Prior to last season’s conclusion, I raised the issue of the future of David Moyes in my column. At the time I had not come to a conclusion about whether the experienced Scot should be offered a new deal. but merely raised the issue because it seemed obvious to me that the club had to take a crucial (branching point) decision at the season’s end. If they were to attempt to carry on as they had for the past two seasons (signing free transfers, loans and long shots, mixed with the odd quality buy like Arnautovic, then Moyes was probably as good a managerial choice as they were likely to secure. If, on the other hand, the club wanted to start living up to their previous big statements, and promises, then we had to start showing ambition and push the boat out financially. That latter option would probably necessitate the recruitment of a top class manager to guarantee the success of the endeavour.
We now know that the Hammers board opted for a new course/direction and subsequently recruited Manuel Pellegrini to head it. A top manager like Pellegrini was always likely to insist on a substantial transfer budget and the signings to drastically improve the quality of the squad at his disposal. The Chilean manager is an advocate of an exciting, expansive, attacking style of play that Hammers fans will love. And it was obvious that major additions were necessary to enable him to play that way. That is not to say that the cardboard, that he inherited, was totally bare! The likes of Hernandez, Arnautovic, Antonio, Rice, Lanzini, Zabaletta, Byram (if he can get and stay fit), Mario (if he returns to the club) Cresswell, Masuaku and Ogbonna are all equipped to play in his system. Others such as Kouyate, Reid and Noble also have a possibility of adapting to it. While there is also the bonus of the potential that we have at U-21 level. in players such as Holland, Quina, Pask, Browne, Haksabanovic, Samuelson, Martinez and (even) Oxford that he will assess for first team readiness. Below them are youngsters of arguably even greater potential like Lewis and Johnson that could emerge as first team options over the next couple of seasons. It is significant that the new manager has put an embargo on the U-21s going out loan until he has assessed their potential and current stage of development. Finally, a decision needs to be urgently made on the futures of youngsters like Burke and Cullen that have been around the edges of the first team squad for some time. This needs to be done not only in the interests of the club, but equally importantly, the interests of the youngsters themselves.
At present there are lots of links and negotiations pertaining to flair players like Anderson (at Lazio), Pastore (PSG) and, the youngster, Diaz (Man City). These are presumably at various stages or, in Pastore’s case, proving abortive. Very sensibly, Pellegrini has began by augmenting West Ham’s leaky defence. We only managed to stem the flood of opposition goals, and gain some defensive cohesion, last season by perfecting a three at the back system. The new manager will presumably want to move away from that and play a far more flexible 4-2-2-2 system, with strong central defenders, who can play the ball out from the back and full-backs that get forward and offer width, to allow the wide players (like Anderson and Antonio) to cut insider and attack through more central positions and support the strikers.
To date, he has signed Fredericks (a player perfect for this system), Issa Diop (a strong, ball playing centre back, with huge potential to become a real star) and Fabianski, (the Polish international keeper). In addition, we have been linked with Marlon (of Barca), Mawson (of Swansea) and, another keeper, Jimenez (of Espanyol). It is possible that we could sign another centre-back and keeper to further revolutionise our defensive options next season. There has also been rumours that Rice will be primarily used as a defensive midfielder, rather than a centre-back, and Oxford will be very closely scrutinised before a decision is made on his future. It could be that Oxford exits to Germany (to raise additional funds) and we bring in another player like Anderlect’s Dendocker, who is apparently available for c.£16-18m.
In terms of attacking midfield/wide options, the injury to Lanzini (our most creative player) is a huge blow. And it is a blow that the club has had to adapt its transfer strategy to ameliorate. The seemingly endless haggling with Lazio is nearly at a conclusion. The latest reports suggest that we have offered 30m euros and add on clauses and a 10% sell on that meets Lazio’s demand for a overall fee of 42m euros. If this offer is rejected then the club is likely to reluctantly walk away and pursue other targets. As such, Lazio have a major decision to make. At the time of writing, the Pastore deal looks dead in the water, with the player preferring a returm to Serie A with Roma. While rumours persist that Pellegrini might seek a season long loan for Man City’s young play-maker, Diaz and there is the possibility of Wilshire signing on a free transfer from Arsenal. Plus, there is the outstanding question of Mario’s future and Spurs’ supposed alternative interest in the player, which could derail the prospect of his return to the club next season. The picture was further complicated yesterday by news that we are being linked to a number of other exciting midfield targets.
