Is the lack of creativity hindering the Hammers?


Looking through our current crop of players, there is a distinct lack of creativity, expression and intelligence; basically we lack a playmaker. Playmakers are players who dictate play, find space and create chances, they can often transform a team from mediocre, to title challengers. As the modern game evolves, playmakers are becoming the most important players in a team and often an opposition’s main objective is to try and stop them.

Playmakers can play in various positions. Most commonly, they play in the middle of the park, where they can be utilised fully and take control of a game. Central playmakers come under two main categories; deep-lying playmakers and attacking or advanced playmakers. Deep lying playmakers are players who create a link between the defence and midfield, who often drop back into space to gain possession and look to play penetrating passes to forward players, but also has the freedom to roam forward and join attacking moves. The primary example of a deep-lying playmaker would be Xabi Alonso, but closer to home, the most coveted deep-lying playmaker is Luka Modric. As painful as it is for Hammers fans to admit, but Tottenham are playing some of the best football in the Premier League and it is no coincidence that their great form coincides with the Croatian’s growth into one of the best midfielders in the world. Arguably, Modric is a more attacking midfielder, but he mainly plays centrally, slightly more advanced than a classic deep-lying playmaker as he is supported by a defensive central midfielder, which allows him to roam further forward in the attempt to create opportunities. An attacking playmaker is a player who can occupy a forward role and often exploits the space between the opposition’s midfield and the defence. The primary example being David Silva, who has 12 assists this season and has been Manchester City’s best player.

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Playmakers do not just play for the best clubs in the highest leagues though, as we have seen Peter Whittingham create many chances this season for Cardiff, shown by his 11 assists this season, joint top with Chris Burke and Robert Snodgrass. Whittingham didn’t have a good game against the Hammers last week, but has been a key part of Cardiff’s team this season. In the assist table, the highest West Ham player is Matthew Taylor, who is joint 17th with 6 assist, most of these coming from dead ball situations. What Whittingham does so effectively is ‘play between the lines’. What this means is that he often pops up in-between the oppositions line of midfielders and defenders. It causes a dilemma for defenders, as they don’t know whether to come towards him and mark him, or drop off. Either way, it creates space for players to exploit.


Playmakers are not only confined to playing centrally, as many teams rely on their wide players to act as playmakers. A winger playing as the primary playmaker however has more freedom to roam inside looking for space. Wingers in the modern game have changed dramatically, as no longer are they players who go to straight for the by-line and put in a cross, but they often play on the other side, so that they can cut in onto their stronger side. The evolution of the modern winger also creates space for overlapping full backs to gallop forward and exploit the space when a wide playmaker has come inside. As for wide playmakers, Manchester United have them in abundance. The likes of Nani and Ashley Young epitomise the new style of wingers, who can cut inside and roam for space far from the touchline. Add this to Wayne Rooney’s Trequartista style, where he often drops off from the front line of attack to pick up possession often as far back as the holding midfielders, there are spaces to exploit all over the pitch and Manchester United are so clinical in attacking positions.

Looking through our team, none of our players seem to fit the playmaker role. There is a very strong core of players in the West Ham side which we can be very excited about. The likes of Noble, Tomkins, Collison and Nolan are good quality players, however none of them have that creative spark to create a chance out of nothing. However we may well see Collison regain some of the form that saw him being voted ‘Young Hammer of the Year 2009’ but he has been hampered by injuries and his playing style seems to have changed so that he is playing deeper, or as a left sided midfielder, where he struggles slightly, as he is not gifted with pace. Whether he could fill the playmaker void remains to be seen.

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The last time we had a playmaker at Upton Park was back when Yossi Benayoun was in the side. He was signed by Alan Pardew to ‘open the door when teams sit deep’ and that is exactly what he did. He had two very successful seasons with the Hammers, where he scored 8 goals, including a wonderful goal against Tottenham in a 2-1 win in 2006. Benayoun often played out left and cut inside, which is something that we have not seen for a while at Upton Park. Following the arrival of Sam Allardyce, Stanislas was sold and Barrera was loaned out; creativity was nowhere to be found.


