No one wants to see Declan Rice leave in the summer – most supporters who have watched his remarkable development over the past two seasons believe he could go on to become one of the club’s greats.
Anybody who was in any doubt about his ability only had to sit through the abysmal performance against Everton, from which Rice was about the only outfield player to emerge with any credit, to realise just how good he is. Trouble is, potential legends now attract unwanted attention from other clubs at an early stage in their career – and these days money talks louder than any song of praise we can come up with in the stands.
Manuel Pellegrini has made it clear that if a big enough offer comes in, Declan will be packing his bags and looking for a new house in Manchester, or Liverpool, or another part of London. The justification, of course, is that whatever West Ham reap from the sale will be used to strengthen the side.
The sceptic within me suspects that Mr Pellegrini may not be given the full whack by the owners, but let’s put that rather unkind thought to one side for a moment and imagine that he is.
And let’s say the money he is given is enough to buy a £50m striker, a £30m holding midfielder and a £20m defender. Is that a sufficient trade-off for a player we may well see turn into one of England’s finest over the coming years? You hardly need me to remind you that we’ve watched top players leave before.
Some go with more regret than others. We all loved Dimitri Payet when he was strutting his stuff at Upton Park, but once we moved to the London Stadium and he made it plain he wanted to return to France the general feeling was ‘clear off and don’t come back’.
Most supporters may not have actually used the word “clear”, but this is a family publication and the Editor has very strict rules about the use of offensive language. To be honest, I’ll feel much the same way if Marko Arnautovic departs at the end of the season.
I’ve no problem with him considering a huge financial offer from China – what upsets me is the non-stop petulance that has followed. He’s been having one giant sulk since the transfer window closed. And here’s the thing, Arnie: you’re really not as good as you think you are.
Talking of players who appear to be sucking a lemon whenever they pull on a West Ham shirt, Freddie Kanoute spent his final season at Upton Park looking like he would rather be anywhere else. Kanoute, you’ll recall, was part of the inevitable clear-out that followed the 42-point relegation in 2003.
Honorary Life President Terence Brown is hardly remembered affectionately for his time in charge by most supporters – many of whom have never forgiven him for selling the club’s crown jewels after we were relegated. But, to be fair to Brown, he held his nerve when a fire sale looked inevitable.
The pressure to offload highly paid players was enormous – and it grew day by day as managers who knew we needed to sell bombarded Brown with requests for the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe.The crucial deal was the sale of Glen Johnson to Chelsea for £6m halfway through July.
Yes, we all knew the boy had bags of potential, but he was still an unknown quantity in terms of top-flight football. Brown made sure Chelski paid top dollar. By setting the bar at that level he was able to extract £2.5m from Manchester City for a fast-fading Trevor Sinclair six days later. Then, at the beginning of August, he persuaded Tottenham to part with £3.5m for Kanoute.
Sadly, one more still had to go. Sadder still for most of us, that other one was Joe Cole, who joined Johnson at Stamford Bridge for £6.6m. It was hard to take but, on the plus side, we were still solvent. And when you see what has happened to the likes of Portsmouth and Coventry after relegation, that is a very big plus.
Whatever the financial benefits, it is always painful to watch a brilliant young player leave – especially those, like Cole, we think of as ‘one of our own’. And while Rice may not technically be West Ham born and bred – whisper it quietly, but he did cut his teeth in the Chelsea youth system – the lad is a fully qualified Hammer as far as I’m concerned.
What intrigues me is how young supporters cope with today’s revolving-door transfer system. Yes, I know that the club is bigger than any single player, but part of the way we bond with the club in the first place is through the players we look up to.
We all have our childhood heroes. But how can the kids of today put any faith in theirs, knowing they may well be gone come the following season? When I was a nipper, I worshipped the holy trinity of West Ham United – Moore, Hurst and Peters. I had pictures of all three of them on my bedroom wall. Do youngsters still do that today, I wonder?
I wasn’t allowed posters because my dad didn’t like the way Sellotape stripped off a piece of the wallpaper when you took one down for whatever reason (such as an elder brother inking in a Hitler moustache on a favourite player). Instead, I had framed photographs. The ten-by-eight prints were supplied by Typhoo Tea in return for a set number of packet tops.
The frames – and the glass which prevented any further acts of sibling vandalism – were provided by my old man, who was a dab hand at that sort of thing. The first picture to come down was Martin Peters, who left West Ham to join Tottenham. I removed his photo and filled in the holes left by the hook under the watchful eye of my father, who couldn’t understand how I could make such a mess with a little dab of Polyfilla and a trowel.
Two years later, the picture of Geoff Hurst came down. My dad, having given up all hope of teaching me how do handyman-type jobs, filled in the holes himself and finished off the job with a splash of paint that matched the wallpaper. Hurst left West Ham to join Stoke. I was devastated. Of the three, he was actually the one I idolised the most. So you can imagine how sick I felt when he scored in his first game back at Upton Park.
Ten days after I saw Sir Geoff score against us, I watched Martin Peters return to the Boleyn with Tottenham and do the same thing. Watching both of them play against West Ham for their new clubs was a strange experience. Funnily enough, seeing Bobby Moore in the white of Fulham at Wembley in the 1975 FA Cup final was probably the easiest of the lot to take simply because he was nearing the end of his magnificent career.
Declan Rice is just starting out on his. And, sod the £100m transfer fee – I’m still a kid at heart and I want to see him in claret and blue. Who says there are no more heroes any more?
If you enjoy Brian Williams’ regular column, look out for his two brilliant books, Nearly Reach The Sky and Home From Home.