It’s no secret that West Ham have been desperate to land a marquee striker in recent years, and this summer has been no different.
Having missed out on the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Michy Batshuayi and Carlos Bacca last year, their attentions had turned to Giroud, Chicharito and Modeste to name a few this time around. The money is clearly there to spend then, but convincing players of the profile or indeed promise they desire to resist offers from elsewhere has been the issue.
It’s time for take 225 then, as the club have reportedly had an offer in the region of £28m accepted for Lazio hot shot Keita Balde, which is further than they have got with a number of targets before him. So is the 22-year-old the calibre of player the Londoners have craved for so long, and in turn the right man to relaunch a bid for a European finish?
Well, given the notable progress the Senegalese international made last season, attracting interest from the top teams in Serie A and the continent, there’s little doubt Keita would be a massive coup for the Hammers, who are attempting to scupper Inter’s best laid plans to lure the youngster to Milan. Whether or not the sought after forward would turn his back on the European football he helped to attain with Lazio last season is another matter, but in West Ham’s favour the Nerazzurri can’t offer as much either.
One thing for certain is that the player would significantly strengthen Bilic’s attacking ranks, which has been a clear priority this summer.
There has never been any question as to Keita’s potential after all, but inconsistency – understandably given his age – was an issue up until the most recent campaign. The raw tools are there for the youngster to be an absolute superstar, that’s for sure.
With a tall and muscular build the Senegalese has the pace and power to trouble even the most experienced of defenders, and his ability to play on the left flank is no doubt a draw to a team whose wide recruits have flattered to deceive over the past year.
It was, however a move into a more central role that will ensure the 2016/17 campaign goes down as Keita’s real breakthrough. His ability to get in behind the defence or run the channels is something that West Ham lack right now, searching for a variation on what the injury-prone Andy Carroll can offer from the front. In that regard he and Keita are polar opposites, and as such would offer the manager great options depending on the opponent that they may face.
The 22-year-old bagged 16 league goals last season – an impressive return enough to rank eighth in Serie A – with as many as ten coming in just seven starts up front alongside Ciro Immobile. He ended the campaign in scintillating form after that crucial tactical shift, scoring eight times in his final five league outings to ensure that some of the top teams on the continent stood up and took notice.
It was a flurry that saw the forward finish up with some hugely encouraging figures in front of goal beyond the most obvious but ultimately important of them all.
Given ten of 31 league appearances came from the bench, his aforementioned goal haul was certainly even more commendable. A strike every 120.8 minutes was in turn the fourth best of players to net at least five times in Italy’s top-flight, ahead of the likes of Higuain, Icardi and teammate Immobile.
Furthermore, a conversion rate of 22.9% was highly respectable, and that’s not to mention his ability to beat a man before getting to that position.
It’s his dribbling ability that saw Keita earmarked as one of Serie A’s top young talents, with a lack of end product the concern that, if not put to bed, was certainly eased by last season’s exploits.
Indeed, since breaking into the Lazio team in 2013/14 following a move from Barcelona’s academy, Keita has completed a dribble every 31.6 minutes, which ranks third of players to have made 100 or more Serie A appearances in that timeframe. He’s lightning quick and has the upper body strength to cope with the most physical of defenders.
The concern for West Ham fans, then, does not pertain to Keita’s ability, but the fact that they have got their hopes up for similar big money signings in the past only to be left disappointed. If they could pull off a shock and convince the youngster that East London should be his next destination – with a move away from Rome inevitable this summer – it will have been worth the wait.