Flying Kiwis: Winston Reid, 2019-20 Season Preview

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The last time Winston Reid was sighted on a football field in England, West Ham were trailing 1-0 away to Swansea midway through the first half and the Swans were pushing hard for a second goal. Reid stepped up to win a defensive header but the ball was sent back in and flicked over his head towards the danger zone. He retreated to the six yard box as Mike van der Hoorn shaped to strike. Declan Rice was in there too but it was van der Hoorn’s elbow which accidentally caught Reid on the head.

The kiwi defender collapsed awkwardly to the ground as play continued and Rice scrambled to clear the ball off the line and away for a corner. It was only as play stopped that anyone realised how seriously Reid had been injured. Keeper Adrian signalled to the bench, with Reid clearly concussed, and it would require ten minutes of medical attention to assess him, get him in a neck-brace, and haul him onto a stretcher before the game could continue. He was immediately taken to hospital for checks. Reid was unconscious before he hit the ground but as it happens it was actually his knee that was the biggest worry. As he fell he sort of folded backwards over that joint. That was the 3rd of March 2018 and he hasn’t played a proper game since.

(West Ham have played 47 Premier League games, 5 League and FA Cup games, as well as numerous friendly/preseason games without him in that time frame… though curiously only four All Whites games and none that he would have played anyway – Chris Wood also hasn’t played for the All Whites since November 2017 (the Peru games) yet he played every single Premier League game last campaign. Go figure).

His recovery took a huge setback last July when it was determined he’d need another knee operation. Initially they said it’d keep him out for at least three months but three months passed and he was no nearer to playing. That led to uncertainty throughout most of last season as to how long he’d be out for and any information we got was pretty murky. It wasn’t until April that he was officially shut down for the remainder of the campaign.

But Reid reported for preseason as normal and although his training regime was still a little cautious, only this week has he started training full on with the squad without limitations, he finally made his long awaited return to the field in a pre-season friendly in Austria last month. As the man himself said: “495 days later… back at it again”. That adds up to sixteen months and sixteen months, yeah, that’s an extremely long time for a professional footballer to not be able to play professional football. Gotta be a weird identity crisis with that. For context, here was West Ham’s starting eleven for the game in which he was injured (which Swansea went on to win 4-1)…

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Adrian just signed for Liverpool on a free. Patrice Evra is retired. Marko Arnautovic is in China. Cheik Kouyate is at Crystal Palace. Pablo Zabaleta is still there but he’s announced that this will be his last Premier League season. Manuel Lanzini has been injured almost as long as Winston has. And the less said about that bench the better. Note the manager too.

When you’re out for as long as that, you can’t just slip back into playing footy like nothing happened. You don’t get to pick up where you left off. First of all it takes time to get back to the required level as a player, even after you’re physically good to go, and second there’s been sixteen months of West Ham existing without him as an available player and so much can change in sixteen months. That’s the space of like three Chelsea managers there (not even joking, Antonio Conte was gaffer sixteen months ago).

After playing 45 mins off the bench against Rheindorf Altach in that first preseason game Winston then played 22 minutes off the bench against Manchester City and then started and played the full first half against Newcastle. But Reidy was absent from the squad for their remaining three preseason games which caused a bit of scepticism over a possible injury… though it’s since been revealed that it was more a case of what they call in the NBA: load management.

Football London: “There is no injury concern over Kiwi defender Reid's having only just returned from two successive knee injuries which kept him on the sidelines for the best part of 18 months. He's being eased back into action and has featured in three of the four friendlies so far.”

So the first thing to do for Winnie is to get back to a hundy percent. That’s the major goal and none of the rest of it can fall into place without that. Reid is lucky because he suffered this injury not too deep into a massive new contract – which means that even now after sixteen months out he’s still closer to the start of that six-year deal than the end of it. The bloke is contracted until 2023 and is probably on relatively decent wages compared to the rest of the squad so he can take his time sliding back into things with his long term future secured.

Having said that, that contract looks pretty mud from a club perspective when you look at a 31 year old centre back coming off a serious injury with four more seasons on the books. Which is why the word is that the Hammers would consider selling him if the right offer came along. However that offer is unlikely to come from anyone who would be able to increase his wages, not to mention that suitors would obviously prefer to see him play a few Premier League games before deciding he’s good to go, so safe to say his agent won’t be having his voicemail clogged up over that one. Winston’s spot with the Hammers is pretty safe. Nothing to worry about there. For this season at least.

