It’s no secret that West Ham’s transfer policy has been sporadic at best in recent years. But our squad balance is now completely off as we look to survive another season in the Premier League.
After the opening day loss to Newcastle, I’m hoping there are alarm bells ringing in the upper ranks of the club. Not only do we seem to have a team incapable of competing at the moment, we don’t have any evidence that we’re going to be able to compete in the coming years either without capable reinforcements. West Ham’s squad is stuck.
According to an article from The Athletic, the Hammers have the third oldest squad in the Premier League as well as the third thinnest. On the face of it, it’s a big worry. The silver lining of it all is 7 of our strongest 11 (according to the Athletic) are in their prime years or yet to experience them. That suggests we’re on the up, right? But there are real concerns in this data.
A ‘perfect’ squad build is certainly subjective and is dependent on what you want to achieve when. It’s hard to maintain success over 5+ because you either have to bring in exceptional talent young, rotate talent in fairly regularly or extend teams peak years to a point where you’re left with an ageing squad at the end of it. If you want success now you can bring in more experienced players with less of their prime ahead of them and if you’re building a squad you bring in players with the idea they’ll hit their peak in a few years. Most sides do a mix of the two to maintain competition and strength.
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Of the 9 players in their prime years (24-29) only three (Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller) are in our ‘Strongest XI’. That’s not a recipe for any immediate success. We have six players in the peak of their footballing careers not getting game time.
Now, that’s not always a bad thing if you’re encouraging competition, but what it does mean is that you’re paying peak player wages to bench material and you’re potentially losing out on sale value. You’re definitely going to get more on the market for a 27 or 28-year-old than you are a 30 or 31-year-old, and the wages going on premium bench signings just aren’t good value when money is tight.
The fact that this has happened is because we have bought poorly in the past. I should be saying that at least 7 or 8 of those in their prime are in the first team. Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini were certainly purchased with the idea of being in the first team, as was Ryan Fredericks.
Then we’re talking about having good rotation options coming into their prime, with these guys dominating the first XI. But they’re not really up to the task of being regular Premier League starters. And it’s not the killer issue.
West Ham have no youth hanging on the edge of the first team, regularly cycling in. Excluding Ben Johnson who is probably still most people’s first choice right-back, Josh Cullen and Nathan Holland aren’t getting on the bench, we don’t have a youthful striker option on the edge of the side, and Jamal Baptiste is likely a couple of years away from the side. Without a spending spree or a large number of youth players suddenly stepping up we’re not just in a bad spot this year, but in the coming years as well.
So in summary, we have a thin squad with an ageing core and there is yet more evidence that recruitment at this club is not up to task. But it’s not without hope. Jarrod Bowen, Tomas Soucek, Issa Diop, Pablo Fornals and Declan Rice (if we can keep hold of him) are all yet to come into their prime years as footballers and are already around the first team. Haller has years to shine, and Masuaku and Fredericks have many years left as potential rotation options. The midfield core is set, or if Rice is sold then we should have a boatload of cash with which to rebuild.
But the worry is the West Ham squad needs work now because it’s not strong enough to survive this season. And unless the board gets to work, we’re going to be scrambling for years to come with a real lack of young talent knocking on the first team door.