In Part One of our analysis of West Ham’s squad, we made the point that without a fairly major overhaul, West Ham’s squad will be worryingly weak next season. Several new signings will be needed, as well as – ideally – replacements for the sub-par members of the current side.
Most fans will probably be praying for a number of big-money transfers. They have every right to feel this way, partly because it’s about time the board started delivering on their promises (“world class squad for a world class stadium”) and partly because in the current market quality players don’t necessarily come cheap.
This is a big problem for us. I’d wager that we need at least six or seven new signings this summer, probably more. Even the most optimistic supporter can’t be expecting us to spend upwards of £20 million on that many players. We need to look for value.
So while there are known entities that we perhaps ought to be in the market fore, are they really going to provide great value for money? To name a few, Jack Butland is near the top of most fans’ lists, but I worry that he would cost far more than he’s really worth. Among those headed for the Championship, there’s also Jonny Evans, Joe Allen, Alfie Mawson or Xherdan Shaqiri (who has a cheap relegation clause). All would be good additions, but we surely can’t afford them all and will face competition for the lot. Is there better value out there?
Looking further afield, we continue to be linked with players like Leander Dendoncker, Tom Cariney, and we could certainly make a move for Joao Mario if the price is right.
Instead, I want this article to concentrate on the sort of players we could bring in if we want a smart transfer policy. Teams with far less money and resources have been better than us because of being smarter in their recruitment process (and in other areas). See the likes of Pascal Gross at Brighton, Aaron Mooy at Huddersfield or Chris Wood at Burnley. Reputation alone does not get the job done.
If we truly want to make progress, truly turn into a better, more positive, more solid team, we might need to move away from the idea of blockbuster signings and concentrating on building a proper squad and truly addressing our weaknesses. We also need to sign fewer players aged 28 and over.
If we really want an edge, we need to be smarter in the transfer market, not just bigger.
With that in mind, here are 10 players West Ham should sign this summer. They won’t be blockbusters, but they could give us great value for money, which will be so important for us given the amount of signings we need. These are players who would also specifically address the areas of our team that need strengthening.
Benjamin Bourigeaud – Position: Midfield. Age: 24. Nationality: France. Club: Stade Rennais FC
Bourigeaud is precisely the type of player West Ham’s midfield needs. A dead-ball specialist and leader in the middle, the 24-year-old has had an outstanding season in a team which has been superb in Ligue 1, and, very importantly, he is lively without the ball and pulls his weight on the defensive end. At a cost of just €3.5 million last summer, he has been a bargain for Rennes.
Our midfield is desperate for many things – creativity, the ability to unlock a defence and set-pieces, but also toughness and pressing. We have probably the least agile and energetic midfield in the league. In this regard, Bourigeaud would be a breath of fresh are. Could we attract a player like him? If we’re going to spend the big bucks on transfer fee and wages, this is a player I’d be happy to see it spent on.
Kingsley Schindler – Winger. 24. Germany/Ghana. Holstein Kiel
Holstein Kiel have been the surprise package of Germany’s second division this season, and are just a promotion/relegation playoff game away from the Bundesliga. Their success this year has been built around a good balance to the team – defensively compact but with very attacking wingers. The trio of Schindler, Marvin Duksch and Dominic Drexler have scored 42 goals in the league between them, but it is Schindler on the right wing who would be the most attractive option for us. It has been a remarkable rise for a player who Kiel picked up two summers ago from Hoffenheim II on a free.
We are desperate for pace on the wing and Schindler provides just that. He’s quick, good on the ball and links up well with his team-mates in an attack that moves the ball quickly and has counter-attacked to great effect all season, taking many defences by surprise. He won’t be a blockbuster signing, but he is exactly the type of player we need, and he could be a great value player for us on a low-cost deal. People wondered who Pascal Gross was nine months ago. Schindler could have the same kind of impact.
Hanno Behrens – Defensive Midfield. 28. Germany. FC Nuremberg
Another possible steal from the 2. Bundesliga, Hanno Behrens could be the type of player to improve our defensive setup. It’s long known that our midfield doesn’t do a good enough job of protecting the back-line and we are fairly desperate for a solid defensive midfielder.
Behrens is an imposing figure. Standing at 6’2, he is great in the air and is a solid defensive-midfield player. Due to his strong heading ability he even boasts an impressive goalscoring touch, and is a major set-piece threat. Indeed, his record of 14 goals this season from his position is remarkable, but he does this as the talisman of a team that plays physical and direct football. He also has good technique with both feet and is a good passer. Our midfield could absolutely do with his attributes.
The Nuremberg captain is a firm fan-favourite and seems to have a great character, joining in with supporter celebrations after promotion. He would fit in well with us and would be popular with our supporters, and we should make an offer good enough to tempt him away from his beloved club as they head to the Bundesliga.
