As has been stated previously, our defence during the 2016/17 season was as leaky as Julian Assange’s outbox, so whole scale changes should be the order of the day surely? Um, well no actually. Injuries to key players took their toll. Aaron Cresswell – despite being called up for England duty this weekend – looked half the player that he had been prior to his pre-season ligament problem, Angelo Ogbonna was out for practically the whole season and absences at key moments to players like Winston Reid and to a lesser extent Sam Byram didn’t help. Neither did Slav’s insistence of playing players in the right back position who weren’t actually right backs. At times it wasn’t so much a question of parking the bus, but being able to drive one straight through our back four, consequently, it wasn’t until we switched to 3 central defenders that we looked a lot more comfortable. But we did not defend well as a team and the lack of leadership and organisation at the back was slightly alarming. So…… what to do?
In my opinion, we haven’t really had a decent right back since the days of Lucas Neill and Tommy Repka. After being heavily linked with St.Etienne’s Kevin Malcuit, the signing of Pablo Zabaleta is a good start to our rebuilding program though why it took so long to acquire a player to fill this position baffles me. At 32, he may well be past his best but you only have to look at some of the comments from Man City supporters to understand how much they are going to miss him. The interesting thing about this signing is that it suggests a return to a flat back 4, as the Argentinian is not the sort of player to run the channels like the proverbial Duracell bunny. Here’s hoping that Byram, a young player that I rate but who is still a bit reckless, learns from having Pablo as his mentor. On the left, we have Cresswell and the impressive Arthur Masuaku, one of the few players from the selection of new signings that emerged with any credit. But rumours persist that we are trying to sign a new one. So does that mean that either Arthur or Aaron are off? It’s not surprising that Cresswell has been linked with a move to the Scousers but maybe Masuaku is the man to be sacrificed as a player exchange with Roma has been mooted. I hope not. A cult figure in the making.
So who are the candidates?
GAEL CLICHY (Manchester City)
Yes yet another Man City cast-off though such is the strength of their squad, even their cast-offs would walk into our first-team. Clichy, like Zabaleta, is part of Guardiola’s clear-out so is available on a free. Whilst there is no doubting the player’s experience and ability, he would be part of a back-line in which 3 of the players are over 30 years of age.
DAVIDE SANTON (Inter Milan)
Ex-Newcastle United full-back with a brilliant reputation as a youngster but whose career has floundered in recent seasons. An Italian international with 8 caps, maybe he needs a move to kick-start what has been a disappointing career, though the last time he played in this country, a fine start with the Toon Army was ended when he lost his first team place to Paul Dummett. Yes, that’s right, Paul Dummett. Not sure whether this rumour is just lazy journalism as we have been linked with this guy before. In fact, it was suggested that he failed a medical with us back in 2016 so would we go back for him again?
KWADWO ASAMOAH (Juventus)
When is a left-back a left-sided attacking midfielder? Not sure this guy should be mentioned in this post as judging from his Wikipedia entry, this is someone who can play in a variety of positions, including central midfield. However, it’s a transfer rumour that might have some legs. The Ghanaian has been scouted by a number of Premier League clubs recently, of which, so rumour has it, we are but one. Over the last week, Asamoah has handed in a transfer request after finding opportunities at Juve limited. Still managing a credible 24 Serie A appearances for them last season during their Championship-winning season so a slouch he most certainly ain’t. The only problem is an injury record that has limited his availability in recent seasons which might make a move more probable if Juventus decide to cash in but which could be regarded as a risk for the team that buys him.
After the departure of James Tomkins to Crystal Palace, we were a little thin on the ground in the centre-half department making subsequent injuries to Ogbonna & Reid more crucial than it should have been. Whilst it’s been good to see the Ginger Pele return to something like his old form at the season’s end, Jose Fonte’s arrival from Southampton, a good signing on paper, failed to stem the tide and it wasn’t until we changed our system that he started to look the part. The 4 man line-up of Collins, Reid, Ogbonna & Fonte looks OK, but with Fonte, 34, and Collins, 33, replacements will be required, maybe sooner rather than later. Despite Ginge suggesting that he could play until he’s 40, it has been rumoured that The Hammers will listen to offers for him and even though it will be sad to see this most likable of players leave, it’s going to happen eventually. Whilst we seem to have an abundance of talented youngsters coming through, Rice, Burke & Oxford may still be too inexperienced to be trusted with a regular spot in the 1st team squad which is why Oxford’s loan deal to Borussia Monchengladbach seems like a good idea. Rice may have suggested that he wants to stay a Hammer for as long as Mark Noble but his time has yet to come whilst it could be now or never for Reece Burke. So…….who are our potential new signings? Judging from the somewhat rag-tag selection of names being bandied about something tells me that this position is not on our list of priorities. John Terry anyone?
CHRIS SMALLING (Manchester United)
Not sure whether to file this possible transfer under “Fantasy Island” as Smalling is a current England International and when was the last time we signed one of those? Some West Ham fans do not rate Smalling. I’m guessing some Man Utd fans don’t either. I’m not 100% certain myself. However, he has managed to amass 30 caps at the age of 27 and that either says a lot about the player or even more about the current England defence. Rumour has it Mourinho wants rid but the fact that Smalling played in the Europa League Final suggests otherwise. West Brom are also rumoured to be keen.
ADEN FLINT (Bristol City)
Apparently, we have been in contact with his club regarding his availability. Flint is Bristol City’s Incredible Hulk. 6ft 5 inches of tattooed muscle and sinew. Scored a lot of goals in City’s promotion campaign during 15/16 but having seen him play I can’t quite imagine that he is Premier League standard. If the comments of one City fan are accurate, Flint’s sheer size and lack of mobility is a problem as, though commanding in the air, on the floor he sometimes struggles to handle the more fleet of foot and there are plenty of those to be found in the top flight.
WESLEY HOEDT (Lazio)
A 23-year-old left-footed Dutchman currently plying his trade in Serie A with Lazio who obtained his services from AZ Alkmaar on a free transfer. Rumours of a possible loan deal emerged in the Italian Press recently, citing Hoedt’s lack of 1st team opportunities as a possible bargaining tool. Has won 4 caps for Holland though judging from their current standing in international football this is not necessarily a recommendation.
SEAN RAGGETT (Lincoln City)
It was widely reported that we had made a £120,000 bid for Raggett recently though The Baggies have also been linked with a move for the player whose goal knocked Burnley out of the FA Cup last season. His progress has apparently been monitored by Everton, Liverpool & Crystal Palace but one wonders whether, at 23, the step up from non-league to Premier League football may prove to be a bit risky, especially when we have within our ranks some talented young centre-halves of our own. Incidentally, the last player that we purchased from Lincoln if memory serves me, was another centre-half, the irrepressible Gary Strodder…….. What do you mean you’ve never heard of him?