Football FanCast bring you the inside track on West Ham’s January transfer window based on information gained from sources inside the Premier League club.
West Ham began the January transfer window expecting it to be quiet and rather unspectacular.
There were few plans in place for the club to dip into the transfer market – they had already secured Samir Nasri on a free transfer and Manuel Pellegrini had told the club’s board that he was happy with what he had at his disposal.
There was a reticence to be drawn into bidding wars and inflated fees meant that the Irons were prepared to stick with what they had unless they received a bid for a player deemed expendable, such as Andy Carroll. They did not expect to offload Lucas Perez, either.
And then everything changed.
A bid worth around £30million landed for Marko Arnautovic from China. It remains unclear if Shanghai SIPG or Guangzhou Evergrande made the first move, but both clubs were interested in securing his signature. Sources at the club immediately insisted that it had been rejected, as it was viewed as derisory in a market inflated by gargantuan transfer fees.
Such was the nature of the offer, the Hammers expected to receive a follow-up bid for the Austria international, who had become integral to the way Pellegrini had his team playing. He had scored seven goals in the Premier League prior to the bid being tabled.
Behind the scenes, there was panic. West Ham did not know if Arnautovic would look to force a move.
His brother, who is also his agent, issued a statement urging West Ham to accept the offer. They could not, given that it had already been rejected, but a meeting held between the club’s hierarchy led to some form of compromise: if an offer worth £40m was tabled, they would accept it.
This came about as a result of interest in Celta Vigo striker Maxi Gomez, a player who had a £43.5m release clause in his contract. Quite simply, there was no way of signing Gomez if Arnautovic did not leave, despite fans hoping to see the pair play together – the money did not, and still does not, exist.
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Callum Wilson had been touted as Arnautovic’s replacement initially, but talks with Bournemouth were not fruitful, as the Cherries demanded a figure of around £70m, also designed – per West Ham sources – to ward off interest from Chelsea.
A move for Josh Maja, of Sunderland, was a non-starter – the club insist they were never interested in securing the striker, who eventually joined Bordeaux.
Arnautovic was subsequently told that he would be staying at the club. Pellegrini was consulted on the matter by the board and told them that he was content to work with the Austrian for the remainder of the season and beyond if necessary.
This was music to the ears of both David Gold and David Sullivan, the club’s co-owners, who had feared another Dimitri Payet situation – the Frenchman forced his way out of the club to join Marseille in January 2017 after going on strike.
Nevertheless, sources have confirmed that there was tension. Michail Antonio appeared on Sky Sports and said that Arnautovic wanted to leave the club. There was a feeling in the dressing room that the situation had been manufactured by the striker’s brother, who was out for a payday.
This was reinforced by information received by Football FanCast, with sources confirming that Arnautovic had appeared surprised when the news of Chinese interest in his services broke.
Of course, there was a desire for him to receive a mammoth salary in China – it is understood that he could have earned triple his current wages – but he did not look to force his way out in the same way that Payet did, and he never refused to play for the club.
Instead, it was the Irons who asked Arnautovic to sign a new contract after it became apparent that a new bid from China would not be forthcoming. However, within the deal there is a clause that will allow the player to leave in the summer, provided a bid worth £45m is tabled.
The timing of the announcement of the deal was nothing short of a disaster, however, as it was announced just minutes after a 4-2 FA Cup loss to AFC Wimbledon, a team bottom of League One.
The Hammers’ handling of the saga, then, can be viewed one of two ways. They have either convinced Arnautovic to stay for the remainder of the season as they push for Europa League qualification or they have given into ransom demands. Conclusions there can be drawn at the end of the season.
Still, interest persisted in the Hammers’ dealings and, on deadline day, they were busy.
There was an offer from Valencia for Javier Hernandez, which was rejected. Sources confirmed that Chicharito was keen on the move, but that there was little time to complete the transfer. A loan bid for Lucas Perez, too, from FC Schalke, was knocked back as the Hammers looked to keep their strikeforce intact.
However, an agent’s offer of Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi proved intriguing, and the Hammers attempted to do a deal. Had it been pulled off, one of Hernandez or Lucas would have left the club.
Sources within the London Stadium, however, confirmed that Batshuayi had little interest in the move – he had rejected West Ham before, when they attempted to sign him prior to his switch to Stamford Bridge – and had instead instructed his representatives to explore a move to Tottenham Hotspur.
Due to Chelsea’s reticence to negotiate with Spurs, West Ham felt they had a chance of completing a move if no other club came forward, but they pulled the plug upon learning of his demands of £175,000-per-week in wages. Batshuayi instead joined Crystal Palace.
Ultimately, then, the Hammers ended up doing exactly what they set out to do; they kept their squad together and did not enter into any unnecessary bidding wars for players deemed too expensive.
But it’s fair to say that it was anything but quiet in east London in January. Now, Hammers fans must wait to see what the summer brings.