After our 2-0 win over Leicester last weekend mathematically confirmed our survival and another season in the Premier League, attention will turn to the next campaign very soon.
While much focus among the Hammers fan base is currently on the manager’s future, it seems we have forgotten something very important: how inadequate the squad is. We might also be underestimating quite what a drastic and extensive an overhaul we will require just to compete next season, let alone make progress.
For me, the debate on Moyes is far less pressing than what we do with this squad in the summer. The Scot might not be everyone’s cup of tea but we have the 12th best record in the league since he took over – this with a squad of 21 senior players, six of whom have had medium-to-long-term injuries and two of whom are named Hugill and Evra. I seriously struggle to see how fans can watch us play and think that the manager, not the squad composition is the primary reason for our difficulties this season. (This coming from a fan who was against Moyes’ appointment in the first place.)
Given that there’s only been 15 players in our entire squad we’ve been able to rely on to stay fit this season, the scale and severity of the problem should be clear. Now let’s factor in that two of those 15 aren’t even on our books and we would need to pay tens of millions to keep them next year. Are you as concerned about this as me? We are talking about barely being able to fill a substitutes’ bench next year and it’s not even summer.
It’s not even the numbers which are scary either. It’s also the quality of whom we’re left with. Of our fit players, who has really been good enough for us this season? Neither goalkeeper has convinced enough to cement their place in the team. Our defence is ageing and slow (thank goodness for Angelo Ogbonna this year). Our midfield is equally immobile and we still don’t have a proper defensive midfielder. We have no pace out wide, and strikers who don’t play well enough to hold down a regular place.
As we take inventory, this is our senior squad for next season as it currently stands (not including the magnificent Rice, who as an under-21 will not need to be named; or James Collins or Evra, who are out of contract):
Adrian; Reid, Cresswell, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Byram, Masuaku, Burke; Kouyate, Lanzini, Obiang, Noble, Antonio, Fernandes, Cullen, Snodgrass, Makasi; Arnautovic, Carroll, Hugill, Hernandez
THIS IS OUR ENTIRE SQUAD. Just look at it: one passionate but inconsistent goalkeeper, two (!) senior centre-backs; a series of average central midfielders and three we won’t expect to play; literally one wide player only who never plays out wide anyway; and three strikers with the jury out on two. 21 senior players in total. That includes five - Hugill, Makasi, Snodgrass, Burke and Cullen - who are unlikely to see a lot of game time, if any.
Barring major surgery, it would take a very optimistic fan to think a relegation battle shouldn’t be on our minds again next season.
We need to be very realistic about where we are right now. There are some talents there but to look at that as our entire squad and to say it is anything other than woeful would be a mistake.
Of those players, who’s worth even keeping hold of anyway? Let’s divide the list into the players who should definitely stay at all costs, and those we wouldn’t be too upset to see the back of should a better replacement be scouted in the summer – which if you look at this mess of a team, is pretty fucking urgent.
Adrian – while not being as bad as someone like Wayne Hennessey, Adrian falls in the ‘somewhere just below league average’ category. While we must absolutely find another goalkeeper, it would be stupid of us not to want to keep Adrian. We won’t be left with any if he goes!
Cresswell – we may not all see eye to eye on this one. But Cresswell has done the job asked of him in the back three and learned a new role respectably. His form may have dropped over the last couple of seasons but he should definitely be retained within the squad. If an offer comes in for him, then sure, but we aren’t in a position to be turning away decent defenders.
Zabaleta – proved a lot of people wrong this season, especially given the sort of over-the-hill dross who usually turns up at ours from a bigger club to see out their career. He may get roasted down the right from time to time but he has played this season with great commitment, putting in by far the most tackles in the squad and has had his moments against good opposition. As with Cresswell, he can maybe be upgraded – and we certainly aren’t in a position to be turning defenders away – but a must for the squad.
Ogbonna – as I said above, where would we be without him this season?
Lanzini – it could be our saving grace that Lanzini is yet to display the kind of consistent form to seriously attract the interest of bigger clubs. We have the slowest squad in the league so it’s no surprise to see him struggle to dictate tempo at times, but we need to see Lanzini add the next big thing to his game next season.
Obiang – simply because without him we’re left with Noble and Kouyate in central midfield. He is the closest thing we have to a mobile defensive midfielder.
Noble – it hasn’t been his best season, but invariably when we have played well, he has played well too. It should also count for a lot that he always carries himself with dignity and represents the club with pride. In the modern game we should value that our captain is a local boy and fan.
Arnautovic – We’d be staring relegation in the face without him. It’s quite scary that of the entire squad, I’d say that in Ogbonna, Lanzini, Noble and Arnie there are probably only four no-brainers.
Byram, Masuaku (neither are especially good defenders; neither offers enough going forward to justify selection), Kouyate, Antonio (I want to keep him but at what point do we think he will be permanently troubled by injury? He’s been rubbish this season), Fernandes, Cullen, Snodgrass, Makasi, Hugill, Carroll, Hernandez (Carroll has never scored 10 goals in a season for West Ham; Hernandez hasn’t been good enough to justify repeated calls to play two up top).
So there you have it. Surely we all knew that the squad wasn’t great – imbalanced, ageing and with key injuries. But lay it bare like this and it is quite frightening to see what we will be left with next season unless West Ham start looking at bringing in new players immediately.
By my reckoning, we’re going to need at least one goalkeeper, a new full-back on each side, two centre-backs, a good defensive midfielder, two fast wide players, a creative player if we don’t sign Mario, and at least one striker. Yes, that’s an entire team. No, I wasn’t doing that deliberately.
Thank God we have an owner and board who know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to recruitment!
In Part Two coming soon, I will look at ten players West Ham should try to sign this summer. If fans want the club to make the progress we are all demanding, we are either going to have to be a bit more patient during a slow but decisive rebuild, or pray for a large number of signings this summer, and that they gel quickly. If there’s someone better out there than Moyes for that job, given that he did precisely what he was asked to do in taking this inadequate group to survival, and it’s someone we can realistically attract, I would love to know who it is.