COS contributor Tom Victor sings the praises of an Italian who is on his way back home.
This time last year, West Ham’s supporters were up in arms over the sale of centre-back James Collins. The Welshman had formed a solid partnership with Matthew Upson at the back, helping Gianfranco Zola’s side to a top-half finish, yet was being sold for a measly £5million.
Fans were told not to worry, that the money was needed to fund the purchase of Italian forward Alessandro Diamanti from Livorno, a transfer completed the week before.
I am not here to debate the wisdom in spending beyond your means to the point that you are forced to sell without any wiggle-room. Nor am I here to debate the wisdom in making permanent the signing of fringe player Radoslav Kovac earlier in the summer for a fee around the £3million mark. I am not even here to examine the extent to which Collins was missed, with Matthew Upson and James Tomkins each suffering personal crises of confidence as Zola’s men slipped down the league. No, I am simply here to question the sale of Diamanti one year on, at a loss of £4million.
Of course, West Ham do have previous in this department. For every Rio Ferdinand, sold for £18million while still something of a raw talent, there is a Freddie Ljungberg, released one year after signing on a £3million deal from Arsenal.
But while Ljungberg looked to be on the wane and incapable of an extended first-team run, this was far from the case with Diamanti. Although perhaps a little inconsistent, the Italian maverick showed glimpses of brilliance and an eye for the unexpected, such as his 70-yard through-ball to free Junior Stanislas for the Irons’ consolation against Everton, or his effort from his own half against Hull which nearly caught Boaz Myhill unawares.
West Ham have had a history of foreign flair players whose overall contribution has been limited – Dani and Hugo Porfirio are two who spring to mind – but Diamanti could never be accused of lacking fight. In a team often devoid of passion and spirit, Diamanti and Scott Parker were frequently the only two players who looked capable of dragging their team out of the relegation mire.
The one game which really stands out is the 2-1 defeat to Bolton in February. West Ham fell behind to early goals from Kevin Davies and Jack Wilshere, and there seemed little hope of a comeback even after Tamir Cohen’s red card in the second half. But no one told Diamanti. He still fought for every ball and tried to create something out of nothing, spraying cross-field passes and shooting from range. His efforts finally reaped some reward in the 88th minute when he found the space to curl an unstoppable 20-yard shot beyond the impressive Jussi Jaaskelainen. That goal almost paved the way for Zola’s side to escape with an unlikely point, which they would have done had Junior Stanislas’ injury-time shot bounced in off the crossbar instead of flying back out.
Only the West Ham chairmen, David Gold and David Sullivan, can tell you why Diamanti has been sold. The official line seems to be that the sale will clear some room in the squad for a couple of new faces, but the club’s reported £8million bid for French striker Kevin Gameiro suggests they do not need the money to fund a deal. Moreover, thousands of Irons fans will be able to name you several players who they would rather have seen leave. Perhaps none more so than Kovac, who has failed to win over the Upton Park faithful since joining from Spartak Moscow.
Gold and Sullivan’s transfer policy has been curious to say the least. Gone are last season’s goalscoring saviour Ilan and useful Mexican forward Guille Franco, yet Benni McCarthy remains despite a lack of fitness and a failure to find the net for the club. Valon Behrami, one of the club’s few international-class players, looks set to follow Franco and Ilan out the door, his place set to be occupied by Lazio outcast Thomas Hitzlsperger.
What do Diamanti, Franco and Behrami have in common? They were all signed by now-departed Technical Director Gianluca Nani. Nani worked closely with Gianfranco Zola to bring in young talent from across Europe, after Alan Curbishley’s policy of signing Premier League has-beens left the club with Keiron Dyer, Luis Boa Morte and a huge wage bill, no doubt worsened by the multi-million pound pay-off afforded to Ljungberg when he left for the MLS.
It now seems that Gold and Sullivan are taking steps to rid their club of the last traces of Nani’s involvement. Of the 22 players used so far this season (I know, 22 different players in 3 games), only Kovac, McCarthy and Herita Ilunga were signed during Nani’s tenure. The remainder of those involved are either new signings (such as Winston Reid and Pablo Barrera), Curbishley’s buys (including Parker and the newly re-signed Boa Morte) or relics from the days of Alan Pardew (including Mark Noble, the one survivor from the side promoted in 2005).
Such a policy is risky to say the least. If the team manages to produce the results, even the most questionable transfer policy may be forgotten if the team is performing well and the wins are forthcoming. But Avram Grant’s West Ham team could conceivably be pointless after four games (with ties against Manchester United and Chelsea next up) and struggled to break down Oxford United last night in the Carling Cup.
When times were tough last season, fans at least had the flair of Diamanti to help them through the dark days. With the maestro now departed, the number of players capable of providing that much-needed spark is diminishing by the minute.
To read more from Tom Victor visit his excellent blog Pele Confidential by CLICKING HERE