Marko Arnautovic wants to leave West Ham following a reported £45m offer from Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG.
The Austrian forward has been the subject of fervent interest from the Far East during this transfer window and a bid in the region of £30m from Shanghai SIPG was rejected last week.
The offer sparked a public fall-out between player and club as Arnautovic’s agent – his brother, Danijel – told the press of his client’s desire to leave east London.
West Ham emphatically denied that he was for sale at any price. However, Shanghai SIPG are now reportedly ramping up their interest and are set to table an offer of around £45m for the 29-year-old, who appeared to gesture a farewell wave to West Ham fans during the club’s 1-0 win against Arsenal over the weekend.
Should the aforementioned bid transpire, the Hammers could find themselves with a substantial amount of cash to play around with. However, it should be noted that Stoke City would reportedly receive 20 per cent of any future sell-on profit; they agreed to pay the Potters up to around £25m for Arnautovic in 2017, meaning the lowest amount they would receive (excluding agent fees and so on) would be in the region of £41m.
But assuming the owners give Manuel Pellegrini freedom to spend, where could his reinvest?
1. A marquee acquisition
(Maxi Gomez, Pablo Fornals)
West Ham fans love a talisman, someone who immediately endears themselves to those on the terraces; a cult figure who they cherish and adore, and there have been some notable names over the years: Paolo Di Canio, Carlos Tevez and Dimitri Payet are a few who spring to mind, but now they have Arnautovic.
So, should the mercurial striker part company, then the Hammers faithful will need a new creative and rough-around-the-edges hero to look up to. Step up, La Liga duo Pablo Fornales and Maxi Gomez.
Both players are incredibly talented and have been linked with much bigger names than West Ham – Barcelona are one such club reportedly courting the coveted creators – but they already boast a plethora of attacking riches and may have their eyes on bigger targets.
West Ham would like to consider themselves a big player in one of the continent’s elite leagues. With such lofty aspirations comes the need to walk the walk and convince Europe’s finest talents to join.
The question then is, are the Villarreal and Celta Vigo stars out of the Hammers’ reach? Most likely, but the club have been no strangers to pulling off an incredible coup over the years. Just look at their two of their former heroes (Tevez and Payet).
One of the biggest selling points would undoubtedly be Pellegrini, who carries an aura of grandeur given his previous achievements in the game as well as his style of play; Felipe Anderson may not have opted for West Ham were David Moyes still in charge.
Fornals is a highly creative midfielder and would offer a unique technical verve that would complement the likes of Anderson and Samir Nasri, while Gomez would offer a devastating goalscoring threat in the final third – if West Ham want to show ambition, signing one or both of these guys would represent big statements of intent.
2. Central midfield reinforcements
(Amadou Diawara, Bruno Fernandes, Jonjo Shelvey)
With Jack Wilshere out injured and Pedro Obiang’s future precarious, West Ham will need central midfield options to bolster their chances of reaching a European qualification spot this season, and possibly a domestic cup title.
The rise of Declan Rice has been one of the major success stories of Pellegrini’s short reign in east London, but the 20-year-old will need a more creative and imposing outlet alongside him if he is to truly flourish in the Premier League.
Mark Noble has proven a technically able and shrewd central midfielder over the years, and his composure is clearly helping Rice thrive alongside him, but the club’s skipper will be 32 come the end of the campaign, and Pellegrini will certainly have central midfield suitors on his mind.
One name linked with a move to West Ham is Napoli enforcer Amadou Diawara, who has found playing time scarce at the San Paolo Stadium since the summer appointment of Carlo Ancelotti.
The departure of Jorginho should have paved the way for a more influential role for Diawara, but Allan and Marek Hamsik have proven hard to displace; the Guinea international would have no such problem at West Ham, and he could form a formidable acquaintanceship with Rice.
Another name being bandied about in some quarters of east London is Newcastle midfielder Shelvey. The temperamental England international was born a stone’s throw away from West Ham’s old stomping ground Upton Park and would certainly reintroduce a brutish nature to the pitch evocative of Arnautovic.
It would be a gamble given his previous attitude problems, but then so was Arnautovic, and Pellegrini comes across as the sort of no-nonsense manager who has the propensity to get the best out of wayward players.
Elsewhere, Sporting Lisbon have recovered after enduring a tumultuous season last time out, but one player who has been consistently linked with a move away is vice-captain Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese international has been rumoured to be in the crosshairs of more lucrative names, but West Ham will feel they are a more alluring destination than they have been in the past.
3. A lower league punt
West Ham have been plagued by injury problems this season, specifically to their more creative stars: Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko and Wilshere are all currently suffering long-term injuries.
Lanzini is the club’s habitual No. 10, while Wilshere has been deployed further forward on the few occasions he has featured this season. But with both absent, Pellegrini has largely entrusted that role to Robert Snodgrass.
The Scotland international has received widespread adulation for his resurgence and has been instrumental to his Chilean coach this season, but he certainly lacks the flair and pace of a player in the mould of Lanzini.
And so, one player who could go along way too alleviating that creative frustration is Blackburn playmaker Dack, who has continued to impress in Lancashire, netting double digits in consecutive seasons, while simultaneously alerting some of the top-flight’s elite.
West Ham reportedly lodged a bid for James Maddison in the winter window last season but failed to follow up on their interest after Norwich rejected their initial offer, and so, they may not want to miss out on another potential star from the Championship this time around.
The Londoner has previously described his style of play as reminiscent of that of Frank Lampard, and given how well playmakers have prospered under the tutelage of Pellegrini over the years – even Samir Nasri’s performance at the weekend suggested he’s still got it – Dack would be in good hands.
4. A long-term goalkeeper
Lukasz Fabianski has been a revelation since relocating to London, and has even been tipped to clinch the coveted ‘Hammer of the Year’ award come the end of the season, such has been his brilliance between the sticks, but the Pole turns 34 in just a few months time and Pellegrini may be keen to find a long-term gloveman.
We know ‘keepers can stay at the top of their game well into their 30s, some even peak during their twilight years, and while Fabianski is showing no signs of slowing down, West Ham may want to explore the possibility of signing Stoke ‘keeper Butland.
The 25-year-old was in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man England squad for the World Cup and is proven at Premier League level; given Stoke’s current predicament, Butland may want to seek an exit to reaffirm his status as an England international.
It may prove unfair on Fabianski, who has been one of West Ham’s best players this season, if not the best. But given the going rate for a top-class goalkeeper these days, West Ham might want to consider signing a proven shot-stopper who would cost a reduced fee. Though it is unlikely he’ll come cheap – just look at Jordan Pickford.