Despite Allardyce’s tactics, he loves a playmaker. This is obvious when you look back at some of his signings, most obvious is Jay-Jay Okocha. He was brought in (for free might I add) by Allardyce in 2002 and added flair to a predominantly ‘Long ball’ side. His invention and creativity gave Bolton another edge. The midfielder (so good that they named him twice) scored vital goals for Bolton in his first season, including goal of the season and he also led Bolton to the final of the 2004 Carling Cup. Okocha was one of those players who could make you smile, which essentially I believe is the sole purpose of football. His dribbling skills made him a Premier League legend, made opposition fans stand up and applaud and helped establish Bolton as a Premier League team.

So what about West Ham? Well we need a playmaker and we need one quick. The January signing of Ravel Morrison showed some intent from Sam. Morrison is a creative midfielder, who recently scored twice for the development side. The young midfielder could be the answer to the current woes, adding some creative flair to a mechanical side and help the Hammers win promotion back to the premier League. Well it’s worth a try? With our current crop, it would be ideal to bring Morrison into the side, but during the summer, Sam needs to get scouting for some creativity. Whether it comes from a winger, or from a deep-lying or attacking central midfielder, it will make a huge difference to a side that lacks an inventive edge.

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I will end with a quote from the Rinus Michels, who was named coach of the century in 1999, won the European cup with Ajax and took the Dutch National team to a World Cup final in 1974, which is apt to the situation. “It is an art in itself to compose a starting team, finding the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence, construction and attack”. Time to find the balance Sam.

Who do you think we should sign to fill the playmaker void? Tweet me @TollyCoburn

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  • Legends says:

    Very good article. I like it.
    I was disheartened when we let Stanislas go. He looked like a good attacking prospect and someone we could have done with now (esp now Vaz Te is out), he made mistakes but so did Rio when he was with us. And I don’t remember Kevin Keen as being so strong defensively but going forward, drifting in across field and sliding in delicate through balls, he was very effective and great to watch. Stanislas wasn’t a Keen but he could have become one, and therefore a useful player to still have.

    But going back to your article, I would like to suggest that 1 playmaker is not enough. It isn’t for Barcelona or Man U, and it shouldn’t be for West Ham.
    Yes, we need 1 playmaker centrally to pick out (with weighted forward passes) the runs of the strikers and the wingers. E.g. Scholes, Modric, Pirlo, Iniesta. But we also need our wingers to be playmakers to beat their man, to cross consistently and accurately, to set up oncoming midfielders, to score goals. E.g. Giggs, Bale, Nani, Robben.

    I would like to see WH building a future around Collison and Noble, holding the centre midfield together. When 1 goes, the other stays to protect the back four. They would be the glue .. Then 1 playmaker in front of them, and 2 quality “playmaker wingers”. And 1 energetic intelligent goalscorer.

    You decide if we have the players to fill those roles going into the premier league and wanting to qualify for europe?

    Against Leeds i’d go with – collison, nolan morisson noble, taylor with maynard up front.

  • fred says:

    good read, glad you picked out benayoun, totally agree that since he left weve been lacking a player with similar attributes.

    vaz te looks like he may be a bit of a flair player but not sure if he has the intelligence to make things happen often enough.

    lets hope morrison is the answer…..

  • TCoburn says:

    Thanks for the positive comments.

    I totally agree with your point that only having one playmaker would not be enough. If you look throughout the Man U team, they have so much creativity going forward, with the likes of Rooney, playing as a trequartista, as well as Nani and Young who are both very creative wingers and they have Carrick playing as a deep lying playmaker, with Cleverly coming through the ranks.

    You look at the Swansea team this season too. They have proved that it is possible to play possession football without superstars, but they have affordable playmakers, with the likes of Allen and Britton holding and Sigurdsson who they signed on loan has been sensational for them since he signed. So in my mind, bringing in playmakers wouldn’t necessarily be expensive.

    I agree with you about Noble and Collison also, I think that they are players who understand each other well and could work very well alongside each other, quite like Britton and Allen, with an advanced playmaker playing in front of those two.

    I certainly hope that the lack of creativity doesn’t spoil our hopes of promotion this season.

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