The Marko Arnautovic transfer saga has been blamed for West Ham United’s struggles in January.
Arnautovic was linked with a big-money move to China during the transfer window.
Indeed the striker told West Ham he was not ‘in the right frame of mind’ to play for the club in defeats to Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon.
The Hammers were well beaten in both, exiting the most wide open FA Cup for decades in the process.
West Ham followed that up with an equally grim performance in a 3-0 defeat to Wolves.
Arnautovic saga has disturbed Hammers proogress
Arnautovic returned to the side for that game fresh from signing a controversial new and improved Hammers contract.
But he had little impact on the game and as West Ham toiled he came off in the second half.
Initial reports suggested the Austrian might miss the rest of the season.
But Pellegrini revealed he faced a fitness test to make the team to play Liverpool on Monday night.
That game came too soon. But West Ham displayed the same team spirit, workrate and endeavour as when they won four games in a row without Arnautovic at the end of 2018.
Some supporters feel that is not just a coincidence.
Rice lifts lid on how West Ham dressing room feels about Arnautovic
Manuel Pellegrini, Pablo Zabaleta and captain Mark Noble have all spoken out about the issues the Arnautovic saga caused on and off the pitch.
Now young hero Declan Rice has lifted the lid on how he and his teammates feel about Arnautovic in an interview with The Evening Standard.
“After that January we had, where we lost a load of games, we had a meeting and said, ‘Look boys, we all need to pull our fingers out’, because it was not West Ham and not the results we want,” Rice told The Evening Standard.
“Whatever happened (with Arnautovic), happened.
“All the lads love Marko.
‘We all love him’
“He is great in the changing room. We all love him and we can’t wait for him to be back.”
It echoes previous comments from Rice that he looks up to Arnautovic ‘like a big brother’ (whufc.com).
“Arnie is massive for West Ham,” Rice told West Ham TV.
“He gives us a boost on the pitch, to know we’ve got someone of his stature and his quality, and he can get us a goal at any time.
“He’s top. I get on so well with him. He’s like an older brother and he’s always trying to give me advice. He’s like another captain really, he’s always egging on the team to do better and to do well.”
West Ham and Arnie need each other… for now at least
Whatever West Ham fans think of Arnautovic at the moment, they are stuck with each other until the summer at least.
At that time Javier Hernandez, Andy Carroll and Lucas Perez could all be on the verge of leaving the club.
By the same token the striker will be 30 by then and there is no guarantee bids meeting West Ham’s valuation will be forthcoming.
So it makes more sense for Arautovic to build bridges with the club and fans.
Because they still need each other for the time being at least.