What is it with West Ham, talented players and controversy? It’s as though we’re not allowed to have nice things.
Dating all the way back to the likes of Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe, who both showed so much promise before forcing their exits to London rivals, we never find ourselves far away from seeing a player we’ve fallen in love with either try and force a move away or simply drift into the wilderness.
In more recent times, Ravel Morrison initially looked like he was going to fulfil his potential in claret and blue and become a Hammers hero but instead appeared to lose his head and leave the club with little more than a whimper.
Before Ravel we had Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano; one asked to leave six months into his stay due to a lack of game time and the other became a hero. But that was all ruined when it emerged we’d signed them illegally and they were inevitably sold onto top four clubs just 12 months after arriving.
And then you have Dimitri Payet. The poster boy of our Farewell Boleyn season. Arguably the most talented player to don the famous claret and blue since Carlos Tevez. Definitely the most loved player in east London since Paolo Di Canio.
But 18 months in to his West Ham career he downed tools and manufactured a move back to Marseille, ruining his legacy at the club in the process. Of course, there are so many other players you could add to this list. Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Glen Johnson were all seen as the future during their respective eras and while none forced a move away at the time, three of them had to be sold following relegation to Division 1 and the other was sold behind Harry Redknapp’s back.
So when will it end? Not any time soon, it seems. Marko Arnautovic is the latest player at the club who could fall under the category of ‘Players who were absolutely brilliant, the fans adored, but wanted to leave or had to leave.’
When we signed Arnie in July 2017 for a club record fee, we knew what we were getting. He’d downed tools at Stoke in order to get his move to us. Jose Mourinho has previously claimed that during his time as Inter Milan manager, it was Arnie who was more of a rogue character than Mario Balotelli.
So, we knew we weren’t getting an angel. But he was a superb signing nonetheless. The beginning of his career in east London was a tough one. Slaven Bilic’s early managerial heroics were being undone by a stadium move and poor player recruitment, and Arnie suffered as a result.
He was played out wide where he was almost always ineffective, and he was sent off in just his second appearance for elbowing Southampton’s Jack Stephens — most probably born out of his frustration at not being effective. We’ve seen that frustration on many an occasion, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing all of the time.
Arnie wants to be the main man, the centre of attention, the goalscorer, the hero. We’ve tasted that from him. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s both happy and frustrated, with relatively equal results.
David Moyes’ decision to play him through the middle wasn’t necessarily a masterstroke because we’d all been calling for Bilic to do just that, but it was a justified decision. He finished his first season at the club with 11 goals and we finally felt we’d found someone to adore once more after Payet’s untimely departure.
But this season has brought back old memories, old scars of previous betrayals. It was no surprise to see Arnie’s named being linked with a move away from the club come January 2019 after he’d netted five goals in the opening stages of the season.
He was making headlines for all the right reasons and he was getting noticed. But what we didn’t expect was him asking to leave, especially in order to complete a switch to the Chinese Super League for a wage almost three times what we were paying him.
I cannot blame him for wanting to move for the money, but I do blame him for the way he handled the whole situation and how his behaviour effected the team’s performances on the pitch. Of course, he stayed, announcing a new contract just a couple of minutes after we were thrashed by AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup in what can only be described as something only West Ham could do.
It was farcical — a PR disaster – but something we’re all so used to seeing from the club. The whole thing didn’t just affect the team’s fortunes but also Arnie’s own performances. It took him until the penultimate game of the season to score his first goal since the January transfer window closed and he ended the season with three goals in his final two appearances.
No real surprise when a new transfer window is in sight and represents a fresh opportunity to seek more money elsewhere. He ended his second season at the club with 11 goals, taking his overall West Ham career record to 22 in 65 appearances in all competitions. It’s an impressive record, but it could and should be so much better.
If that’s the last we’ve seen of him then there will be some fans who won’t be able to forgive him for the way his West Ham career panned out, as while we’re all so quick to fall in love with top performing players, we’re also happy to see them move on and better their careers if we’re not betrayed in the process. Some will still hold him up as a cult hero, a man who brought so many great moments with so many brilliant goals, but unfortunately this is a player who has always split opinion and he’ll continue to do that in the future.
If he stays? Well, he’ll have some making up to do and the only way he can do that is by consistently performing on the pitch. We’ll all be better off if he is still with us next season because he’s more important to the football team than many will care to admit. Either way, we’ll still be West Ham. Let’s just hope we’ll be West Ham with Marko for a little while longer.