West Ham United signed 13 players last summer at a cost of £71million. Yet only Manuel Lanzini, who had proven his worth on loan the previous season, has made the desired impact at the London Stadium.
After such a wasteful summer it is time for a change of tact. Two of the club’s most successful signings of recent times, Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell, have come from the Championship and both have been called up by England with the latter making his debut last year.
Last summer the Hammers signed players from Spain, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Uruguay and Turkey but the bulk has been flops. It appears that Slaven Bilić will be given another summer to rectify last season’s recruitment mistakes. It is imperative the Croatian gets his transfer business right this time around as he is unlikely to be handed a second pass.
With that in mind, we’ve identified some players the Hammers should be looking at from closer to home in order to plug their biggest gaps.
? Why is @lukeayling_8 called Bill?
— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 1, 2017
A position which has presented several managers problems, Bilić attempted to solve the right-back issue last season by playing Antonio there following his arrival from Nottingham Forest. The winger excelled going forward and that went some way to papering over his defensive shortcomings. The 27-year-old has only had to play a defensive role once this season as he has made the right-wing berth his own with nine goals and three assists.
That still leaves the number two shirt open with Sam Byram, Alvaro Arbeloa and Cheikhou Kouyate all having a go at filling a troubled spot. The case of Byram is particularly mystifying given the former Leeds United man impressed during a handful of run-outs after signing in January 2016. He has been limited to just seven starts this term while World Cup winner Arbeloa has started just once.
If West Ham do return to the Championship to attempt to solve the problem then another raid at Elland Road would be wise. Former Arsenal youngster Luke Ayling has been hugely impressive for Garry Monk’s play-off hopefuls. With 2.8 tackles per game he is the full-back with the second-best average in the division. The 25-year-old also makes 1.4 interceptions per game and 3.5 clearances. Going forward he has contributed three assists – the joint-third most for the Whites this season.
Another, more youthful, option is Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Dominic Iorfa. The 21-year-old has established himself as a regular at Molineux in the last couple of seasons and has 12 caps for England’s Under-21s. Standing an imposing 6ft 4ins tall, the Southend-born full-back makes, on average, 1.8 tackles per game, 1.6 interceptions and 4.7 clearances.
Sofiane Feghouli and Gökhan Töre were brought in during the summer to help Antonio but both have failed to dislodge the former Tooting and Mitcham United man.
Feghouli has fared the better of the two with three assists but Töre, who played for Bilić at Besiktas, has mustered just one from three league starts. However, Töre is only on loan and it looks unlikely that the Hammers will pay the €10million agreed this summer based on his performances to date.
So who could replace him?
Brighton & Hove Albion winger Anthony Knockaert is up for the Championship Player of the Year award after a stellar campaign for the second-placed Seagulls. The Frenchman, 25, has played in the Premier League before with Leicester City but was not a regular for the Foxes two seasons ago.
Back to his best in Sussex, Knockaert has 13 goals and eight assists for Chris Hughton’s side. With 2.5 shots per game, two key passes and 2.7 dribbles he is one of the Championship’s most dangerous widemen. Whether it’s with West Ham or Brighton, he is bound for the top flight.
Another player destined for greater things is Wolves’ Hélder Costa. The 23-year-old Portuguese became the club’s record signing when he joined from Benfica for £13million. Before that he had been a reported Chelsea transfer target and spent last season on loan at Monaco. With 10 goals and eights assists from out wide he will be in high demand this summer.
Last night made me firmly believe that Tom Cairney is the best player in the championship, unreal composure on the ball.
— Wortho (@dcfctom97) April 5, 2017
Dimitri Payet’s January exit has left a gaping hole in the number 10 position which Lanzini is currently trying to fill on his own. The Argentine is doing a manful job of that, scoring seven times this term, but a total of two assists must be improved upon.
Fulham’s Tom Cairney is currently enjoying the best season of his career with nine goals and assists. The Scotland international, who was signed from Blackburn Rovers for £4.5million last season, is fourth for assists in the Championship and makes 2.6 key passes per game while attempting 2.4 shots and 1.7 dribbles.
Elsewhere in west London, Spanish playmaker Jota has returned to Brentford after a loan spell with Eibar and has immediately got back to his best. Allowed to return to Spain for family reasons, the 25-year-old already has eight goals in 16 appearances for the Bees – including a hat-trick against Rotherham United.
Another long-running issue for the Hammers is up front. The injury-prone Andy Carroll, with seven top-flight goals, is on course to enjoy his best season in claret and blue (nine goals). But the club’s other strikers have just six between them. With Carroll not managing more than 13 Premier League starts since his first season at the Boleyn Ground competition and cover up top is needed.
If Bilić is looking for a striker in a similar mould to Carroll then Leeds’ Chris Wood should be top of his list of targets. The Championship’s top scorer has 24 goals from just 35 league starts and is up for the division’s Player of the Year gong. This has been the best season of the 6ft 3ins hitman’s career and he leads the line in the same 4-2-3-1 system utilised by Bilić, relying on supply from those around him.
A more left-field alternative is Bristol City’s on-loan striker Tammy Abraham. The Chelsea youngster is extremely unlikely to get a look-in at Stamford Bridge next season but Antonio Conte will be keen for the 19-year-old to test himself at a higher level after bagging 19 goals in 34 starts for the struggling Robins. More mobile than Wood and better on the ball, the 6ft 4in forward has already scored twice in two England Under-21 caps.