In a recent ‘Cuppa Tea’ liveshow, Gonzo spoke at length about the changing of the guard that is in place at West Ham United. A new manager invariably marks a period of change and upheaval, but rarely does it signify the wholesale restructuring of a club’s footballing ethos and identity. The appointment of Manuel Pellegrini is expected to sweep a reformist mood around the club. It is highly likely that 2018/19 will be a season where our Premier League opposition will be unsure of what to make of us, because – for the first time in what seems like an eternity – we will be playing passing football on the front-foot. 

Marlon Santos – A Symbol. 

Regardless of whether we sign, Barcelona centre-half, Marlon Santos or not – our interest in the Brazilian defender can be perceived as a symbol of changing expectations. At just 5’10 in stature, Santos is a diminutive defender by Premier League standards. Equally, Santos isn’t extraordinarily strong to compensate and his jumping reach isn’t in excess of what you would typically expect from a centre-back. 

Santos made 27 appearances last season, while on loan with Nice, and was selected predominantly as a centre-back, although was used sporadically at right-back. Averaging 1.5 tackles, 0.7 interceptions and 2.5 clearances per game – it would be fair to argue that Santos didn’t have the most overwhelming influence over a Nice defence that conceded 52 times in 38 matches.  

Nice had the option to buy Santos at the end of his loan for an alleged €20 million, but ultimately decided not to exercise that clause in his loan agreement.  

You would perhaps be forgiven for questioning why we would want to sign a player he has a history of making fewer blocks, interceptions and tackles than James Collins – a player we have just released from his contract in the name of “progress”. 

If you are, indeed, a doubter of the merits of this possible £15 million pound transfer just give me a chance to teach you of the other side of the argument.  

Marlon Santos is exactly the type of defender that we should be trying to sign while under Pellegrini’s management for three reasons. 

  1. At only 21 years-old, Santos is a young player with a high level of potential. 

  2. One of the biggest criticisms of our defence last season was his lack of pace, Santos goes someway to rectify that
  3. Passing. Marlon Santos is absolutely superb at retaining possession, and – with more nurturing – has the potential to be brilliant at starting attacks from deep. 

Last season, Santos averaged just 2.9 long passes per game – while Dante, the ageing Brazilian who was often picked as his defensive partner, averaged over 5 long passes per game. Attempting only three long passes per game is perhaps not that an impressive stat, given it offers no insight as to how often these risky passes were completed. 

During his debut Ligue 1 campaign, Santos made – on average – 61 passes per game, 94.6% of which were executed perfectly and found their target. From what I saw of Nice last season (I try to catch as much European football as possible), they were a side that liked to play short passes and possession based football – often trying to release one of Mario Balotelli or Alassane Plea in the half-spaces. 

Whether or not Marlon Santos is the man that we sign as we try to remould our defensive unit, the fact that we are seriously pursuing him as a target is a sign of content from Pellegrini and, our freshly-appointed Director of Football, Mario Husillos. Marlon Santos is a symbol of hope to the footballing purists among us: if you have been screaming for the “West Ham Way” to be restored, Marlon Santos is probably the man for you.  

Breathe Easy, Rice Stays. 

An area of discussion that has arisen since our interest in Santos reached the press was in relation to how any potential defensive signings could act as a barrier to the progression of Declan Rice, Reece Oxford and Reece Burke. Personally, I would argue that we needn’t worry about the progression of Declan Rice: his performance in central midfield in the Republic of Ireland’s 2-1 victory over the United States is just the most recent indication of his tremendous talent. We absolutely need to award Rice with a new contract, and I honestly believe that the rest will take care of himself with him. Frankly, he is too valuable to us in the long-term not to be a substantial part of Pellegrini’s plans. 

Reece Oxford’s future at West Ham is a topic of less certainty. The Club would probably argue that he has behaved appallingly, while Oxford would claim that the Club has treated him terribly. Stalemates of that kind aren’t conducive with certainty – but I expect that there is a place for him at West Ham if he wants it, so long as any offers that do come in aren’t too tempting a carrot for the board and Pellegrini.  

Reece Burke, along with Sam Byram and Josh Cullen, looks destined for the exit door – but that would likely depend on our ability to sign suitable replacements whom improve our squad. 

Bright Days Ahead? 

For the first time since our final season at Upton Park, I am genuinely excited for the new season. If we are able to sign the right players, build a system that accentuates their strengths and turn the London Stadium into the fortress we were promised a top-half finish beckons… Although I trust swashbuckling football and our yearly dosage of boardroom hilarity will test just how complicated it is to find a winning formula in the Premier League. 

 Written By Luke James

Jon Pope

By Jon Pope

Use to sit in the BML for 10 years, been a West Ham fan all my life, and my great grandfather was a founder member of the TIW. I also help run the Hammer Chat website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.