“It’s clear to most fans that we are desperate for centre-forwards. You have to spend your money wisely but it must be on strikers, particularly strikers that have had experience with Premier League football – the very best we can afford. We have got to find the money” – David Gold.
The search, in every sense, continues. West Ham’s infamous co-owners, Davids Gold and Sullivan, have a penchant for embarrassing and counter-productive public declarations. Only last May the former stated that the club “are good enough to win” the Europa League; they were knocked out in the play-off round within three months by Astra Giurgiu, who went on to finish sixth in Romania’s top flight.
But this was different. This was Gold, speaking at the end of June, with a frank admission that West Ham had to do better, that another summer of posturing and then panicking would not suffice.
Considering the monumental mess that he and his colleagues helped oversee 12 months ago, the bar had hardly been lifted off the ground. The Hammers signed 13 players last summer. The three loanees have returned to their parent clubs and two more who have since departed, with another, Galatasaray-bound Sofiane Feghouli, set to join them. Of the remaining seven, only one started more than 16 Premier League games. The outlier, Manuel Lanzini, had already spent a season on loan at the club.
West Ham spent months pursuing a variety of different players, from Christian Benteke and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Carlos Bacca, Alexandre Lacazette and Jamie Vardy. They were looking to win the striker lottery, but ended up with the £1 losing scratchcard that was Simone Zaza.
Instead of learning from the harsh lessons of a subsequent Premier League relegation battle, a managerial future cast into disarray and an eventual mid-table finish, West Ham are intent on resitting the exact same exams with the exact same lack of preparation. The need for a striker has been clearly identified, but the solution remains a mystery.
Gold seemingly thought he had cracked the case three weeks ago. “We had a very difficult season because players we brought in from Europe didn’t make the grade and we paid the price,” he stated without doubt. “That is why we have got to bring in players with Premier League experience and that is what we are working on now.”
And yet it emerged a day later that club-record bids had been rejected for two strikers. Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal has approximately zero experience of England’s top flight, while Anthony Modeste’s nine appearances for a relegated Blackburn side in 2012 certainly call into question the threshold of ever-important ‘Premier League experience’.
Add Bakambu and Modeste to a list featuring Olivier Giroud, Martin Braithwaite, Henry Onyekuru, Michy Batshuayi and Kelechi Iheanacho of strikers the club have openly and aimlessly chased, and there is a distinct stench of déjà vu emanating from East London.
The deal for Iheanacho in particular is a bone of contention. The London Evening Standard reported two weeks ago that the club had negotiated a deal ‘for more than a month and were ready to meet City’s £25million valuation’, yet the official line is that the move was vetoed in its final stages by manager Slaven Bilic.
Back in May, the club offered a valuable insight into how they conduct transfers. “We make sure we have six or seven, eight, nine reports on players,” said Tony Henry, Director of Player Recruitment. “We then sit down with the manager, with the staff, and we go through them, and we’ll have a group of let’s say strikers, and we look at the one we think would be the best in that position.”
Quite how West Ham, with that structure, pursued a player for a month and agreed a fee before the manager overruled the deal when it was nearing its completion would be unfathomable, were it not for a glut of similarly amateurish actions.
In that same interview, Henry added that the club “need two or three, maximum” signings. Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart are pieces of the jigsaw, but the entire middle is missing as long as the laborious search for a striker continues.
Three Premier League clubs are yet to spend any money so far this summer. Tottenham are playing a different transfer game, while Stoke have been similarly resistant to the winds of transfer change.
Along with the son of a co-owner who continues to flagrantly discuss the intricacies of ongoing negotiations on social media, it all sums up the miscommunication, mixed messages and ineptitude that have come to typify a transfer window at the London Stadium.
The ‘West Ham way’ is clearly no longer prioritising the development of young players; it is transfer incompetence.