Very little surprises me about West Ham United these days. Marko Anoutovic’s departure did not surprise me and I barely raised an eyebrow at our two defeats in China during pre-season.
Losing out on the signature of Maxi Gomez barely registered on my I-didn’t-expect-that-o-meter.
What has surprised me recently though, is the way in which the club transfer record has been broken time and again in recent years in pursuit of the best players we can possibly afford.
As I suggested in my piece on Pellegrini over the summer, it is no coincidence that the arrival of players of a higher calibre, and the appointment of Pellegirini and Husillos has muted the verbal contribution of Sullivan and Gold and forced them to dig deep.
The board were widely criticised when the Gomez deal fell through but I can’t help thinking the whole charade was merely a smokescreen to draw attention away from the main man identified by Pellegrini as his number one target – and we saw no such delaying tactics in the signing of Sebastien Haller (pronounce, I am told “Alaire”) and Pablo Fornals.
Their signings remind me of the arrival of Andy Carroll and Matt Jarvis in 2012 – Allardyce was desperate to bring in the best crosser of the ball in the league to supply Carroll’s prolific forehead. Unfortunately Big Sam confused “best crosses” with “most crosses”, the two, in Jarvis’ case were clearly not the same thing.
With Fornals and Haller, however, I think we have the real deal.
Haller has been largely under the radar in European football but he looks like the complete package – six foot three and without an ounce of fat on him, his showreel suggests a tremendously deft touch, reflected in the fact that he has provided a very high level of assists as well as an impressive strike rate in the Bundesliga.
His stats have been impressive throughout his career. In his first season with Auxerre in France’s Ligue 2 he scored 29 goals in 57 appearances to help earn promotion.
The following season was less impressive with six from 50 but then he went on loan to FC Utrecht in Holland and banged in 41 goals in 82 appearances.
Ok, its Holland, not the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A, but don’t forget these goals come for teams outside those recognised as giants of the game in those countries.
Had he scored all those goals for Paris St Germain, Marseille, PSV Eindhoven or Ajax, my eyebrows would barely twitch.
But it gets better. He played in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring 24 in 60 appearances and, last season, taking part in a Europa League semi-final against Chelsea, scoring the first goal in the ultimately unsuccessful penalty shootout.
If you remain unimpressed, look at 13 goals in 20 appearances for the French U-21 side.
His appearance record would indicate he’s not injury-prone (uncrosses fingers) and his attitude and temperament appear to be all that is required for the Premier League.
He was linked with other Premier League clubs including Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
One Wolves fan page said: ‘Haller seems to have nearly all the attributes we should be looking for.’
They rated him and wanted him. He was linked with a move to clubs that could offer Champions League football but chose to come to us.
Perhaps, finally, we are starting to get things right. Clear, with the deal reported to be £70,000-a-week in wages is an important factor in luring players to a club like West Ham, but not always the decisive factor.
We have a tradition of unearthing unheard of diamonds from the rough – Alan Taylor, Alan Devonshire, Ray Stewart, Frank McAvennie, Ludek Miklosko and, ahem, Dimitri Payet are examples that immediately spring to mind – but this is something else.
Haller arrives with a weight of expectation of his shoulders brought about by an internet generation that can look up his inside leg measurement before he even sets foot on the pitch – the statistics, the showreels and the hype suggest he will do well in the Premier League.
If Wilshere can stay fit and Fornals plays to the form he showed for Spain in the U-21 tournament in the summer then we are in for a very entertaining season indeed.
The acid test comes this month, but I can’t remember being this excited about a striker signing since Dean Ashton arrived in January 2006. That was 13 years ago.
I know it’s wrong to be this excited – every fibre of my West Ham being is telling me to expect a crushing disappointment – but I can’t help but be optimistic.
At least if it does all turn out to be a big let down I have years of experience to draw on in dealing with having my dreams crushed. And at least I know that disappointing as it would be, it would not surprise me – as you know: nothing surprises me.
So come on West Ham, live up to my expectations. Just for once. I’m sure Haller is the man that we’ve been looking for.