West Ham are flying high at the moment basking in the glory of having just beaten London rivals Arsenal last weekend, courtesy of Declan Rice’s first ever goal for the Hammers.
Just before half-time, Rice had seen his header go inches wide of the post, but just three minutes into the second half, he atoned after receiving a pass from a Samir Nasri and curling his shot high into the roof of the Arsenal net.
The resultant 1-0 win saw the Irons lift their position to 9th in the Premiership table, to rapturous applause from their largest gate (59,946) of the season.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini must be well pleased with his team’s performance. He has done what Nigel Winterbourne suggested he needed to do by ensuring West Ham are well clear of the relegation zone by Christmas. But any prolonged satisfaction at how the Hammers are performing will undoubtedly be tinged with concern about keeping certain key players.
Pellegrini’s biggest problem, of course, is the speculation at the impending departure of his Austrian born striker, Marko Arnautovic. According to a recent article in the Times’ sports section , Shanghai SIPG have already made an offer of £35-million for the 29-year-old. Hammers have reportedly rejected this offer, and it is now being speculated that the Chinese club’s offer is about to be upped to £45-million. Not bad for a 29-year-old!
However, another surprise has surfaced in as much as a different (so-far unnamed) top Chinese club are also said to be about to place a similar offer. If the bid does come, whatever the source, it will be hard for West Ham to ignore such serious cash – especially given Arnautovic’s age. However fans are outraged at the thoughts of Arnautovic leaving unless it is for huge money.
The problem that Pellegrini is wrestling with though is that of Javier Hernandez, who is also reported to be hankering to leave. The 30-year-old Mexican striker was targeted by La Liga side, Valencia, but West ham have apparently refused to let him go.
Bearing in mind that Luca Perez, the 30-year-old Spanish striker is also up for sale, if all three were to go at the same time, it would be disastrous for the Hammers.
Yes, Andy Carrol is now fit having recovered from the latest of what seems a continuous stream of injuries; but he too is no youngster at 29-years-of-age, and with only six months left of his contract, he could well be disappearing over the horizon soon.
All this uncertainty, together with the 30-year-old average age of these players confirms that Pellegrini needs to buy some younger blood, and fast. He could make a decisive move to buy Maxi Gomez, the 22-year-old Uruguayan striker currently with La Liga side, Celta Vigo. He has a £44-million price tag, but at £45-million deal for Marko Arnautovic, could well fund such a move.
Gomez would bring some much-needed youth to Pellegrini’s side. With an average age of 27.3, the only Premiership clubs with high average team ages are Burnley with 28.1 and Watford with 28.2.
Age does, of course, bring with it experience, and this is too is essential. Samir Nasri, the 30-year-old French midfielder who is now available having completed his drugs ban, demonstrates that quite clearly. But youngsters with skill and potential are vital too, and Declan Rice has both in abundance.
The problem with youngsters like Rice, however, is that they are highly sought after by other top clubs, and in Rice’s case Manchester City are said to be sniffing around. But such are the problems facing any football coach – particularly those in the Premiership.
Getting the blend right between age, experience and skill is a delicate balancing act and one that Manuel Pellegrini has to address with urgency if the Irons are to continue their revival.