Football Features

Who is West Ham’s most ‘West Ham signing’ in the Premier League era?

By Ben Green

West Ham transfer history: Who is the club's most 'typical' signing?

Published: 12:57, 6 December 2020

In football, some signings just feel right. Liverpool and a Southampton player? Of course. Juventus and a world-class freebie? Yes. West Ham and a ‘Big Six’ fringe player? We have a winner.

The Hammers have long harboured ambitions of gatecrashing the ‘Big Six’ party in the Premier League, and with that, have often adopted a transfer strategy of signing from those they seek to join at this exclusive dinner table.

With the history, fanbase and a now highly-gentrified ‘football’ stadium, there is no reason why the Hammers should not be in the conversation when it comes to talk of European football and a top-six ticket.

But, where other clubs break the glass ceiling through an astute transfer policy, shrewd managerial appointments, and a fruitful scouting network, West Ham have often fallen short in all three departments, and a common theme emerges when glancing at their imports during the Premier League era.

What is a ‘West Ham signing’?

In some quarters of the club’s fanbase, the term ‘a West Ham signing’ has entered the vernacular; when looking at a particular transfer rumour, there is an obligatory roll of the eyes and a puff of the cheeks at the predictability of such-and-such being linked.

They usually come in the form of a has-been, ‘Big Six’ cannon fodder or an extremely injury-prone player. Or to paraphrase Zinedine Zidane’s Bentley analogy when Real Madrid replaced Claude Makelele with David Beckham in 2003: “It’s like buying a nice car without an engine.” In other words, prioritising style over substance.

Sometimes they work out; sometimes the experience and prestige of a ‘name’ elevates the dressing room and galvanises the terraces, but more often than not, they simply don’t have the desired effect.

Recent ‘Big Six’ fringe men to be linked with the Hammers include Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard. Make no mistake, both (certainly in Lingard’s case) would improve West Ham in some aspect. Jones, for all his misgivings, is still only 28 and was once dubbed Man Utd’s ‘best-ever’ prospect by Sir Alex Ferguson himself.

Lingard, too, is still only 27 — cue the jokes about him still being a young player with great potential — and would add a great depth of versatility and creativity to the final third for West Ham. But, their transfer strategy over the past two decades or so should function as a cautionary tale when recruiting ‘Big Six’ outcasts. 

History is littered with examples of West Ham signing from the ‘Big Six’, or freebies of previous ‘Big Six’ clubs, only to see those acquisitions fall flat when it becomes apparent they simply cannot recapture their peak years in the claret and blue jersey.

Here, we chronicle the best examples of a ‘West Ham signing’ in the Premier League era, determining whether they were a hit or a miss. Spoiler alert, the misses far outweigh the hits.

The misses

Lucas Perez

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: £4m

Appearances: 15

For the price tag, this looked a promising signing from Arsenal, to herald the start of what was supposed to be a bright new era under Manuel Pellegrini. However, the Spaniard lasted just one season, making four Premier League starts as the Hammers finished 10th in 2018/19, before leaving for Deportivo Alaves.

Jack Wilshere 

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 18

Another through the door from Arsenal to mark Pellegrini’s first transfer window. West Ham certainly knew the risks of signing the injury-prone midfielder, but not having to part with a transfer fee meant they thought it was a risk worth taking. Two seasons later and the 28-year-old made just 16 Premier League appearances due to, you guessed it, injuries. Wilshere is now a free agent.

Samir Nasri

Signed from: Free agent

Appearances: 6

The first of three players on this list with an asterisk. Nasri was not signed directly from a ‘Big Six’ club but certainly joined West Ham because of the reputation he earned at Arsenal and Man City. The Frenchman had just completed a doping ban, has a history of inconsistent performances and was 31 at the time of signing in December 2018. All the warning signs were there. And yet, West Ham pressed on. He made just six appearances before leaving in 2019.

Joe Hart

Signed from: Man City

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 23

Having fallen out of favour with Pep Guardiola but stabilised his reputation with a fruitful loan spell at Torino, West Ham thought they produced a masterstroke when they convinced Premier League-winning goalkeeper Hart to join them in 2017/18. The writing was pretty much on the wall in the opening games, with Hart conceding 10 in his first three appearances before eventually being dropped for Adrian midway through the season.

Patrice Evra

Signed from: Free agent

Appearances: 5

Another like Nasri who joined the club with a ‘Big Six’ reputation having turned out for Manchester United. The left-back was 36 when he signed for West Ham in February 2018 and it certainly showed. He managed just five appearances for the club before leaving that summer.

