When the contract extension for Aaron Cresswell was announced, tying the left back to the club until 2023, it split opinion.
Some saw it as an admission of being content with mediocrity and indicative of a lack of ambition. Others, of which I am one, saw it as part of a bigger picture and an indication that the club are starting to think long term.
Cresswell is a ‘home grown’, England-capped, former Hammer of the Year who has a great affiliation with the club, the squad and the fans.
He has value because he still brings professionalism and experience which can only have a positive effect on youngsters like Ben Johnson. Securing his services is sensible, if not exciting business.
And, this is not the first ‘long term’ deal the club have got over the line recently. Diangana, Rice, Lanzini, and Masuaku have all committed to the cause since Pellegrini’s arrival.
It is an indication of the direction the club are trying to go, thinking more long term, tying valuable players, whether in terms of market value – Rice/Lanzini – or use to the club – Cresswell/Diangana – down for the foreseeable future and not allowing them to enter the last 18 months of their contract when power shifts to agents and the buying club.
It also suggests that players like Rice and Lanzini are buying into the side and the project Pellegrini is building.
If reports are to be believed, this approach will continue over the next few months. Players whose deals are due to expire in 2021 include Antonio, Noble, Fabianski, Balbuena, Wilshere, Snodgrass as well as back up keepers Roberto and Martin.
And whilst you could make cases for most of these to be offered extensions, if the club is really trying to think long term, it has to ensure it is being discerning and calculated when weighing the pros and cons.
For example, many of these players are fan favourites, who know what the club is about and what the fans want and expect.
They are experienced pros who can help younger players by being both mentors and examples to follow.
Noble, Antonio and Wilshere are all ‘homegrown’ talents, and given the fees involved in recruiting English players, they would be costly to replace. Also, as they get older they are more likely to be ‘happy’ with only playing bit parts (like Zabaleta this season).
On the flip side, there can be no denying that many of these players are reaching the twilight of their careers.
Is it really sensible to keep them and their considerable wages on the books as their powers decline?
One of the most pleasing things about the Pellegrini era has been the way he has lowered our average age.
Assuming they would all extended till 2023 as Cresswell did, Fabianski will be 38, Noble 36, Snodgrass 35, Antonio (like Cresswell) 33 and both Wilshere and Balbuena 32.
Giving them all new deals would be the antithesis of turning to youth. Do we really need that many experienced heads and ageing legs in the side?
And maybe therein lies the key point.
Many saw the appointment of Pellegrini and, just as crucially, his chosen Director of Football Mario Husiilos, as a step into modernity for the club.
So far, recruitment has been encouraging. If this is to be the turning point for the club that so many of us hope it is, we now need to ensure we get the balance of player retention and selling on right.
We can’t just keep players on if the ‘value’ isn’t there. Mark Noble, regardless of when his legs really do ‘go’, adds value to the club.
His passion and knowledge for West Ham cannot be underestimated. Nor his leadership. Fabianski too holds value.
Goalkeepers have a longer shelf life than others anyway, and once he can no longer hold the no.1 spot, would be an excellent pro to have as backup.
Michail Antonio, however, maybe worth cashing in on. I love Antonio and think he is a great asset when fit and firing.
But injuries are starting to become an annual event, and each time he returns he takes longer to get back up to pace.
Selling, undoubtedly at a profit, would make good business sense and enable reinvestment. The same could probably be said of Snodgrass, whilst Balbuena and Wilshere are decisions that need a little more time to assess.
Regardless of who is and isn’t offered a new deal, it is vital that, as the club starts to look more long term, it does so with a clear plan in keeping with the vision and project that Pellegrini is building. If we are all on board with creating a big club mentality – we need to behave like one off it as well as on it.