As 75% of the 2016-17 season is complete, we are now into the final quarter of the season for West Ham United. That means it is time to choose who has been the Hammers player of the season after first three-quarters.
With notable departures from the club (Dimitri Payet, Simone Zaza) and a litany of injuries to many key players, the Hammers number of potential Players of the Season candidates has certainly dwindled. Marquee singings Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli, Gokhan Tore or Zaza haven’t become club stars yet (and in Zaza’s case, never) as Slaven Bilic hoped they would when he brought them last summer.
Captain Mark Noble has shown a willing effort, as he always does, while being one of the few in the squad not snakebitten by ailments. But the Hammers on field leader has lost a touch of class this season and isn’t realistically in the running for this honor. Plus January newcomers Robert Snodgrass and Jose Fonte could score a goal a match the rest of the season and still not be locks as the London Stadium’s top footballer.
Instead, there really is only six players in my mind (and many others) now who could merit the honor of being the best Hammer of the 2016-17 season. Let’s run threw the candidates.
Darren Randolph - Coming into the season as the clear backup for the previously solid Adrian, the Irish international has continued his terrific mid-career ascent. As the Spanish shotstopper displayed signs of new shakiness in net culminating in another gaffe against Stoke City in November, Randolph seized the position of Hammer’s #1 goalkeeper with superb saves and sound sagacity. Although he won’t ever be among the world’s best and has had his share of rough patches, no question that the former Motherwell and Birmingham City player has rightly claimed his spot as the man between the sticks this season for Bilic.
Michail Antonio - After Payet forced his way out of the club, the Hammer’s fan favorite award would easily go to this entertainment master of goal celebration dances. The 26-year-old versatile winger just gets better with each passing day, securing his place as one of the Premier League’s top all-purpose players. Whether it’s at right back, right wing back, his preferred right midfielder spot or fill-in striker, Antonio is instrumental to West Ham in whatever roll Bilic needs him to play. Along with Noble, Antonio has played the most league games for the Hammers this season (25) to further prove his worth. It’s another reason why Chelsea yearned for him during the January transfer window. Not bad for a player who was rejected by Wimbledon as a teen and had to work his way up from below The Championship in the English league ladder.
Manuel Lanzini - There use to be a debate as to which talented Argentine playmaker would make the most impact for the Hammers: Mauro Zarate or Lanzini. That pondering ended when Zarate left last winter for Fiorentina, as his propensity to erroneously shoot too much lead to his exit. Meanwhile, Zarate’s 24-year-old countryman has become the team’s prime creator after Payet’s departure. For what he lacks in size (1.68 meter, 5’6”), he makes up for in explosiveness, touch and intelligence. After a fine first season with the club on loan in 2015-16, Lanzini has raised his level in this campaign (already 6 goals and 2 assists) following the disappointment of not playing for his country at the Rio Olympics.
Andy Carroll - No one can say nowadays that this towering force is a problem off the field, as his wild boy days at Newcastle have long egressed his soul. But the other major problem in the English international’s career that has held him back continues to persist. Staying healthy remains Carroll’s biggest challenge, moreso than even his lack of pace. But whether on or off the field, his presence is so vital to the Hammers as one of the best pure target men anywhere in Europe. When available, the 28-year-old has been class for Bilic to warrant Gareth Southgate pondering a recall for him to the national side. No one on the team, not the ubiquitous Antonio nor the still green Jonathan Calleri, can replicate what Carroll brings to the side.
Pedro Obiang - It has been a very good second season at the Irons club for the adept Spaniard. The former Sampdoria developed player has eclipsed Noble in the center of the park with his smooth passing precision mostly resulting in the attack moving positively. The one thing Obiang has lacked in his career is difference making passing or scoring in the final third, meaning his fantastic first goal for the club against Southampton appears for now as an aberration rather than a new faucet of his game. But Obiang’s contributions this season have allowed Lanzini to stay near the opposition’s penalty box to receive the ball instead of having to drop deep to obtain it. It’s why his game is one of those that you can’t just gauge on goals and assists to see how key he is to the Hammers.
Winston Reid - Still one of the most underrated centerbacks in the world, the New Zealand captain has proven again how vital he is to the club. Reid is certainly without his blemishes and can’t declare this season as his best in his Hammers career. But his reliability for Bilic and his teammates can’t be refuted, especially when his centerback partnership and backline position (a back 3 or a back 4) has changed so much due to injuries, his own included, around him.
Vote on who you think is the Hammer of the Season thus far, as we enter the final stretch.
The final quarter of the 2016-17 campaign is here. Who in your mind has been the Hammer of the Season? #COYI https://t.co/jb7VIzhFo5— Brace The Hammer (@BraceTheHammer) March 11, 2017