Ask any neutral who they think West Ham’s best player is and there’s only name you should expect to hear.
The answer is so glaringly obvious that I’m not even going to say who it is. You know it, I know it, the neutral knows it. But while a certain Frenchman was stealing most of the headlines last season, there was another player who arguably deserved just as much praise, if not more. Th at man is, of course, Manuel Lanzini.
Th e way in which the Argentine adapted to life in the Premier League was extremely impressive and it’s strange how very few people gave him the credit he actually deserved. We all recognised how important he was to our cause very quickly, but very few people outside of our bubble will have truly understood the impact he was having.
For a 23-year-old to make the step up from plying his trade at a poor standard in the UAE to the most popular and most competitive league in world football isn’t easy, but Lanzini took it all in his stride from the off . Alongside Dimitri Payet, Lanzini developed into a classy little player and one who was just as effective as his just as classy teammate. His contribution to our attacking play was the most impressive we’ve seen it for at least a decade.
Th e way in which he and Payet connected was a joy to watch and gave us the kind of spark and creativity that had most Premier League defences fearing each week. And that is why there’s an argument for him being much more important to our cause than Payet is now. In his debut season in English football, Lanzini contributed seven goals and five assists in 31 first team outings.
Th at’s a goal or an assist every 2.58 games, or every 166.8 minutes. To put that into perspective, Dimitri Payet contributed a goal or an assist every 138 minutes. Not bad, eh? If you factor in his young age and lack of experience at such a level, it’s extremely hard not to be impressed by Lanzini’s impact and importance to Slaven Bilic’s cause.
The club did extremely well to secure his permanent signature before the end of last season and the £10.2m fee we paid Al-Jazira is already looking like an even bigger bargain than the £10.7m we paid Marseille for Payet. That’s because of Lanzini’s age and the fact he will have already learned a great deal whilst playing alongside Payet at West Ham.
We all know Payet won’t be at the club much longer and, if he is, his contribution and impact may begin to decline as he reaches his thirties and beyond. Of course, that may not happen, but it’s far more likely than Lanzini losing his spark at the age of just 23.
What Lanzini brings to the team is a combination of skill, flair and creativity and with him in the team, you always feel as if we can score at any moment. The way in which he can bring our wide players into play, or drive through the middle and create something for whoever is leading the line up front, is priceless. It’s little wonder Slaven Bilic claimed he tried to bring him to Besiktas a few years ago. There aren’t many players of Lanzini’s ability, or at least any who are as consistently effective.
So far this season we haven’t had too many chances to see him at his best, though that’s only because an injury picked up while on Olympic duty with Argentina ruled him out for the start of the season. But he is already beginning to show how valuable he is to the team. His first half performance against Watford in particular, when he and Payet ran the show again, gave us all a glimpse of what to expect from him this season
The best thing about Lanzini, however, is his potential. If his contribution to West Ham’s cause is as important as it is at the age of just 23, what will it be when he’s at his peak at, say, 27 or 28-years-old? This is why Lanzini should be considered West Ham’s most important player.
Dimitri Payet might be our best, but Lanzini is our most important because when Payet does leave the club it will be down to Lanzini to fill his boots, and what better way to prepare yourself for such a role than to learn off the master first. When that time comes, Lanzini will be more than ready to take on the role as our best player. And only then will the neutral begin to take notice of ‘The Jewel.’