Mikel Oyazarbal and a transfer to West Ham.
It’s not really a rumour that jumps out and screams ‘I’m definitely going to happen’, even if life under David Moyes at West Ham appears to be rosy after the club’s best-ever start to a Premier League season.
And rosy it is, with performances on the pitch having improved ten-fold after a change in shape and style, a real togetherness and spirit evident among the squad and a series of savvy transfer dealings over the past year.
What makes West Ham’s remarkable improvement under the Scot all the more impressive is that their resurgence has played out in front of a backdrop of continued fan disharmony and disenchantment at a perceived lack of investment from the club’s owners.
The #GSBOUT movement has been trending on Twitter for longer than Moyes has been employed – a reference to many supporters desire to see David Sullivan, David Gold and Baroness Karren Brady leave the club – amid accusations of broken promises, stealing of the club’s identity, failure to properly invest and many, many other things.
Recently, West Ham opted to move on £45m club-record signing Sebastien Haller for less than half of what they had paid 18 months previously, and at the beginning of the season Felipe Anderson – who at £35m was the club’s most expensive purchase before Haller’s arrival – was shipped out on loan to FC Porto.
Now, not for the first time, the pressure is on for West Ham to put behind them their truly abysmal record over the past decade of signing flop strikers and wingers. Moyes’ desire to identify and bring in someone who fits his philosophy should help to eradicate another major error, but there’s understandable pessimism among supporters as players with no Premier League experience continue to be linked.
One such linked player, who doesn’t actually fit the striker mould like Boulaye Dia and Patson Daka, is Real Sociedad leading light Mikel Oyarzabal, who has previously been on Pep Guardiola’s radar at Manchester City.
But really, very little is known about him in England, which begs the question why West Ham might be interested in pursuing a deal. To answer that, we reached out to our man in Spain, Andrew Headspeath, for the lowdown on one of La Liga’s top talents.
On paper Oyarazabal is a left winger, but he isn’t really.
He plays from the left for Real Sociedad but his role is much freer than your traditional winger and he uses his wide position to drift in and affect play, while also dropping deep and occasionally playing as a central forward.
Essentially, he is at the heart of everything good for La Real. With double figures in each of his last three seasons, he currently has seven goals and four assists in 14 La Liga appearances in 2020/21. Though still young, he is very much the team’s creative leader.
In terms of typical wide player characteristics, he’s not lightning quick but he is a good passer, a very hard worker and can, crucially, play anywhere across the attack. Those hard working traits are something West Ham fans will be familiar with in Pablo Fornals, but Oyarzabal’s ceiling and potential is higher.
There has been suggestions that Spain manager Luis Enrique could even use him as a false nine in the future, and he’s much more of a Jack Grealish and David Silva than say Raheem Sterling or Sadio Mane.
Oyarzabal has a contract that runs until 2024 and will absolutely not come cheap.
His contract reportedly has a €75m release clause, though whether triggering that would be enough to tempt him is debatable.
Back in June, amid links to Man City that 90min first reported in November 2019, he said: “I am happy where I am, I feel loved. People talk too much, I want to focus on trying to do the best I can, like I have done so far, and to continue as a footballer here at la Real. I am where I want to be.”
Real Sociedad also have a good shot at Champions League football this season, whereas West Ham – as good as they’ve been so far – do not.
In a nutshell, probably.
It’s always difficult to predict exactly how human beings with all their unique idiosyncrasies would adapt to different circumstances, but Oyarzabal certainly has the raw ingredients to be a success anywhere.
Intelligent, technically gifted forwards with an eye for goal will always be welcomed in England – even more so hard-working ones. Adapting to the culture and physicality would be the only potential stumbling blocks – though the Basque country isn’t exactly known for being sunny and soft.
Like Grealish, Oyarzabal would benefit from being the creative hub of the team rather than just another attacking option.
Moyes actually gave Oyarzabal his first-team debut back in October 2015 when he was Real Sociedad’s manager, though he had departed by the time the youngster had scored his first goals at the start of 2016.
We know that West Ham’s success this season has been built on working hard for another, running the channels and looking to Tomas Soucek for success in the air. Oyarzabal plays in a team that tend to have more of the ball – Real Sociedad average 54.7% possession during 2020/21 – and La Real don’t tend to play too many lofted passes or long balls.
West Ham only average 41.4% of possession and prior to Haller’s departure, the proportion of lofted balls forward was significant – not only for the Ivorian to flick on, but also for Jarrod Bowen to chase in the channels. That’s not really a style suited to Oyarzabal, no matter how hard he may work out of possession.
Oyarzabal is doing well in La Liga, has no real or immediate desire to leave Real Sociedad and has the opportunity to fire the club into the Champions League. It would take something extraordinary for West Ham to get the jump on other potential suitors, of which he’ll have many because of how good he is.
Signing him would be smart from an ambition sense, but West Ham, unfortunately, are not the team to help him fulfil his potential. Oyarzabal is good enough to play in a team challenging for titles, making a move to Manchester City – for example – far more likely further down the line.