There were mixed responses for West Ham United supporters and football fans alike when Premier League winning coach Manuel Pellegrini took the reigns of the club earlier this month.
Armed with a £75 million war chest, the Chilean is tasked with rebuilding a disjointed Hammers squad that leaked the joint most goals in the league last season. In the current transfer climate, £75 million won’t necessarily go a long way, so Pellegrini will need to be savvy to succeed.
Here is a run-down of five transfer suggestions which could improve West Ham United’s fortunes next season.
Jonathan Bamba – Saint-Etienne
With Arnautovic playing a goalscoring role and Antonio regularly ridden with injuries, West Ham United lack flair on the flanks. A spritely dribbler with a deft touch and an eye for an assist, Saint-Etienne winger Jonathan Bamba could solve their problems.
The nifty and versatile Frenchman, 22, who can play on the left, right and even down the centre of the park, is out of contract this summer and would be a valuable acquisition for most Premier League sides.
It’s no surprise that Bamba racked up seven goals and ten assists for Saint-Etienne last season. He created 1.5 chances per 90 minutes and 1.3 key passes, figures almost level with Leicester City star Riyad Mahrez.
Fifteen of the passes he made every match were placed forwards, making him perfect for a progressive Pellegrini side. He is comfortable with whipping the ball in from the wing as well as cutting inside to create chances for himself and his teammates.
Bamba’s statistics have improved greatly since 2016/17 when he impressed on loan with Angers, proving he is still a work-in-progress. However, the Paris-born wide man would only improve under an experienced manager like Pellegrini.
The ex-Manchester City boss has overseen the early careers of attacking stars such as Santi Cazorla, Rony Lopes and Isco so is more than familiar with producing confident youngsters.
For a player of just 22, Jonathan Bamba is incredibly calm and composed when pressurised by opposing players. He won 54% of his take-ons last campaign, the same as Raheem Sterling and nearing breakout Lyon winger Memphis Depay on 56%.
With his contract expiring at the end of June, Bamba could be available for just a small fee. Despite £75 million sounding like a lot of money, Pellegrini will have to keep the purse strings tight and build a little at a time. Jonathan Bamba would be the perfect start.
It would prove to Irons supporters that the club want to build for the future and, hopefully, would mark an end to their influx of washed-up has-beens.
Christopher Schindler – Huddersfield Town
As mentioned earlier, West Ham United conceded the joint most goals in the Premier League last season with 68. Joint with relegated Stoke City, that is. Huddersfield Town, on the other hand, conceded only 58 – fewer than 9th-placed Leicester City.
The top-flight new boys weren’t overly impressive in attack, but their defence was a major factor in the maintenance of their Premier League status.
This was primarily down to one player – Christopher Schindler. The German, brought to Yorkshire from 1860 Munich two years ago, made the second most defensive actions of any player in the league last season.
The pressure placed upon him and the composure needed to keep such a comparatively small side in the Premier League is one of many impressive traits possessed by Schindler.
The defender completed a perfect 100% of his take-ons in the league in 2017/18 – a feat only matched in the West Ham ranks by the outgoing James Collins, who featured only 13 times all season. He won 1.6 tackles per 90 minutes too, which no current Hammer came close to.
Schindler is also a poised passer, completing 81% of his passes – level with West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid. Despite the similarities, Schindler’s other qualities set him above the Irons’ present defensive options. He intercepted passes almost twice a match, cleared the ball 7.2 times and made 0.8 blocks per 90 minutes. All three of those statistics trump every current West Ham centre-back.
You may be under the impression that Schindler is a young talent, having emerged from the obscurity of the German second-tier two years ago. However, he is 28 and, although there are probably fresher, younger options, he would sure up a faulty Hammers back line for the next three or four years at least.
Karl Toko Ekambi – Angers
West Ham United fans have had a torrid time of it when it comes to their club’s strikers. Between January 2010 and January 2017, the club bought 31 forwards who scored a total of 131 goals for the club.
Some, such as Demba Ba, Simone Zaza and Nikica Jelavic, have proven themselves elsewhere, both before and after their stint in East London.
Other acquisitions, however, like Jordan Hugill, Frederic Piquionne and Ilan, seemed to be ill-advised and objectless.
