Even the good news is laced with a touch of the tragic at West Ham these days.
The Hammers finally agreed a £1m compensation payment to Manchester United for Ashley Fletcher, whom they signed last summer on a free, and the agreement could pave the way for the player to take a bigger role in first team affairs from now on.
In freefall, and seemingly sleepwalking into the Championship, the good news is thin on the ground for the club, so tying up the loose ends around a player who plays in one of the club’s problem positions is a huge bonus.
Fletcher hasn’t played much for the Hammers this season, despite scoring at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup earlier this campaign, and despite the Hammers’ struggles to find a striker who can score goals. Injuries to Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew, coupled with the ineffectiveness of new signings like Jonathan Calleri meant the Fletcher situation has been a strange one.
The suggestion now, though, is that West Ham did not want to field the young striker as they feared a run of games in the first team would drive up the price settled on by the tribunal.
This is good news for West Ham at a time when they desperately need some, and could pave the way for Fletcher to breathe some fresh life into the club’s faltering season. Over the next two games, Slaven Bilic’s side will face Swansea City and Sunderland, and a failure to win one or both would drag the side into a relegation battle they don’t seem to have much of a stomach for. A run of games for a fresh-faced young striker who is keen to impress could be just what the club needs.
At the same time, though, if Fletcher can be seen as a man to drag the Hammers out of a relegation battle, it gives rise to one very obvious question: why are the club only now willing to play him. A compensation payment of £1m would be a paltry sum to part with if it keeps you in the Premier League, and all the riches associated with top flight status. Let’s not forget, too, that this is a club who pursued striking targets for the whole of last summer in a bid to land ‘a £25-30m striker’. Clearly they’re willing to spend money on a man to bag goals if he has a snazzy name, so why continue to let Fletcher rot on the bench or in the reserves just to save a couple of million quid – especially if they think he’s a player who can bag the goals to keep them up?
This isn’t the first time West Ham’s board have been guilty of false economies of this kind – not even the first time this month, in fact. By refusing to give Slaven Bilic a new contract, the club’s hierarchy have created an uncertain situation around their manager’s future. Whilst this is undoubtedly not the sole reason the club now find the threat of relegation very real, it certainly can’t help.
It’s also the same sort of treatment that former boss Sam Allardyce suffered at the hands of the owners, too. Admittedly, replacing their former boss with Bilic was a step forward for the club, showing the sort of ambition needed to break into the Premier League’s elite. But the whole point of running down Allardyce’s contract and simply not giving him a new one was a money-saving gesture designed to avoid paying compensation.
Is the same thing happening with Bilic? And if they have no intention of offering Bilic a new deal, shouldn’t they just sack him now? Shouldn’t they have sacked him weeks ago? Is the couple of million pounds saved by not sacking their manager really worth it, given the situation they now find themselves in?
The Ashley Fletcher situation is a positive for West Ham, but as is so often the case this season, this welcome development has brought the club’s clear mismanagement to the fore again.
Not even the good news is good news these days.