It seems crazy to think that back in January, the thoughts of most West Ham supporters were primarily focussed around our relegation battle, change of manager, issues with the stadium, and whether the heritage of West Ham has been destroyed with the move from the Boleyn Ground.
All of that, at least for the moment, seems quite redundant, as the world comes to terms with the fact that life isn’t normal and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic touches all of our lives. I write this confined to the house in self-isolation, as the UK experiences its first taste of virtual lockdown.
I can’t help but think that, no matter what the issues with our stadium, I wish I was able to go back there now and watch West Ham play, just so that life can be normal for 90 minutes. My thoughts are, of course, with the families of the fans who now sadly, won’t be able to do that.
Of course, there will be a time when coronavirus is under control, and at some stage the talk will shift. Once again, we will be able to think about the nicer distractions in life (and yes, that includes supporting West Ham). We will take to the pitch again and as fans, we will be supporting them. And so, to take our minds off the current situation, even for a few minutes, let’s talk about two players who’ve been linked with moves away at the end of the season – whenever that may be.Embed from Getty Images
It’s been reported that both Ryan Fredericks and Issa Diop, two of our defenders, could be exiting once the campaign comes to an end. In truth, whilst I can see good reasons why they might depart, I’d also be quite disappointed to see either of them leave.
To take our minds back to a happier time, Ryan Fredericks arrived at the club in 2018 on a free transfer from Fulham. He was Manuel Pellegrini’s first signing, and I remember thinking at the time that we had got a proper player on our hands. Then 26, I felt we had a vibrant, exciting right-back from the Championship who was ready for the step up – just the kind of player that Alan Pardew would have signed in his day. It would just be a great fit.
But sadly it just hasn’t turned out that way and his impact has been limited. Disappointing form from the team generally hasn’t helped, but his injury record isn’t great either – in fact, at the time the Premier League stopped, he’d just been ruled out for six weeks after damaging ligaments in the match against Manchester City. He’s featured in 20 Premier League games for West Ham this season, essentially missing a third of the campaign. Combined with patchy form, it’s difficult to conclude that he’s made a huge mark on the side.
There’s also competition for places, too. I’ve seen Jeremy Ngakia in action and he is calm, composed and versatile; he also has youth on his side, at just 19 years old. Ben Johnson, another youngster at just 20, is also a prime candidate for the right back position. A wise head from the likes of Fredericks is always helpful for guidance, and I think it would be sad to see him go, but it may be that he becomes surplus to requirements, given his injury record and possible replacements.Embed from Getty Images
Meantime, Issa Diop is a player who I’ve always been a big fan of. I think it’s because I see him as quite intimidating in the team, and we’re not known for having intimidating players. In my opinion, he’s been one of our best signings in recent years, recent form notwithstanding.
The fee was never actually disclosed but was reported as being around £22m, making him a club record signing at the time, when he arrived from Toulouse in 2018. On his day, I think he’s an incredibly effective defender, even though this season his form has been less than consistent.
It was an inauspicious start: in the first match of the season, Diop scored an own goal against Arsenal, in the process becoming the first West Ham player to score an own goal on debut in the league. Incidentally, the opponent is highly ironic, because if you believe the rumours, it’s Arsenal who are considering making a bid for the player in the close season as they see him as just the type of player they need.
After the debut howler, his performances began to win plenty of praise: in West Ham’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in the 2018/9 season, Jose Mourinho commented on the player, and the scout who identified him, and he’s attracted similar admiring comments from other Premier League managers as the season continued.Embed from Getty Images
This season, there’s no doubt that Diop hasn’t hit the standards of the season prior. Too often, he has been caught out of position, and his tackling success (including a worrying fondness of lunging) has left much to be desired. However, in Diop’s defence, it’s hard to identify a player in the side who hasn’t regressed this season, and this is reflected in the league standings.
That said, it’s my belief that under the right manager, Diop can once again thrive. Maybe David Moyes, known for getting his sides organised, might be that manager, and I do think that performances have improved of late. However, if Arsenal were to come along and offer silly money, the board might have a difficult decision to make. I would sooner him stay, though – I think there’s more to come from him.
It’s been a long, hard season for West Ham, and for Ryan Fredericks and Issa Diop. Times are hard for the rest of us, too. Whatever you think of the players and their form, the season hasn’t finished yet (at the time of writing) and both of them have given their all for the shirt. Really, that’s all we can ask for, and frankly it’d be great just to see them, and the rest of the side, back in action in front of 60,000 fans at Stratford once again. I look forward to the day that that happens.