Signed from Livorno last summer Alessandro Diamanti arrived at Upton Park to much fanfare. Having heard of his creative play, goal scoring ability and set piece prowess many fans hoped for a new idol in the mould of Di Canio. A quick glance at his statistics points to a promising start in English football, netting seven Premier League goals and one in the FA Cup. Gianfranco Zola spoke of a player who, “could make a mistake but could create something unexpected.” Whilst his intelligent play did open up defences and get the fans on the edge of their seats the inconsistent nature of his game which Zola hinted at began to divide West Ham supporters. He was conspicuously absent from the relegation run in by which stage some argued that he was too unreliable, too flash and too conscious of his own ability.
Upon arrival in east London, the Italian sporting a shock of dreadlocked hair wasted no time in making his presence felt. He assumed command of all set pieces and penalty kicks with complete confidence. His delivery from set pieces was excellent and his passing was adventurous and varied. Many expected he would be deployed as a central director, distributing incisive passes but not expected to do much in the way of tracking back. However he was largely deployed on the left wing arguably because a more central attacking role is difficult to fulfil in a faster league where there is scant room in which to operate. Despite not playing in his preferred role he still managed to score on a regular basis and won over the fans with some genuinely imaginative play. A look back at his best bits so far would include his superbly executed free kick which broke the deadlock in a tense home match against Birmingham. In addition he played a starring role in the comfortable home win against Hull City, testing Myhill on numerous occasions, once from inside his own half and setting up innumerable chances. But as this difficult season wore on his fancy touches, ambitious through balls and speculative shots would start to wield less fruitful results.
He soon began to divide opinion at the Boleyn Ground like no other player. This was illustrated by the home game against Bolton which ended in defeat for the Hammers. On that day he scored with a sumptuous curling shot from the edge of the box but was at fault for Bolton’s opener after shirking a challenge on the edge of the box. For one poster in a West Fan forum he ‘lacked courage.’ He was also particularly wasteful that afternoon making 37 passes of which only 17 were successful. In the infamous home defeat to Wolves he was again attacked by fans for not being able to run with the ball and wastefully shooting from distance. For many he was simply not up for the fight and Zola indicated his agreement by installing four central midfielders to the starting line up for the remaining games. Diamanti was invariably guilty of providing insufficient cover for his full back and was laborious in defence. By this stage it seemed his artistry was not enough, a higher work rate was needed. His class was not in doubt but his grit and determination was added to the view that he wasn’t capable of operating in a system which would now have to pride toughness, application and tactical discipline over beauty and technique.
Restored to the starting line up for the last game of the season he reminded the home crowd what he offers. His back heel pass to set up Boa Morte for a neat finish was exceptional. This unorthodox, unexpected pass cut right through the heart of a lavishly assembled Man City back line. His brief hiatus from the team during those crucial final games may well have been vindicated as the team sought to win the midfield battle and snatch victories using direct tactics. However here’s hoping that Avram Grant shows faith in this unpredictable individualist whose flair and vision can change matches. You just may have to deploy an extra holding midfielder to compensate for his defensive work rate though.
Written By Jack Howlett