It is rare, this early in the transfer period, for any club to have acted as quickly and effectively as West Ham has so far this offseason.
The yearly chore of refreshing the roster must be carried out by every team hoping to stay afloat in the English top flight, and some teams require more work than others. This necessity, however, does not always ensure a more active and successful transfer period; often the clubs most in need find the pickings desperately slim. And then other clubs, for example Liverpool, tend to adopt a scattergun approach, buying up a whole horde of new players, a method that has not always proven advisable. Excluding the promoted clubs Bournemouth and Watford, only Liverpool have brought in more players so far this transfer period than West Ham, with the East London club making very clear its ambition for the final season at Upton Park.
What has been most striking, however, is the Hammers’ considered, systematic approach to their recruitment. Of the senior players brought in, there is a goalkeeper (Darren Randolph), a midfielder (Pedro Obiang), and an attacker (Dimitri Payet). Another deal, for Juventus centre back Angelo Ogbonna, has just been finalised. Add in another year’s loan of Arsenal full back Carl Jenkinson, and the summer’s recruits make for a considered bunch, collectively designed to reinforce the team as a whole, from top to bottom. All that is missing is a striker, which, one assumes when looking at West Ham’s goal difference last season, is next on the shopping list.
Naturally, this sort of financial support was more or less expected when Slaven Bilic arrived at the club. New managers are rarely made to scrounge and scratch for loose change when they take up the reigns, and David Gold and David Sullivan have made their new man very comfortable indeed in this respect.
Bilic spoke before the team flew off to Andorra for the second leg of its Europa League qualifying tie against FC Lusitans.
“Our plan is to bring in more players,” Bilic said. “We are trying to bring in players who we believe can lift us to another stage and make us better. We have already signed a few players and brought them into a good team. Sometimes they will click straight away and sometimes it will take a bit of time.
We are aware of that and we are going to try and make that adjustment period as short as possible. We are expecting big things with West Ham. We are not big headed and will take it step by step but the early signs are very promising.”
Indeed they are, especially the eye-catching capture of French international Payet.
The rigorous pursuit of Jenkinson reeks of a club acknowledging where its bread is buttered. Jenkinson was outstanding on loan last season, and the club appears to be making sure, even if only on a temporary basis once again, that he returns to play in claret and blue. The recent news of Aaron Cresswell, last season’s Hammer of the year, signing fresh terms with the club that will keep him under contract in East London until 2020 also perfumed the air around the Boleyn Ground with a highly welcome aroma. The mood at the club is firmly upbeat.
“These are exciting times for West Ham United and the hard work continues behind the scenes to bring in new signings. Our people are working their socks off to ensure we bring the best quality players to the club.” David Gold wrote in his regular letter on the club website. “It is not just about numbers but we want quality and people who will make a difference to our football club. We want to bring in serious players to strengthen the squad and I am confident that the squad will be stronger than the one we had last season.”
The question of a striker remains, as does a rumoured issue around the health of another target, Alex Song. The midfielder, who also did well on loan from Barcelona last season, may have an issue concerning a floating piece of bone that requires surgery, potentially keeping him sidelined for three months. Song was apparently present at the first leg victory over FC Lusitans, stoking the fires urging him back to club.
As to the striker, well, plenty of stirring mutterings exist, each as intangible as the next, evaporating into wisps as soon as you try to grasp them for more than a second. Charlie Austin is still available, and desirable, and rumours swirl around Loic Remy, Seydou Doumbia and Mattia Destro.
£17 million has been spent so far, with more hefty transactions pending. At this rate, the lingering after-taste of last season, terribly bitter as it was, is fading fast. West Ham was the most well-supported club last season, filling a higher percentage of their stadium’s maximum capacity than anyone else in the league. 35,000 people attended the opening leg Europa League qualifying victory. Good will, bolstered by this promising transfer business, is building in anticipation of the 2015-16 season.