Going global: how West Ham’s ambitious transfer strategy has made them one of the most intriguing teams in WSL

The East London club’s idiosyncratic use of the transfer market – promoting youth, scouting untapped leagues, and quickly selling on players – has seen them bring a unique flavour to the top flight, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.

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When Keira Walsh signed for Barcelona in a world-record deal at the start of September, it started a chain reaction in women’s football. Manchester City suddenly found themselves scrambling around for a replacement midfielder with only days of the transfer market remaining. In the end, they turned quickly to West Ham’s Yui Hasegawa, spending a six-figure fee on the midfielder who had been one of the standout players of last season.

Hasegawa had been at West Ham for only a year when they sold her on, and she was not the only player who made moves up the table following their time at the club; Katerina Svitkova headed to Chelsea while Adriana Leon went to Manchester United, both on the expiry of their deals. Immediately in their place came new players – full-back Risa Shimizu, who had never played outside of Japan before, Irish forward Jess Ziu, and perhaps the biggest coup of all, French forward Viviane Asseyi, fresh from a two-year stint at Bayern Munich. There was even just enough time for them to replace Hasegawa, with the club paying an undisclosed fee to recruit Honoka Hayashi from Swedish side AIK.

West Ham’s unique approach to the transfer market has long been noticeable. They regularly bring in players from unusual international markets, and are not afraid to quickly promote youth. Their signing of Jacynta Galabadaarachchi made waves when the Australian forward arrived at the club with plenty of hype at only 18 years old.

Yet Galabadaarachchi had a tricky time in the WSL and moved on from the club after only a season. Importantly, this was not an off-putting experience for West Ham, who have continued to identify young talent from abroad as a key part of their recruitment model. Incidentally, Galabadaarachchi has gone on to thrive in Scotland at Celtic where she has already scored 10 goals in eight games this season.

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West Ham’s most recent young acquisitions have included Emma Snerle, a highly rated 21-year-old Danish midfielder whose time at the club has been interrupted by injury, and Thea Kyvag, an 18-year-old Norwegian winger. Kyvag has looked particularly exciting so far this season, partnering Asseyi up front with aplomb against Arsenal over the weekend.

Their reach into different markets has been noticeable too. West Ham are well represented internationally, with players from nine different countries making up their squad – though that is significantly below Chelsea, who have the most in the WSL with 14. But where West Ham differ is that they are regularly recruiting from leagues which would not be traditionally considered as ‘dominant’ ones.

They have shopped in Italy, Japan, and Norway, whilst also plundering Arsenal’s youth set-up this summer. West Ham can take a risk that perhaps bigger clubs cannot, in terms of bringing in players who are looking to take a step up without having to worry about how long it takes them to adjust. The players find it an attractive proposition because they can see a pathway to regular WSL football, and beyond, to future moves.

The model makes West Ham an exciting club to watch with the feeling that switching onto one of their games can help you spot the next big thing. But they have combined this talent identification with an impressive coaching set-up. Some eyebrows might have been raised when Olli Harder departed suddenly at the end of last season, replaced with ex-West Ham player Paul Konchesky, but all the evidence on the pitch demonstrates that this is a well-organised team.

In their 3-1 loss against Arsenal, they had a clear pressing structure that suffocated the unbeaten Gunners for the majority of the first half, allowing West Ham to take the lead. Questions can and should be asked about their current tendency to fade away as games go on, a quirk that is starting to become a habit having been apparent in their past three WSL matches; but they have also been unlucky to have lost two key players in Lucy Parker and Ziu to serious injury early on in the season, with first choice goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold also unavailable.

This current West Ham side are still a long way outside of the conversation for the very top spots in the WSL – although recruitment like Asseyi in particular suggests they are not short of ambition – but their approach to signing players has helped bring a unique flavour to the East London club. There is a risk that they are faced with season-on-season turnover if players were to see them as a stepping stone, but the success of players like Arnold and captain Dagny Brynjarsdottir has also shown that they can retain talent. If they continue down this road, they might soon be punching much more above their weight.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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