West Ham United are the Ross Kemp of football – an almost universal figure of ridicule among the general public because of a tendency to take themselves far, far too seriously.
While this may be a touch harsh on the thinking man’s Danny Dyer, a quick look through the Hammers’ transfer history suggests this is an astute observation for the east London club. It’s a peculiarly English trait to snigger at the failures of the ambitious.
West Ham have become known as a graveyard for talent – promising players lured to the capital by the prospect of jellied eels, pretty bubbles and Westfield Shopping Centre quickly become shadows of their former selves.
Alongside this, it seems as if the club are a magnet for every injured, overpaid and ageing footballer in Christendom.
However, there have been a few proverbial roses in the thorn bush. Here, we’ve rank the Hammers’ 20 most expensive Premier League signings from worst to best.
Signed during West Ham’s Icelandic spending spree in 2007, Kieron Dyer was reunited with best friend Lee Bowyer in what must have been a harmonious dressing room. Somehow still an England international at this point, Dyer had his leg broken during an August League Cup tie at Bristol Rovers and missed the rest of the season.
He proceeded to play 30 games in four years, without ever threatening to score, while pocketing £70,000 a week. He joined QPR after relegation, only to be stretchered off on his debut for them.
Admittedly, there’s still time for the brooding Frenchman to turn his fortunes around. With Velcro-like chest control, Haller initially seemed an astute signing last season until Roberto arrived in goal to torpedo the club’s form.
However, seven goals in all competitions places him firmly into expensive foreign flop territory. Anybody who makes Troy Deeney appear Aguero-like deserves to be no higher on this list.
Impressive during his time at Swansea, the Ghanaian was injured on his West Ham debut and produced a miss against Liverpool from practically on the goal-line. He returned to south Wales after 18 months and both parties agreed never to speak of this experience again.
An enigmatic attacker, with a history of inconsistency, Felipe Anderson seemed born to represent the Irons. Brilliant over Christmas during Pellegrini’s first season, the Brazilian proceeded to vanish thereafter.
Signed to take West Ham to the next level, Anderson belongs in a David Moyes squad like cheese belongs on a roast dinner.
Signed after impressing at the 2014 World Cup for Ecuador, Valencia scored a genuine screamer on his debut at Hull and combined with Diafra Sakho to spearhead West Ham’s unlikely Champions League push under Sam Allardyce, a campaign that predictably ended with the Hammers nestled in the bottom half.
Apart from one outstanding free-kick at Bournemouth and a double against Manchester City, its hard to remember anything else about Valencia’s time at the club.
Rather than awful, the striker was slightly forgettable in the manner of Ellie Goulding’s music career.
West Ham fans got very excited when Fornals produced a rabona assist for Spain in the 2019 European Under-21 Championships, but he has not come close to threatening a repeat in east London, although he scored at Anfield when West Ham briefly put the cat amongst the pigeons against unbeaten Liverpool.
Seemingly more graft than guile, Fornals has the childlike rosy cheeks and the most stereotypically Spanish facial hair imaginable. While looks can be deceptive, this cannot strike fear into the hearts of Premier League defenders.
For a player raised in Ukraine, Yarmolenko seems particularly averse to the English winter. This means he is typically world-class for six matches before an injury in October keeps him out until the following spring.
Like a karaoke version of Arjen Robben, Yarmolenko’s one trick involves him cutting in from the right to score with his left foot. Hilariously, this was enough to secure the double over Frank Lampard’s Chelsea last season, and he still has time to improve.
It must take all of Issa Diop’s self-control to stop himself charging about the field with the enthusiasm of a soldier at the Battle of the Somme. Then again, much the same was said about Rio Ferdinand when he wore the claret and blue.
The young defender was excellent during his debut season and managed to pop up with the occasional goal. Still only 23, it is not hard to imagine Diop thriving in a better team, but the jury is still out about his impact at West Ham.
It must have been a culture shock for the decorated Mexican, former employee of Manchester United and Real Madrid, to play on the wing to accommodate Andy Carroll.
Despite this, Hernandez fleetingly demonstrated his poacher’s ability in front of goal and scored a respectable 16 goals for the Hammers.
He was sold after netting at Brighton in August 2019 to be replaced by Albian Ateji, a decision that proves West Ham are a club where the lunatics run the asylum.
Injured during most of this first season, Bellamy burst into life under the management of Gianfranco Zola. Briefly forming a prolific partnership with Carlton Cole, Bellamy scored twice during a Boxing Day thrashing of Portsmouth and followed this with a thumping effort against former club Newcastle.
Naturally, this momentary happiness was short-lived. In January 2009, Bellamy joined newly-rich Manchester City and West Ham reinvested the money in the hilariously bad Savio Nsereko.
He only scored seven goals for the club but ranks mid-table here for what might have been.
Despite having the air of a man who could quote entire episodes of The Inbetweeners, Jarrod Bowen has made a positive impact since his January 2020 arrival from Hull City.
Scoring a clipped effort during a crucial home win over Southampton and terrorising the Arsenal defence the week after, Bowen added some industry to a lackadaisical attack and helped ensure West Ham’s survival last season.
Signed by Slaven Bilic in 2015, Ogbonna has been a steady presence in West Ham’s perennially leaky defence.
