West Ham Summer Transfer Guide
Heading into their final game against already-relegated Reading, West Ham are comfortably perched in 10th position. Although the Royals beat them to automatic promotion from the Championship, they failed to adapt as well as Sam Allardyce's side, who look to round off an impressive return to the Premier League with a top-half finish.
Still, not everyone is convinced of the manager's merits. Criticism of his inflexibly physical approach remains, while transfer dealings leave a lot to be desired. Despite swelling the ranks of sturdy, hard-working professionals, West Ham have routinely looked toothless and unimaginative away from home.
There's been a lot of waste too, particularly in forward positions. Modibo Maiga, Marouane Chamakh and Wellington Paulista all arrived to much fanfare yet haven't been given the game time such high outlay would seem to warrant. Instead of targeting concentrated quality, last year's budget was spread thinly across a number of signings who are still to contribute.
Flush from the new TV deal, West Ham will have more money this time out, which must be spent wisely if they are to prosper again. Despite scepticism in some quarters Allardyce was recently rewarded for his efforts with a new contract, allowing preparations for that difficult second season to begin in earnest.
The priorities are clearly a new goalkeeper, left back and solution to the Andy Carroll conundrum. Close attention also needs to be paid to the club's returning loanees and looking to add another dimension to their sometimes predictable attacking play.
Replacing Jussi Jaaskelainen
West Ham did well to squeeze another year out of Jaaskelainen. Once one of the division's best keepers, his time at the top looked over after playing second fiddle to the error-prone Adam Bogdan in Bolton's relegation season. Reunited with Allardyce, however, he's filled the void rather well.
There have been problems along the way, Jaaskelainen is less agile than he once was and is prone to slicing his kicks, but the veteran remains an accomplished shot-stopper. He continues to look a safer bet than Stephen Henderson, who failed to impress on loan at Ipswich, and—although never intended to be anything other than a quick fix—could continue between the sticks next season.
He's now 38, though, and a younger model will be needed soon. A return for Rob Green is not beyond the realms of possibility as QPR undergo a mass clear-out. The former Upton Park favourite remains popular despite the contract wrangles that presaged his departure. Bearing the scars of his third relegation and unconvincing at set pieces, a younger and more dominant figure may be preferred.
Along with other sites, Sky Sports has linked the dutiful Man City understudy Costel Pantilimon with a move away from Manchester as he seeks first-team football. The chances of him pitching up elsewhere only increased when he was dropped for last weekend's FA Cup final loss. Manchester United backup Anders Lindegaard has also been discussed, according to the Daily Mail.
Given the manager's preference for experienced Premier League campaigners, Paul Robinson could well be the answer. Allardyce was a big fan of his sharp reactions and raking crossfield kicks when they were together at Blackburn and a deal was even touted during the transfer window by the BBC. He fell spectacularly out of favour during Henning Berg's tenure and his current deal is soon to expire. A blood clot could leave him sidelined for a while, however.
A Specialist Left-Back
Joey O'Brien is the template for Allardyce's more successful signings. A solid, if distinctly underwhelming arrival, he's proved his worth over the last two seasons. Expected to be nothing more than a versatile squad player, able to cover a number of positions at low cost, O'Brien became a virtual ever present at right-back on the way to promotion.
Since the return of Guy Demel he's switched flanks effectively but this is no more than a stop-gap solution. Negotiations to bring in Martin Olsson took place in January according to the Guardian, and the Sweden international could be targeted again in the summer. Better at going forward than defending, he would bring some much-needed dynamism to an often one-paced side.
Blackburn's struggles in the New Year saw them narrowly avoid the bottom three, so West Ham will be in a stronger bargaining position as Olsson seeks a return to the Premier League. Yet Allardyce's rancorous relationship with Venky's, who mercilessly dispatched of him soon after taking over at Ewood Park, could prove problematic.
If this is the case, cheaper options may be explored. Last summer Mohamed Diame joined from Wigan on a free transfer and went on to be a massive hit with the Hammers; they could look to repeat the trick with Maynor Figueroa. The Mirror report there is some interest in Figueroa, who could see his wages rise to £40,000 a week at Upton Park.
Alternatively, there has been much speculation surrounding Razvan Rat, who is also available on a free. The Shahktar Donetsk stalwart has copious experience in European competition and would be a steadying influence at the back. Despite reports to the contrary from the Guardian, nothing concrete has come to pass and the combative Romanian remains on the market.
What to Do with the Kids?
