Fans' Opinion

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics and the strange case of Pablo Fornals

Author: . Published: at 10:16am

Written by: Nick Moore

So here is a question for you. Imagine you are the West Ham manager or perhaps Director of Football. To be honest I am surprised you haven’t been given the job already. OK, so another club come in and offer you £25 million or whatever we actually paid for Pablo Fornals. What do you say?

Do you say “Go away” (or similar) “We’re really pleased with the progress Pablo is making and we are building our side around him”?

Because at £25 million we would expect a lot from him wouldn’t we?

Some players get liked by fans and some don’t. Pablo is an interesting case. There is all sorts of talk of players being shipped out if we can get anyone to stump up some cash. Fornals name is not on any of the lists.

He was an odd signing through no fault of his own. The squad already had loads of attacking midfielders but had a shortage of box to box or defensive midfielders. This problem was not addressed until the winter window when Soucek was loaned and we were already in one of our many relegation fights

Initially fans were quite negative about his performances. That may have been a bit unfair. It’s hard for creative players to adjust quickly to new team mates and systems (or lack of systems) playing at pace to get it all right straight away. He also seemed to be playing in a number of different positions across midfield.

He improved and the fans took to him.

At the end of the season he was equal top of the West Ham assists table with Robert Snodgrass with 5 assists. He also scored two goals. But Snodgrass was out injured post lockdown. Felipe Anderson who, by common recognition has had a stinker, has 4 assists.  So does Bowen who only arrived in the winter transfer window.

There are problems with the assist statistic. It’s never clear whether it was a great pass or something more straight forward or lucky. Winston Reid passed the ball to Payet for the goal at the London Stadium when Payet ran through the Middlesbrough midfield and defence. Good assist Winston but he hardly laid on the goal.

We know what we get from Snodgrass and that includes great dead ball delivery. It’s less clear what we get from Pablo. How many of his assists do you remember?

His performance dropped off after lockdown. His main contribution was blasting miles wide against Wolves when well placed at 0-0 and playing all the Newcastle players onside for their second equaliser.

He works quite hard but not necessarily to any great product. He gets up and down but Bowen – who to be fair is very good at this – provides a lot more cover to his full back.

Some fans will argue that he is being played in the wrong position. He should play central midfield in front of Soucek and Rice. Moyes generally plays Noble there. But also some of the prospective signings we are linked with will also want to play there. He currently plays left side of midfield almost on the basis that he was less out of form than Lanzini and Anderson.

There is another issue for those advocating more game time for Haller. If he does play where does Antonio play? At the moment you can’t drop Bowen or Antonio so does Antonio move to where Fornals is now? Of course the usual West Ham injuries crisis may sort this out for us. Personally I wouldn’t move Antonio – but some would.

Fornals is a problem in his current position. He is not comfortable running beyond the full back. Bowen too always wants to come inside but he will go the other way when he has to, on to his right foot. Fornals though prefers to check back. Attacks often lose momentum as a result.

Pablo is our third most expensive incoming transfer. He should be a key part of the side but it’s difficult to argue he is. What does he offer? What is his strength that he will build on? What’s his best position?

We have just completed a battle against relegation with our two most expensive signings not in the first team. In addition to prove the wisdom of our brilliant transfer strategy another top earner Wilshire isn’t in the first team either. It would be tragic if our third most expensive also doesn’t deliver.

Because he is 24 a lot of people will suggest he will improve. Perhaps next season he will kick on. But lots of players don’t improve after their early twenties or their first premier league season. Premier league clubs all employ people to watch opposition and work out how to play them. That happened to us this year big time with our lack of pace in central midfield until Soucek came in to help Declan.

I hope the majority of fans turn out to be right and next season I eat humble pie. But how many games has he grabbed by the scruff of the neck or dominated? Anderson may have disappointed this year but in his first year he won some games almost on his own and look what happened in his second season. It’ll need fan support and some good coaching. Because chances are he’ll be here next season. No one will offer us anything like what we paid. So the club won’t have to answer the £25million question.