Close your eyes and think back to the days when you first started watching football. Chances are, your most vivid memories will include the infinite ecstasy that comes with a West Ham striker wheeling away in celebration having put the ball in the opposition’s net.
For those of us with grey hair and arthritic knees the recollection of Geoff Hurst, arms aloft , still burns bright. Younger generations have their own heroes: Tony Cottee; Frank McAvennie; John Hartson; Dean Ashton – great goalscorers who scored great goals. But which striker will the supporters who’ve come to the London Stadium to watch the Irons for the first time this season look back on with such affection in years to come?
Certainly not Simone Zaza, who was so inept his attempt against Man Utd in the League Cup quarter-final actually resulted in the ball ending up further from the goal than where it was when he struck it.
Neither, I suspect, will it be Jonathan Calleri or Ashley Fletcher, who still have some way to go before being admitted to the West Ham hall of fame. Th ere’s Andy Carroll, of course. Forgetting for the moment that his presence in the side generally prevents us playing the high-speed counter attacking game that brought us so much success (and pleasure) during the final season at the Boleyn Ground, there is no denying that, when fit, he is a quality striker and many Premier League sides would be pleased to have him.
His brilliant effort against Palace in January is testament to that. But he can’t stay fit. Given the near-suicidal commitment he shows every time he throws himself in the general direction of the ball it is hardly any wonder that whenever he hits the deck there isn’t a supporter in the ground fearing he won’t get up again.
To misquote the famous line about the charge of the Light Brigade, it’s magnificent Andy, but you’re not paid to spend week aft er week in the treatment room. Besides, Diafra Sakho is in there already. So who else is there – and why have we not been able to sign the top class striker that was promised as part of the compensation package for leaving Upton Park?
Before the start of the inaugural season in our new home we were told by David Sullivan, oft en via his son’s Twitter account, that we were in the market for a 20-goal-aseason striker, and were prepared to spend big to get one. It was all part of the move to the ‘next level.’ He boldly stated that the club would sign a top striker ‘whatever happens’. For the owners, it was a ‘statement of intent’. It certainly would have made a statement. Th e fact is, no striker (or indeed any other player) has scored 20 Premier League goals in a season for West Ham.
Sakho managed 10 in the 2014-15 season, as did the much maligned Kevin Nolan (who was, of course, a midfielder) in 2012-13. No one else has got into double figures in a season under the Gold/Sullivan/Brady regime. As we all know, last year’s summer transfer window turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Alexandre Lacazette wasn’t interested. Neither was Michy Batshuayi. And, despite a barrage of optimistic tweets from Sullivan Jnr, Carlos Bacca couldn’t be persuaded that shopping in Westfield was every bit as enjoyable as a stroll along Via Montenapoleone in Milan. In desperation, the owners decided to break the club’s transfer record anyway.
They did that by splashing out a fraction over £20m on Andre Ayew, whose job description requires him to lay on goals for others rather than score them himself. He’s a decent player, but he’s clearly not a natural goalscorer – his performance against Leicester last month demonstrated that all too clearly.
If anything, the winter transfer window was even more embarrassing – lurching as it did between efforts to lure that old West Ham favourite Jermain ‘Judas’ Defoe from Sunderland and inquiries about whether Brentford would be prepared to let Scott Hogan go for £4m. To be fair, Hogan did end up playing in claret and blue – albeit for Aston Villa and at a considerably higher price than we were offering.
Not that any of this will come as any surprise to those who have taken a passing interest in the present owners’ attempts to sign a decent striker since they took charge in 2010. Under their stewardship, the club has brought in 31 of these highly sought after individuals. It’s an incredible number although, sadly, the same can’t be said of the players themselves.
McCarthy, Mido, Keane, Carew, Maiga, Chamakh, Jelavic – no wonder West Ham supporters learn from an early age that the only way you can stay sane while following the Hammers is to develop a sense of humour as quickly as possible. And if you really want a good laugh, take a look at some of the statistics. A total of 11 failed to score a league goal between them before they moved on. Only four – Carroll, Sakho, Freddy Piquionne and Enner Valencia – have achieved better than a single-digit return.
In total, this collection of misfits (and mis-hits) have made the best part of 650 appearances in claret and blue – with an average of a goal every five games. That’s woeful. No doubt the same hype about splashing out on a top striker will be trotted out again this summer – not least around the time when the club is reminding supporters to renew their season tickets before 55 billion people on the oft-mentioned waiting list are let loose on the stragglers.
Call me a cynic, but I for one won’t be holding breath while we attempt to secure a world-class goal machine. Is there any hope of producing one of our own? It doesn’t look promising, according to the highly knowledgeable Steve Marsh, who watches a lot of the West Ham junior sides when he isn’t working on the excellent theyflysohigh website or writing for the official club programme.
‘Antonio Martinez from Valencia would fit the bill – he’s now on loan to Oxford United,’ he says. But other than that the cupboard looks bare. ‘West Ham youth strikers coming through are as rare as hen’s teeth,’ according to Marsh.
‘We don’t seem to have recognised home-grown strikers, different players have contributed goals this season. Under-18 Jemel Hector-lngram has scored for both under-18s and the odd one for the under-23s when he has moved up as cover. ‘Marcus Browne is a hard working player, although his head drops sometimes when things don’t work out for him in games. If he can combat that he is one to watch out for.
‘In truth most players are not up to scratch. I know it has to be done, but It doesn’t help when so many players are loaned out, it depletes the sides with under-16s moving up to cover the under-18s, and the under-18s in turn move up to fill in gaps in the under-23s.
‘Current players I think who might get a sniff at the first team at some stage in their footballing career either with the Hammers or another club are Josh Pask, Declan Rice, Harry Hudson and Dan Kemp.’ Unfortunately, not a single one of them are strikers. It looks like the London Stadium crowd will have to wait a little longer for that promised striker who is going to take us to the next level.