When West Ham hired Manuel Pellegrini as their manager in the summer of 2018, there was an enormous wave of optimism amongst the club’s fanbase.
The Chilean was a high-profile Premier League winning manager with Manchester City and a former boss of Real Madrid. What could go wrong?
As it transpired, plenty.
Performances were largely promising during his first season in charge, and there was an obvious transition to a more patient, ground-based style of play. That was alright.
But his follow up campaign, which was brought to an end just after Christmas 2019, wasn’t so great. Meek, fragile displays that were littered with errors became the norm, and the Hammers seemed devoid of ideas when it came to getting back into games.
Off the field, there was also initial promise. Money was unbelievably bursting out of West Ham’s pockets and close to £80m of that went on Andriy Yarmolenko, Issa Diop and Felipe Anderson.
The Ukrainian a key player at Dortmund and internationally, Diop a promising young talent from France bristling with confidence, and the latter an exciting winger who had earned a pretty handy reputation in Serie A.
Anderson cost West Ham £35m and penned a four-year deal. To begin with, he looked overawed by the pace and physicality of the Premier League. It wasn’t what he was used to, and he certainly wasn’t the first – or last – player who needed time to get up to speed.
Indeed, Anderson recalled to 90min in May 2020 just how difficult that adaptation had been.
“The difference is incredible. It’s a big difference. I felt, in my first 10 games, I couldn’t play more than 70 minutes because of the intensity,” he said. “Because in Italy it was more compact, the team went out more together. Here is a lot of running, a lot of speed.
“Wow, they told me it was intense, but I didn’t expect all of that. Then I had to work on the physical part, to be able to take it – because it is very close, it is very strong.”
Anderson, and West Ham, overcame their slow start though, and the Brazilian was soon entertaining at the London Stadium. His confidence grew with each game played, kick started with a tremendous back-heel flicked finish against Manchester United in a 3-1 win.
A brace against Burnley followed not long after, as did a superb run and finish away at Newcastle and an electrifying double at Southampton. Anderson had established himself as one of West Ham’s brightest and most consistent performers, finishing the 2018/19 season with nine goals in 36 Premier League games. He also chipped in with four assists.
But for all of the good in Anderson, there was unerring feeling that he was never fully settled. When West Ham played poorly, more often than not he was one of the more anonymous performers. That pace of the game that he admitted to struggling with again seemed to be an issue, and defensive responsibility and tracking back was never really his thing.
The Hammers’ decent start to the 2019/20 season faded quickly and so did Anderson. It was no surprise then that when David Moyes took charge of West Ham for a second time, he quickly sought out the weaker links in the side.
Moyes needed his team to be harder to beat, and although results would not turn around out immediately, there was evidently an added sturdiness and resilience to West Ham’s performances. Unfortunately for Anderson, the Scot largely favoured other options to make that happen, namely Pablo Fornals.
The Spaniard, technically gifted with a good eye for a pass, was willing to run himself into the ground, each and every game. Anderson, on the other hand, wasn’t so full of beans. To this day, Fornals is one of West Ham’s most important players, as he not only covers the ground defensively but he’s successfully completed his own adaptation period and is far more fluent and consistent going forward.
As for Anderson, he’s headed back to familiar ground. After a desperately disappointing loan spell at Portuguese giants FC Porto, which yielded just one Primeira Liga start and 131 minutes of action, he returned to West Ham knowing he’d likely be leaving for good. That move has now come about, in the form of a permanent return to Lazio.
The most disappointing thing for West Ham is taking yet another huge financial hit. Anderson cost big bucks, like Sebastien Haller did a year later, but he’s departed for Serie A for no more than a nominal undisclosed fee. His £100,000-a-week wages are gone – clearly a huge plus for the club – but the Hammers never got anywhere near £35m worth of player.
At 28, Anderson has plenty of time to find his mojo again and star in Serie A. The style of football there suits him and there’s every chance that will happen. For West Ham, his exit is bitterly disappointing – particularly for those who felt he had more to give – but also necessary to allow the club to pursue their summer targets.