Alvaro Arbeloa

Signed from: Free agent

Appearances: 4

David Gold and David Sullivan clearly did not learn their lesson from this one. They signed a then 33-year-old Arbeloa on deadline day in the 2016 summer window, with the hope that the 2010 World Cup winner and former Real Madrid and Liverpool full-back could replicate his past glory. However, in the 2016/17 season (his only one for the Hammers) he featured just four times and retired at the end of the campaign.

Andy Carroll

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: £15m

Appearances: 142

Carroll was West Ham’s record signing when they couriered £15m to Anfield in 2013, but his time in east London was blighted by persistent injury problems. On his day, there were few who could match the towering marksman’s presence, but unfortunately for West Ham fans, they didn’t see those days often enough. He had his moments — that memorable hat-trick against Arsenal and his overhead kick versus Crystal Palace — but many will feel he could have transformed the club were it not for those injury setbacks.

Carl Jenkinson

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 59

After an impressive first loan spell (more on that later), Jenkinson returned to the club for their final season at Upton Park under Slaven Bilic. It was a hit season for the Hammers, but Jenkinson struggled for form and fitness.

Marouane Chamakh

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: loan

Appearances: 3

Signed on loan midway through the 2012/13 season, the out-of-form Moroccan continued his dry spell across the M25 under Sam Allardyce, making just three appearances before returning to Arsenal and eventually joining Crystal Palace, where he scored just 10 goals in 66 appearances.

Yossi Benayoun

Signed from: Chelsea

Fee: loan

Appearances: 6

Already a West Ham cult hero, the Israeli trickster rejoined the club on loan in 2012 for the season at 32, but suffered ligament damage in training and returned to Chelsea in December that year. He made just six appearances and never recaptured his previous claret and blue form.

Henri Lansbury

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 24

Joined the club as they hoped to secure promotion to the Premier League under Allardyce in 2011/12. While the Hammers certainly achieved that, Lansbury was a fringe player at best, but will always be remembered for his heroics in goal against Blackpool after Rob Green got sent off at Bloomfield Road.

David Bentley

Signed from: Spurs

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 5

Looked lively when he joined Lansbury through the Upton Park entrance as the club looked to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. But, like many on this list, he suffered an injury setback and returned to Spurs after making just five appearances.

Manuel Almunia

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 4

The Premier League trifecta! Almunia was the third major ‘Big Six’ outcast to join West Ham in the Championship. Brought in as an emergency loan for an injured Green, Almunia made just four appearances before returning to Arsenal. Not really enough time to make a considerable impact.

Robbie Keane

Signed from: Spurs

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 10

Signed to help keep the club afloat under Avram Grant in the January window of 2010/11, Keane scored just two goals as the Hammers were relegated to the Championship in dismal fashion.

Wayne Bridge

Signed from: Man City

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 18

In fairness to Keane and Bridge, West Ham were absolutely atrocious under Grant. The only player who could have held his head high that season was Scott Parker, and possibly Demba Ba. Both left, as did Bridge, who appeared just 15 times in the Premier League and never found comfort playing under the ex-Chelsea boss.

Freddie Ljungberg

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: £4m

Appearances: 26

Joining the club to much fanfare, the Swedish legend was a hit the minute he signed on the dotted line at Upton Park. It almost felt surreal to see an Invincible donning the colours of West Ham, but his spell in east London was exceptionally underwhelming. He too felt the wrath of injury agitations, which largely scuppered his form, and left the club after just one season and two goals.

David Bellion

Signed from: Man Utd

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 10

There was promise that Bellion would make the grade at Old Trafford after signing from Sunderland in 2003, but after joining West Ham it was pretty clear that he would not be able to supplant the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy. He made just 10 appearances under Alan Pardew, mainly from the bench.

Roy Carroll

Signed from: Man Utd

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 35

Signed on a free from Man Utd, the ex-Northern Ireland international never quite established a consistent starting berth at Upton Park and was eventually shuffled out after two seasons as Green emerged as the club’s undisputed No. 1.

Jeremie Aliadiere

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 8

Another promising starlet, the Frenchman joined his young compatriot Bellion at the club in 2005/06, but collectively the pair made just 18 appearances between them and scored one goal.

Luke Chadwick

Signed from: Man Utd

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 36

After leaving Man Utd in 2004 Chadwick joined West Ham for the 2004/05 season. He featured sporadically as the club finished sixth in the Championship and gained promotion via the play-offs, but he was not in the squad for any of those decisive matches and left for Stoke that summer.

Raimond van der Gouw

Signed from: Man Utd

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 0

Having left Old Trafford in 2002 the Dutch ‘keeper joined West Ham on a one-year deal with the option of a second. Well, he featured a total of zero times for the club and left at the end of the 2002/03 season following West Ham’s relegation.

