The most important summer yet

After another wonderful season saw David Moyes’ side fall just short of immortality, the club now stands at a crossroads.

Make the signings the club badly need and there is no reason West Ham can’t push on and continue to challenge for honours. If they get this transfer window wrong however, it may be the beginning of the end for this lovable side, and the start of another disastrous, angst filled period in the club’s recent history.

‘If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again’

Foo Fighters – Everlong

And so, it ends. A second thrilling season in a row. So close yet so far. Again. A small, stretched squad perform miracles but run out of steam and collectively tire when it really matters. It peters out, and they finish with less points and a position lower than last season. But it has been a ride, and arguably better that the previous season.

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We were back supporting them in the stands for a start. They beat Liverpool, one of only two sides to do so in the league. They beat Chelsea and made Mason Mount go from very gobby to very quiet in 45 minutes. They beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and Manchester City on penalties in the cup. They beat Spurs, again. They gave us our greatest European night in 40 odd years and made the London Stadium momentarily a bear pit.

They then went and gave us an even more incredible European night in Lyon. And they have secured another year of European football, the first time in this wonderful club’s history that it has been achieved in back to back seasons through league position. Each and every one of them, from the masterful David Moyes and his dedicated staff, through to those wonderful, skilful, brilliant players, have all given us some nights we will never forget.

But now, reality starts to bite. The league form fell away, one win from the final seven games, which came against the absolutely hopeless Norwich side that finished rock bottom, not only put paid to a Champions League place, it also ended hopes of a return to the magical Europa League. The European dream, which seemed like it would never end, fell apart precisely 53 seconds into the semi-final first leg, and the team never really recovered. Aaron Cresswell’s second red card in consecutive rounds putting an end to any thoughts of one more incredible achievement.

Suddenly, other teams are strong again. Tottenham have a top quality manager and in Son and Kane, two world class footballers hitting their peak and are becoming ever so slightly less ‘Spursy’. Arsenal have dived, time-wasted and shithoused their way into contention again, with a young side that will only get stronger once they realise they can play football the right way. Newcastle are loaded, and having spent £120m in January pulling well clear of the drop zone, will no doubt do so again under their intelligent manager Eddie Howe. Aston Villa have already bought in two of the most sought after players in Europe.

Manchester United have a new manager and can’t be as bad again, surely. That’s before you even take into account Leicester, who had an off season but are ran brilliantly and will improve undeniably.

I am not sure some people realise just how crucial this summer is. The captain, the lynchpin of the changing room, the man who installs into every player what this club means to the fans, has gone. A wonderful send off was given to Mark Noble, while at the same time masking the loss of a man who defined the football club. They are very big boots to fill.

The squad now has just 18 first team players left after the release of Yarmolenko, Fredericks and Martin and the end of the loans of Kral and Areola. Six of those remaining are over 30. One player, the world-class Declan Rice, will have a summer of being linked to the biggest clubs on the planet. Other players who haven’t quite ever convinced, such as Diop, Vlasic, Masuaku and Benrahma, could leave if the right offer comes in. One kicked a cat this year and has arguably not quite been the same player since.

The club still has one striker. It has a 'keeper who, despite being wonderful since he joined, has visibly started showing signs of aging. The First Team Coach has departed. Everything is up in the air. And if I need to remind you that the clubs’ owners, whose record in the transfer market is at best patchy and at worst laughable, damaging and self-harming, are going to be playing a huge role in this make or break summer, it suddenly makes you extremely panicky. Not to mention the golden year of 2023 is approaching, where they can take their money and run, without having to give Boris and his government any additional tax money for more lockdown parties. You would have to wonder if they even want to invest.

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Also, in classic West Ham fashion and luck, the Czech billionaire who was our route out of the mostly awful GSB era turns up at club with sacks of money and hope, before a war suddenly starts, tying up a fair whack of his fortune.

So what do we need to do? Well first off, we probably need to sort out the Declan Rice situation. Put a sensible release clause in his contract (somewhere between £110-125m) and get him signed up for probably one more year here before one of the genuine big boys can take him. Put that to bed and concentrate on getting players in. The club needs a new 'keeper, which if they can talk Alphonse Areola’s wages down a bit, seems almost taken care of. He impressed in the Europa League run, with his frankly incredible save against Sevilla early on at the London Stadium arguably keeping the club in the tie.

