The HamburgHammer Column

Let me start by thanking you all for reading my column throughout this weird and bewildering season just gone and bearing with my endless musings, puns and rants at our board. There was (still is, of course) a pandemic running wild which led to the PL calendar and football all over the world (except Belarus) grinding to an unexpected halt for several months, then there was the little matter of Supergrassgate on here (which kept Daz and me away for a short while), but then, thankfully, football finally returned and West Ham very belatedly turned on some style and swagger to secure league status for another season, especially important in these unpredictable times. I hope that I will be able to continue with my column again next season/when the new site is up and running. Let’s hope it will provide us with more wins, better football (maybe even fans returning to the stands) and plenty of inspiration for me to find some more jolly puns for my headlines. COYI!!!

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Thank God this season has finally run its course, I don’t need a repeat of all this either. If you had predicted that kind of season to happen, putting a tenner on it in your local betting shop last summer, you might consider yourself well minted now.

Who would have thought Pellegrini would be sacked halfway in ? Who would have thought that the backup goalkeeper we had brought in for Adrian should turn out to be a textbook example of “How not to come out for the ball when you’re a goalkeeper in the Premier League” ? Who could have predicted that a pandemic would stun the world and almost lead to the football season being voided altogether ?

And who would have thought we’d make two January signings destined to turn our season around with a gusto and impact reminding Hammers fans of the arrival of John Hartson and Paul Kitson midseason in February 1997 ?
Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek were key factors in making sure we will still see PL football at West Ham (at least on the telly) in the 2020/21 season.

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Our final league game wasn’t much to write home about. We didn’t really need a result and it showed. In the end a 1:1 draw was a fair result maybe, but the longer Villa managed to get away with dirty little fouls without getting booked, the more I was wishing for us to beat them and send them down. Luckily for Villa, goal-line technology enjoyed a refreshment break in their game against Sheffield United, helping the Villa(i)ns to a crucial point.
I bet lawyers are rubbing their hands in greedy expectation already with the prospect of a court case or two coming up…

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It’s the first Monday after the end of the season and the transfer window is now open again. I’ll just say that again: THE TRANSFER WINDOW IS OPEN AGAIN!
It will be a very short break now, next season will start in seven weeks already and that now means hectic wheeling and dealing in the world of football, with a plethora of phone calls ensuing between agents, clubs and players, maybe the odd fax machine will get a recall too and clubs all over the country will try to get rid of their deadwood while bringng in new and exciting players, finding targets according to current team weaknesses – and all of this in a financial climate of most clubs struggling to find money, some probably to a degree they will be very reluctant to water their training pitches out of fear of rising water utility bills.

The thing here is this: I can and will name you a few players I would be prepared to let go, trying to generate some funds to invest in new players. But my musings will be largely irrelevant. Does the club want to sell these players ? Are there other clubs willing to make an offer, paying the wages in full ? (Which in our case sometimes veer towards ridiculous levels when put in relation to contributions of said player on the pitch.)
Does the player agree to the move or prefer to see out his contract ?

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I wouldn’t mind allowing Lanzini to leave. Our #10 (literally) has, as we all know, scored some wonderful and crucial goals for us, but that knee injury has massively dented his confidence in his own body, affecting the way he moves and the ability to influence games. In these situations a fresh start elsewhere might prove a win-win scenario for everyone. His role can be filled by Fornals, Noble or Jack Wilshere.

I would keep Wilshere as it’s unlikely we’ll find a buyer for him anyway, so let’s ride out the final year of his deal and see if he can keep healthy and contribute. I am sure a player like Wilshere will be licking his lips at the prospect of playing on that same pitch with the likes of Bowen, Antonio, Rice and Soucek next season.

Roberto is an obvious choice, he will be staying in Spain now, the same country where Pellegrini will manage a club again, coincidentally. So two of the main protagonists of our downfall this season just gone will be plying their trade under the Spanish sun. Who else ? Balbuena. Moyes doesn’t seem to trust him and he should still warrant a halfway decent fee from a club in Spain or South America.

Ajeti (who I think is a fantastic young player, but Moyes seems to disagree) needs a fresh start elsewhere too (with Celtic his rumoured destination), but will his new club take the risk and sign him on a permanent deal immediately or start with a trial run of a loan with an option to buy ?
Winston Reid is a really sad case. Last ever goalscorer at the Boleyn, but since then incredibly unlucky with injuries. I just hope he can continue to play his football somewhere, but he’s not gonna earn West Ham much of a transfer fee, here, unfortunately, we have got a long-term deal on our hands gone massively Pete Tongue.

As for positions we need to fill: Definitely a LB, maybe a versatile type who can play on both sides almost equally well. Another young CB for sure to challenge (and help out) Ogbonna and Diop would be a great idea too. Also a new striker replacing Ajeti, preferably one that fits our system and has a chance of actually playing occasionally. And if a deal can be struck for a decent midfielder/winger from the Championship, why not ?

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We also have some promising youngsters being around the fringes of the first team next season, chaps like Nathan Holland, Abijola Alese, Gonçalo Cardoso, Conor Coventry, Josh Cullen and Xande Silva. They will not all be sitting on the bench on matchdays at the same time of course, some may feature quite a bit, some just once or twice, others on the list will probably not make a single appearance for the first team next season.

But surely they will be providing additional options for David Moyes to have a butcher’s at in preseason training. There’s no better (and ultimately cheaper) way for a club on a limited budget than to bring through youngsters from your own U23s.