In terms of strikers, there seems to be an assumption that Pellegrini will continue with the existing striking triumvirate of Arnautovic, Hernandez and Carroll. In practice, that could see a arnautovic-Hernandez partnership up front, with Carroll (injuries allowing) adding something a bit different/more direct from the bench. That, of course, supposes that both Arnautovic and Hernandez remain at the club? As yet the much mooted interest from Man Utd in Arnautovic has not materialised (although there is now another link to Inter-Milan) and one can only hope that Pellegrini can talk Hernandez out of his Moyes induced strop of last season! It is a reasonable question to pose whether the manager will stick with Carroll? is he really Pelligrini’s type of striker and does he fit in to his preferred system of play? In terms of links with new strikers, we have been connected with a number, including Senegal’s Konate, Argentina’s Pavon and Celtic and France’s Moussa Dembele. Whether we move on these or any other striking targets remains to be seen.
In all honesty, I have tried to map some of the key links/negotiations in which we we are involved, but it is a frantic, frenetic process that is chucking up new names each day. Sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’’ of rumours is difficult and, of course, who we line up/recruit is likely to have an undoubted influence on the players that we put up for sale. And there is always the unexpected developments coming out of left field, like yesterday evening’s reports that agents were ‘offering’ Arnautovic to Inter-Milan. Stories like that are likely baseless, but until they are officially discounted they are a factor for consideration!
There appears to be a consensus that Pellegrini has been handed a c.£75m transfer budget. However, with three players signed and, according to reports yesterday evening, another 3-5 new signings on the way, then it is likely that this will need to be supplemented by generating some funds from players sales. So, who are the main candidates for a departure. Well, Adrian’s future at the club needs to be confirmed. It could be that he will compete with Fabianski next season for the keeper’s jersey. However, if Adrian is not happy with that or the club pursue their interest in Jimenez then he could exit, most likely back to former club Real Betis. Both Byram and Reid would probably be on most people’s list of possible exits, but I hope that they are retained, Reid to provide strength in depth at the back and Byram to be given another chance to get over his injuries and fulfil his potential, especially in Pellegrin’s new system of play. One player that could exit is Pedro Obiang, if we commit to playing Rice in that position and we secure a better alternative like Dendocker. There is interest in Obiang from Italian and Spanish clubs and he could raise a significant transfer fee. If Pellegrini gives the green light, the club could sell the youngsters Burke, Cullen and Oxford. A Crystal Palace bid for Antonio has been much anticipated, but again, he could be a good player to have in Pellegrini’s system. Yes, he was injured for much of last season and, when he did play, his standards slipped in comparison with the previous two seasons, but hopefully he can regain his former fitness and form. One player almost certain to be sold is Snodgrass, who is currently interesting Cardiff City. Although there has been the interesting suggestion on social media sites that we could try to trade him in a part-exchange deal for Celtic’s Moussa Dembele. Then there is Jordan Hugill and, the Swiss international, Emilison Fernandes who could both be off-loaded. And finally, might the club be tempted to accept a £8-10m bid for Carroll, if it came in, from a club like Newcastle Utd? The club will want to raise additional funds and they will need to assess who we can sell, for what fee, based on which players are incoming. At the end of the day Pellegrini has to significantly raise both the quality and the depth of the squad. That necessarily requires a careful balancing act.
So, all the indications are that we are looking at brave new era for the club. There is still a lot of business to transact, but it would seem that the squad will have a major refit prior to the commencement of the new season. Certainly pre-season will be fascinating to follow this season, as Pellegrini finalises his squad and gets down to the business of building team spirit, embedding his tactics and style of play and moulding them in to an effective and cohesive unit.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we have turned a corner and significantly better times lie ahead for the club and its supporters? We can but live in hope – as always! Only this time the hope appears to have some ambition, top-level management, hard cash and quality recruitment behind it.