Putting history aside, I am very torn on our Club’s pursuit of Jermain Defoe. If rumours are to be believed, something the Twitter age has made incredibly difficult, he is one of our main targets in the forthcoming summer transfer window.
My issue is not whether we should sign Defoe, again history aside he would be a valuable squad member with a proven record at the highest level but my suspicion is that the Club view him as a potential main striker and I am not convinced this would be a step forward. I was never taken in by the Sullivan claims of a £30m striker in the summer of 2016. I don’t doubt the intention was there but I think it was always spurious at best and, at my most cynical, I would suggest it was a ‘soother’ offered to those fans most vocal at our upcoming move to the Olympic Stadium. Lacazette, Bacca, Batshuyai, the names rolled off the Twitter timeline one after the other. And yet, when the transfer window ‘slammed shut’ (where is this mythical window and who gets to slam it?!), we were left with Zaza and Calleri. One of whom left with the Christmas decorations and the other has really still to show anything of worth in a West Ham shirt, albeit his chances have been rarer than a Zaza goal.
My frustration with our current owners and board of directors is that they appear only to see the short term picture, using loan deals and free transfers to bolster our squad numbers. I accept, as things stand, we are unlikely to attract the calibre of striker that we all crave but I believe there is a middle ground, in between the elite and the loan deals and freebies that we need to explore. We can no longer rely on Carroll and Sakho, their respective injury problems are unrelenting and I think the time has come to accept neither will feature regularly again as a consistent presence in the first team. Bilic and his scouts need to be allowed to seek out the next Jermain Defoe, however difficult that might be to find, without the intervention of David Sullivan and without the needless Twitter interjections of Sullivan Jr or the Club’s very own ‘insider’. A striker who, alongside Defoe, could learn his craft and go on to feature in the claret and blue for seasons to come.
Given the financial incentives involved, I understand that Premier League survival for any club is a must but this can be achieved with a mix of investment in youth and more experienced players. Where is our long term plan? We have invested in youth but at some point those players need to be given their opportunity. Chelsea are a perfect example. They currently have in excess of 40, mostly young, players out on loan across Europe. Their buying power has allowed them to accumulate a mass of promising talent and then farm them out to lower leagues and lesser teams. How many of these players can really ever expect a first team opportunity? Batshuayi, one of Europe’s most promising young strikers, has become a bit part player, reduced to a handful of substitute appearances in cup fixtures and to kill time at the end of a game. With the imbalance of money in the modern game, with a minority of clubs holding the majority of wealth, potential talent is being stifled and the game is missing out on talent that should be allowed to flourish. Batshuayi, in my opinion, is one such player. He has the potential to spearhead a club such as West Ham for many seasons and yet he seems content to warm the bench in west London. Is this lack of player ambition or agent greed? Or are the top clubs, perhaps sensibly, merely preventing the rest of us from mounting a challenge to their dominance?
If we are able to secure Defoe on a free transfer in the summer then I think it would be madness not to sign him. The player appears, whatever his motives, to want a return to the club and much like Teddy Sheringham once did, his influence can only be a positive on the training ground, in the dressing room and in the 18 yard box. But, and it is not an insignificant one, I believe we must also bring in a striker for the future, a player with a record of scoring goals at a good level but one who has the potential to score a lot of goals at the very highest level. Where do we find such a player? If I knew that perhaps I would be sat in the boardroom of the London Stadium!