Les Ferdinand

Signed from: Spurs

Fee: Undisclosed fee

Appearances: 14

One of the best finishers on his day West Ham signed the ageing striker hoping some of his goalscoring magic from his heyday would rub off on the club. Unfortunately for the Hammers he netted just two goals and left after 14 appearances and the club’s relegation in 2003.

Rigobert Song

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: £2.5m

Appearances: 28

Earmarked as a replacement for Rio Ferdinand, who joined Leeds United that summer in 2000, Song — cousin of former Arsenal, Barcelona and West Ham midfielder Alex — was not able to replicate the academy gem’s prestigious performances and he left after an underwhelming year and a bit.

Titi Camara 

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: £1.5m

Appearances: 14

Camara also signed from Liverpool with the Ferdinand money, but he too left the club with a whimper, having featured just 14 times and failing to score a single goal.

Davor Suker

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 13

Another glittering name, but one who, like many on this list, failed to recapture his once illustrious glory days. The former Real Madrid man amassed a three-goal haul and moved to 1860 Munich after just a handful of games for the Hammers in 2000/01.

Rob Jones 

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 0

A baffling signing if ever there was one. Jones featured over 200 times for Liverpool and joined West Ham in July 1999. He left one month later and announced his retirement.

Ilie Dumitrescu

Signed from: Spurs

Fee: £1m

Appearances: 10

After impressing in the 1994 World Cup with Romania, Spurs secured Dumitrescu’s services, but the mercurial forward wasn’t quite able to replicate his tournament form in the Premier League. Why Harry Redknapp thought he could help the Romanian rediscover his displays in America is anyone’s guess. He joined West Ham in 1996 but left after just 10 appearances.

The hits

Pablo Zabaleta

Signed from: Man City

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 80

Stalwart, gentleman, legend. The Argentine was never expected to revolutionise West Ham’s backline, but he came in, influenced the dressing room and gave it all on the pitch. It’s a shame his contract has since run out and he couldn’t enjoy his final few Premier League games in front of an adoring crowd. He certainly deserved to go out on a high.

Carl Jenkinson

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: Loan

Appearances: 59

Two separate loan spells with contrasting outcomes. His first temporary stint was a resounding success as he established a starting place under Allardyce. His second was littered with errors and injury problems, but there can be no denying his form in the 2014/15 campaign.

Stewart Downing

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: £5m

Appearances: 79

Joined in the same window as Carroll but not for the same figure. The ex-England international was a talismanic presence for the Hammers in two years at the club, thriving in a central attacking midfield role at one stage, but always a consistent threat from his natural position on the flank.

Joe Cole

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: Free transfer

Appearances: 37

Rejoined the club after a nine-year absence, the slippery winger was an ageing star by the time of his homecoming, but he proved a solid addition to Allardyce’s squad. The 2013/14 campaign was hampered by a few injury setbacks, but by and large, he performed well enough when called upon.

Craig Bellamy

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: £7.5m

Appearances: 26

Having been told he was free to leave Anfield by Rafa Benitez, West Ham snapped up the mercurial forward in 2007. Again injury troubles blighted his time in east London, but when he did turn out he was formidable and looked set for a long career at the club before Man City came knocking and offered £14m.

Carlton Cole

Signed from: Chelsea

Fee: Undisclosed fee

Appearances: 293

A club legend and West Ham to the core, Cole is a fan favourite among the Hammers and the two still share a special bond to this day. He now works with the club’s academy players and can often be spotted on matchday at the London Stadium.

Nigel Winterburn

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: £250k

Appearances: 82

A West Ham signing like no other, Winterburn was 36 by the time the Hammers brought him to the club after an illustrious career at Arsenal. He played for three seasons at the back and scored one goal. The ageing full-back certainly didn’t pull any trees at the club but was solid enough and left after their relegation in 2003.

Neil Ruddock

Signed from: Liverpool

Fee: £300k

Appearances: 56

Ruddock helped the club to their highest top-flight finish in 13 years as West Ham finished fifth in 1998/99, as well as ending a 19-year wait for European football.

Ian Wright

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: £500k

Appearances: 26

Wright was only at West Ham for one full season but he finished the 1998/99 campaign as the club’s top scorer on nine goals, and like Ruddock, helped the club to fifth under Redknapp.

John Hartson

Signed from: Arsenal

Fee: £3.2m

Appearances: 73

One of the best West Ham strikers of the Premier League era, Hartson joined the club after falling down the pecking order at Arsenal and quickly showcased his prolific edge and formidable skills in front of goal.

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