It is no secret that West Ham United have been struggling to sign an elite striker for two years now. This summer is no different. The club has been linked with nearly every top striker imaginable. Halfway through the summer and still not even a hint of being close to a signing, other than a 32-year-old Pablo Zabaleta on a free—what a surprise. Halfway through the summer and most supporters are expecting the club to sign a shoddy South American player on loan; or better yet, refuse to sign a promising player to a deal and instead demand a loan that won’t set that player up for success in the least. Just like last summer. The educated guess is that this circle of mediocrity will continue for a long while.
With big talk of going in for Alexandre Lacazette or Carlos Bacca last summer that ended up in landing a bad loan for Simone Zaza, one would think that David Sullivan had by now learned his lesson about valuation of players. If Sullivan is the one to cheap out on a player, someone else will be willing to buy for the price that the selling club is seeking; or at least for much more than Sullivan has been willing to offer. Selling clubs obviously know this. It seems David Sullivan does not; and after a couple years of this nonsense, it seems that David Sullivan may never understand this aspect of the transfer market. One can’t expect players to want to come to a club—or for clubs to want to deal with a club—that refuses to meet the rising wages and transfer values that are part of modern football. Essentially: get with the times, board. Top talent doesn’t come cheap. What’s a couple million in the current transfer market—especially when the club is in dire straits for an injection of talent at striker? Why bid £17m for a talented winger knowing that the parent club values him reportedly as much as £25m?
Playing the transfer game with the West Ham board is a lot like shopping with one’s grandmother. She has a coupon for everything. She’s always on the lookout for “deals,” that are usually just cheaper replicas for something superior that only costs a bit more. The Davids are making offers in the transfer market like they’re schoolboys playing FIFA ‘99. There are not “deals” in modern football. In fact, in today’s market, with all of the tv money, “overpaying” for quality is now the norm. Dimitri Payet was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and the owners are still chasing that high. In today’s market, one (generally) pays for what one gets. Buying unknowns who aren’t Premier League proven can add up eventually. It would be better to spare the money and just buy what the club needs. It would also save the time and effort trying to get rid of those players when they inevitably don’t pan out. Loans with a buy option are not better business; they’re only frustrating for the player that’s being loaned and for the parent club. A good striker is going to cost a good sum of money. While some clubs most definitely overvalue their players, Iheanacho was worth the reported £25m it would have cost to buy him. Yes, even with a buyback clause. Let Manchester City have their clause. Take the player, if for no other reason than to have a quality striking option for a few seasons. If he comes good and City want to buy back, the board then has £30-40m to buy someone who is just as established or better in the next window. No matter what the board say, it is hard to believe that it was solely Slaven Bilic who pulled the plug on that one. Marko Arnautovic, who is a top talent from Stoke City, and one who actually wants to come to West Ham, is worth taking a gamble on at £20-25m.
After whiffing on Iheanacho and Giroud now, the board have put some focus on Andre Gray, who will surely be a fan favorite and not a total disappointment. Definitely no eye rolling at the end of that sentence. None at all. Chicharito is an option, but he’s reportedly demanding a wage of £140,000 (or more) a week. That wage is perfectly normal for a player of his caliber, but the Mexican international wants Champions League football—something West Ham can’t offer. With those things in mind, Chicharito playing in the claret and blue doesn’t look likely.
Javier Hernandez wanting Champions League football brings us to another point: West Ham has trouble attracting top talent because they’re never involved in European competition; and when they are in European competition, they royally screw it up. Like losing in the Europa League knockout stages to Astra Giurgiu. That one was rough.
But at least we got this legendary video from the Astra “GOO GOO” loss.
West Ham are in a vicious cycle of mediocrity. They aren’t necessarily fighting relegation every season, but they’re certainly not challenging for Top Four. A mid-table finish is good for a club like West Ham that is trying to grow. A finish in spots 5-7 puts them in position to qualify for the Europa League. That is entirely attainable. The solution to this cycle of mediocrity is simple: spend the money that is required. The board have to spend money to get quality. There are enough quality players out there that will come to a club even if there is no European competition. The club being in London is a good draw in itself. Most importantly, if the board are serious about building a team that can contend for European football, there will be no “deals.” At least not the kind that they’re looking for.
The highest West Ham has ever placed in the Premier League table was third in 1985/86. The last trophy West Ham won was the FA Cup in 1980. The last time West Ham was even close to a trophy was in 2006, when they were runners-up for the FA Cup. Eleven years without making a solid cup run does not look good to potential players. The board need to show that they actually have ambition instead of always talking about it.
David Gold and David Sullivan have, frankly, gotten a bad reputation in the footballing world. After taking over a club on the brink of closing its doors in January 2010, the owners have done well to ensure that West Ham United remains afloat—but that is about it. A marquee move to the London Stadium seemed promising after the 2015/16 season, all to fall apart after a poor summer transfer window. West Ham is afloat in a sea of mediocrity. Fans and other owners alike view the Davids as cheap, while they view themselves as the saviors of West Ham; deserving of all praise because they saved the club, while simultaneously refusing to improve. They saved the kingdom, but now choose to sit and feast as the walls crumble around them.
It’s easy to ignore the perspective of the owners in all of this: they don’t want to lose their money on their investment in the club. But, if they ever want to be respected by players and owners, and actually be in the conversation for elite players to come play in the claret and blue, they know what they need to do. If they want to shuck their reputation as desperate low-ballers who will pull out of talks when players demand a wage that meets the market of a quality player in modern football, then they’ve simply got to take the chance on a player and spend the money that they know the player is worth. It’s okay to try and get a fair fee for a player; it’s okay to want a decent wage structure; it’s another thing to refuse to meet the market of what a quality player costs in today’s game.
Players see through the talk as well as anybody else. Until the board decides to take a chance and pay what elite players are worth, no elite players will be donning the claret and blue. Until the board accepts that fees and wages that equal the scale of 2010 just won’t cut it anymore, they will remain blacklisted by players and other owners alike.