Sometimes I wonder whether West Ham will ever sign a striker who consistently scores goals ever again.
It’s been 15 years since a Hammers striker registered 15 or more goals in the Premier League, when Marlon Harewood smashed in 16 in the 2005/2006 season.
The last striker to net more than 20 goals in a single campaign was John Hartson, who bagged 24 in 1997/1998.
But in between those two, we’ve been left with incredibly average strikers or ones who just never got going in claret and blue. I’m not even going to bother naming any of them, you know who they are.
But when the club announced the record signing of Sebastien Haller last summer, there was a feeling that maybe, just maybe, we had finally found a goalscorer.
A man to lead the line and hit the back of the net consistently. For £45m, that’s the least you would expect. But then you remember we’re West Ham and we don’t really do strikers.
The fact one of our most famous results in Premier League history came from a system that deployed a false nine says all you need to know. West Ham and strikers go together like chalk and cheese. That’s just the way it is.
Haller’s arrival signified promise, we had spent years yearning for a big money and now we finally had one to celebrate. But it just hasn’t worked, has it?
The Frenchman knows where the goal is, he banged in 51 in 98 appearances for FC Utrecht and 33 in 77 for Eintracht Frankfurt, so it’s little wonder we paid so much for him and laid all our hopes and dreams on his massive shoulders. Yet where has it all gone wrong in East London?
To be fair to Haller, it’s not as if he’s struggled when given a chance. He has a goal every three games in claret and blue and has shown that when the opportunity is handed to him, he can get into the right positions and areas to get himself on the scoresheet. If anything, the one thing he has done right since he arrived at the club is prove he can score goals.
Despite that fact, and in true West Ham fashion, he struggles for a spot in the starting XI each week and is currently being kept out of the team by a winger.
However, it’s no secret that Manuel Pellegrini and now David Moyes have struggled to find a system that perfectly compliments Haller’s strengths but doesn’t equally leave us exposed everywhere else on the pitch.
By playing to his strengths, like giving him a strike partner, we expose our vulnerability in other areas of the squad that we can longer afford to fix because he cost us so much money – so much money we struggled to pay Frankfurt the instalments and had to – wait for it – sell two strikers in order to raise the funds before FIFA got involved. Only at West Ham.
Haller does indeed deserve more game time – at the time of writing he’s scored five goals in five appearances – but it’s clear his lack of mobility works against him.
Michail Antonio’s energy and tireless workrate means he suits our style a lot more than Haller does right now, but surely there must be a way to make use of a player who is so confident in his own ability that he refuses to celebrate almost every time he scores?
Well, if Moyes is looking to play five at the back then he has a way of doing it. Frankfurt got most success out of him when playing a 3-5-2 formation, with two wingbacks and three central midfielders, one of which was deployed as a number 10, and a striker partner for Haller in Luka Jovic.
As a result, the Frenchman wasn’t left to do all the running up front on his own and was never left isolated, which he often is at West Ham.
When playing in this system in 2018/2019, Haller ended the season with 15 goals and nine assists. Imagine a player doing that for us now!? Statue pending.
In truth, tweaking the formation to accommodate Haller does not exactly require a huge change in approach, just the decision to swap two wingers for another striker and a No.10. That’s easier said than done, though, and it’s fair to say we don’t really have the quality elsewhere in the squad, most notably the defence, to be comfortable enough to switch to a 3-5-2 in that way.
But we can only dream, Haller can only dream. It would be a great shame to see a player like Haller end up leaving the club after we admitted defeat in finding a system that compliments his strengths.
He arrived with so much promise and has so far lived up to that when given the chance.
Until then, the wait goes on for a consistent goal scorer at West Ham.