Who remembers George John? Anyone? It’s possible that his West Ham career may have passed you by, as despite being a young central defender of some promise, his appearances in the claret and blue were limited to a single reserve outing against Gillingham (in which he scored) due to the imperious form of our regular centre backs at the time.
It’s always difficult for a young player to up sticks and move to a different country, to then attempt to break into a well-drilled, organised team can be a daunting prospect. Ultimately the big American didn’t make the grade and returned to his parent club, partly due to Big Sam already having a large squad to choose from, but mostly because there was a large New Zealand mountain in the way, one which is proving harder and harder for anyone to get past.
When Winston Reid arrived at the Boleyn Ground on the back of an excellent 2010 World Cup, there were a few who could have been forgiven for thinking we had signed yet another promising young player who would eventually fail to make the grade and move onto pastures new with very little media attention.
My fi rst impression of Winston during his ten or so appearances during the 2010/11 season was that he looked a good, solid central defender but he needed time to bed himself in. A few months in the Championship would do him the world of good, however I meant on loan to another team, not still with us (thanks for that, Avram.) But it seems to have been proved true.
Last season Reid showed steady improvement and game by game he forged a strong partnership with James Tomkins. The two have an obvious understanding and seem comfortable with each other’s movement and style of play. Tomkins was first choice centre back in the Championship and it came down to Winston to force his way past the dependable and experienced Abdoulaye Faye.
Whenever Tomkins and Reid played together there was a definite feeling of calm in our defence and I’m certain that helped Rob Green to command the back line and perform at the top of his game. Whether or not a more experienced, older back pairing would have got us more points and won us the division, well, we will never know. What is known of course is that promotion back to the Premiership was gained at the first time of asking and the team drifted off for their break knowing that the top tier of English football awaited most of them on their return.
However there was another small sporting event held in London this year and The Olympic games was kind enough to provide a football tournament for anyone that still wanted to watch a game after the Euros. Both Tomkins and Reid were called up to their respective nations. Tomkins answered that call. Reid didn’t, instead he opted to remain with West Ham and have a full pre season.
While Winston was touring Europe and Essex with the Hammers, Tomkins was warming the Team GB bench as they struggled to make an impact on the competition. The end result was Tomkins started the season out of form and nowhere near match fit, where as Reid was up and running and in imperious form. And that form has so far shown no sign of stopping. His commitment to the cause was underlined when he fl ew back from international duty with New Zealand and then won the Man Of The Match award away to Norwich.
People say you should never buy a player on the back of a good tournament display, although those people might have got the wrong end of the daft stick as the World Cup is the ultimate shop window for players to impress a manager from the best leagues in Europe and convince them to take a punt on signing them. Yes plenty don’t work out but you could say that about a multitude of recent signings to the Premier League who have shown great ability in their home league but failed to make an impression in England.
But Winston Reid has been a success story of the highest magnitude and it’s unlikely that we will pick up another defender of his quality for such a small price. I say it’s small, not because of the amount which was undisclosed but more because I’m not sure we have actually paid it yet. The board initially withheld the fee to draw the attention of FIFA to the dispute between themselves and Italian side Brescia over money owed for the Allessandro Diamanti transfer.
Reid began his career in Denmark with FC Midtjylland and saw him notch up 84 appearances in five seasons, scoring two goals before signing for West Ham in 2010. His Premier League début came in a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa and his progression in the side was limited to ten or so appearances in total. He scored in the 5-1 demolition of Burnley in the FA Cup in February 2011, but found his opportunities limited and was unable to help stop the slide into The Championship.
However it was in the second tier of English football that the player really came of age, scoring a towering header away to Nottingham Forest, although this was not the most memorable of his goals for us. That surely came with the unstoppable volley that was greeted with much deserved joy as it hit the back of the Millwall net. That goal proved to be the winner and rightly acquired its own song which can still be heard around the stands of Upton Park
I just hope Tomkins can recapture his form from last season as I really do believe the Reid/Tomkins partnership could be very difficult for other teams to break down this season. I don’t know if I have the same confidence in James Collins any more, but on the back of the league cup defeat to Wigan, you’d have to say the Welshman looks best placed to partner the Kiwi colossus at the moment. Tomkins is an excellent player of undoubted ability, but he is experiencing a rough patch of form. Thankfully the same cannot be said for Winston Reid.