West Ham’s stingy negotiating and handling of the Dimitri Payet affair has been the highlight of the January transfer window to date.
Continuing to make derisory bids for players that are held so dearly by rival Premier League clubs, the Hammers have been the butt of many a joke. Meanwhile, their talismanic superstar has gone on strike and demanded to leave the club. Its never dull for West Ham, that’s for sure.
The thing is, spending in January is for clubs with significant short-term aims, as I wrote last week.
Teams at the bottom of the table or near the top who need depth or reinforcements ahead of the key stretch to end the campaign. Mid-table teams who are safe from relegation and with no chance of European qualification have no justification for paying inflated January prices. Yes, finishing a place or two higher in the table brings in a bit more revenue, but it’s not worth the hassle.
Bringing players in during a campaign can unsettle a dressing room and rumours – which West Ham seem to feature regularly in – have an impact on players. Current squad members may not be too pleased to hear the board are after a player in their position. There is often a feeling that January transfers are under-scouted, rushed deals, too.
Though not always the case, it’s hard to believe that a club has taken the time to evaluate a player properly when their interest has seemingly only piqued during this season. West Ham are not to only culprits of this, but they are the most obvious this time around.
The question the West Ham board should be asking themselves is this: what do we stand to gain from signing players this window?
Maybe finishing 9th rather than 11th, but that’s about it for this season. The squad Slaven Bilic is having to work with is far from perfect, it has some glaring issues, but they can be addressed in the summer when months of scouting can be done and bargains are more likely to be found. West Ham are nine points ahead of the relegation zone and 15 behind sixth-placed Manchester United, this season is as good as guaranteed to end in a mid-table finish whether they make signings or not.
One of the glaring issues in the squad, though – which has seen the Hammers linked to Jermain Defoe and Moussa Dembele – is the striker situation. The departures of Simone Zaza and Jonathan Calleri – two disastrous summer signings – have left the injury-plagued Andy Carroll under a lot of pressure. West Ham’s inability to sign a reliable striker has been a long-running problem, as Jacob Steinberg wrote about in The Guardian this week.
Rushing through a deal in January is surely not the best way to solve this problem. It could work, and they may end up signing a player they have scouted for months, but they should balance the reward with forcing a January signing with the risk.
West Ham have no time pressures in 2017. Bilic’s side, along with Everton, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and several other teams, will finish in mid-table. The order will be juggled around throughout the remaining Premier League matches, but that’s about all the change there will be.
Thus, the reward for signing a player this month rather than in the summer is negligible. The risk, though, is that they could be left with a player unsuited to the team on a long, costly contract. The January window has a purpose for many Premier League clubs, but West Ham are not one of them.