In defence, with Diop probably heading out and Ogbonna yet to prove his fitness after his awful injury, we undoubtedly need a starting centre back to partner Kurt Zouma. The Rennes central defender Nayef Aguerd seems to be heavily linked, and reading some of the reviews from those in the know in the scouting world he looks an astute signing. A left-sided, ball playing defender with decent pace, exactly what we need. The team's attacks down the left hand side of the pitch noticeably reduced when Oggy got injured so this seems sensible. So far so good.

Right back is covered, with Coufal and Johnson being more than capable for next season. Left back is an area the club simply has to target. Aaron Cresswell has been a brilliant servant to this football club. He has won Hammer of the Year, scored some memorable goals, given absolutely everything each and every time he has pulled on the shirt, and has provided countless crosses, free kicks and corners that have led to vital goals. The abuse he got in some areas of social media after his red card v Frankfurt was nothing short of a disgrace.

One relatively prominent social media account, who I won’t name, uttered probably the most ridiculous tweet going and summed up what people will do for clicks and likes. What a whopper with a short memory. The cold hard truth however remains that Cresswell has peaked and the club need a left back to start, with the option of still using Cresswell when top delivery is needed when searching for wins. We can’t go into another season flogging Cresswell at left back with the real fear of Arthur Masuaku having to come on and play there.

Further up the field, the last week or two has seen West Ham linked with probably every player on the planet who has a pulse. Now we all know this is a David Sullivan special, get some names floating about, make it seem like we are going to bring in loads of players for lots of money, all while season tickets are still on sale. It is what has happened every year since we moved to the ground previously known as the Misery Bowl and will continue to happen until the disaster artists at the top of the club sell up. The usual mates in the media - be it Stone, Burt, Steinberg, Solhekol or of course Jim White - they are doing their bit for their pal trying to make out he has some kind of plan.

Trying to pick through it and see who we will actually sign is a bit of an art form. In terms of the central midfield Mark Noble needs replacing, arguably with somebody who can challenge the less effective but still important Tomas Soucek for a starting role. An ageing Noble and hopelessly out of his depth Alex Kral were not going to do that. There are plenty of options out there across Europe at a fraction of the price of say James Ward Prowse and Kalvin Phillips, and hopefully Rob Newman has found a player, or more handily, two, who can come in and have an immediate impact.

The team are also arguably short in the attacking midfield positions. Niko Vlasic hasn’t worked out and seems too similar to the superior Pablo Fornals, so moving him on wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Manuel Lanzini has done brilliantly to come back from a series of bad injuries, but still doesn’t offer the direct running and ball carrying skills needed to transfer the team up the pitch quickly. As for Said Benrahma, a hard worker who provides the odd moment of brilliance, he just isn’t consistent enough and if we can get the money paid back I would sell him too. He was noticeably a downgrade on the player whose place in the team he took last summer.

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This leads us to another elephant in the room in the shape of Jesse Lingard. West Ham were right not to pay the money wanted by Manchester United both last summer and in January. What they didn’t do though was bring in an adequate alternative. The January window inactivity arguably costing us a place in one of the two higher rated European competition, and also left Moyes with little options off the bench for the remainder of the tiring run in.

Now Jesse is available on a free, and as long as his wage demands and signing on fee ask isn’t ridiculous it would be crazy not to sign him up. A quick win with the fanbase and getting a player who at 29 is peaking for free (minus the signing on fee) seems too good an opportunity to turn down. Another exciting, quick, direct and skilful attacking midfielder to compliment Bowen and Fornals would be useful too.

Finally, up top, the club needs to finally address the out-and-out centre forward position. It is well known that David Moyes loves a winger who he can convert to do the role, having had success with first Marko Arnautovic and then more recently Michail Antonio. However, with a competent, knowledgeable and well-run scouting network, an out-and-out finisher who also possesses the qualities Moyes wants can be found.

Antonio has been a fine player for this football club, but we need to sign somebody to not just compete to start, but arguably take his place. Another younger striker, with potential to come in when needed to the side should also be sought and signed. Alternatively, an experienced striker who can come on when needed off the bench would at least give us an Plan B, rather than always having to go for the pound shop version of Plan A each time from the bench when things are going wrong.

So I make that eight incomings needed before you even think about selling some of the fringe players. By time the likes of Vlasic and Masuaku are sold it may be 10 incomings required. It is going to be a hectic summer.

If at this vital crossroads we choose not to revolutionise the squad, then we will be left behind. It is ok to be proud of what we achieved and where we have come from over the past two years, but it is also ok at the same time feel like we can’t stand still and throw it all away. At this key junction, it all comes down to David Sullivan. Will he finally get it right?

History says no, and because of that, I wait nervously and remain worried. But as with David Moyes and his return to the club, I would love to be proved wrong. We live in hope.

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