Why is it always West Ham whose fingers are caught as the transfer window is slammed shut? It’s Groundhog Day at Upton Park, a club doomed to repeat the promises, lies and rank incompetence in the transfer market over and over again. The failure to land a new striker to support Carlton Cole would be disappointing if it wasn’t so predictable, yet supporters still feel cheated.
At the start of last season, West Ham began with Dean Ashton, Craig Bellamy and Carlton Cole, adding David Di Michele and Diego Tristan on a short-term basis. Ashton has been injured since last September and Bellamy left in January, so the need for a striker to complement Cole has not exactly crept up on the club. West Ham are now a hostage to fate, praying that serious injury does not disastrously rob them of Cole.
Scott Duxbury, the chief executive, is currently attracting most of the fans’ ire. For whatever reason, he has been unable to convince a striker to scrawl his name on a contract, although he cannot be accused of a lack of effort. Marouane Chamakh, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Mancini, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Luca Toni were all targets. None could be persuaded. Duxbury, a lawyer by trade, is guilty of allowing his silver tongue to become rusty.
None of these players will score a goal for West Ham, but they have raised expectations. It is only natural for fans to hear of negotiations with Champions League players and become excited, so the eventual reality is a cruel comedown. The reaction to this disappointment on the terraces may be telling and nothing is more detrimental to West Ham than a scorned Upton Park crowd.
The most galling aspect of this transfer window has been West Ham’s inability to learn. They have no sense for when they are being strung along by a target. Chamakh and Gudjohnsen were realistic targets, yet talks with the pair trundled along for an eternity. Not signing Gudjohnsen may well be a blessing in disguise - he was asking for too much and joined the tax haven of Monaco. Football itself appears a secondary thought for the former Chelsea man.
West Ham allowed pressing matters to reach deadline day, leaving themselves little wiggle room. Arsenal were put off signing Chamakh by the intransigence of Bordeaux, and the swaying nature of the striker’s comments should have been a warning for West Ham. The Moroccan seemed to change his mind about moving on a daily basis, yet still West Ham pursued him. That it all fizzled out was not the greatest of shocks.
This is not a new experience for West Ham during a transfer window. August 2005: Deals to sign Benni McCarthy from Porto or Emmanuel Adebayor from Monaco were scuppered at the last. August 2006: A three-month pursuit of Steed Malbranque ends with him signing for Tottenham. August 2007: A three-month pursuit of Gudjohnsen ends with the last-minute loan signing of Henri Camara. January 2009: The mission to replace Bellamy sees the youngster Savio Nsereko brought in from Brescia. He joined Fiorentina on Monday, the defender Manuel Da Costa travelling in the opposite direction.
The funds to sign Chamakh were supposedly made available by the £5m sale of James Collins to Aston Villa. It is a mystery why that deal was allowed to go ahead once it became apparent Chamakh would not swap Bordeaux for West Ham. Accusations of asset-stripping by the club’s Icelandic owners abound. Although Craig Bellamy has been the only big name to leave under their tenure, the exit door keeps on opening as the squad gets smaller.
Thankfully Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Cole have not been sold, and there are reasons to be positive. The solidity instilled by Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke is evident by only two goals conceded from the team’s opening three matches, and performances have been encouraging.
Cole has impressed and although he has no orthodox partner, Luis Jimenez has ably supported him. The Chilean will also be able to work in tandem with one new arrival, Alessandro Diamanti, who scored 16 goals for Livorno in Serie B last season. Chamakh might have made schmucks out of us all, but it is not all doom and gloom.
What the start of the season has shown us is that West Ham will need more from the bench to change games. They were unable to in their dull 0-0 draw at Blackburn, so it is not a surprise Zola is looking to sign an experienced free agent, just as he did with Tristan last year. The Spaniard was a leaden-footed shadow of his former self, but his goals did directly produce an extra seven points. Mark Viduka it is then.