just 23 years of age, this lad has a bright future. Quick, reads the game well despite his inexperience, good in the air and has an eye for goal with 4 strikes already in just 21 Swansea appearances.

CB: Lamine Koné – Built like the proverbial brickhouse, the Ivory Coast international brings sheer physicality and athleticism to the backline. With a tad more focus and application, he could be a colossal centre half. At 28, the Black Cats’ defender looks a shrewd purchase. I would have included Ben Gibson, but we won’t beat other bidders for the Borough boy’s services.

LB: Andrew Robertson – The marauding fullback has done enough in his 2 appearances against us alone to warrant inclusion. Loves to get forward but has added maturity and leadership to his game. Martin Olsson gets a nod, but I’d plump for the young Scot to team-up with his international colleague down our left flank.

RM: Luciano Narsingh – I watch a lot of Dutch football and this boy is a tricky customer. At his best in transition and clinical on the counter attack, he would suit our style of play, particularly away from home. Players from the Edervisie take time to settle whilst they get to grips with the frenetic pace and physicality of the league. A modicum of faith would reap rewards on this occasion.

CDM: Jan Kirchhoff – A class act when fit (which raises justifiable question marks), the former Mainz and Bayern Munich man is adept at breaking up play and forging intelligent passes between the lines. A slick and silky operator who strikes the right balance between skill and pragmatism.

CAM: Gylfi Sigurdsson – All. Day. Long. This guy has vision, guile and technique. Not to mention he chalks up goals and assists for fun. A go-to-guy for fantasy football fans everywhere, a goal-scoring central midfielder is exactly what we require if Slaven persists with playing one up top. Gastón Ramírez was considered, but the temperamental and nomadic midfielder simply cannot compete with the Icelandic technician.

LM: Kamil Grosicki – Full of technique and dribbling ability, the diminutive Pole has more twists and turns than a series of Broadchurch. Adama Traoré gets an honourable mention, but is a winger of the headless chicken variety, a la Yannick Bolasie. Application is a given, but output is key.

ST: Jermain Defoe – The former Hammer simply had to be included. With 14 goals in a struggling Sunderland side, it is embarrassing to consider where the Mackems would be without him. The prolific forward has a relegation release clause, so expect widespread clamour for his services. I have a hunch that Spurs will come calling to bolster their stable of strikers. Wouldn’t it be great if ‘Judas’ finally restored the balance and chose us over them?

ST: Fernando Llorente – Slim pickings in the forward department amongst our relegation fodder. The Swansea target man’s 11 league goals this season represent a healthy return. The Spanish international has also forged a decent partnership with Sigurdsson. Indeed, the Swans have missed Llorente dearly in recent weeks as their form has tailed-off alarmingly. Abel Hernández and Álvaro Negredo were considered, whilst Borini, Mbokani and Anichebe were roundly mocked and quickly consigned to the relegation scrapheap.

It’s a game of opinions – what’s yours?

Talking Point

Release the Hounds - Time to Blood the Youngsters

West Ham’s season has fallen between a rock and a hard place: European qualification firmly out of reach; Premier League status all but secured; a season punctuated with fluctuating form; early exits from domestic cup competitions; goal difference spiralling into increasingly negative equity. Where does that leave us? 33 points, 12th place. Treading water in a mid-table mini-league of pragmatists, under achievers and also-rans.

The season is effectively over. Regardless of results in the remaining 9 games, the post mortem will dissect a challenging campaign. Heads will be scratched, fingers will be pointed, a new equilibrium will be sought: re-focus and soul searching might suffice; loyalty and continuity may well prevail; disruptive innovation could catalyse progress. The Board will agree, action and administer our short-term strategy, but commercial considerations are not high on this quarter’s agenda.

Our seasonal stagnation presents a unique opportunity: to blood promising youngsters into the senior set-up, matchday squad and, ultimately, starting XI. I am not advocating a Forest Away ‘release the hounds’ Allardyce-inspired bloodbath which hangs our finest prospects out to dry, rather a calculated, considered and incremental introduction to First Team affairs. Line-ups, formations and tactics until the season-end should blend PL experience with the enthusiasm, fearlessness, hunger and infectiousness of youth. A sure-fire combination guaranteed to intrigue, inspire and innovate.

Youth players develop at different speeds; some lack mental fortitude, others are injury-prone, frontrunners are fast-tracked and tantalising talents are sent on loan. Premier League clubs utilise the loan market to accelerate assets and engender real-world experience and a competitive ‘edge’ amongst personnel. Loans are frequently agreed for fixed-terms with no recall rights for parent clubs. Acquiring clubs part with little to no Capex, assume negligible commercial risk and play these kids entirely at their discretion. This allows said clubs to have their cake and eat it, something both the Board and Manager should guard against in future.

Reece Oxford is a prime example; an apprenticeship under Jaap Stam seemed a match made in heaven but, in hindsight, he’s been left in limbo and would be best served at Rush Green during the business end to the season. The likes of Oxford, Burke, Byram, Fernandes, Cullen, Samuelsen, Quina and Martinez are the future of our great Club. Each one, when appraised individually, has fantastic attributes and a certain West Ham Way about them. Such natural talents must be harnessed and harvested. The players need to feel comfortable in their climate, competent and composed in competitive action. They need opportunities, free from the microcosm of social media sensationalism, to garner professional maturity and experience during matches. Young players will make mistakes, but they will learn too. Enveloped exposure to success and adversity in equal measure will set these players on an upward trajectory of exponential development. The analysis is academic; an opportunity has been missed.

