West Ham have kept hold of Declan Rice, their best player and most valuable asset through this transfer window. What next?
If West Ham have any planning in motion, I know a lot to ask for, then keeping Declan Rice was definitely objective one for this transfer window. Things have been made easier for them by Chelsea not making a serious bid, but there needs to be a plan. How do we go from this window to the next?
There are two plans in my opinion. Either we have to get players in to form a team that is capable of keeping a player like Rice around, or we have to plan for how to replace him and spend the cash in a way that isn’t going to involve us scrambling and overpaying.
Keep Rice – Improve the side
Most West Ham fans would definitely choose option A in this scenario, and that keeps Rice around and actually spend to improve the side to a level where we can qualify for and compete in European competitions. The only problem here is it’s not going to be a one transfer window solution, and it won’t come cheap.
The squad as it stands requires two things in my opinion – star quality and youth prospects. We need the ability to win games when not playing well, and players like Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek are getting there. But Pablo Fornals is really being played out of position and we’re one injury away in most positions from playing players that aren’t really of Premier League quality. But a few star signings and those who are currently in the first team move to the bench, and we’re looking good.
And whilst we have a number of players who could be stepping up to the first team in a year or so, there are not many who look to be genuine stars in the making. In recent years those we have tried to progress have missed out on the first-team standard, and we need to be picking up young talent where we can.
Buying players at or approaching their peak is expensive both in fee and wages, and we can’t sustain a Manchester City or Chelsea style approach. Shopping some of the brightest talents around and encouraging them to join with the promise of game time and release clauses is probably the way to go here.
Sell Rice – How to replace
Unfortunately, I think it’s a case of not if West Han does sell Rice, but when. And when it happens, the last thing I want is for us to be scrambling around, paying over the odds for a star on the decline to try and appease the fans. And I also hope the board know that simply re-investing the money we get from the sale isn’t enough. More will have to be spent on top unless they want a full-scale riot in East London.
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Look at what Spurs had to do when trying to replace Gareth Bale, or Leicester when they replaced Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté. Try your best to identify like for like replacements (or as close as possible) that you can get for less and focus on getting players with qualities that are non-team specific.
By that I mean get players who maintain stats like successful dribbles or tackles, aerial encounters or meeting xG across sides. Focusing on clean sheets, goals and assists can lead to issues when moving teams, and doesn’t work out as often.
Teams can be successful after a big player sale. Leicester have done if for the last few years and got more points each season. Clubs like Dortmund or Porto regularly lose their best young and current stars, and just look to do it again. But they have a plan.
Things aren’t decided on the fly but by careful pragmatism and in-depth scouting, and usually by a director of football. Things that West Ham haven’t been known for in recent years.
The club needs to work out what kind of team they want to be. Patient possession-based football or dynamic counter attack? A place where youngsters get chances or proven talent only? If these questions are still not answered before you get the money, we’re going to make the wrong decision. We usually do anyway.
Plans need to be put in place whichever way we’re going to go, and this board need to ensure actual football people are making them. They’ve repeatedly shown they can’t be trusted themselves.