From London Stadium – When West Ham United agreed a summer deal worth in excess of £35m for Italy international Gianluca Scamacca, there were huge sighs of relief.
The first sigh of relief, in all probability, came from Hammers forward Michail Antonio, who had single-handedly carried the ‘leading the line’ load for the best part of 18 months – a result of Sebastien Haller’s sudden, but not wholly unexpected, move to Eredivisie giants Ajax.
The second sigh of relief came from hundreds of thousands of West Ham supporters who had been clamouring for a new signing to come in and provide competition for Antonio since, well, the day Haller departed for Amsterdam.
The third, and perhaps biggest sigh of relief, almost certainly came from David Moyes, who stood on the London Stadium touchline for far too long knowing that Antonio – known for his penchant for hamstring injuries – could break down at any point and leave him without a recognised first-team striker.
Luckily for the Scot, for West Ham and for the club’s supporters, Antonio cobbled together his highest appearance return for eight years during 2021/22 – scoring 13 goals in addition to contributing 11 assists as West Ham thoroughly enjoyed themselves both at home and in Europe.
Indeed, Antonio was instrumental in leading the Hammers back into continental competition for a second successive season, and his all-action displays also brought out the best in his teammates – 18-goal Jarrod Bowen the most obvious beneficiary as his maiden call-up into Gareth Southgate’s England squad attested to.
Antonio’s heroics didn’t detract from the matter at hand, however – West Ham needed to add firepower to their squad and they needed to sign a striker not only capable of challenging Antonio for a starting place, but one capable of taking it away from him.
Enter, Gianluca Scamacca.
A towering brute of a striker standing 6’5, the 23-year-old first came to West Ham’s attention in June when the club’s scouting team contacted Serie A outfit Sassuiolo about not only Scamacca, but also his teammate Giacomo Raspadori – who is now banging in the goals for Napoli.
Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal were also interested, as were Juventus, but West Ham got the deal done a month later – one of many big bits of summer business signed off by the club’s hierarchy.
Scamacca has played second fiddle to Antonio in the season’s early stages, surprisingly to some, with Moyes keen to stress in a number of his press conferences that adaptation is needed – both to the speed of the Premier League but also in terms of his match fitness.
“I think it will take him some time to adapt. It takes some time to become familiar with the pace of the Premier League, but it is a choice that can help him improve.” echoed Italy boss Roberto Mancini in September, when questioned why his starting striker wasn’t yet first choice at West Ham.
Sticking with the status quo of Antonio up front initially irked many in the stands, but that decision now looks to be paying dividends after Scamacca’s latest star performance – this time in the comeback 3-1 win over Premier League new boys Fulham.
Fresh from bagging the winning goal against Anderlecht on Thursday, Scamacca was full of verve, confidence and swagger as he led the line superbly on his third Premier League start. He could, and should, have had a hat-trick on the day, were it not for some wasteful finishing and some smart saves from Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Despite those missed chances, Scamacca held his nerve to score his sixth goal in claret and blue – the goal to put West Ham ahead – with an impudent, dinked finish tinged with the slightest hint of handball.
“I think what he has shown is that he is not a one trick pony,” Moyes said of the goal in his post-match press conference, clearly impressed with Scamacca shedding his reputation for a striker who can only strike the ball with power.
More promisingly, Scamacca linked up nicely with another of West Ham’s marquee summer signings, Brazilian playmaker Lucas Paqueta, on a number of occasions, and displayed tremendous energy despite starting in Brussels less than 72 hours previously.
There was a sense of excitement whenever he got the ball and a sense of expectation. A warm, fuzzy feeling that only a handful of players are able to give you in certain situations.
The goals will continue to flow for Scamacca and assists will come too. What’s important for West Ham though is that the Italian is up to speed and Antonio – who scored the third goal to kill Fulham off – finally has somebody to help him take West Ham next to the level.