West Ham's summer signings of proven talent hint at brighter future
"Quality over quantity" is West Ham United's transfer market priority this summer, according to joint-chairman David Sullivan last week. An unfortunate misspelling on the club's website, since amended, had originally quoted Sullivan as wanting "quantity over quality".
The slip served as a fitting description of last summer's dealings, when 13 players came in and failed to make the team any better. The sole undeniable success was Manuel Lanzini, who had already spent the previous season on loan at the club. In midfield and at wing-back, Edimilson Fernandes, still just 21, showed promise but the rest were misfits, especially within the strikers.
Between them, Simone Zaza, Ashley Fletcher and Jonathan Calleri scored a total of one goal in 41 appearances. None of them will be playing for the club next season: Fletcher is set for a Championship loan while options to retain the other two were not taken up. Andre Ayew, a £20.5 million record signing from Swansea, scored six times but his injury-hit campaign still disappointed.
So the big question is simple: will this coming season be any different?
West Ham have certainly raised their attacking potential in the additions of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, signed from Bayer Leverkusen for £20m after completing his club medical on Monday in a Stepney Green private hospital, and Marko Arnautovic, signed for £23m from Stoke on Saturday. Those signings, along with former Man City teammates Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart, offer a depth of Premier League experience that the class of 2016's summer window could not offer. Aside from Lanzini, only Ayew and Alvaro Arbeloa, who never looked fit enough to reclaim the form he showed as a Liverpool and Real Madrid defender before retiring in June, had ever played in England before.
Coupled with a rash of teething problems caused by moving to their new home at the London Stadium, West Ham's 2016-17 season was enveloped by a creeping sense of discomfort and unfamiliarity. It was a campaign to be endured rather than enjoyed and while his team flirted with relegation, something they did until their last few matches, the safety of manager Slaven Bilic remained in severe doubt.
"I am very happy here and I don't feel I am not welcome here," Bilic said ahead of his team's final home game, against Liverpool. After a 4-0 defeat, Hammers fans made their feelings on the season crystal clear when a post-match "lap of appreciation" was greeted by a near-empty stadium.
West Ham's owners, Sullivan and David Gold, are rebuilding Bilic's squad by signing proven, highly experienced talent, each with significant Premier League miles on the clock. "It looks like they are playing to win the Premier League, too," Jose Mourinho said last week of West Ham while on Manchester United's American tour, but such a claim would have been far more valid a few years ago.
Each of Hernandez, Hart and Zabaleta were Premier League stars at the beginning of this decade but find themselves in East London after career set-backs elsewhere. Zabaleta was allowed to leave City once it became clear the engine that previously powered him down the right flank was no longer so reliable, while Hart's loan to Torino saw him concede 64 goals in 37 matches and never convince his Serie A club that he was worth a more permanent contract.
Hernandez, set to become West Ham's best-paid player, suffered lengthy droughts of 16 and eight matches in Germany last season, returning just 13 goals as compared to 27 in his first Bundesliga campaign that had many observers questioning the wisdom of Manchester United's decision to let him go. At 29, he remains fresh-faced but despite Mourinho commenting in April that he would not have allowed Chicharito to leave, West Ham were the only serious English takers for his talents.
In signing Arnautovic, West Ham have the type of mercurial player that has often captivated Hammers fans down the years; his probable pairing with Hernandez will reduce reliance on Andy Carroll's repeatedly failing fitness. The Austrian is capable of brilliance and often plays on the edge, yet has also been guilty of the inconsitency that had former Stoke colleague Charlie Adam commenting that Arnautovic "will need to improve because he's going to be the record signing."
Those four additions are the continuation of a policy begun in January by the arrivals of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass and with plenty of time left in the transfer window, West Ham are expected to remain active: this week saw the club linked to Jack Wilshere, another player with plenty to prove, but fitting that Premier League experience template.
When all's said and done, the hope is that tried and trusted players can help make the London Stadium begin to feel like home for West Ham.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.