Despite the two home defeats Slaven Bilic has enjoyed a relatively positive start to life back at the Boleyn. He has played a more attacking football style, brought in entertaining players like Payet and Lanzini, taken a chance with our previously undernourished kids, and ended the 15-game Arsenal jinx
Bringing in Julian Dicks was, as he described it, ‘a gift from God’ as a return to the family has helped us return to the West Ham way. But inevitably, the first spat has arrived. Morgan Amalfitano signed a two-year extension with West Ham in March, but his career at Upton Park has suddenly come off the rails. The Frenchman was recently banished to train with the development squad after ‘a series of misdemeanours’ including giving ‘attitude’ to the manager after failing to attend a team meeting.
To date, Bilic has been refreshingly open in his dealings with the media and explained that Amalfitano’s punishment was to ‘maintain harmony in the first team’. However, it is less clear whether Amalfitano will make a return or will be forced out as an example to other players. Already the likes of West Brom, Aston Villa, and even Hull are apparently interested. So what should the Hammers management team do?
Amalfitano is an interesting player. At his best musketeering down the wing, at worst hanging off the margins of the action. His goals against Manchester City and Liverpool last season were highlights, but equally he can be wasteful in possession due to his propensity for taking high risk options that are exciting when they come off but frustrating when they don’t .
His signing was deemed a coup for West Ham, but perhaps the Baggies weren’t quite as disappointed to miss out as was reported. Bilic favours the 4-2-3- 1 system which requires energetic and pacey wide players — something that is in relatively short supply in the current squad Amalfitano fits readily into that system and with the departure of Stewart Downing we are very reliant upon the continued fitness of Payet, Moses and Antonio.
On balance. our experiences of Amalfitano have been mostly positive and he would have provided a decent option to release from the bench in the defeats against Leicester and Bournemouth. He is a player who can spring a surprise and many Hammers fans hoped that he might form a useful understanding with fellow Frenchman Dimitri Payet But discipline is essential within any squad and every new management team needs to set out its stall in terms of what will not be tolerated
With six red cards already in nine competitive fixtures this year, the Hammers are a different beast to the fair-play winning squad of last season. Of note, Bilic’s charge towards the Turkish League title last year with Besiktas was crucially undermined by their massive 10 red card haul. However, in some respects the Amalfitano row provides an excellent opportunity for Bilic and company to make an important point, but such strategies play out best if this aligned to the ability to learn and move on.
With the dispute rumbling on without any sign of Amalfitano re-entering the first team fold, it looks like West Ham have lost a useful option. As the saga drags on, it’s also worth noting that the Frenchman’s wages are estimated at one and a half million quid a year which is approximately 30K a week — at that money one wonders who is suffering most, player or club? The issue also highlights one of the great challenges in today’s Premier League where player earnings are so high that it is very difficult to offload players who become surplus to requirements.
Poor old Modibo Maiga was a classic case in point. Clearly unsuited to the English game, he needed to escape to other pastures where his relaxed style is more effective. However, he was trapped by the golden handcuffs of a lucrative contract and it took us ages to get rid of him. While we all clamour for new signings, perhaps it’s worth remembering that those that don’t work out are very costly indeed.
Ultimately, this episode is a great chance for the management team to demonstrate their dynamism. They have made their point about the importance of discipline but now need to show that everybody will get a fair chance. Bilic has been open-minded in his dealings with Mauro Zarate and now surely Amalfitano should get a chance to redeem himself.
During his time Allardyce was quick to deal with unacceptable behaviour by pushing players out on loan — a strategy that limits the fallout from such disputes. Let’s hope that the matter can be sorted out quickly.