Joris Gnagnon – Centre-back. 21. France/Ivory Coast. Stade Rennais FC
Signing a good central defender will not be easy this summer, and this should be an absolute top priority this summer. There’s Abdou Diallo or Benjamin Pavard but they will be highly sought-after. Where a Premier League-based centre back could be very expensive, there could be value in a player like Gnagnon. At just 21, he has been a regular feature of the Rennes back-line for the last two seasons now.
His main attributes are his positioning and reading of the game, and at 21 he already possesses the game intelligence of a far more experienced player. When faced one-on-one, he is quick and strong and has the potential to be a top class player. He also plays on the left, which, if we continue with a back-five, would be a significant upgrade on Cresswell. Our defence is desperate for someone like him.
While other defenders are likely to be touted this summer, I think Ggnagnon would be an excellent investment for us. Spend, spend, spend!
Lukas Fabianski – Goalkeeper. 33. Poland. Swansea City
This one would go against the general theme I’m aiming for in trying to stop us signing players with a view to the short-term only. But I think this would be sensible. He has one year left on his deal at a Swansea side which stands days away from relegation. Therefore he wouldn’t cost nearly as much as some of the other keepers we’re being linked with.
Fabianski has emphatically shaken off his dodgy reputation earlier in his career and is, for me, one of the league’s most underrated keepers. We might not see his best form for any longer than two years, but that will do for now in a position in which we are weak, during what is likely to be a big rebuild.
James Maddison – Midfield. 21. England. Norwich City
I said I wouldn’t add players who we’ve already been strongly linked with but I should stress that Maddison is the type of player we should be targeting. He is one of the best players in the Championship, plays the type of game that our midfield lacks, and is definitely Premier League-ready, even at just 21.
With skill, pace, dribbling and goalscoring ability, I would see him linking up very well with our current front-line and adding drive to the way we attack. Maddison is a fast dribbler and seems to find time and space in a league which is famed for affording little of either. Other clubs will surely be in for him, but we should be making Maddison one of our top priorities.
Nico Elvedi – Full-back. 21. Switzerland. Borussia Mönchengladbach
The young defender has been very good for Mönchengladbach this season. He has solidified his position in the first team with a string of impressive performances in what is an increasingly competitive league, if weaker at the top than in the last few years.
Most impressive about Elvedi is his versatility. While he made the right-back position his own, the Swiss youngster has also been dependable filling in at centre-back and left-back when called upon. He is also already a full international with experience in the Champions League. I think he’d prove to be an upgrade on Zabaleta personally and would do just fine across the back when the inevitable injury crisis comes.
Umut Bozok – Striker. 21. Turkey. Nîmes Olympique
It would be foolish to dismiss the top scorer in France’s Ligue 2 this season purely because of the strength of the league. Diafra Sakho was the Ligue 2 player of the year before joining West Ham and instantly felt at home in the Premier League.
Bozok’s record of 24 goals in 32 games is a great record is excellent, especially coming at the age of just 21. He’s already shown he’s far too good for that division, showing an ability to score from inside and outside the box, with both feet. He has pace, skill and finishing ability, scoring many of his goals this season from one-one ones off the shoulder of the last defender. If we want a good striker for less than £30 million, we should take a serious look at him.
Cameron Carter-Vickers – Centre-back. 20. United States. Ipswich Town (on loan from Tottenham)
This one’s probably more one for the future, but this is precisely the sort of transfer policy that has been missing from our reckoning for ages now.
Carter-Vickers has great potential. The Tottenham youngster has has two loan spells in the Championship this season, at Sheffield United and Ipswich, both of which were deemed a success. Outgoing Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy has certainly raved about him and his arrival coincided with an improvement at the back for Ipswich.
Tottenham’s academy has produced a good range of talents in recent years and it looks unlikely Carter-Vickers features in Spurs’ long-term plans, with Davinson Sanches signed only last summer and our rivals apparently in the market for another big-name defender or two this year.
Alberto Cerri – Striker. 22. Italy. Perugia (on loan from Juventus)
Just as with Bozok, Cerri may come from the 2nd division in his country but we could find some very good value here, especially with the amount of money it’s going to cost to bring in a dependable striker.
Cerri has had the best season of his career by far, scoring 15 league goals for Perugia, and we could be investing in an improving player. At 6’4, he is much more than a target man, but those attributes could come in handy in the physical Premier League. He is far from slow and has great movement and touch in the penalty area. He could be an interesting replacement for Andy Carroll if we want one, which we probably won’t.
There would be some doubts about him, however. But if we’re looking for smart deals, he could be a good addition to the squad.