There has been little to celebrate in a season of doom and gloom for West Ham, but the transformation of Robert Snodgrass has been a significant high point.
Prior to the start of the season few could have predicted that Snodgrass would have been one of the first names on the team sheet come March. This was understandable given Manuel Pellegrini had just bolstered his ranks with Pablo Fornals, adding to the more alluring and cosmopolitan names of Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko.
Even Michail Antonio’s position was under threat. But alongside Snodgrass, the duo have dispelled preconceptions that a heavy price tag equates to regular, eye-catching performances and a guaranteed starting berth.
When West Ham first signed Snodgrass from Hull City in January 2017, they were hovering around mid-table and experiencing a number of teething issues in their maiden campaign at the London Stadium. The £10m signing from a relegation-threatened side didn’t exactly scream ‘next level’, as was prophesied upon leaving Upton Park for Stratford, but on paper the Glaswegian appeared tidy business.
What actually ensued was catastrophic for West Ham, however. Snodgrass was seemingly used as a scapegoat to deter fan unrest. Having only managed two assists and no goals between January 2017 and the end of that season, he was sent out on loan to Aston Villa in the Championship, with Marko Arnautovic brought in to offer greater firepower.
As we now know, the 2017/18 season proved detrimental for the Hammers as talisman Dimitri Payet forced a move back to Marseille and Slaven Bilic was given the chop, David Moyes stepping in for the first of two rescue jobs.
During that time those in charge at West Ham took the rather unsavoury approach of publicly criticising the acquisition of Snodgrass, much to the dissatisfaction of those on the terraces, and naturally, the player himself. Not least because Snodgrass was still on the books.
Across his spell at Villa Park – which yielded seven goals and 14 assists as the club reached the play-off final – Snodgrass was exceptional, But instead of praising the loanee, West Ham’s polarising owner, David Sullivan, went on record to ridicule his own signing of the midfielder.
“I’m very involved with physically bringing in the players,’ he told The Guardian in December 2017.
“I’m not involved in the strategy. The manager says he wants Fonte from Southampton and Snodgrass from Hull. My kids begged me not to sign them.”
Everyone tagging me in this like your all suprised 😂
Thanks for your support
MR CHAIRMAN 👍🙈 https://t.co/XZAr9rfTsC
— Robert snodgrass (@robsnodgrass7) December 8, 2017
In that same month vice-chairman Karren Brady also wrote in her column for The Sun: “Robert Snodgrass wasn’t exactly a triumph.”
The nature of these comments pushed disillusioned fans further toward the precipice and raised one or two eyebrows. And with that, Snodgrass’ career at West Ham appeared all but over and a move to Villa in the summer seemed a foregone conclusion.
However, fast forward to March 2020 and not only has Snodgrass resurrected his West Ham career, proving indispensable this season, but he is even one of the favourites to scoop the club’s Hammer of the Year award.
His grit, determination and bite have been crystallised in the consciousness of each and every West Ham fan, who want nothing more than a willingness to fight for the cause. In that sense he is an emblematic West Ham player and has certainly silenced the naysayers.
For all his faults in other areas of play, his heart-on-sleeve attitude has made him a fan favourite, and a manager’s dream. He has outshone the expensive Brazilian Anderson, the mercurial Argentine Lanzini and the creative Spaniard Fornals.
That he sits above all three is testament to his work rate and a desire to dig deep. West Ham fans love a maverick, make no mistake, but Snodgrass’ simplicity as a professional and no-nonsense attitude far transcend the moments of brilliance conjured up by past soloists.
Snodgrass is something of a throwback winger, but his versatility allows him to operate in numerous roles across the pitch, either in the No. 10 position or even as an auxiliary central midfielder, while his dead-ball exploits are up there with the very best.
Thus far Snodgrass has created more chances than any West Ham player in the Premier League this season (33), set up more chances from set pieces (25), registered more assists (five) and delivered more successful crosses (39). He has also scored the second-most goals (five).
So, to say he is important to Moyes would be a huge understatement. In the past four league games, he has been involved in four goals.
In an age where flamboyant haircuts, on-field theatrics and ‘highlight reel’ tricks have found commonplace in the modern game, there is something almost inspiring about Snodgrass’ modest demeanour on the turf and a willingness to put in the hard yards.
If West Ham are to have any hope of surviving this season, then it will be in no small part down to the relentless exploits of Snodgrass, a man who went from the periphery to the front of the queue.