It may seem easy to forget that not too long ago; West Ham were relegated after finishing bottom of the Premier League. Six years on, and with a slick new 60,000 seater stadium, the brand of football demanded by the fans finally seems to be coming to fruition under Slaven Bilic. Despite falling off the pace towards the end of last season, the team pushed for a Champions League place and would have certainly gained more media attention and plaudits if the true underdogs of the season, Leicester City, had not outshone them.
Yet as is the West Ham mentality, the clubs speculative efforts in the transfer market seem to suggest that David Gold and Sullivan believe the Hammers are already justified as one of the League’s elite members. After just one successful season, there are already mummers of a possible title challenge emerging from East London in a few years time. A €40m bid for Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette in June would certainly have supported this ambition. The Frenchman had caught the eye of numerous top clubs, meaning if West Ham could have tempted him to be part of their growing project, it would have been a serious statement.
However the Hammers had to settle for a much overpriced André Ayew at £20.5m from Swansea and a couple of other half-hearted purchases that will have to prove themselves this season. It to me suggests that West Ham must learn to walk before they can run, and that headhunting players of Lacazette’s calibre is a waste of time without yet being in the Champions League. The fact of the matter is that players do not yet view West Ham as a top English club, despite the capacity of their new stadium or the bold statements their owners dish out. Sullivan has stated that the Olympic stadium gives them ‘£12m extra revenue’, but with other clubs also benefiting financially from Sky’s TV deal, big name players such as Christian Benteke were cut short off Sullivan’s summer shopping list. West Ham’s progress may be forward but adapting to life at the London Stadium will be slow. Foreign superstars are simply not lining up to come through the door as of yet.
Sullivan has stated this himself, stipulating that ‘you’ve got to build it up gradually. You can’t compete with the likes of Manchester United overnight.’ This supposed mind set however begs the question as to why West Ham entered the market for players that were targeted by the likes of Manchester United Juventus, and Chelsea, with the London club beating them all to the signing of Batshuayi. Again, it was a race in which a team without European football would never win, and perhaps time could have been better invested towards more realistic targets, as harsh as that sounds. Bilic certainly has gained more depth this summer, but left back is still a weakness and with the likes of Ayew and new winger Feghouli injured, it remains to be seen if the first team chances significantly.
Now those against this view will argue they had every right to bid for and Batshuayi and especially Lacazette, who had the potential to move to a better league. It’s true, they did. But is one of the hottest properties in Europe, currently enjoying the form of his life, really going to move to a club that promises so much yet still can’t make it past the Europa League play-off round? For the second year in a row, the Hammers have been embarrassed by Romanian side Astra, raising questions as to whether they take the competition seriously. The point remains that if Bilic’s side do not have both the squad depth and the mentality to cope in the Europa League while sustaining a Premier League season, a Champions League campaign would prove just as futile while damaging their league form. One might argue that being in the Europa League hinders their chances of making the top four. In this case, history can’t repeat itself, and if the club truly want to move forward they must improve on last year’s finish and break into the top four this season.
So was West Ham’s transfer window one filled with regrets? Ultimately, they did not get the marquee signing they were looking for, indicating to me that top players still see West Ham as a mediocre team. Like all teams however, they need time to prove that some of their under the raider signings this summer will be a success, much like Payet last season. The fans must not get ahead of themselves and expect too much so soon, as has been the trouble in the past. The atmosphere of the new ground has been debated since the start of the season, but if West Ham can up their game from an impressive season last year, there’s no doubt the electric sound synonymously associated with the Boleyn Ground will be echoed through the new stadium.
By Freddie Alcock.