By far and away the most exciting team on deadline day was West Ham. Signing four players, Slaven Bilic bolstered his squad and excited the Upton Park faithful in the process.
Persuading players like Dimitri Payet and Angelo Ogbonna to join the East London club from their more prestigious previous clubs was an encouraging start to the summer – West Ham’s 1966 World Cup victory notwithstanding, Juventus and Marseille have both played in multiple European Cup finals – but it is arguable that deadline day was even more exciting for the Hammers. And not just because it was deadline day.
So, signing Nikica Jelavic is hardly going to set the world alight by itself, that much is true. But the volume of signings, and proven attacking signings at that, is exciting. Add Jelavic to Victor Moses and Michail Antonio and you get interesting attacking options. Behind them Alex Song, arguably last season’s best Hammer, will line up once more – providing he actually still has ankles. Or ligaments in his ankles.
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So the squad has a healthy, balanced look. Song can tackle and pass, Noble will give energy, Payet unbridled creativity, Moses pace and guile, Jelavic goals. Given the right service, who knows – maybe Andy Carroll will chip in with a few!
That’s the exciting bit, in fact. Carroll has been criticised for years, but if he can stay injury-free he’ll be a real threat getting onto the end of the kind of sumptuous pass that Dimitri Payet can provide. The kind of pass that saw Andre-Pierre Gignac – a somewhat similar player to Carroll – score 21 league goals last season. If he can’t stay fit, what do West Ham fans care, Sakho, Valencia and Jelavic should have enough horsepower to step up to the plate.
Last weekend showed exactly what West Ham can do when they start games well. Going 2-0 down to Leicester and Bournemouth were terrible starts, whereas against Liverpool, an early goal helped settle the nerves. Even against Arsenal on the opening day, no one could fault the Irons’ passion – two yellow cards inside the first seven minutes is hardly a great start, but at least they were getting stuck in!
When West Ham start as they mean to go on, they look like a dangerous side. After the severe disappointments in Europe – with hindsight though, perhaps Hammers’ fans aren’t too disappointed not to have to play Thursday-Saturday throughout the season – West Ham have managed six points from their first four games. But when you have four games involving trips to both Arsenal and Liverpool, six points sounds like a great return, the kind of points haul you’re expecting from those games. Even if the order in which they were accrued was perhaps reversed.
So even though West Ham were embarrassed in Europe and have managed to get a red card seemingly every time they play, strangely they look good, and importantly, they’re more or less where they want to be right now: with a passable points haul in the league so far and exciting signings which show a balanced team. It could be better of course, they could still be in Europe – although the early exit may be a blessing in disguise – and they may have won the two winnable Premier League games they ended up losing, but on the whole the Hammers will take it.
The challenge now is to bed in the new blood and blend it with the good parts of what was going on before in order to create a team that can challenge for European places in the league this season and attract the sort of players who can add enough depth to the squad for next season so that West Ham can succeed on a domestic and European front.
With the new signings, an ambitious group of players and a board seemingly willing to spend, that’s not a million miles away. Add that to the prospect of playing in a new and iconic stadium next season and West Ham are really starting to look like an attractive club for players and potential owners alike.
So how long will it be before West Ham join up with the really big boys at the upper echelons of English football once again?