West Ham United have a miserable history of signing strikers. The hapless tribulations of Simone Zaza and Jonathan Calleri last season only intensified the spotlight on the club’s failure to find a reliable source of goals under David Sullivan and David Gold, despite signing Javier Hernández in the summer.
The Hammers, in their tortured quest to find the next Paolo Di Canio or Carlos Tevez, have signed memorable flops including Modibo Maïga and Marco Borriello, while a whole gallery of mysterious European and South American imports have come and gone in East London like a revolving door.
However, the club may not have to look far for their next goalscoring hero. After Andy Carroll’s suspension, the obvious option is to switch Hernández back to his preferred position at the head of the attack, especially now that Manuel Lanzini has returned to offer the Mexican the service he requires.
But, if Slaven Bilić is prepared to look beyond his first-team, he will see that there is a striker banging on the door to be given a chance. His name is Toni Martínez.
Following Carroll’s red card against Burnley, Bilić is left looking light on striking options ahead of Friday night’s game at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.
With Bilić admitting that £25million summer signing Marko Arnautović has made a slow start to his Hammers career, and Diafra Sakho still out of favour despite his 90th-minute winner against Swansea City recently, it looks as though the stars have aligned for the club’s promising young Spanish striker.
TERRIFIC TONI MAKING AN IMPRESSION
While Carroll was making the headlines at the weekend for his flailing elbows, Martinez was in the news for his clinical finishing. West Ham Under-23s beat Manchester United’s development side 4-2 at the London Stadium on Sunday and Martínez was the star of the show, netting a superb hat-trick to set tongues wagging about his excellent progress.
The 20-year-old now has eight goals in ten games for the Hammers U23 side this campaign, but his hat-trick against United was certainly the most eye-catching demonstration of his abilities to date.
Martínez struck an equaliser after United’s opener, pouncing on a loose ball in the box to fire low into the net. His second was a classic striker’s goal, too, positioning himself between United’s centre-halves before brilliantly glancing a header into the top corner.
Martínez completed his treble with another header to make sure of the three points. The Spaniard’s immensely productive afternoon in front of goal gave him the distinction of being the first Hammers player to score a hat-trick at the London Stadium. He picked the perfect day to do it, too, with 1,843 watching the Hammers down United.
West Ham co-chairman Gold congratulated Martínez on Twitter following the game and was immediately inundated with demands for the player to be given a chance in the senior team. We know that the powers-that-be are watching, and they are certainly aware of where the supporters stand on his future.
“I am really happy to get my first hat-trick this season. I just try to do my work. I always think that the best work I can do is to help my boys, to score goals and today was that day,” he told West Ham’s official website after the game.
This is not a flash in the pan. Martínez has been scoring and turning heads for the Under-23s for more than a year now. After signing for the youth side from Valencia in April 2016, he suffered an injury setback last season that ruled him out for six weeks.
However, the striker still managed a run of 12 goals in 11 games, which prompted West Ham Under-23s boss Terry Westley to wax lyrical about his eye for goal.
“He puts his foot through the ball and he’s clinical. Toni’s record is frightening at the moment,” Westley said in December 2016.
TIME FOR A STEP-UP?
Martínez also struck a hat-trick in the 4-0 win away to Wolves last season, showing excellent composure for his third by killing a ball with his chest before confidently lifting it over the onrushing keeper. It’s this cutting edge and calmness in front of goal that West Ham have been lacking recently.
He may not have come up against Premier League defences yet, but Martínez is clearly not short of self-confidence and has the technique and awareness of space to lose his marker and take a touch before finishing.
— West Ham United (@WestHam) December 19, 2016
Martínez also offered Bilić a promising glimpse of what he is about during a pre-season friendly against Werder Bremen, too, when he headed home the Hammers’ second of the game. As you can see below, Martínez showed real striker’s instinct.
After laying off the ball, he drives into the box and, as the ball is crossed in, he makes his move, eluding the defender before powerfully heading into the corner.
Martínez also proved his worth during a loan spell at Oxford United last season, scoring five goals in 18 appearances, including strikes against Middlesbrough and Newcastle United in the FA Cup.
West Ham have only created 65 chances in eight games this season, with just five of those being clear-cut or ‘quality’ chances from which you would expect a goal. Hernández has converted three of those but, with Lanzini’s return likely to restore the Hammers’ creative edge, the former Manchester United striker will need help, and that can come from Martínez.
Like Hernández, the Spaniard is a striker who comes alive in the penalty area. All 40 of Hernández’s Premier League goals have come from inside the 18-yard box, which explains why some supporters have been baffled by Bilić’s recent attempts to shoehorn him into the side by shifting him out wide.
However, with Hernández cutting a fairly frustrated figure after being replaced in the draw against Burnley, it may be time for some fresh impetus.
With West Ham 15th in the table and badly needing a win against Brighton on Friday, the chances of Martínez starting are slim. However, he deserves to be involved in the squad and, should the Hammers fall behind on Friday night, he could provide the desired impact from the bench.
Whatever happens on Friday night, if Martínez continues to score with regularity for the Under-23 side, it’s only a matter of time before Bilić gives him the nod.