This summer has seen yet another striker unveiled in the claret and blue of West Ham, as the club announced Javier Hernandez’s return to English football. At £16 million, the 96-cap Mexican seems to be a bargain compared to many other signings made in the summer of 2017.
Hammers fans are salivating at the prospect of their own baby-faced assassin, remembering the Little Pea’s goal-scoring exploits in the red of Manchester United between 2010 and 2014. Neutrals also hope he can make an impact – I know of a few people who have been waiting for the deal to be completed so that they can stick him straight into their fantasy football teams.
But some are wary of placing too much expectation on the striker. For one, no longer is he baby-faced, now a 29-year-old who is running out of time to prove he is can be a top striker in Europe. But, more troublingly, it is well documented that Hernandez becomes the 33rd striker signed by co-owners Gold and Sullivan since January 2010, and that 20 of those strikers have failed to score more than three goals for the club. Amongst those strikers were some recognisable names: Benni McCarthy, Robbie Keane Nikica Jelavic and Simone Zaza were all proven strikers who failed to break the three-goal mark for the Hammers.
The story of Zaza’s spell at the club last season should inspire particular concern from those wishing Chicharito well. Zaza joined in the summer of 2016, to much fanfare, for a €5 million loan fee from Juventus. A promising Italian international, Zaza had consistently found the net in Serie A with Sassuolo and Juventus. Having missed a crucial penalty for Italy at Euro 2016, the move to the Premier League should have been a chance to kick-start the next stage of his career. However, after 8 league appearances and 0 goals, Zaza returned to Italy. A loan spell at Valencia for the second half of the season saw a return of 6 goals from 18 La Liga matches, sealing a permanent move this summer. The issue was not Zazza. It was West Ham.
It should not be ignored that the only sides that enjoyed fewer touches in the opposition box last season than West Ham were West Brom and Burnley. Michail Antonio top scored for the Hammers last season with 9 goals, his ability to score goals increasingly proven at the top level. What we have to recognise is that the Hammers did not just lack a decent present in the box, they lacked a decent supply to the players there.
But undoubtedly that lack of quality of supply is exacerbated by the lack of a top-quality striker: maybe a decent goal-poacher is the missing piece of the West Ham puzzle? If the Hammers continue to get few touches in the box, then a poacher with a high percentage of shot conversion would surely help.
If that is the case, then is Javier Hernandez the missing piece? In his first 3 seasons at Man Utd the striker reached double figures in the league, but after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson fell out of favour. In the 2013-14 season Hernandez only scored 4 goals from 21 shots in 24 league appearances, his shot conversion rate dropping to below 20%. This lead to a high-profile loan move to Real Madrid, where Chicharito also struggled for game time, scoring 7 goals from 30 shots in 23 league games. In each of those 2 seasons the Mexican managed less than 900 minutes of action – a signal that he would struggle for playing time at a top club.
It was following those two seasons that Chicharito moved to Germany and Bayer Leverkusen in order to get more frequent playing time. The move paid off and 17 goals from 28 games followed in Hernandez’s first season. The Mexican’s second season was a relative disappointment, with 11 goals from 26 games.
Reaching double figures in an injury-disrupted season may not seem like a bad achievement, particularly as the Hammers did not have a single player reach that milestone last season. However, Chicharito’s all-important shot conversion was down and his increased injury-proneness could be a bad sign. Is there a risk that the Mexican goal-scorer is passed his peak? The answer is not yet clear. For this transfer to be a success, that is not good enough. West Ham need a consistent striker if they are to improve on their position last season: Andy Carroll already holds the position of disappointing potential star in their squad.
While this gamble may not appear too expensive in terms of fee, the club-record wages afforded to Hernandez mean that the club could be doing more damage than splurging cash on one expensive fee. What the Hammers could be doing is spiralling the wage demands of potential stars: £140,000-a-week on this striker means that if Hernandez is another flop, the club may have to pay even higher to a more consistently proven goal-scorer.
It is undeniable that Hernandez comes with pedigree. But whether he can be the kind of player who takes a club like West Ham to the next level is left to be seen.
All stats provided by Opta.