This is an issue that seems to be a controversial topic among West Ham fans. Where does the future of Enner Valencia lie? Will he be one of the things we leave at the Boleyn Ground or will he be the one to lead the attacking line going into the Olympic Stadium? I intend to display to you a fair, balanced argument on the Ecuadorian’s situation.
First of all, the positives. Enner Valencia can be unstoppable on his day. He has attributes that some strikers would kill for. I have never seen any player in the Premier League with a leap like his. He may only be 5”10, but he can out-jump centre-backs around 6 inches taller than him. It’s not as if he doesn’t know how to use it either, as displayed with his long-range header against Stoke last season and his 3 goals for Ecuador in the 2014 World Cup. If he was the same size as Andy Carroll, we would be unstoppable at corners and crosses into the box.
He is also our paciest striker by quite a distance. He may not have the physicality of Carroll or the poacher mentality of Sakho or Jelavic’s…erm…flowing golden locks? But what separates Valencia from the rest of our current attacking options is his pace. Against some of the bigger sides this season, such as the home league game against Liverpool, Bilic has set his team out to play counter-attacking football. This where Valencia can prove how effective he is, being able to sprint down the pitch and have an impact. This is what he did in the Liverpool game, running down the byline and crossing it in for Antonio to head it in or what he did against Aston Villa where he collected the ball from a Villa corner, ran down the centre of the pitch and played a through ball for Kouyate to finish.
He is not only a striker, but he can also play as a number 10 and even more frequently as a winger. At the moment, West Ham have only 2 actual wingers in Antonio and Moses, who is going back to Chelsea at the end of the season. Antonio is by some distance our best winger, but Moses’ recent form is making me question if Valencia is actually our second best winger. Valencia has more of an attacking instinct which allows him to cut in and unleash a shot, which Moses is much less successful at.
My main issue with Enner is how easily he can get bullied off the ball. Sam Allardyce wrote in his autobiography that “around winter time, [Valencia] could not cope with the physicality of the English game” and for one of the first times whilst reading his book, I found myself agreeing with him. He started off the last season so well, forming a formidable duo with Diafra Sakho, but as the season continued he was less able to cope with some of the more aggressive Premier League defences. This has continued into this season, where in games such as Southampton and Liverpool, he has gone down far too easily under challenges (although he was unlucky not to receive a penalty from a Tiago Ilori foul against Liverpool.) It is possible to be quick AND strong (e.g Michail Antonio) and they are both attributes that good strikers should have at least a bit of. Valencia has an abundance of one and not enough of the other.
Another problem with him is his inconsistency. In his 42 league games for West Ham, he has scored 8 goals and went 11 months without scoring before his brace against Bournemouth. But then in the game against Bournemouth, he scored twice, including a sublime free kick which pretty much went in slow motion. He then scored 2 against Man City which gave everyone the impression that he is back. But since the City game, I have found myself underwhelmed by his performances. Even one of his best attributes, his long range shot, is inconsistent. He can either hit a shot at 70mph into the top corner from 25 yards, or he can balloon it over the bar so high it lands in his uncle’s house in Ecuador. When he is good he is great, but that time does not come about often enough.
One final drawback to keeping him or letting him go is how we invest our money in the summer. Michy Batshuayi has been mentioned various times and as a good friend of Dimitri Payet, he could become our marquee summer signing. This would move Valencia down the pecking order even further. Even for the wing, we are looking to sign Gokhan Tore from Besiktas to replace Moses and with Lanzini and Payet also able to play on the wing, it ponders the question; where does Enner fit in? And would it be wise to cash in on him to fund our other signings?
Overall, I think it would be wise to cash in on Valencia next summer. If we are looking to bolster our squad for potential European football for the following seasons at the Olympic Stadium, I don’t think Valencia is the man to lead the attacking line. With the rise of Chinese football spending, we might even get more than we paid for him, but realistically, I would accept around £8million for the Ecuadorian which although would be a loss, would help fund our marquee signings.