Yossi Benayoun’s loan at West Ham United ended this week, with San Allardyce opting to send the midfielder back to Chelsea due to injury. Having seen very little of the Israeli on his second spell at Upton Park, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce must now weigh up the pro’s and con’s of taking Benayoun on a permenant deal; but is he really worth it?
DISCLAIMER* I understand Yossi has been sent back due to injuries but I’m thinking more in the long run, it is worth it for the club.
Yossi Benayoun joined West Ham from Chelsea on loan on the final day of the transfer window in August after a few weeks of media (and social media) speculation. Liverpool were rumoured to be hovering around looking to take Yossi back on a season long loan, but the player himself came out on Twitter saying: “After a long and busy day I can say I had 3 offers from PL clubs..but not from Liverpool or Arsenal like some reports. But I’m very happy to confirm that I will join on loan to West Ham! I can’t wait to start..great club.”
However, the reception to his arrival was mixed on the West Ham forums and fan sites. While many saw Yossi’s return as the first creative player we had signed since…well…Yossi, many could not rid the air of the stench Yossi left lingering as he departed for Anfield in 2007. Having verbally agreed to a new four year deal with West Ham, Liverpool gazumped the contract offer by offering him less money. Yes, you read that correctly, LESS money. It would seem at the time that Yossi’s love affair with the East End club was all for show, and unfortunately, the Boleyn faithful don’t take well to being used as a stepping stone.
But, off field matters aside, it would be fair to say that Yossi’s previous season, on loan at Arsenal, showed that the Premier League journeyman still had the quality he was remembered for at West Ham, scoring four goals in nineteen appearances, including goals in the Champions League. Could this be the spark of quality West Ham needed this season to keep us in the Premier League?
Well, in a word, no. Yossi Benayoun, in a free-flowing, footballing team will give you that odd moment of genius, to unlock a defence or play the perfect through ball. Under Alan Pardew, in Yossi’s first spell at the club, he would sit in the hole behind the strikers, often creating great chances and goals. Also, around the edge of the box, he had a deadly finish. It doesn’t take much effort to remind West Ham fans of Yossi’s goals against Fulham and Spurs (the Lasagne game). Perhaps this is why, despite his traitorous departure, West Ham fans often look back at Yossi’s first spell at the club with fond memories.
However, Allardyce’s West Ham are not a free-flowing football side, and while it is easy to detest the media who have labelled West Ham with the “long ball side” tag (despite clearly not watching them play), West Ham fans must be realistic to admit that their side are not currently playing “The West Ham way”. However, with the current quality of the players West Ham have, they are never going to be as silky on the floor as the Arsenal or Liverpool sides that Benayoun has been so successful in. It would be far fairer to call the current West Ham team “direct”, “robust”, “gritty” and “determined”. Unfortunately, these are not words synonymous with the name “Yossi Benayoun”.
Now credit to Benayoun, at times when he has played for West Ham this season, he has got stuck in; quite surprisingly so, given his style of football and wiry-boyish frame. But West Ham’s style of play (and formation), does not incorporate a player like Yossi Benayoun effectively. As earlier mentioned, Benayoun thrives in a central role, just behind the strikers, where he can create. But Allardyce’s teams often set up 4-5-1, with the central midfielder in that five pushing forward to act as a second striker. In this role, and considering our style of play, we have the model player, in club captain, Kevin Nolan.
West Ham’s other two centre midfielders, the hardworking Mark Noble and the driving Mohamed Diame, offer something so unique and different, not only to each other, but Kevin Nolan also, that they are seemingly irreplaceable in a combative midfield trio. The injury of Diame in the Liverpool game, and the Hammers subsequent games since, have highlighted how vital he is to their midfield. It would seem that the intricate creation of a luxury player like Benayoun has been replaced by the creation of a more dynamic battering ram like Diame, who creates chances by running at defences at pace and splitting them apart.
So with the Irons three central midfielders somewhat picking themselves, Benayoun would ultimately be pushed out to the wings. The issue with West Ham’s wide players, is that they are not expected to be wide players. They’re expected to be wide strikers. While Ricardo Vaz Te is the perfect player for this role, it is easy to understand why Jarvis and Taylor have struggled so badly out wide this season. Because quite simply, they’re not strikers! They’re wingers! Could Benayoun play as a wide striker? Potentially, but it would be a waste the talents he has, and not what he was loaned in for, and that is his creative expertise.
To conclude this article, Yossi Benayoun, for all his quality, for all his creation, for every amazing goal or assists under Pardew, is not what West Ham need right now. They don’t need central-midfielders (and could do with offloading a few of the weaker ones), and they really need quality wide strikers, which Benayoun is not. Funnily enough, what West Ham need is a hidden gem that they already possess. Rob Hall (currently on loan at Birmingham City) could (and should) be recalled and given a run in the first team. Allardyce may have reservations about throwing youth team players in at the deep end, but let’s not forget that Mark Noble was given his Premier League bow during the 2007 Great Escape, and has never looked back.
While it might be presumptuous to claim that West Ham are safe (although with the quality of the teams occupying the bottom five places in the Premier League right now, and West Ham’s upcoming fixture list looking slightly more handsome), it’s hard to see that there is too much risk in giving youth team players like Hall their chance in the first team, especially considering that is what the side is crying out for. Either that, or West Ham can continue to court has-been’s on ridiculous wages like Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka.
It feels like Yossi’s loan spell has been fleeting, and interrupted by injuries, having only made 6 first team appearances, and little impact. But perhaps the simple fact was, he just wasn’t suited to the current team. His return to Chelsea will leave a blank space on the 25 man squad sheet, but not much more of a dent on the squad than that overall.
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