Football Features

West Ham signed a world champion, “the soul of PSG” and Fulham’s POTY in Alphonse Areola

By Ben Green

Published: 14:32, 30 July 2021

It took 50 days but West Ham finally have made their first proper signing of the 2021 summer transfer window.

Historic thumb-twiddlers in the market, the Hammers have conformed to type this summer by taking their time to usher in new stars ahead of a club-defining season in European competition, but the wait may well have been worth it.

Signings have been made. That should be acknowledged. But Craig Dawson on a permanent deal and a trio of prospects in Thierry Nevers, Pierre Ekwah Elimby and Armstrong Oko-Flex is not the level of recruitment that will quench the transfer thirst of a fanbase desperate for game-changers.

Mistakes have been made in the past with ‘big-name’ transfers, notably Sebastien Haller and Felipe Anderson, who joined for a combined £81m and left for a combined £23.5m in the space of just three years. David Moyes has been quick to change the club’s approach from scattergun to sniper’s bullet.

So, the acquisition of Alphonse Areola, who has joined West Ham on loan (with an option to buy) from PSG, is the sort of savvy business that has defined Moyes’ time in east London and underpinned the success of his reign.

The towering Parisian spent last season on loan with Fulham and, despite the club’s eventual demotion, was exquisite between the sticks, earning the club’s ‘Player of the Season’ award as a result, a collector’s item for a relegated goalkeeper.

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There may be initial question marks as to why West Ham want to sign a goalkeeper, with Lukasz Fabianski still often impervious in front of goal. But at 36, the club must prepare for the long-term and a few mistakes have started to creep into the Poland international’s game.

With Europa League also awaiting the club, the added burden of ‘Thursday nights’ inevitably means Moyes will need squad depth to handle the congested calendar. And in Areola, the Scot will be getting a shot-stopper with a wealth of European experience.

He featured twice in the Champions League while on loan at Real Madrid in 2019/20 and has featured nearly 20 times in Uefa’s flagship competition for PSG, including both legs of the last-16 in the 2017/18 version against Los Blancos, with Zinedine Zidane’s men famously going on to claim the trophy.

In more humble settings at Craven Cottage last term, Areola maintained (or some would say enhanced) his reputation despite a high level of exposure to attacks. The World Cup winner made the fifth-most saves in the Premier League (116), keeping a commendable nine clean sheets in the process. The fact he also made the most punches (26) suggests a strong command over the penalty area.

At 6ft5, Areola is an intimating figure in front of the net (remember that one-handed save on his debut for Madrid?). He is also a player who comes with pedigree. Former PSG boss Thomas Tuchel once described him as “the soul of PSG”, a player who encapsulates the spirit of a club. It’s the kind of endorsement that should excite West Ham fans.

“We must be proud to have players of this nature, we need these type of players who have the soul of PSG, who embody the club,” Tuchel said in 2018.

Fans will hope Areola’s signature opens the floodgates for further recruits, but if Moyes has been anything at West Ham, it’s careful, patient and fastidious. If he gets the signing right in the end, fans will not care one bit if it happens on the starting pistol or at the Eleventh Hour on deadline day.