Written by Rhys Paul
Five months ago I wrote an article regarding Diafra Sakho’s future at West Ham. It was a reaction to the rumours of an £11 million move transfer to Sunderland which ultimately failed to materialise. The closest Sakho came to leaving the club would come just under two months later with West Brom going one step further than Sunderland in their pursuit of the striker. I suggested in the aforementioned article that Sakho was not worth £11 million, so the prospect of the club banking £16 million for a player that cost a mere £3.5 million had fans like myself rubbing their hands with glee (although I naively expected the money to be reinvested at the time).
Bridges had been burned at West Ham and the general consensus among fans was one of good riddance. That appeared to be the case after the player agreed personal terms and even made an appearance at the Baggies’ training ground. Naturally, it all proved too good to be true. As it happened, Sakho was responsible for the collapse of the deal. His frankly appalling professional attitude had seen him refuse to train with the Hammers until a move away was finalised, citing an ‘injury’ as the reason for this. To the surprise of nobody, West Brom realised that their potential record signing would not be fit enough to feature in their opening day fixture against Crystal Palace. To the surprise of everybody, it had taken this long for Tony Pulis to realise this. Sakho’s dodgy medical record would have done little to dispel second thoughts and the deal subsequently unraveled quicker than the Lamborghini Sakho wrote off in January.
Interest in Sakho ceased soon after with potential suitors quickly becoming wise of the situation. Thus, as of November 2016, Sakho remains a member of the West Ham squad. Things might have been very different had the club done what was needed of them in the Summer, notably in their pursuit of a higher-caliber striker. All the new recruits have done is boost the prestige of the players they were designed to be an upgrade on. Simone Zaza has been an ineffective flop with the first touch of a centre-back. Jonathan Calleri has a long way to go before he is anywhere near Premier League quality. Andre Ayew cannot be expected to be effective as a lone striker. Ashley Fletcher has shown the most promise, but Slaven Bilic continues to be unwilling to use the youngster. As a result, Andy Carroll and Sakho seem like the pick of the bunch with fans hoping they can be the solution to the Hammers’ ongoing issues in front of goal.
Remarkably, the club’s struggles on the pitch have opened the door for Sakho to make a sensational return to the first-team picture. Even more remarkable is the fact that his inclusion in the starting XI against Tottenham on Saturday could actually be met with cheers rather the jeers it arguably deserves. Many – myself included – expected Sakho to be frozen out before inevitability exiting at some point in the near future for a cut-price fee. West Brom’s decision to withdraw their offer has been justified with the game against Tottenham the first time this season in which the Senegalese striker has been available for selection. It has taken nearly a third of the Premier League season for Sakho to reach match fitness. Either what Carroll has is contagious or, more likely, Sakho is just lazy. It really does appear to be a case of Bilic letting Sakho have his tantrum before bringing him back in from the cold.
Does Sakho deserve a shot at redemption? Quite simply, no. I am not a fan of his attitude and he lacks the fight to become any better. He’s not particularly prolific and he seems to spend more time on the sidelines than on the pitch. Make no mistake about it, Sakho’s unlikely return to the starting XI is one that is driven by necessity, not by choice. Bilic needs results, so his hand has been forced by the under-performers in the team. He will inject some much-needed energy up front and his movement off the ball will be a refreshing change from the immobile, Zaza. The familiarity he’ll bring to the team-sheet could also be significant and it is likely that the two weeks he has spent training with the first-team again have helped him get reacquainted with his teammates. Whether or not this makes a difference remains to be seen.
With that in mind, the game against Tottenham could be the ideal opportunity for Sakho to rebuild his relationship with the fans, manager and players as well taking a step in salvaging his tattered reputation. A game-changing performance would not only lift the Hammers faithful, but it has the potential to end the unbeaten record the home side seem so desperate to preserve. Given the ineffectiveness of the other strikers, it would not be surprising to see Sakho thrown stay into the starting XI and that seems like the most exciting option at Bilic’s disposal. Even then, Sakho still has a long way to go if he is to extend his stay at West Ham beyond the 2016/17 season.
An unpredictable turn of events has resulted in something that few would have imagined possible. Sakho has a rare opportunity to ‘right’ his ‘wrongs’ and the notoriously unforgiving West Ham support have softened their stance on the situation in the hopes that it will improve the club’s fortunes on the pitch. This isn’t just a second chance for Sakho, it is a final chance.
Does Sakho deserve a chance? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image by cfcunofficial