While the entire West Ham fan base was going into its biggest transfer window meltdown since the last big transfer meltdown last summer, a story capable of pushing even the most laid back fans over the edge was bubbling under the surface.
It’s Deadline Day in January, we’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for absolutely nothing to happen and we all learn that our Head of Recruitment, Tony Henry, has admitted in an email that he tries to avoid signing African players because ‘they cause mayhem’.
‘Why can’t we just be a normal football club’ was the fi rst thought that ran through my mind when the story broke, as I’m sure it did for many other fans around the world.
If it’s not David Sullivan publically disrespecting our playing staff , or Karren Brady saying something absolutely ridiculous in her weekly newspaper column, it’s our Head of Recruitment disrespecting playing staff and saying something absolutely ridiculous all in the same breath.
In fairness, the club acted quickly to sack Henry and then David Sullivan said in an interview that there are plans to completely revamp the club’s recruitment process from top to bottom, but there is some signifi cant damage that may have been done already here.
Henry’s comments led to him being labelled a racist and while I understand the reasons behind those allegations, I’m not convinced that what he said was particularly racially motivated.
As someone who has worked very closely with footballers for many years, there has to be a perfect explanation behind what he said and the meaning behind it.
However, it’s diffi cult to work out what that could be given the fact some of the best players to have graced the Premier League have been African or of African descent – Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Tony Yeboah, Patrick Vieira, Cheikhou Kouyate to name but a few.
He had to go, though, and it was refreshing to see the club move so quickly in making that decision.
That said, I wonder why he was still in a job at that point given how notoriously rubbish we are at recruitment.
It’s crazy that someone who clearly wasn’t doing his job properly only lost his job because he said something stupid in an email to agents.
Currently, we have six first-team players of African descent and thankfully, Henry’s dismissal looks to have eased any anger or unrest his comments may have caused those players had he been allowed to stay at the club.
Cheikhou Kouyate’s “African and Proud” Instagram post and the comments from Arthur Masuaku and Pedro Obiang underneath is the only reaction we’ve seen from those players.
Thankfully, his departure should mean that the club’s reputation within the transfer market isn’t damaged too much because as we all know, there is some fantastic talent to be found in African.
Some of the best players in the world hail from that part of the world and it would’ve been incredibly detrimental to the club’s ambition if it became a destination African players did not want to end up.
There has been an argument in the past that signing African players who represent African countries at international level, some have opted to represent European countries like France and Portugal, would not be a good idea because teams lose them for a month or so when the African Cup of Nations comes around in January/ February every two years. For a club like West Ham that is invariably involved in a relegation battle come the turn of the calendar year, losing your best players can be a nightmare.
However, this doesn’t seem to have prevented clubs from signing African players in the past, even West Ham.
The bonus on this front is that the next AFCON will be played in the summer of 2019 instead of the winter, which means the aforementioned argument is rendered pointless.
So what about the future of West Ham’s recruitment policy and its relationship with African footballers?
Without Henry involved, it looks pretty positive. If, and that is a big if, Sullivan sticks to what he says and steps away from the recruitment process and revamps the scouting network then we should be looking at a different West Ham in future transfer markets.
Henry’s involvement before this story broke clearly wasn’t working, evident by the rubbish we’ve seen come in and out of the club over the last few years.
We do have some success stories, sure, but for every Marko Arnautovic and Pablo Zabaleta there’s an Alvaro Arbeloa and Gokhan Tore.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the summer and what we end up doing will chiefly depend on whether we’re still a Premier League club by then.
But when it comes to recruitment, scouting and completing transfers, we should see a West Ham we’re not used to seeing.
A club with a clear plan and one that doesn’t see African players as capable of causing trouble but instead players who are strong and useful additions to the playing squad.
While the initial aftermath of Henry’s comments looked to have been damaging to the club, it may end up being the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Or not, you just never know with us anymore.