Finally, my main topic for today – an obvious one, potentially a painful one but one every West Ham fan is acutely aware of, maybe frets over or worries about: The immediate future of freshly crowned Hammer of the Year 2020, Declan Rice.

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Make no mistake: Declan Rice is a “once-in-a-generation" type of player, an outstanding footballer, both physically/technically, but also character wise. Mature way beyond his years.

HOTY at just 21 years of age, future captain material, for both club and country. Brilliant at CB, probably even better at DM. Still very young, meaning there is so much more to come from him on the football pitch.
Almost frightening to think that his current level is probably merely slightly above the floor of hisability, with his ceiling being two or three metres further above.*

The sad truth is that such a player is not meant to spend his entire career at a club like ours (insert dig at previous and current owners here). So let us all agree that eventually he will be wearing a different club’s shirt.
An image that makes my stomach turn and a few drops of salty liquid running from my minces, then again I could just be chopping some onions…

I really hope a transfer doesn’t happen THIS summer already. One-club players seem to be becoming relicts of the past in football, not just in England.
Players who stay with their club for longer than ten years are now almost extinct like good old Brachiosaurus and his Jurassic mates.

We managed to hold on to Bobby Moore for a long time (16 years), but that was 50-60 years ago – if Bobby was playing today he’d be tapped up in no time so he could play for mega money at Manchester City, Liverpool, maybe Barcelona or Milan.

I know that, strictly speaking, Bobby Moore wasn’t a one-club player at all, he played for Fulham too, plus some teams in the USA while also running out nine times for a club in Denmark at the end of his playing days, but you know what I mean.
Moore was, is a West Ham legend. When you mention Bobby Moore, people immediately think West Ham and England.

Mark Noble is pretty much a one-club player too (apart from a brief loan spell), but, no disrespect to Nobes, he was/is nowhere near the level that Rice is going to reach eventually.

Rice appears to be happy right now, enjoying his development at West Ham (and how could you not be impressed with that?), enjoying a new way of playing now that Soucek is in the engine room with him. Rice knows he has the PL world at his feet at West Ham, he knows he would be our skipper for years to come, he’d be playing every minute of every game (injury permitting), he’d be the undisputed main guy, the first name on the teamsheet, Bobby Moore reborn. A potential West Ham legend.

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But will all of the above be enough for Declan Rice ? When there is a bigger world out there, with Champions League football, with medals and trophies waiting for him ?
Where he will be sharing the pitch with 10 other superstars playing for the same team, rather than be one of maybe 2 or 3 quality players at West Ham ?
Where he can play for his boyhood club Chelsea with his mate Mason Mount ? Where pundits will be talking about him a lot more regularly than they ever would about even the most accomplished West Ham player ?

I could make all kinds of witty puns now, with rice as the main protagonist. You know, like rice being the main food staple in all them Asian countries. How to never break another man’s rice bowl.
How giving rice to someone will feed that person for a day, but teaching them to grow rice will keep them fed every single day. But this is serious.

Declan Rice is important for the future of West Ham.

Chelsea may put a price on Declan Rice that may seem adequate and fair to THEM. It is likely to be a price that isn’t fair to West Ham.
Or represent his true value to our club. Let me elaborate.

Declan Rice is worth FAR more to us simply by playing for US than being sold. Because of the way he makes every teammate of his look and play better out there. Because of his contagious enthusiasm. Because he represents what West Ham have always been renowned for: Bringing players through the ranks to one day be a regular first team player and maybe even a legend. Or, more likely, be sold off to a bigger club once they have reached a certain level of consistency and greatness.

$ay Chelsea give us 80m quid for Rice next month, just for the $ake of argument. A lot of legal tender that, I know. But some players are worth so much more than something as trivial as money. Knowing West Ham, part of the fee would be used to balance the books (thanks in part to wealthy owners who are always cash-poor when it suits them, especially after the Pellegrini experiment going pear shaped), maybe to pay back the most recent payday loans, transfer some interest payments to the owners, maybe do up the training facilities a bit. That then leaves, what ? £40m ? £50m ?

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How do you even begin to replace a player like Declan Rice with £50m ? Especially a club like ours who has a history of being hit (sometimes) and miss (significantly more regularly) when it comes to new signings ?

Just a year or so after the transfer, the effects of the Rice money will likely be gone, evaporated, vanished into thin air. While Declan will continue to progress, making another club play better and look more accomplished on the pitch.

I know it’s just the way how things work in modern football, but I don’t like it. Everytime it happens, especially when it involves our club, my enthusiasm for big league football dies another little death.
Death by a thousand cuts, they call it.

Rice leaving West Ham now would not be your average cut with a pen-knife though, it’d be one ruthless slash with a machete across shoulder, chest and tummy – I’ll just leave you with the gory details of that mental image. No, I’d rather not watch that if it can be avoided.

So, against all hope, I’m still clinging to those scenes of Rice celebrating his Watford belter with his teammates and the gaffer. His satisfied grin when accepting the HOTY trophy from the hands of Sir Trevor.

I’m convincing myself he is grounded enough to listen to the advice of guys like Tony Carr who suggested to him he should stay at West Ham for the time being to further hone his skills and not to put at risk the trajectory of his impressive development by joining a bigger club too soon.

I’m telling myself to believe that he will be attracted to the vision of himself leading out the West Ham side as proud skipper, leader of men and brains of his team.

I may be setting myself up for utter disappointment here of course, but I’ve had plenty of practice with that at West Ham over the years.
Fortune’s always hiding. And all that…

My column may not be out on Mondays without fail during the break, however, if there are news about players leaving or joining the club, I will certainly try to rustle up an impromptu column…

COYI!!!