West Ham United fans have experienced an odd start to this season. Whilst they have seen their team perform excellently against top sides Liverpool and Arsenal, poor form and off the field issues has seen them dragged into a relegation battle – somewhere Hammers fans will not want or expect to be. Last weekend’s convincing 5-3 home win over high-flyers Burnley will have been a welcome victory, however it came with a price as talisman Carlton Cole limped off at half time with a knee injury.
The England striker hobbled off after scoring his 7th league goal of the season from the penalty spot and has suffered knee ligament damage. Whilst the length of the striker’s delay is not known, it is thought be several weeks, despite Cole not needing surgery. It is a huge blow for West Ham who have relied somewhat on the firepower of the former Chelsea striker, with his goals alone keeping them adrift of the relegation zone. So what do West Ham do now? How do they cope without such a fundamental part of their team?
A rumour that refuses to go away is that of Luca Toni joining the Hammers. The prolific Italian striker has fallen out of favour at Bayern Munich and there have been increasing talks of a move to Upton Park. This, in my opinion, is more than an option for Zola; it is a gamble he must take. Whilst Zola’s squad boasts players such as Alessandro Diamanti, Luis Jimenez and Guillermo Franco, none of them are out and out goal scorers of the pedigree of Toni.
You only have to look at the goal scoring record of the Italian to realise what a fantastic signing he would be for the East London club. During his time in Italy, Toni often possessed a record of better than one in two. Whilst at Palermo, he netted 50 times in 80 appearances before scoring 47 in 67 for Fiorentina, including a remarkable 31 goals in his first season for the Florence club. He then moved to Germany and continued his record with Bayern Munich, finishing the 2007-08 season with 39 goals in 46 matches.
Looking at this record it is hard to see why Toni is not being chased by every club in Europe, yet there are downsides to the striker. He has fallen out of favour in Germany due to a rift with Bayern manager Louis van Gaal. He publically criticised the former Holland manager, claiming their relationship was “as good as over,” an act in which he was fined €25,000 for. Toni is no stranger to the odd bit of controversy and it is likely that his inability to keep his mouth shut could cause trouble in east London yet I believe this is no reason not to take a chance on him. The striker is desperate to leave Munich and come January, will only have around 18 months left on his contract meaning a cheap deal could be made, possibly even a nominal fee.
Some West Ham fans may see Toni as a repeat of Diego Tristan, another striker with previous European glory yet one who failed to make an impact in east London, however I beg to differ. Toni, at 32, still has it in him to play at the top level and West Ham could really do with his experience and goal scoring prowess up front, especially in the absence of the injured Cole. Toni has never played in England and is likely to relish the chance to ply his trade in the Premier League; he will also be out to prove he has still got the ability to compete with the best after a torrid Euro 2008 tournament. He is old and a bit controversial and in addition to this, is likely to deal a significant blow to the wage bill, but is he a gamble worth taking? I think so.