Over the years, West Ham have produced some fantastic talent, much of it home grown from their famed Academy, and some lured to the Boleyn for riches, and whatever yarn Harry Redknapp spun them at the time; given Harry Boys track record, it was probably the promise of a Champions League winners medal, a stand named after them and a place on the board when their legs finally gave way!
For Hammers fans, the really special players, and the ones who raise the heart rate and get them off of their expensive seats are the ball players, the dribblers, the trick merchants; in short, the players who do things out of the ordinary and who make even the bleakest of results almost bearable. The type of footballer who played the “West Ham” way!
Having taken a good look at the candidates over the years, I’ve whittled down the possibilities for our most skilful player title to four: Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Joe Cole and the one-off that was Paolo Di Canio.
The elegant and cool Brooking was almost an enigma; a big man with a delicate and deft touch, he seemed to glide effortlessly over the pitch, in those days generally covered in mud and sand, whilst being ably to pick out any number of passes due to his amazing vision and technical ability. Deceptively powerful, Trevor’s ability to conjure something up from nothing was a feature of his game and I would imaging this man was responsible for more created chances and goals than any other who has worn the claret & blue. His ability to shield and hold the ball was second to none, and his trademark move of letting the ball run across his body fooled just about everyone…including the crowd!
Alan Devonshire, the lad we picked in 1976 up for a now seemingly ridiculous £5000 from non-league Southall was nothing short of a revelation. Whilst Trevor was short of pace, this lad had more than his share, and allied to exceptional close control, and a will to drive at defenders and attack, his impact was such that England came calling, thus completing an almost rags to riches tale. Alan’s party piece was to pick the ball up deep and without hesitation, and with both change of direction and pace, leave a trail of chasing defenders in his wake. With defenders drawn across to deal with this one-man wrecking machine, balls slipped into space created so many goals for others who joyfully accepted the kind invitation.
Joe Cole had STAR written across his forehead from a very early age, and of the all the candidates was probably the most naturally gifted of them all. Flicks, twists, turns, back heels, nutmegs…there really wasn’t much young Cole couldn’t do with the ball. It was only a lack of finishing ability that prevented Joe from being considered a perfect 10. If you need any reminders about Joe’s class, there is a YouTube compilation that will have you drooling in your beer/wine. The big shame for us Irons was that Joe left for West London oh too soon at 23, and became part of the appalling talent drain that cost the club badly. His prodigious talent and free spirit was blunted by the dull Jose Mourinho who in his wisdom decided that tracking back and defending as part of a team ethic was more important than chucking this livewire the ball and saying “get out there and work your magic son”. What could have been…
Last, but not least is the Italian, the maverick, the steely eyed and focused Paolo Di Canio who enthralled Upton Park for years with his energy, movement, trickery and madcap antics. Here was a player who could literally keep the ball on demand. In trouble? Give it to Paolo and wait for the fireworks to explode. An electric change of pace coupled with immaculate control and an ability to change direction in a split second meant Paolo was virtually unplayable, and from his wing position, he would drive into the opposition box time after time creating havoc as defenders tried to stand their ground for fear of a reckless lunge that would bring him down. An early reputation for going down too easily meant that referees failed to award a huge number of genuine spot kicks, and after one home match when no less than three stonewall decisions went against him (check out the YouTube clip again), he decided enough was enough and argued with Harry Redknapp that it was time for him to depart the match early and jump in the bath !!
So, who is it to be; elegant immaculate Trevor, speedy attack mined Devonshire, livewire bag-of-tricks Cole or the explosive and determined Di Canio?
Whoever gets your vote, lets just be thankful they wore the Hammers badge and gave us so many happy memories!
PS. There’s a young lad from Wythenshawe, Manchester in our first team at the moment who looks like he can play a bit. Only time will tell if he spends enough time in a Hammers shirt to qualify for consideration!