Having signed for West Ham on 18 July 2012, Modibo Maïga has enjoyed a decent start to life in England.
Okay, the 25-year-old has not immediately mesmerised the thousands of fans that have been his audience, but he can be happy with his transition from the French Ligue 1 to the Premier League. He could, however, also be a little frustrated with the lack of opportunities he has been given to shine. On the opening day of the season, as an 81st minute substitute, Maïga came excruciatingly close to marking his debut with an immediate appearance on the scoresheet. Had it not been for Aston Villa’s Nathan Baker clearing off of the line, Maïga would have slotted home his first attempt on goal in a West Ham shirt.
He was so near to a dream start. Maïga’s full debut came two games later when West Ham faced Crewe Alexandra in the Capital One Cup. This time the Mali international grabbed his first goal for the Hammers with a predatory finish five yards from goal, following up on Kevin Nolan’s spilled shot. Maïga played the full 90 minutes as West Ham won 2-0 to advance to the next round.
Sadly for the former Sochaux man, he slipped down the pecking order just two days after getting off the mark when the club announced the loan signing of Andy Carroll from Liverpool. The England international was given a starting place straightaway for our next game against Fulham, putting in a convincing display, while Maïga sat out the entire fixture on the bench.
Limited to substitute appearances in the following two league games, Maïga’s next start came in the League Cup again, this time against Wigan Athletic. West Ham’s number 11 made it two goals from two starts after just seven minutes, making no mistake with the finish by powering home a vicious shot from 20 yards having been foolishly set up by Wigan’s own James McArthur. The early lead wasn’t to last, though, and West Ham shamefully crashed to a 4-1 defeat.
After that collective embarrassment, Maïga was again relegated to the bench for our next three league games. However, in the third of those, at home to Southampton, the Bamako-born striker came off the bench to score a fantastic solo effort. A jinking run while holding off defenders before digging out a fine curled left-footed shot capped off a great day’s work for the team as the Hammers ended up on the correct side of another 4-1 scoreline.
That goal granted Maïga some of the attention that he has worked hard to attract. With it he proved to us and the rest of the league that he is the powerful, pacey forward that he was billed as when the club signed him from Sochaux in the summer. He can also play on either wing. As such, Maïga built up a bit of a reputation at his former club, who signed him from fellow French side Le Mans, where he played alongside Arsenal’s Gervinho and Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland.
Maïga was not the most prolific goal scorer, even in the France’s Ligue 1 – widely regarded as one of Europe’s inferior championships. But he is not just your bogstandard raw talent – all brawn and no brain – he is unselfish and has the close control and awareness of those around him to be able to drive forward and bring his teammates into the attack.
In fact, Maïga was such hot property in France that Newcastle United – one of those teams that seem to pluck quality players out of thin air – tried their best to sign him in the last winter transfer window, only to have the deal collapse because of a knee problem Maïga was carrying at the time. Now that he is finally here in England, though, could it be that Maïga is frustrated with the lack of playing time he has been granted in the top flight, especially given his versatility? His celebration against Southampton certainly suggests so. After sealing the Saints’ defeat in our last outing at Upton Park, Maïga looked defiant as his teammates came to congratulate him.
Perhaps his apparent frustration was just his own brand of jubilation, but none of us could really blame him if he is irked by the treatment he has received since West Ham sent a reported £4.5m across the Channel in exchange for his services. After all, he has only been allowed to start two games this season, and he scored on both occasions. Those goals plus his one in the league have made Maïga our second highest goal scorer so far in 2012/2013, behind Kevin Nolan. Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole, the two strikers Sam Allardyce has favoured ahead of Maïga, are yet to score in any competition this season.
After his first goal against Crewe, Maïga signalled how he intended to break into the starting 11. “I hope to score a lot more goals,” he told the club’s official website. “I really, really want to do well here and am determined to be successful. “I came here to play a big role in the Premier League. I feel like I am ready to contribute now,” he said. We all love determination but it seems unlikely that Maïga is going to get a start in the Premier League any time soon. Sam Allardyce has a reputation for giving overseas players time to acclimatise to the demands of Premier League football, and Big Sam has proven that Maïga is no exception.
Until Allardyce is happy with Maïga, we should just comfort ourselves with the strength in depth we have and the fact that the Mali international is driven to impress us all, but also hope he does not lose patience and become a negative influence on the rest of the squad.