Written by Rhys Paul
In the aftermath of the Southampton game, there was a huge amount of resentment. Yes, it was there after the Watford collapse, but this had far more venom to it. Supporters may have been prepared to accept the 4-2 loss to Watford as an anomaly, yet four defeats on the bounce have understandably antagonised fans. The manner of defeat in the last three games has been downright embarrassing. The defenders can’t defend, the attackers can’t attack and the players just look generally disinterested. They do not seem capable of staging a comeback and that was exposed so predictably by Charlie Austin at the weekend. By the time the third goal went in, every player had the same telling expression on their face – they all wanted to go home. Aside from the usual complaints of the stadium, Slav’s tactics and the owners, concerns over the lack of senior English players in the squad caught my eye.
There were only two English players on the pitch for the majority of the game against the Saints. In comparison, five English players featured in the final game of last season against Stoke. Admittedly, the likes of Aaron Cresswell and Andy Carroll are currently injured, yet that in itself exposes the shallowness of the club’s English pool. Over the summer, only Ashley Fletcher was brought in to bolster the home grown front. Fletcher, like Oxford, is a future first team player – in spite of showing more promise than Simone Zaza and Jonathan Calleri combined. Therefore, he’s not regarded as an immediate solution to the problem. It’s not just English players though, James Collins (Wales) and Darren Randolph (Republic of Ireland) are the only two players from home nation countries to join them in the club’s ranks.
28 per cent of West Ham’s 2016/17 twenty-five man squad is made up of home nation players. I’ve excluded Sam Westley on the sole basis that he deserves to be nowhere near the first team and there is little chance he will ever feature. West Ham have also been a club whose homegrown core has been pivotal in their success. The sale of James Tomkins deprived the club of one of only two of these players to have broken into the first team. Mark Noble is the other and, whilst he is captain, he cannot be expected to do all the industrial work for the side. To make matters even worse, his performances this season have been significantly below the standard he set last season. Part of the reason why he was able to thrive was because the squad had the perfect balance to it and that took a significant load off his shoulders. Now, however, he doesn’t have the same luxury with the team simply not playing for each other.
Nobody is saying foreign players can’t care about an English club – take Paolo Di Canio for instance, and Arsenal’s Thierry Henry – but it is clear the latest imports have little connection to the club. Believe it or not, it takes more than David Sullivan asking the new signings to imitate crossed hammers over their chest to actually be part of the West Ham family. The London Stadium has to take some responsibility for that. Supporters are too far away from the pitch and that is a far cry from the close quarters at Upton Park. Stories about players (home and away) being able to hear the fans from the touchline are common knowledge. The players were right in the middle of the atmosphere at Upton Park and that created a sense of unity. Dimitri Payet fell in love with the supporters almost immediately as ‘We’ve got Payet’ caught on quickly. It’s difficult to see another player receiving quite the same treatment at the new stadium – although none of them have done anything to deserve such admiration. When players were under-performing, they would know about it. Unfortunately, Zaza and Gokhan Tore have been spared of this.
Essentially, English and other players from the home nation countries know about the club and its history. I’m not saying players from abroad should know everything there is to know about West Ham, but they simply do not understand the club. Noble’s post-match interview on Sunday was spoken from a fan’s perspective, not that of a player disjointed from their supporters. He was hurting just like the fans. His performances so far might have been woeful, but no other player embodies the supporters quite like the skipper. Why should it be left to one player to drag the rest of the team to something resembling a competitive performance? There needs to be somebody else in the side who is willing to do the grittier stuff. For all their attacking talents, Payet and Manuel Lanzini do not contribute much defensively. Michail Antonio isn’t much better, but at least he’s one of the few players who has still tried to make things happen when the rest of the side have given up. Even in defence the team seem to lack the passion an English centre-back would bring. Half-hearted challenges have meant the defence has been nearly non-existent, you just need somebody will throw their body on the line or at least work tirelessly to win the ball back for the team. Aaron Cresswell’s return might solve the issue on the left, but the team is crying out for a solid centre-back to lead the rest of the defence – almost a Ryan Shawcross type of figure.
There is feeling that many of the players don’t care, especially with the growing turnaround of players in modern football. Players can move on in months if things aren’t working out for them. West Ham’s frustrating transfer window has obviously led to several cheap, panic buys and that has impacted the overall quality of the side. English talent might be inflationary, but the owners have gone too far the other way to avoid over-paying for average homegrown talents. The club have effectively attempted to paper over big cracks as quickly and cheaply as possible. I had previously taken pride in the fact West Ham were able to boast one of the highest English quotas. That appears to have changed now and the club are the latest to follow the Premier League’s trend of choosing cheap, foreign imports over expensive, domestic talent.
West Ham fans, is there a short term fix? Would more English players stop these issues? Let us know in the comments below!