In relation to the left-back vacancy, supporters are keen to see if Dan Potts can make the step up. The teenager made a handful of appearances before injury intervened and is one of several promising youth prospects eager to force their way into the first-team reckoning.
The most intriguing of all is Ravel Morrison. A supremely talented player with a questionable temperament, he's been on loan at Birmingham City, sharpening his skills in the Championship. Comfortable on the ball and eager to influence proceedings he was a stand-out player for the Blues during a difficult season.
There was a run-in with manager Lee Clark which saw him ostracised from the team for two months but either side of this incident his form was impressive. Beginning in central midfield before carving out a niche as a roving No. 10, Morrison was man of the match in over half his appearances and demonstrated why he was once so highly thought of by Alex Ferguson.
For all his ability he should be more effective in the final third. A tendency towards self-indulgence and over-complication needs eradicating if he is to be more than an impact substitute at West Ham next season. Otherwise another loan move may be on the cards.
Rob Hall briefly linked up with Morrison at St. Andrew's, the duo combining well in patches. Frustratingly this was the nature of Hall's performances, which tended towards the skittish. He could deliver flashes of brilliance in amongst stretches of anonymity, most often from set pieces where he whipped the ball in dangerously with his left foot, setting up seven goals.
Whether any of these players will make their breakthrough next season, or be sent out for more experience, remains to be seen. Their progress at least deserves a reassessment, and incorporating them in the squad could save a lot of money on new signings.
Introducing an X Factor
Ravel Morrison would certainly add a sense of excitement to the West Ham lineup but someone more reliable may be sought after to fill the creative role. What they need is the Joe Cole of old, unfortunately he's no longer quite the same player.
There has been talk of Yossi Benayoun returning on a permanent basis, from Mirror, when his Chelsea contract expires. A couple of other victims of bloated squads and flawed ambitions are of interest, Scott Sinclair and Junior Hoilett chief amongst them. The former has stagnated on the City bench following a big-money move, while the latter has failed to rouse a moribund QPR.
Both would be valuable additions and suit the Allardyce emphasis on old-fashioned flying wingers. Hoilett is the most likely of the two, given that his debut came under Big Sam's watch at Blackburn and he hasn't found favour in new surroundings. Wage demands are the only foreseeable difficulty to overcome after last year's transfers led to vast pay increases.
In terms of cheaper sources of trickery and explosive pace there's Andros Townsend, who finally looks ready to settle after a life spent on the road, shunted around the country in search of games. His cameos at QPR have shown he can have an impact against top teams and, if Gareth Bale remains at White Hart Lane, playing time will continue to be at a premium.
Looking beyond the Premier League, Nathan Redmond, who became firm friends with Morrison during his loan spell, can operate on either flank or off the front-man. Given Birmingham's financial problems the 19-year-old would be available at a reduced price too. As would Yannick Bolasie should Crystal Palace fail in the play-off final. Common consensus is that he's been equally as valuable to their promotion push as the more-hyped Wilfried Zaha.
Addressing the Carroll Conundrum
West Ham retain an interest in the powerhouse striker despite hefty financial demands, according to owner David Sullivan. With Liverpool eager to save face, a £17 million fee, around half what they originally paid in January 2011, was agreed to make the move permanent.
The loan deal has largely been beneficial for both player and club. Allardyce has given Andy Carroll the sense of being wanted, reviving his faltering reputation in the process. In return Carroll has been the focal point of West Ham's attacking play all season, contributing much more than his goal tally lets on. Even that has improved in recent weeks, but is it enough to justify the manager spending the majority of his budget on one man?
An unstoppable aerial threat and better on the deck than many give him credit for, a compromise may still be reached to keep Carroll at Upton Park. If not Allardyce may pursue previous targets, Nikica Jelavic or Jordan Rhodes, from Mirror and Mail respectively. Both are physical types and instinctive finishers, although they've had remarkably contrasting seasons.
Jelavic, subject of a £7 million bid when West Ham were back in the Championship, has found goals much harder to come by in his first full season in English football. Meanwhile, Rhodes can't stop scoring, his 30 strikes almost single-handedly keeping Blackburn clear of trouble. Stepping up another level is surely not beyond him.
Charlie Austin is another who routinely sniffs out goals in the lower leagues and would fancy a crack at the top flight. The same applies to Gary Hooper, who impressed on the way to the SPL title and the Champions League second round. Norwich's advances were rebuffed in January but Celtic may be more receptive in the summer as his contract enters its final year.