It is midway through a pivotal season in East London, and West Ham struggle to convince their star to remain in claret and blue.
Sound familiar? That’s because it happened more than once for West Ham.
Rewind to 2016/17, to the dreary Premier League past of Pulis, Pardew and Pearson, and popular manager Slaven Bilic announces to the world in a now infamous press conference that hitherto cult hero Dimitri Payet has refused to play. Any attempt to convince the mercurial Frenchman otherwise fails, and he returns to his former club, Marseille. West Ham lost their star and talisman, and Bilic lost his job (eventually).
Fast forward two years and the club is in a remarkably similar position. This time, the wantaway star is Marko Arnautovic, a similarly crucial forward capable of winning games alone. The Hammers are doing decently in Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge, and Arnautovic is the star man. But – with the lure of the Chinese Super League’s riches proving too enticing to ignore, Arnautovic first appears to demand a move, then backtracks and signs a lucrative extension- only to be sold anyway a few months later to Shanghai Port. West Ham lost their talisman, and Pellegrini his job (eventually).
Is a cycle broken? West Ham finally retain their star man
In the past summer, West Ham lost yet another star – this time being academy graduate and captain Declan Rice, whom the Hammers failed to extend terms with for the best part of two years.
With Rice’s departure, and having just scored the Europa Conference League final winner, Jarrod Bowen arguably became the club’s star player and talisman. West Ham supporters, therefore, could be forgiven for feeling an awful sense of deja vu when murmurings of a contractual impasse with Bowen became public this season.
Only this time, the outcome is different. Bowen, a fully-fledged English international in the prime of his career, has signed a mammoth 7-year contract – one which shows not only how far West Ham has come in just over half a decade, but how far they could go still.
With the Conference League win last season and the ongoing record unbeaten run for an English side in European competition, the club rightly has aspirations to push on and make European qualification and contention the norm, not the exception. It is a sign of faith and belief in this potential that one of the Premier League’s best wingers has signed up effectively for the rest of his prime.
Clearly, Bowen (a man Liverpool reportedly wanted to replace Mohamed Salah, no less) believes the potential to win trophies is there, something which Payet or Arnautovic could never have said.
Crucially, where once West Ham’s star men felt like the odd man out, Bowen is now just one of many potential match-winners in a squad with increasingly enviable depth. Post the summer transfer window, the club now boasts Lucas Paqueta (whose services they managed to retain), Mohammad Kudus and James Ward-Prowse as players as capable as Bowen in icing victories. Add these to an existing core of dependable stalwarts like Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek and Pablo Fornals, and it’s clear to see the remarkable progress the club has made.
With their steady success in recent years, West Ham is ensuring their transformation from being a stepping stone to a bigger club, into a legitimate destination for trophy-hunting players; Jarrod Bowen’s commitment is a testament to that. Perhaps no more will West Ham’s fanbase suffer the ignominy of losing stars prematurely.