ON THE face of it, West Ham United’s transfer activity in the summer has been industrious and a proactive attempt at plugging some gaps. But look more closely and the average age of the signings they’ve made suggests a hint of panic and a short-term policy to ensure they have a better campaign than 2016-17.
West Ham failed to build on a decent 2015-16 and went out of Europe cheaply. Furthermore, the move to the London Stadium was not the springboard to glory some might have expected. The fans were uncomfortable in their new home and the club had a poor record on their own patch with seven wins and eight defeats in 19 games. They finished 11th and with an average gate of 57,000 they were the third best supported club in the country. In 2015-16, their final year at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham averaged 34,000.
With a disappointing debut season at the London Stadium behind them, some critics wondered if season ticket sales would match the initial enthusiasm for the new ground, but the Hammers have had 52,000 renewals. Furthermore, they’ve got 48,000 people waiting for a chance to get a ticket. As Joint-Chairman David Sullivan said in the media, “the appetite to come and support West Ham and pack-out the London Stadium is real”.
This means expectation will remain high at West Ham and manager Slaven Bilic will need to show, early on, that his team is making progress once more. His new signings should appease the sceptics, but with an average age of almost 29, there’s no time for them to waste a season bedding in.
West Ham confirmed their transfer strategy has changed, switching from “buying for tomorrow” to “buying for today”. They’ve even admitted that this is sub-optimal for the longer-term, but from the outside it also hints at an urgent need to improve the club’s fortunes on the pitch.
There’s no doubt that West Ham have brought in players with something of a track record. Javier Hernandez cost the club just £ 16m, which in today’s money, could be a bargain. But he’s 29 now and scored half as many goals for Bayer Leverkusen in 2016-17 as he did a year earlier. His last successful stint in the Premier was in 2012-13 when he netted 10 goals in 22 games for Manchester United. He may not be the player that left England in 2015. But West Ham now have options in attack – Andre Ayew, Andy Carroll and Hernandez – but the youngest is Ayew at 27.
If West Ham are looking to Hernandez for goals, then they will need the likes of another new signing, Marko Arnautovic, to provide the service the Mexican needs. Arnautovic is 28 years old and he’s been capped more than 60 times by Austria, but his critics believe he is inconsistent and slow to track back. Despite signing a new four-year contract in July 2016, he slapped in a transfer request in the close season and at £24m, he is West Ham’s record signing. He can be very exciting to watch, though.
Last season, West Ham definitely had defensive problems, so the arrival of two well-known names, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta, is obviously aimed at shoring-up the backline. But Zabaleta is 32 and Hart (30) returns to England after a patchy season with Torino for a one-year loan in east London. Hart needs a good, solid season to restore his reputation, but in front of him, there seems to be too much experience – in other words, West Ham still need some legs.
West Ham have come a long, long way from the time when they were something of a “second best” option, the days of John Radford, Derek Hales and all. If there are doubts, it is in the amount they have paid out for players who are not top drawer – but £ 24m for a player like Arnautovic is a symptom of these crazy football times. Nevertheless, the new men should ensure West Ham have a better second season in their vast new stadium – if they don’t, Mr Bilic could be in trouble.