Angers forward Karl Toko Ekambi, though, could be a superb signing for West Ham under Pellegrini. Having worked with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Giuseppe Rossi with great success, we know the Chilean coach excels with a speedy and mobile striker at his disposal.
As a creative forward who possesses great keenness to cover on the flanks or drop back to bring his midfield teammates into play, Ekambi fits the bill perfectly.
In 2017/18, the Cameroon international averaged one key pass and 1.2 chances created per 90 minutes – almost identical figures to those produced by aforementioned superstar Aguero. His 79% pass completion rate wasn’t far off Cesc Fabregas’ 83% – impressive for a striker.
The 25-year-old averaged 0.5 goals a game which is level with Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, netting 17 times in Ligue 1 across 37 matches. His shot accuracy of 61% beat Aguero’s 58% and current West Ham striker Javier Hernandez’ 54%. Ekambi’s 53% success rate with take-ons needs some seeing-to but the experience of a coach like Pellegrini is sure to help him develop.
Even if he didn’t scored 20+ goals, Ekambi would certainly take some pressure off Arnautovic and his adaptability would certainly be a plus.
Marco Sportiello – Atalanta
Following Joe Hart’s catastrophic spell between the sticks at the Olympic Stadium, West Ham are in dire need of a new shot stopper. Italian goalkeeper Marco Sportiello isn’t necessarily a household name in England, but he could be the answer.
The 26-year-old excelled last season on loan with Fiorentina from parent club Atalanta, keeping an impressive 13 clean sheets in 33 appearances – the fourth best clean sheet record in the campaign, better than Gianluigis Buffon and Donnarumma. Sportiello also caught the ball 2.8 times a game and punched only 0.4 times, showing maturity and level-headedness.
The 6 ft 4 keeper is also an expert at positioning, adjusting his stance and place in front of goal to block shots with consummate ease and is willing to put his body on the line to prevent conceding.
Sportiello is also a confident distributor with a 76% accuracy rate in 2017/18, bettering Bernd Leno and Thibaut Courtois on 70% and not far from seasoned fellow Italian Gianluigi Buffon. His huge 87m average distribution length proves his penchant for long goal kicks, perfect when players like Cheikhou Kouyate are so strong in the air.
On the contrary, his 70% pass completion and 9 successful passes per 90 tell us he isn’t a stranger to catalysing attacks from the back either. In an era where Ederson has proven how beneficial a keeper’s passing and distribution is in an offensive set-up, the Hammers could do a lot worse than Sportiello.
Fiorentina are said to be interested in a permanent deal this summer, but, if West Ham can prize him away, it is sure to be worth it.
Abdoulaye Doucoure – Watford
The versatility and strength shown by Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure last season is something West Ham United’s midfield failed to provide. The Frenchman, 25, was voted the club’s player of the season for 2017/18 and with good reason.
Doucoure’s stats show he could be more than functional alongside Kouyate in midfield. He is a comfortable passer, making 0.9 key passes per 90 last season – on par with Paul Pogba.
Whilst Kouyate fulfils more defensive tasks, Doucoure could be involved further up the pitch as he created around a chance a game for his teammates compared to Kouyate’s 0.5 and Mark Noble’s 0.6.
He made 36 forward passes too, proving he would be adept in an offensive Pellegrini midfield and is comfortable shunting the ball both forward and out to either flanks.
Doucoure is also not bad in front of goal either with a 46% shot accuracy and the Frenchman, incredibly, finished last season as Watford’s top scorer on seven and also provided three assists. His 78% successful take-ons also beat Pogba and West Ham’s Kouyate and Noble too.
The Watford man doesn’t doss when it comes to defensive duties either. Last campaign, Doucoure made 0.3 blocks per 90 which is level with Everton’s more defensive counterpart Idrissa Gueye.
He made 1.6 clearances too, trumping Gueye again and only committed 1.2 fouls a game, on par with N’Golo Kante.
Doucoure’s many facets would prove more than useful to Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham and would help to tie the defence to the attack and create a fully-fledged team.
A West Ham United with these five players would be a far cry from the muddled and inconsistent roster of last season and, if some players make way, there could be room for even more signings.
If Pellegrini plays his cards right, West Ham could be looking at a top half finish next season.