Of all West Ham’s summer transfer business, the signing that fills me with most excitement is the addition of young midfielder Diego Poyet from Charlton Athletic.
On paper it certainly looks as though we have got a great deal. Clinching the signature of Poyet for nothing – less some loose change for compensation – could potentially be one of the best captures of the summer. I have had the pleasure of seeing young Diego, son of the legendary player-turned-manager Gus Poyet, on two occasions.
The first was a late substitute appearance for Charlton against Conference side Dartford in a pre-season friendly two seasons ago and it’s fair to say he made quite the impact. Despite it being a relative training session in possession terms, his youthful colleagues were struggling to put the pieces together in front of goal. His addition on 75ish minutes completely changed the game.
Charlton had gone 1-0 down to an opportune Dartford strike early in the first half and were showing little sign of evening things up. The Alice band-clad 19-year old strode onto the middle of the Princes Park pitch and, if you’ll pardon the cliché, began to ‘pull the strings’ within a matter of seconds.
My initial impression of Diego Poyet González (aside from assuming that he must be a bit handy on account of his surname) was that he seemed to do what all excellent midfield players are capable of – making the game look utterly effortless. He reminded me a bit of Michael Carrick in his Hammers days. He created space for himself with a single touch or stride.
He found small pockets of space and made a beeline for them, whilst simultaneously being in complete control of the football without so much as glancing downward. His teammates couldn’t wait to pass to him, or better still, receive one back. It was that same scenario which very quickly led to the Addicks’ equaliser.
To use the term ‘slide rule’ would not be an inaccurate way of describing Poyet’s return pass to his striker. All around me I had overheard the admiring chatter of Charlton fans from the moment he had come on. And now it was quite clear what all the fuss was about. He was a very special talent, playing the game with total confidence and instinct and with the maturity of a player six or seven years his senior.
Before I prattle on any further with my barrage of admiration, I will just report that he did the exact same thing to lay on the second and eventually winning Charlton goal. He had given his team the extra bit of creativity they had needed to win the game, which brings me on to why he can be such an important player for West Ham United – and hopefully England.
The Zaragoza-born Diego considers himself English and has represented the Young Lions at under-16 and 17 levels. He is by far the most continental English player I have seen in the flesh, understandably in the circumstances, so feel he could give us another dimension. After a productive summer in the transfer market it still remains to be seen whether the investment will bear any fruit.
What we have seen of Cheikou Kouyate, Mauro Zarate and Aaron Cresswell so far is pretty promising, despite the pre-season results experienced on our Kiwi tour. Kouyate is physical, Zarate is sharp and Cresswell is assured. Poyet, I think, will be the flair-filled glue which connects front to back.
The latter two play with exuberance and this is what I think has been a missing ingredient of the past five seasons. We have to face up to the fact that our once famed academy has not quite repeated the success of years gone by, so poaching ambitious young Championship talent appears to be our only hope of achieving that same hungry squad make up.
Diego has a particularly promising future. He made only 20 first team appearances last season for Charlton, yet managed to win Player of the Year with 28 per cent of a fan vote. Those very same fans will have been devastated to see the prodigy move on, having only had him for less than a season in the first XI. The compensation figure of £2million paid will seem paltry if he can fulfil his evident potential for us. Being the first Premier League club that he has signed for will be a big factor in seeing his best, so the long term challenge will be keeping hold of him.
It has been no secret that our middle four or five has always lacked a traditional flair player, perhaps barring Yossi Benayoun in his first spell at the club. We have been known for more of a ‘bruiser’ figure (à la Nolan, Noble and Parker) which is not without its perks, but to move on as a squad, we need those which emulate the Mata-styled finesse players. Poyet will give us just that.