West Ham: Julen Lopetegui fanfare lasts five hours as Lucas Paqueta charges trigger summer of uncertainty

West Ham: Julen Lopetegui fanfare lasts five hours as Lucas Paqueta charges trigger summer of uncertainty

Having survived only 138 days at Real Madrid, Julen Lopetegui will have arrived at West Ham under no illusions as to how long his honeymoon period might last. Even so, he should reasonably have expected it would be measured in weeks or months, not hours.

Yesterday, at 11am, the Hammers confirmed the Spaniard's appointment as David Moyes's successor. Five hours later, the FA chose a curious moment to slide a first major headache across the new head coach's desk: a spot-fixing charge against perhaps his most talented player and, in a simpler world, his most saleable asset.

Unlike Moyes, who made Lucas Paqueta his record signing in the summer of 2022 and then had the playmaker's gambling investigation thrust upon him unexpectedly 12 months later, Lopetegui came to this particular mess with eyes open, knowing that navigating the uncertainty around the Brazilian's future would be a key challenge of his first window at the helm.

Last August, Paqueta was poised to join Manchester City in a move that fell through only when news of the FA's investigation into alleged betting breaches emerged. The pause-button was effectively pushed on the transfer, while the story went almost eerily quiet for most of the next nine months, leaving even those whose native habitat is 'in-the-know' in the dark.

Hammer time: Julen Lopetegui on his appointment at West Ham yesterday (West Ham United)
Hammer time: Julen Lopetegui on his appointment at West Ham yesterday (West Ham United)

With an £85million release clause about to become active, and City still keen, pressing play was meant to be a formality this summer, only for it to creep closer with the probe still unresolved.

West Ham have for months been planning for a variety of scenarios, but following yesterday's announcement it is clear that the best of them (swift exoneration and a budget-boosting sale) will not materialise, and, troublingly, that the worst yet might.

Paqueta denies all charges and is expected to appeal, but the severity of the allegations — that the 26-year-old deliberately picked up yellow cards in four Premier League matches as part of a betting scheme — is such that if found guilty he will surely face a lengthy ban. That raises the prospect of the twin blow for West Ham of being neither able to field one of the division's most gifted footballers, nor profit from his sale.

In the meantime, it is the lack of clarity that is the club's biggest enemy, making planning both in terms of squad building and financial fair play compliance awkward tasks.

Do West Ham risk waiting on a verdict over Brazilian or press ahead with plans to fill a sizeable creative void?

You suspect that the chances of the City move materialising this summer are now close to nil. An appeals process will likely see the saga drag deeper into the window and the champions will have to move on to other targets, even if Paqueta is eventually cleared.

The more pressing question for West Ham is of whether they risk waiting on a verdict one way or the other, or press ahead with plans to fill what would be a sizeable creative void themselves. Replacing Declan Rice last summer proved hard enough, even with his exit scripted months in advance and an extra £105m in the bank.

However much it was forecast as a possibility, missing out on a similar windfall this year is bound to have an impact on transfer plans as Lopetegui and Tim Steidten plot the overhaul of an ageing squad, set to include at least half a dozen new signings.

It will be the second summer in a row in which the situation has scuppered recruitment: Moyes hinted this month that Cole Palmer might have been bound for the London Stadium had Paqueta's City move not collapsed.

Meanwhile, West Ham are adamant they will not entertain offers for top-scorer Jarrod Bowen. The winger, named in England's Euro 2024 training squad on Tuesday, is reportedly a target for Newcastle, but signed a new seven-year contract last summer and is seen as an indispensable part of the new era.