As the end of this extraordinary season draws near, I’ve been wondering who would be my Hammer of the Year – and who are my other contenders.
And it’s not just me who’s been thinking this – our partners Claret and Hugh took a straw poll and it seems the clear favourite, receiving a smidge over 58% of the vote was Angelo Ogbonna. On the surface this seems an odd choice. Our defence has been one of the leakiest in the division but Oggy has chipped in with two goals at the other end but neither were more than consolation against each of our North London rivals.
WhoScored.com has his rating for the season at 6.69 – ranking him as our 10th most effective player. Yet he leads by a landslide. The logic of the West Ham faithful seems to be that, had it not been for the Italian centre back – holding Issa Diop’s hand through his most difficult period at the club, and putting his body on the line to make last ditch challenges – then the situation could have been much worse. We were only outside the bottom three on goal difference when the season was halted after all.
In a season of turbulence both on and off the pitch, Ogbonna has been a dependable and reassuring presence at the heart of the side. The same could be said of his closest ‘rival’ for the HOTY crown – Declan Rice, who received 20% of the vote. Despite the clubs fortunes on the pitch, the young England international has generally been spared any criticism. In fact, Rice has arguably improved his overall game this season.
It is now not uncommon to see the defensive midfielder driving us up the pitch with strong running, creating chances (he has registered two assists this term), firing off more shots and generally trying to dictate play for us. WhoScored.com gives him a 6.95 and statistically he is one of the top three in his position in the league for tackles, interceptions and passing accuracy.
His development is one of the few sources of pride Hammers have in the club at present and may well push Ogbonna closer than the C&H poll suggests. Some way off in the running are Robert Snodgrass and Michail Antonio, who both have 8% of the vote. Once things started going south for the side (around October) Snoddy appeared to be one of the few who was up for the fight, impressing as he so often does with his work rate and willingness to knuckle down and dig in.
This season though he has married that endeavour with greater end product in a West Ham shirt scoring five goals and registering five assists, and is a dark horse for the HOTY title. Michail Antonio’s stock has risen as a result of his absence and subsequent return. Without him we lacked pace and directness and his return has helped lift the side and given us more attacking intent.
Despite his relatively low number of appearances (just 17), WhoScored.com has him as our second most effective player with a rating of 7.09 and he has chipped in with two goals and two assists. If he gets the chance to add to his contribution, could the 2016-17 HOTY reclaim his crown? There are a number of other notable ‘also rans’ from the C&H Poll with Mark Noble, Pablo Fornals, Sebastian Haller, Issa Diop, Aaron Cresswell, Lukas Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks and Felipe Anderson sharing the remaining 6% of the vote.
Of those, it is possible that Haller could be a late runner. He started the season on fire, scored decisive point winning goals against Southampton and Watford and came alive in the final weeks before lockdown with willing runners alongside him at last. WhoScored has the Frenchman as our most effective player with a rating of 7.21. Could the oft maligned frontman score the goals to keep us up and thus earn him the HOTY honour in the process?
Pablo Fornals could also be an outside bet. The Spaniard may have taken a while to acclimatise to the Premier League but us Hammers love a tryer and the summer signing has slowly won over fans and manager. He is a willing runner, looks to create and has contributed four goals and five assists in his debut season. Not bad for a player written off by some as a Husilos dud. Will his redemption story (of sorts) finish with a fairytale ending?
Having said all that, Ogbonna still looks like the safe choice for the HOTY prize – just like he has been all season at the heart of our defence.