It has been interesting watching developments at West Ham over the past few weeks of the transfer window. After a terrible summer where very few of the eleven signings have made any real impact on West Ham’s first team squad, a change of tact was required.
Manager Slaven Bilic made it very easy for the media to guess the type of targets he would be after in January. In a press conference earlier this month, the Croatian stated the criteria he was looking for. They had to be young, able to score goals, have experience of the Premier League, and he said jokingly “handsome.”
From his own criteria, it is clear that Bilic’s current signings this window have only met one: experience of the Premier League. Considering that the Hammers gambled on a number of foreign talents like Simone Zaza, Sofiane Feghouli, Jonathan Calleri and Havard Nordtveit in the summer, it seems that the priority this window was to ensure they found targets that had a great deal of experience in the English game.
With Robert Snodgrass and Jose Fonte they certainly have that in abundance. Fonte has played 378 games in England since he joined Crystal Palace on loan in 2007 while Snodgrass has spent most of his career in England’s top two divisions.
There is no doubt both signings were needed. The Hammers have been struggling defensively nearly all season, but especially in recent months where they have conceded five goals against both Arsenal and Manchester City at home. To compound things, Angelo Ogbonna has been sidelined for the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery. A quick fix was required, and when an experienced player like Fonte is available on the market, it seemed like a no-brainer.
At 33 however, you do have to ask whether Bilic should have been looking closer at his own criteria. Maybe the Croatian is looking first and foremost to keep his job safe. It wasn’t too long ago the Hammers were flirting dangerously with the relegation places. Perhaps the West Ham manager just felt Fonte’s signing was better for his own job security rather than taking a risk on another younger, unproven signing, or perhaps looking closer to home with someone like Reece Oxford.
Bilic has previously stated that Oxford has all the attributes to become a world class talent, but if he can’t get game time, how is he going to learn? The 18 year old has only recently recovered from a problematic ankle injury but the signing of Fonte will certainly reduce his chances in the coming months.
In contrast the £10m purchase of Robert Snodgrass seems to me to be a more practical acquisition. At 29, the Scotland international is four years younger than Fonte, and still has some years to go playing at the highest level. He is most likely a direct replacement for Dimitri Payet, who is also 29. Although it must be said Snodgrass is somewhat a drop in class compared to the Frenchman, the fact that Bilic has managed to get the player in before the end of the window, and prior to Payet leaving, is a good piece of business.
Neither signing will provide a long term fix for the Hammers but trying to find signings in the January transfer window is hard enough without trying to match players to a long list of criteria. For now, they are satisfactory purchases designed to keep West Ham’s season on the right track. It will be in the summer when some major work will be required, undoing the damage of last summer’s recruits, not making the same mistakes and signing players who will commit to the Hammers, and establish the club in the upper echelons of the Premier League.