Pablo Fornals has, after a bizarre Deadline Day, made a return to La Liga and signed for Real Betis. Former Hammers manager Manuel Pellegrini seemingly always led the race to sign the 27-year-old, who found playing time hard to come by under David Moyes this season.
It’s a move that I feel works for all parties. We need money to enable us to continue our rebuild, and Pablo has been eyeing a move back to his native land ever since his wife gave birth to their first child, Martin. The midfielder, who joined in 2019 from Villarreal, has featured for just 964 minutes in all competitions in claret and blue, and was yet to have a goal or assist to his name this season before his move away from east London.
He has cut a frustrated figure for a while now since finding himself on the periphery of the squad, and his form has, therefore, dipped quite significantly compared to his early days as a Hammer. When Fornals first joined the club, he oozed confidence and Spanish flair, and it wasn’t long until we nicknamed him the ‘Cockney Carzola’.
He wasn’t afraid of playing the killer pass, making that darting run into the box and finishing with aplomb before running in front of his adoring fans, sliding on his knees and saluting. The Spaniard’s final goal for the club could be one of the most important in the club’s history as he reproduced one of his magical bursting runs in Holland before slotting home into the far corner to send the West Ham faithful behind the goal into a frenzy knowing we would be going to our first European final since 1976.
He will forever be remembered for that moment, and no one can take that away from him. For me, though, the moment that I will remember him for is his goal at the Vitality Stadium last April as he brilliantly scorpion-kicked the ball home to complete the Hammers’ 4-0 win over Bournemouth.
The display of emotion on the 27-year-old’s face, almost in tears, was one of the most relatable things I have ever seen on a football pitch. In life, we have all doubted ourselves at one stage but have perceived and achieved that thing we didn’t think we could do.
We all see footballers as superstars and almost inhuman in a way, so seeing that show of emotion was refreshing. His passion was and will never be questioned. He was one the most likeable characters in the squad, which was shown by his fellow professional’s reaction to the goal and celebration.
It is essential to talk about the negatives alongside the positives, and in truth, the performance of Fornals for well over a year has been suspect. He appears to have lost that yard of pace, his confidence is shot to pieces, and he has gone from being fearless on the ball to fearful.
It is like he is desperate not to do something wrong, compared to Lucas Paqueta, who is willing to make a mistake because he knows he will create that one game-changing chance. The reason behind his diminishing form is two-fold. One, the rise in levels of new arrivals of Mohammed Kudus and Lucas Paqueta has raised the expectations of both the coaching staff and fanbase and has left the Spaniard in their dust, particularly with the club looking to go in a new direction.
Two, to put simply, a lack of playing time. To coin a phrase from commentators watching the Hammers struggling in Bristol, he looks ring-rusted. When you are constantly trying to make an impression, the pressure to do so often means that a player is desperate to avoid making mistakes, and that leads to ponderous decision-making and, more often than not, it leads to underwhelming displays.
Fornals will allow us to continue rebuilding this squad under Tim Steidten and David Moyes, with both looking to make a more dynamic, pace-driven and creative squad. Fornals, Benrahma and Cresswell are all players no longer suited to the new version of Moyesball.
I wish Fornals all the best for the future, as he is undoubtedly more suited to the pace of Spanish football. Returning to Spain, I believe will help him finally lift the cloud that has been hanging over him in recent months and help him get back to getting that smile back on his face on the pitch.