Football News

West Ham’s striker drought finally ends after 1,103 days as they land Europe’s most ‘single-minded forward’

By Ben Green

Published: 12:29, 27 July 2022

It took 1,103 days, but West Ham have finally signed another striker, capturing Gianluca Scamacca from Sassuolo over three years since they last bought Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt.

During that time, natural winger Michail Antonio — who has also played at right-back for the club on occasion — has been repurposed and remodified as a centre-forward in David Moyes’ robust, fast-break system. Before him, Marko Arnautovic — another wide forward by trade — performed the role.

Haller was hailed as the man to finally bring some stability to the No. 9 position in E20, but he fell below expectations and struggled to find any sort of consistency or fluency under Moyes, with the club eventually selling him to Ajax, where he has since gone on to produce moments of goalscoring magic.

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Antonio has led the line with distinction since recalibrating his game to function as a ‘quasi-nine’, but the 32-year-old has been forced to do it all alone, with the club failing to strengthen with a suitable understudy to support him — a significant bone of contention among fans given Antonio’s injury track record.

Linked with just about every striker under the sun, seemingly every window, West Ham have finally ended their 1,103-drought and brought in a centre-forward, who many believe will take the club to that desired ‘next level’ and keep them competitive as they look to consolidate their position in the Premier League’s European places.

Moyes has largely preferred a less traditional centre-forward since pitching up at the London Stadium, a notion that appears to chime with West Ham’s own recent track record, with the club only once having a player who has netted over 15 goals in one Premier League season since the competition’s inception: Paolo Di Canio in 1999/2000 (16 goals).

Scamacca does not fit that brief. The towering 23-year-old Italian scored more goals without providing a single assist than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues last season, bagging 16 while failing to set up a single Sassuolo team-mate — which seems to go against the grain in east London.

Antonio may have only netted 10 Premier League goals last campaign, but he also provided eight assists, the second-most of any striker, behind only Harry Kane (nine), giving him a return of 18 direct goalscoring competitions, which tops his new Italian team-mate from Serie A’s 2021/22 (16).

Whether Moyes will look to tinker with Scamacca’s game and make him less ‘selfish’, or allow his new out-and-out No. 9 to tap into his instinctive style and wreak havoc remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the Hammers have signed a cold-eyed, calculated assassin in the final third.

In Serie A last season Scamacca tucked home 70% of the Big Chances that fell his way, which was the second-best conversion rate in the division for players who had at least 10 Big Chances. He was also one of just five players, alongside “idol” Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to register 0.5 or more for non-penalty expected goals on target per 90 minutes (minimum 900 minutes played). In other words: Scamacca was among Serie A’s best for the quality of chances that fell his way, and the quality of his execution once a shot was made.

He outperformed his expected goals by 4.52 and had the seventh-best shooting accuracy among strikers (min. 900 minutes). When in the box, Scamacca was cut-throat and clinical, two traits that should serve him well in the Premier League.

“I know Ibrahimovic is his idol,” former Italy U16 coach Bruno Tedino has previously said of Scamacca — but he compared him more with another of football’s revered strikers. He added: “They [Scamacca and Ibrahimovic] are totally different players. Gianluca has got a bit of the Robert Lewandowski about him.”

A £35m outlay is certainly not an insignificant amount of pocket change, but Moyes has got his hands on one of Italy’s most promising centre-forwards, who made goalscoring his bread and butter last season.

Can West Ham finally break their striker hoodoo and have a striker who consistently bags 15+ goals for the club in the Premier League? Or will this end up being another Haller situation, with an elite centre-forward struggling to find his feet in east London?

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