‘All in all, this transfer window promises to hugely exciting for West Ham and by the time it comes to a close, expect the squad to be significantly stronger than it has been for some time’
Last year, I summarised the transfer window ahead of West Ham in 2016 with the above quote. In hindsight, it proved to be a complete contradiction of what actually transpired. Instead, the club were repeatedly rebuffed by their main targets and, thereafter, demonstrated a concerning reluctance to spend big on quality players. Loan deals for Simone Zaza, Gokhan Tore and Jonathan Calleri appeared cheap alternatives on the surface, but they proved to be smart business from the club. Unfortunately, this was not because they were successful, but rather the opposite – it saved the club money when they ultimately flopped. Aside from flashes of brilliance from record signing, Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli and Arthur Masuaku, the squad is not ‘significantly stronger’ than it was this time last year. In fact, many of the new signings have weakened the overall quality of the squad meaning that an overhaul is needed just as much as an influx of new talent. The shortcomings of last year have placed greater importance on the club’s performance in the transfer market this summer.
Just as it did last year, a striker remains at the top of the shopping list. Attempts are currently being made to bring Kelechi Iheanacho to the club and, along with Michy Batshuayi, he remains the top target this summer. Iheanacho would be a superb signing, regardless of some fans’ hesitancy over a buy-back clause. Despite falling down the pecking order under Pep Guardiola, Iheanacho remains one of the brightest young talents in the Premier League and it would be a real coup for West Ham to land him. I am slightly less confident about Batshuayi joining. A loan seems the most likely agreement, but even then it is a deal that seems to hinge on several factors. The future of Diego Costa as well as the fact Batshuayi finished the season strongly could potentially hamper the Hammers’ chance of securing a deal for the player. I still believe that Mario Mandzukic is a player we should target. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Mandzukic will be a West Ham player next season after recently signing a contract extension with Juventus until 2020. Even so, his relationship with Slaven Bilic is something that I feel the club should make a greater effort to exploit. Going the other way, Diafra Sakho’s tenure at the club needs to come to an end. He has been allowed to live far too long on the eight goals he scored in nine games back in 2014. Since then it has been one injury after another to the point where his injury record is even less reliable than Andy Carroll’s after making just four appearances all season. Add to that a shocking attitude – which saw the striker refuse to sit on the bench against Sunderland – and it is clear that the club need to cut their losses and move the temperamental forward on. In the case of Sakho’s departure, Shane Long could be a possible replacement. Henry Onyekuru has also been mentioned, but competition for his signature will be stiff. In regards to Jermain Defoe, it is a relief that the club have finally decided against making a move for the ageing forward.
Whilst the pursuit of a prolific striker continues, the signing of Pablo Zabaleta does at least solve the longstanding right-back problem. An extremely talented and experienced defender, Zabaleta will not only strengthen a defence that conceded 64 league goals last season, but the natural leadership he exuberates is something that the squad severely lacked last season. It represents a promising start, but it needs to continue. The club also need to look at bringing in a new centre-back. Southampton recognised that Jose Fonte was past it, but still managed to recuperate £8 million for him in January (which admittedly did seem like good, short-term solution at the time). It is unlikely that the Hammers will be able to recover most of the £8 million back, but they should still look to cash-in on a player who cannot seriously be ahead of Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and James Collins in the pecking order. Ben Gibson was one of the few bright spots for Middlesbrough last season and looks keen to stay in the Premier League, so that is an avenue I would like to see the Hammers go down. Alternatively, Mamadou Sakho played a big part in shoring up Crystal Palace’s defence during their relegation battle and looks surplus to requirements at Liverpool. Whilst Palace appears to be his most likely destination, the managerless Eagles could lose out on the player if they do not appoint somebody soon. However, this is merely speculation and there has been no indication that Gibson, Sakho or even a centre-back are on Bilic’s radar.
Improvements are needed across midfield as well. Yet, this is something that seems to hinge on the sale of other players. Talk of Robert Snodgrass wanting out seems to have grown in the last few days with Brighton frequently linked with the player. Snodgrass could be a good squad player, but he has not shown enough since January to suggest he can be anything more than that and a move to newly-promoted Brighton seems a good fit for both parties. Jonathan Cafu and Adama Traore have been touted as possible targets should Snodgrass leave the club this summer. Havard Nordtveit is another player who I personally believe we should look to move on. He has been caught out too easily and, on more than one occasion, he has been directly responsible for an error leading to a goal. Josh Cullen – who should be viewed as the long-term successor to Mark Noble – has impressed again on loan at Bradford and needs to be given game time if the club are serious about his future. Jack Wilshere, for all his talents, would be a disaster waiting to happen. Both the injury record of the player and the club itself do not make for pleasant reading and the latter cannot afford to have another player in the treatment room for two-thirds of the season.
Expectations for this transfer window seem far more grounded than they did last year and that can only be a good thing. The ambition is still there, but it is directed towards more realistic targets with the club appearing eager to get deals done quickly to avoid a repeat of the previous season’s tediousness. Zabaleta is a fantastic start, but it remains to be seen whether the Argentinian has marked the beginning of a successful period of recruitment for West Ham.
Where do you think West Ham need to strengthen this summer and who would you like to see them target? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image: David Holt