However that doesn’t mean his role as a contributing player is safe. Reid has never played for Manuel Pellegrini and he’s never played with Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop (outside of these recent friendly games), who have eclipsed him as the starting CBs at the Hammers. Balbuena is an experienced Paraguayan who did great things for Corinthians and slipped in nicely to the WHU backline immediately from the start of last season. Diop took a little while longer to settle but the young Frenchman (who was scouted by the same bloke that found Dimitri Payet for this club) has since emerged as one of the best young defenders in the Premier League. Winston and his old mate Angelo Ogbonna are definitely on the outside looking in. Which is fine for Winnie as he works his way back into contention but don’t expect him to command a starting spot any time soon, he’s probably only getting backup minute this season.

Winston Reid: “When you’ve been out for a long time, as it takes time for your body to get back into rhythm, I guess, and get used to doing football movements. There is only so much gym work and running and drills you can do. You have to go out and train every day and take it slow.”

The good news is that Manuel Pellegrini has never been anything other than complimentary of Reid and his history at the club makes him a prominent leader within the squad. This week ticked over the nine-year anniversary of his signing with WHU. Only Mark Noble has been at the club longer than Winston Reid and with Andy Carroll now gone that means that there are only five current players with more than 100 PL apps for the club. Captain Noble is waaay out in front with 349 games. Reid is ninth all-time (we’re only counting Premier League here so ‘all-time’ is a bit of a misleading one) with 166 games. Aaron Cresswell is fast catching up with 157 and then it’s Michail Antonio (109) and Angelo Ogbonna (104). Clearly Reid’s experience is a big deal and Pellegrini has constantly referred to his absent CB as an important player. But yeah, that doesn’t mean he’ll play every week because he quite simply is not going to.

So how’s the rest of the squad tracking? You know what, surprisingly excellent. They’ve got a superb manager heading into his second year with this unit and there’s definite buzz around the Hammers for this season. Whether they can live up to that is another matter because with the level that clubs like Wolves, Leicester, Watford, and Everton are capable of reaching the Hammers could have a great season and still not be a top-half team. But they’re good enough to be considered in that same tier.

Gone are the days of overpriced dumb signings that this club couldn’t quite help themselves to. They still have Jack Wilshere and Javier Hernandez on the books, sure, but for the most part they’ve recruited emerging talent rather than expiring talent. In Felipe Anderson they have one of the most underrated playmakers in this league and he’s joined by new signing Pablo Fornals and the returning Manuel Lanzini… suddenly they’re stocked for creativity which is huge for a team that really struggled to score goals last season. And their new record transfer, Sébastien Haller, is on board to put away all the chances that those fellas create. Not to mention reliable British options like Robert Snodgrass and Michail Antonio. Striking a balance there is the trick for Pellegrini… but he’s coached at Man City and Real Madrid so he knows how to do that.

Where they don’t seem as stocked is in midfield where the evergreen Mark Noble will remain a key player for better and for worse. The main man there is Declan Rice who the Hammers have done well to hold onto this summer and if he makes another leap this season then the top six are going to be all over him. They did however manage to clear out plenty of dead wood from this squad over the last few months and that can only be a good thing.

The key is consistency. They ran way too hot and cold last time out. A more cohesive squad helps that cause immensely after cleaning up some of the messes of past transfer windows, leaving them much less reliant on players that didn’t even wanna be there (cough, Arnautovic)… but a lot will depend on Haller’s ability to score the goals and West Ham’s recent track record of signing strikers is nothing short of abysmal. Maybe he’s the one that breaks the negative trend. He sure looks the goods based on his time at Eintracht Frankfurt anyway.

And that’s similar with this whole team. There are all sorts of ways that this could go wrong and they happen to be in that volatile middle pack where nothing tends to make much sense but on paper this looks like a wonderful position to be in as the new season comes around the bend. A returning manager with a sharpened squad, a couple of marquee signings, a few extremely well regarded prospects as well as an abundance of playmakers. But this is still West Ham we’re talking about so make sure you hedge your bets.

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