After being associated with summer moves for Loic Remy and Neymar there was a collective groan amongst West Ham fans when the club announced the signing of Frederic Piquionne. The reaction was understandably subdued given the 31-year old has a record of scoring, on average, under six league goals a season. The consensus was that the former Lyon striker could fulfil a role as a player intended to bolster a diminished attacking line. The experienced forward had spent the bulk of his playing career in France before impressing on loan at Portsmouth last season. He has teamed up with Avram Grant for a second time and appears to have found a sanctuary in English football. Implacably positive, he identified the green shoots of recovery for the Hammers before their victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Based on his performances thus far, he may be a key figure in lifting West Ham up the table.
Piquionne was born in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia but his family soon settled in the French capital. He spent time in Martinique after leaving school and played for their national football team. France, however, is his home and he earned his first and only cap for Les Bleus in a friendly against Austria in 2007. A veteran of the French top flight, Piquionne is good friends with Chelsea’s Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba. His career has been less settled, joining Nimes in 2000 but proceeding to sign for Rennes, St Etienne and Monaco. He completed a high profile transfer to French giants Lyon in 2008 but endured a miserable time at the Stade de Gerland. Scrutiny was forthcoming from fans and pundits for a striker who scored just two league goals for Les Gones.
When troubled Portsmouth swooped for the Frenchman on a season’s long loan, he was looking forward to a new chapter in his career and the chance to prove his detractors wrong. This was arguably an unusual set of circumstances for a player who could be regarded as being at the tail end of his career. However there was nothing usual about the perilous situation at Fratton Park. Initially brought in by Paul Hart, the loan signing eventually developed a good rapport with Avram Grant. The striker scored 11 goals in all competitions but his efforts could not divert the club from the spectre of relegation. He and his manager both excelled, nonetheless, in a tremendous FA Cup run which provided a fitting distraction from Portsmouth’s financial woes. Piquionne scored two goals in three minutes against Birmingham to send Pompey to Wembley.
In the semi-final of that competition against Tottenham, he profited from Michael Dawson’s unfortunate slip in extra time and calmly put the ball past Heurelho Gomes. Earlier in that contest, however, his finishing had been erratic. He had a superb opportunity to score in the final against Chelsea, squandering a chance from a yard out. Petr Cech palmed his shot away which was merely begging for a stronger connection. He missed an even easier chance for his new team against Chelsea once more. Unmarked near the far post, he somehow managed to head the ball, already destined for goal, against the bar. His critics though would concede that his time at Portsmouth was comparatively successful. He said, “My time in England has been very enjoyable and I’d like to stay in the Premier League.” West Ham granted that wish and there are many reasons why their fans can expect more from this resurgent forward.
He has improved his movement and timing of his runs, creating space for others to exploit. Whether dropping deep or running the channels, Piquionne wants the ball which is a sure sign of a confident footballer. At 6ft 2in he is an athletic player who can bully defences and run at opponents with pace. There have been flashes of his undoubted potential since arriving in east London. He scored a coolly taken goal in West Ham’s League Cup victory over Sunderland and netted the winner in their London derby with Tottenham. He has collaborated well with Victor Obinna and is currently keeping Carlon Cole out of the starting XI. Piquionne expects a top half finish for West Ham. It is an ambitious target but one which will seem straightforward for a player who finally feels settled.