West Ham’s transfer power struggle leaves Moyes unable to get his men
It was no secret that Declan Rice was going to leave West Ham this summer. They had ample time to prepare for their captain’s move to Arsenal. Replacements should have been lined up and a scramble to secure vital additions in central midfield before the season avoided.
Yet the recruitment strategy at West Ham remains anything but smooth, even with Tim Steidten brought in as the technical director earlier this month. A scattergun process has slowed things down and the German’s appointment, far from ushering in a new era of collaboration, has confused matters.
There is already talk of tension between Steidten and David Moyes, a manager who has always preferred to maintain control over signings, and in that context it is not a surprise to hear insiders describing the situation at West Ham as a mess.
Admittedly the criticism jars when you remember that West Ham beat Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final last month. Yet that was Rice’s last game for the club and it is worth recalling that much of last season was spent battling against relegation. Moyes, who has faced complaints about his style of football from within the dressing room, probably would have gone had West Ham lost the final.
As it is, the manager will feel his position has been strengthened by leading West Ham to their first trophy in 43 years. A safe pair of hands, the Scot has earned European qualification in three consecutive seasons. From Moyes’s perspective, now is the time for West Ham to adhere to his wishes. He has rejected many of Steidten’s suggestions and wants players with Premier League experience.
There is a reluctance to repeat last year’s strategy of signing foreign players who will need to adjust to English football. Moyes wants solidity and that West Ham, who aim to replace Rice with two midfielders, have made offers for James Ward-Prowse, Conor Gallagher and Scott McTominay is an indication of who is picking the targets. There is a desire for a British core.
West Ham have lost the leadership of Rice and Mark Noble in the past 12 months and other influential voices could be going; the striker Michail Antonio is wanted by Al-Ettifaq and the veteran left-back Aaron Cresswell is likely to join Wolves.
The problem is that Steidten can be forgiven for wondering why he was hired. One of his picks is Monaco’s Youssouf Fofana, a 24-year-old France international, but Moyes is unsure. Fofana is likely to move elsewhere and Steidten, formerly of Bayer Leverkusen, is said to be frustrated. Some wonder whether he will last. Others suggest that Moyes, who has lost Mark Warburton and Paul Nevin from his backroom staff this summer, will go if West Ham start badly.
These are uncertain times. Moyes has worked closely with Rob Newman, who was appointed as head of recruitment two years ago, but West Ham felt a change was necessary. They were unhappy with their transfer business under Moyes and Newman, whose position is under threat, while considering that Noble needs more support as in his role as sporting director.
Yet the complication caused by hiring Steidten when the transfer window was open is best encapsulated by West Ham losing out to Newcastle in the race to sign Harvey Barnes from Leicester. West Ham had been working on the deal since April, but a reset after Steidten joined meant the opportunity to purchase a winger who would have been an upgrade on Moyes’s options on the left flank disappeared.
So much for getting business done quickly. West Ham did well to get £105m for Rice, but losing their captain and best player is a blow and so far the response has been too reactive. Lodging bids for a variety of players all at once is not indicative of a clear strategy.
Moves for Ajax’s Edson Álvarez and Fulham’s João Palhinha hit brick walls, and a mooted loan of Juventus’s Denis Zakaria has not progressed. As it stands, Moyes is going into the season with Conor Coventry, Flynn Downes, Tomas Soucek and Lucas Paquetá to choose from in midfield.
Of course much can change before West Ham visit Bournemouth in their season opener on 12 August. They are haggling with Southampton over Ward-Prowse, whose set-piece prowess would be invaluable in a Moyes side, and could send Downes to St Mary’s. There is room for negotiation with Chelsea over Gallagher and £45m could convince Manchester United to sell McTominay.
Inevitably there will be those who see McTominay, Gallagher and Ward-Prowse as overpriced, unoriginal targets and question why West Ham are not looking for value in European leagues. Yet Moyes does not need to be imaginative; he needs wins. He will look through West Ham’s squad and see weaknesses.
He wants a centre-back to provide cover for the injury-prone Kurt Zouma – the club had a £20m offer for Harry Maguire turned down – and will need a striker if Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca leave. West Ham, the only Premier League team still to sign anyone in this window, have to react. They are due to buy Carlos Borges from Manchester City for £14m but the winger is 19 and has not played first-team football. It is not enough.
There is still too much dithering. The co-owner, David Sullivan, is in charge of negotiations and is not known for getting deals done quickly. Moyes, notoriously picky over signings, is not on the same page as Steidten.
Put it all together and it hardly seems that West Ham have hit upon a winning formula. Once again they risk not being ready for the start of the season, and this time they cannot count on Rice to paper over the cracks.