One of life’s small but undeniable pleasures is putting on an old item of clothing, slipping your hand in the pocket and finding money. In a footballing sense, this is how West Ham manager Slaven Bilic must feel right now. Enner Valencia. Remember him? He’s back – and he’s very good.
Having been sidelined by knee and ankle problems since the summer’s Europa League campaign, amid all the excitement there has been since then, it would be easy for West Ham fans to have forgotten the Ecuadorian striker is even at the club. But just as Andy Carroll has been sent off for repair yet again, and whilst Diafra Sakho recovers from a thigh injury, the £12m South American has returned to fitness and the side – to brilliant effect.
His brace against Bournemouth – a neat finish after superb approach work by Dimitri Payet, and a dazzlingly inch-perfect free-kick – was hugely significant as it secured three points, but despite only helping the side to a draw, his second double of the month – against Manchester City – was even better. This was not just against tougher opposition, it was against a title-chasing side desperate to take all three points. Thanks to Valencia, they had to come from behind twice to settle for just the one.
His first was an excellent right place, right time instinctive striker’s finish, and despite being slightly more scruffy, arguably the second was better; quick thinking, a burst of pace and good physicality to create and take a chance where, seconds earlier, none existed. For a forgotten man, Valencia knows just how and when to give people a reminder.
Major tournaments may be shop windows as far as agents and players are concerned, but from a buyer’s point of view, they can be a major gamble so when after the 2014 World Cup, Sam Allardyce spent so much money on a player who made his name in the uncertain proving ground of the Mexican league, and one who admitted his research into the club was watching Green Street, it was a far from safe bet.
A rocket of a goal against Hull hinted at good things to come, but all that followed were a header in the win at Burnley (admittedly a very good one) and another at Stoke. After that, it all went a bit quiet, and until the last few weeks, he had done little to break the silence. Now, however, it is safe to say Enner Valencia is back with a bang.
With speculation mounting that West Ham could invest even further this summer, these are exciting times for West Ham fans. But in the short-term, Valencia’s return from the shadows is almost as good as a new signing anyway, so that is one big positive gained from the transfer window month without having had to spend a single penny.