The Italian’s most memorable moment was scoring an extra-time winner against Liverpool in an FA Cup replay in 2016, a goal which he celebrated in the bashful manner of a reluctant dad dancing at his daughter’s wedding.
He was arguably West Ham’s player of the season last year and is approaching true club stalwart status.
Memorably asked what position he played by Slaven Bilic on his debut, Snodgrass was given the unenviable task of replacing Dimitri Payet in January 2017. Loaned out to Aston Villa six months later, the Scot returned thereafter to cement his place in the squad.
Judged on his own merits, Snodgrass is a useful player to have around with a devilish set-piece delivery. West Ham have done a lot worse.
After being injured on his debut (notice a trend developing here?), Matthew Upson established himself as West Ham’s first-choice centre-back during a fallow period for the club.
However, Upson’s form at Upton Park was enough to earn himself a place in England’s World Cup squad. Unfortunately, the year was 2010 and Upson spent the tournament compensating for John Terry’s crab-like athleticism.
While a decent centre-half, Upson’s captaincy skills were best summarised by the widespread belief that Scott E. Parker wore the armband at West Ham.
Another whose injuries have derailed his career, Manuel Lanzini is currently a shadow of his former self and has suffered the indignity of being put up for sale by West Ham.
However, the Argentine ranks highly here because of his pre-injury form. Lanzini initially formed a delicious attacking partnership with Dimitri Payet, a real antidote to the custard-like football seen under Sam Allardyce.
Unlike his team-mate, Manuel stayed loyal to West Ham and scored eight goals in 2016-17, winning the Players’ Player of the Year award.
Friend of Lionel Messi, Lanzini would have started for Argentina at the 2018 World Cup before a pre-tournament injury saw him ruled out for nine months, and he’s contributed fitfully ever since.
Time will remember him fondly, if only for scoring the winner against Tottenham in May 2017 that denied them the title.
The most West Ham signing imaginable, in that he spent more time in the treatment room than on the pitch. Rumour has it Jack Wilshere was signed solely to keep Big Andy company.
However, Carroll would also be unplayable precisely twice a season. Possessing the energy of a one-man mosh pit, Carroll would charge about the pitch causing similar chaos to a police horse who has had a cigarette stubbed out on its behind.
The easy puns mask a footballer capable of genuine quality. Fond memories include a unique shapeshifting goal at Swansea in January 2015, a marauding hat-trick against late-Wenger Arsenal in 2016 and his table-football like overhead kick against Crystal Palace in 2017.
Despite being more absent than Boris Johnson, Carroll was often the difference between relegation and survival during his time at West Ham. Just a shame his limbs were made of pasta.
The gangly Czech has already become a fan favourite after signing from Slavia Prague in January 2020. Lethal from set-pieces, Soucek has injected some presence into a previously moribund midfield. If West Ham do get relegated this season, it won’t be because they’re not tall enough.
He also scored crucial goals against Chelsea, Newcastle and Watford post-Restart that helped keep West Ham up, becoming a much desired bargain option on Fantasy Football as a result.
Probably the most bittersweet inclusion here, Ashton was brilliant upon arriving from Norwich City in January 2006, spearheading West Ham’s run to the FA Cup final under Alan Pardew.
Both strong and quick, Deano scored twice in the quarter-final win at Manchester City and bagged a goal in the heart-breaking loss against Liverpool in Cardiff.
Poised to be the centrepiece of Steve McClaren’s England revolution, Ashton was scythed down by an errant Shaun Wright-Phillips tackle in training and never fully recovered.
He did manage to score a sensational overhead kick at Old Trafford in May 2008 – but in true West Ham style, they were already 3-0 down at the time.
Retired in 2009 aged only 26, it will never be known just how good Dean Ashton would have been.
In the calendar year of 2018, there were few better Premier League strikers than Marko Arnautovic.
The Austrian had the permanent facial expression of a man who has microwaved the family cat but was transformed into something approaching a prolific striker under Moyes, then Pellegrini.
He scored 21 goals in his two seasons with the club, becoming the first West Ham player to hit double figures in a single campaign since Bobby Zamora in 2006-07.
Arnautovic was unable to resist the lure of Chinese money in the summer of 2019, but not before releasing a declaration of loyalty to the club on Twitter. Delivered in a side-splittingly monotone voice, it was possible to believe Arnautovic was being held hostage by Phil Mitchell.
In a sea of injury-prone ineptitude, there was only ever going to be one winner. A real throwback of an attacking midfielder, the signing of Dimitri Payet from Marseille in 2015 is proof that even broken clocks are right twice a day.
During his debut season, Payet became the archetypal ‘streets will never forget’ player, providing the quality and end product not seen in east London since the days of Paolo Di Canio.
The free-kick against Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final seemed a real moment of hope for West Ham’s success-starved fanbase. While the Hammers went on to lose, Payet scored an even better free-kick against Crystal Palace weeks later that defied the laws of phsyics.
Of course it all ended acrimoniously, with Payet defecating all over his West Ham legacy from the height of the Eiffel Tower and returning to Marseille. However, for one year only, West Ham had one of the world’s form players in their team and dared to dream. And dreaming is what football is all about.
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