Slaven Bilic’s reign in east London ended just three months into the 2017/18 season, and considering the early success he enjoyed in the club’s final season at the Boleyn Ground, the fact that his marquee signings could not lift the mood at the London Stadium suggested a problem with deeper roots. Interim manager David Moyes steadied the ship, but nine wins from 31 games would not have looked impressive in any other season.
The board had a trick up their sleeve, though. The dust had not yet settled on a volatile campaign when Manuel Pellegrini was appointed manager on a three-year deal. The Chilean had famously overseen Manchester City’s 2013/14 title win, while he proved his credentials with a less fancied side when he took Malaga to a Champions League quarter final in 2013.
His arrival will likely prompt the reintroduction of a back four to West Ham after Moyes’ deployment of three centre backs in the latter half of last season. This will open up room for another midfielder in the line-up, and West Ham have been busy recruiting options.
The club broke their transfer record twice in this window, with Felipe Anderson joining from Lazio for a fee in the region of £35m. The Brazilian attacker has been tipped for big things and has previously been linked with Manchester United. The acquisition certainly has fans talking, although it remains to be seen whether he can adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League.
Free agent Jack Wilshere has also been snapped up after he declined a new contract at Arsenal. The midfielder’s injury woes are well documented, but he has played in 65 matches across the last two seasons, having only managed 25 in the two years prior. Andriy Yarmolenko made his name at Dynamo Kiev and, after ten years playing in Ukraine, moved to Dortmund last summer. Injury reduced his playing time but he arrives in London with a strong reputation.
Pellegrini has also been quick to address areas that have caused the Hammers problems over the past two years. Lukasz Fabianski made the second-highest number of saves in the Premier League last season, and was named as Swansea Player of the Year twice in his four years at the club. With Pablo Zabaleta’s ageing legs exposed last season and Michail Antonio’s impending departure all but confirmed, right back Ryan Fredericks has joined after an impressive campaign at Fulham. The blow of losing veteran centre backs Jose Fonte and James Collins has been softened by the recruitment of French defender Issa Diop, who has represented his country at every youth level.
Do these signings signal a new dawn, though, or will recent history repeat itself? Fans may notice that the club’s activity looks remarkably similar to their investment 12 months ago. Marko Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez and Joe Hart were some of the names to arrive last summer, but the influx could not deliver despite much excitement.
Pellegrini must fit the latest signings into the side, and finding an immediate balance would be a challenge for most managers. As the club’s most expensive player, Anderson will have to be one of the first names on the team sheet, but what does that mean for creative spark Manuel Lanzini? Does Yarmolenko have a starting role when he managed just three goals in his first 16 league games at Dortmund and then picked up an untimely injury just as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left the club?
Wilshere has not given up a seat on the Arsenal bench for a spot on the sidelines at West Ham, and will have been guaranteed a position in the first 11 at the London Stadium. Unless club captain Mark Noble makes way, this will likely mean Wilshere playing in the number ten role. Winston Reid’s injury means that Diop will have little time to acclimatise as he will be probably be called upon at the season’s opening.
West Ham’s difficulties in accommodating so many new recruits last season was mirrored at Everton and AC Milan, where the numerous signings only served to halt any momentum the sides had gathered, and at all three clubs the coach had been sacked by December.
Pellegrini, however, is arguably the most accomplished manager to walk through the door at West Ham, and the players no doubt possess the quality to thrive. Success might not come immediately, but Hammers fans do have cause of optimism. They’ll need patience too, though.