From Back To Front

West Ham United

Another day ticks by in the wait for the signature of Mr. Carvalho. The longer it takes the more I find myself wondering that if this is to be our last acquisition of the current window…is it the right one?

He is a player of undoubted quality, by our standards a marquee signing up there with the already beloved Chicharito. He even fits the bill of a defense bolstering workhorse that we are so desperate for. But I look back at the results so far this season, as well as the second half of last year and one statistic is screaming loud to me. We concede way too many goals.

The arrival of Hernandez and Arnautovic was rightly met with the plaudits of the masses. Zabaleta was pleasing but came at the cost of Byram ever being given an extended opportunity to establish himself in this league, something that was never going to happen overnight. He has his critics but I’ve seen enough to think he could really do a job once he’s learnt a few tough lessons. Joe Hart, in my opinion, was a big name that in reality did not offer value for money. For that wage is he really a significant improvement on Adrian? I cannot dispute he commands a penalty area better but I see nothing in either keepers last few years that convince me he is any less prone to costly mistakes than the Spaniard that I’ve had a soft spot for since that cup night against the Toffees.

For me, what has been strangely absent among the clamour of the faithful is the demand for an established centre-half. While Carvalho may provide a crucial extra barrier in front of the back four there will still remain a fault line that runs right through the squad in that particular position. Collins, a fan favourite, simply doesn’t have a full season of consistency in him at this level any more. For all his endeavour, the morphing and mutation of what a typical Premier League striker consists of nowadays has not worked in his favour and as the years creep into his legs I fear his still admirable reputation will only diminish further every time he comes up against real quality. I am always pleased to see him come on, but that’s a feeling based on how I hold “Ginge” in my heart rather than any tactical improvements he offers.

Ogbonna is the proverbial stone in the shoe of my theory. This could well be the year he establishes himself as the team-sheet-no-brainer we all hope he can be. I truly hope so. A season of good performances from him along with remaining largely injury free could well alleviate my doubts, or at least turn my argument into one of simply wanting a little extra cover ’just in case’ rather than the solid stand out name I’m endorsing in this article. I can accept the theory that his first season was spent finding his feet and the second was sufficiently interrupted by injury for him to be given the benefit of the doubt that more was to come. This is, after all, an Italian international centre back we’re talking about. It’s not unreasonable to expect the very best from a representative of the nation that gave us Catenaccio. One look at any given Serie A game tells us that the lost art of defending can still be found very much alive and well down by the Med, even if you struggle to stay awake for the full ninety minutes.

Fonte and his antics are ultimately what have brought me to my foreboding conclusion on this matter. Turn the clock back eight months and you’ll read about what a great deal West ham had just done. How Jose was looking to finish his career on a high with a team that was making a step up in its player investments. It was nothing more than a well managed changing of their guard and there’s no way to say it other than “we were mugged”. Southampton knew very well at the time which team was getting the better end of that particular transfer and they certainly don’t play in claret and blue. The Saints dogged determination to hold on to Van Dijk may well prove fruitless but contrasted with their willingness to allow Fonte to depart speaks volumes about how little their managerial team valued Fonte as a player going forward at that time.

Winston thankfully is the beacon I compare all our others too. Yes, I wish his body could stand up to the rigour of week-in week-out matches, but few can boast this particular quality with the demands of the modern game. As long as his absences remain occasional I’ll continue to hold him in the same great esteem. I can’t fault him one bit for this, or indeed anything else he does in a West Ham shirt. My only concern is that given the right (or wrong) circumstances, a bigger club could come calling with enough cash and the promise of a higher level of competition that would inevitably turn any ambitious players head.

However much you rate these players individually I doubt many would say this position in the squad has enough depth to tackle an entire season with any substantial success. I’m delighted that I now have enough faith in our ability to score goals that I’m pointing the finger at the unfashionable positions. So much has been written lately about our attacking options and I for one am convinced. We finally have not only a natural goalscorer in the team but enough talent queuing up behind him that we can hopefully take the season’s fitness hurdles in our stride. Like Matic at Manchester United, Carvalho could well be the key that gives sufficient freedom to others in their own pursuit of goals and a freedom to be able to express themselves. Kouyate could break forward, Antonio could stay forward and Lanzini…Well, he could finally enjoy that carefree role at number 10 that he’s not yet been truly afforded. If you can’t bring yourself to blame the defensive shortfalls for restricting Manuel’s role, then can we all just agree to blame Payet for lazily abusing that purely attacking role to the point that Bilic hasn’t truly entrusted it to anyone else since? I thought so!

COYI.