Talking Point

Squad Goals – Hammers in the Frame for International Acclaim

BREAKING NEWS: West Ham duo Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio named in England squad

It is widely reported that ticker tapes on frontline news and social media platforms will be displaying this headline later today.

With 15 Premier League goals between them, the front pairing have provided bright moments in an otherwise underwhelming season for the Irons. Carroll’s emphatic finish against Palace is a contender for goal of the season, whilst Antonio layed on 3 assists in the same fixture – a feat last achieved by the indomitable Paolo di Canio some 17 years ago. The Hammers’ talismanic twosome are revered for their industry, application and athleticism – the staple diet of the West Ham way – but they also possess genuine quality to impact, affect and, ultimately, decide games.

The challenges for Southgate’s England are well documented: established strikers are either injured (Kane), lacking match sharpness (Welbeck) out of form (Rooney) or all of the above (Sturridge); the team lacks width and is overly reliant on the fullbacks; and there is no ‘Plan B’ when proceedings veer off course. Carroll and Antonio, individually and collectively, provide a logical, credible and merited proposition to counteract these problems.

The 2018 World Cup is still 65 weeks away. Could additional claret and blue candidates yet stake a claim to board the plane? The Premier League is a volatile and ever-changing market, with public perception of individuals inextricably linked with parent club performance. West Ham’s displays during the 2017/18 season will have a considerable impact upon our English contingent’s prospects. For some, their stock will soar whilst, for others, their value will plummet. Form is temporary, class is permanent, but timing is everything. Channelling Mystic Meg, it’s worth considering which, if any, of our current playing staff will make it to Russia.

Aaron Cresswell
Hammer of the Year in his maiden season with the Hammers, the Liverpool trainee has already paid dividends on our modest £3.75m investment. Cresswell joined with a good injury record, attacking instincts and a peach of a left peg. However, his consistency has deserted him this season; influential performances are readily interchanged with displays littered with schoolboy errors and positional indiscipline.

Danny Rose is undoubtedly first choice for the left-back berth. With Baines and Luke Shaw out of favour, that realistically leaves a three-way tussle with Ryan Bertrand and Kieron Gibbs for the other slot. The Southampton man, who started for Chelsea in their Champions League victory at the Allianz in 2012, edges it for me due to his consistent contributions in both penalty areas.

Sam Byram
A technically gifted young footballer, who predominantly operated as a right wing-back or defensive midfielder for his former club Leeds United, Sam Byram has yet to come of age in a West Ham shirt. When he’s not on the treatment table, he’s readily targeted by opposition defences and duly obliges with alarming regularity.

Ronald Koeman recently said Ross Barkley can no longer be considered ‘one for the future’, but must start justifying the media hype by delivering influential performances on a regular basis. Like Byram, the Everton man is 23. Good point, well made by the Toffees boss.

Reece Oxford
The most exciting Hammers prospect since the likes of Rio, Lampard and Joe Cole. When Oxford burst onto the scene with that performance at the Emirates, he displayed a sense of assuredness and physicality which belied his adolescence. If developed correctly, the potential is boundless. A recent contract stand-off did neither the player nor Club any favours. Currently on loan in the Championship – best thing for him. One for the future.

Mark Noble
The perpetual debate surrounding the inclusion of ‘Mr West Ham’ has lost momentum in recent months. Whilst the 2015/16 season was undeniably one of the Canning Town midfielder’s best to date – fuelled by our gut-wrenching departure from the Boleyn – this season his form has nosedived. The legs have gone; costly errors are commonplace and tangible output during games is negligible. His inclusion in the Hammers XI is becoming increasingly difficult to admonish.

Having captained England U21s, Nobes has failed to cut the mustard at senior level. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse now faces a similar challenge, albeit that he doesn’t have the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to contend with. Having been continuously overlooked for more fashionable and technically gifted holding midfielders, any debate surrounding our number 16’s inclusion is not so much the elephant in the room as the horse that has long since bolted.

Michail Antonio
Another shrewd acquisition from the Championship; in today’s market, Antonio represents an absolute snip at £7m. He has all the attributes – pace, power, passion and productivity – and, at 26, the wing-forward’s best years are ahead of him. Consistently in our top 3 performers, the former Nottingham Forest man wears his heart on his sleeve, a quality which fits the Hammers’ faithful hand in glove.

Antonio offers a sustained physicality on the right-hand side which is absent amongst alternative options such as Walcott, Sterling or Townsend. His remarkable ability in the air would greatly add to the Three Lions’ weaponry. The case for Antonio’s inclusion is compelling.

Andy Carroll
England need a Plan B. Against Iceland, our ‘tippy tappy, round the backy’ idealisms were insufficient. The minnows blunted our attack leading to the knives being sharpened on Hodgson. Form and fitness aside, Kane, Vardy and Sturridge will pick themselves. But, with 85 minutes gone, even the most cultured teams ‘go long’ to force the issue. The Gateshead-born striker, unplayable on his day, will compete with the likes of Troy Deeney and Peter Crouch for the target man role. Carroll is head and shoulders above the competition. When fit, his inclusion is a no brainer.

Ashley Fletcher
Fletcher enjoyed an enterprising loan spell at Barnsley last season, scoring in the both the Football League Trophy final and the League 1 Play-Off Final. Having proved himself a man for the big occasion, the young striker appeared a good addition for the Hammers, providing pace, movement in the channels and strength-in-depth up top.

Opportunities have been limited thus far. A decent stint with a footballing side in the Championship – the likes of Fulham or Bristol City – would best serve his short-term development. There’s more to come from this lad.

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