West Ham United appear to have fallen victim to a con.
Marko Arnautovic, after a lengthy flirtation with China, has been rewarded with a new contract, announced in an ill-timed video that followed FA Cup humiliation at the hands of AFC Wimbledon, who are rock bottom of League One.
Restored to the starting XI by Manuel Pellegrini against Wolves on Tuesday, Arnautovic sustained an injury and left Molineux on crutches, in a protective boot. He has not broken his foot and could return against Liverpool on Monday, but the sight of him hobbling off had fans holding their breath.
It was typical West Ham; having tied down one of their most important players, he swiftly picked up an injury.
Football FanCast understands that his 12-month extension includes a clause that allows him to leave the club in the summer should an acceptable bid be tabled – the fee stands at around £45million.
It was little more than politics. The club needed to be able to prove Arnautovic’s commitment and head off a potential fan rebellion in the process.
However, it does little to ward off the feeling that there simply wasn’t a good enough bid tabled by Shanghai SIPG or Guangzhou Evergrande, who emerged as contenders to sign Arnautovic at the start of January.
An initial offer from Shanghai was worth around £30m and rebuffed – Football FanCast understands the club wanted £45m, almost the exact value of Celta Vigo striker Maxi Gomez’s release clause.
There was no money at the club for new signings last month, but they dipped into the pot to ensure that Arnautovic stays around.
It appears to be the wrong decision and has weakened the club’s hierarchy. They were so desperate to avoid another Dimitri Payet situation – the France international headed to Marseille in January of 2017 – that they have bowed to the demands of a mercenary actively looking for a move.
It sets a mightily dangerous precedent. Arnautovic was well aware of his own value and Football FanCast understands he was able to exploit it to extract a pay rise from a board that, in effect, have agreed to sell him on in the summer.
There is nothing to say that the likes of Felipe Anderson, so impressive this season, or Issa Diop, a breakthrough star at centre-back, won’t follow in his footsteps.
West Ham should have swallowed their pride, cashed in, and reinvested in the squad.
Gomez is a terrific player and, per Transfermarkt, has scored nine goals and provided five assists in 19 games already this season.
Instead, the moody Arnautovic will stay at the club, his bank balance topped up, and his tickets likely already booked for China once the season ends.