Bargain buy Ilunga is simply priceless
REMEMBER the clamour over the departure of Geo-rge McCartney to Sunderland? writes Dave Evans. Well, how quickly was that forgotten when it became apparent that West Ham technical director Gianluca Nani had plucked a diamond replacement out of French foot
REMEMBER the clamour over the departure of Geo-rge McCartney to Sunderland?
writes Dave Evans.
Well, how quickly was that forgotten when it became apparent that West Ham technical director Gianluca Nani had plucked a diamond replacement out of French football in the shape of Herita Ilunga?
The loan signing made his move a permanent one during the transfer window, by agreeing to sign full time with the Hammers and he celebrated on Saturday by throwing his team an FA Cup lifeline with the vital late equaliser against Middlesbrough.
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It was Ilunga's second goal in 25 appearances in claret and blue, both coming in the FA Cup and it certainly delighted manager Gianfranco Zola.
"Ilunga is a very good player and his character is unbelievable," said Zola, after seeing his full back stoop to head home the equaliser with just seven minutes to go.
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"He plays all the games and he always manages to get something out of them. I'm very pleased, he's a very good signing for us."
West Ham are expected to pay French club Toulouse around �2million for Ilunga's services in the summer, an absolute bargain considering the swashbuckling style he shows on the left hand side.
He arrived at the same time as another left back in Walter Lopez on deadline day in the summer, but the Uruguayan, who actually signed a one-year-deal, has not had a look in, such has been the form of Ilunga.
The left back, who turns 28 next week, has so impressed his manager, that he is comparing him favourably to anyone else in the league.
"He is playing so well," insisted Zola. "I don't think there are many left backs in the Premier League playing as good as him right now.
"He is an excellent player because he is very good defensively, but he is also very good when he comes forward."
The defender, who has earned 18 caps for the Democratic Republic of the Congo during his career with West Ham, Toulouse and St Etienne, still struggles with his English, but Zola - a fine exponent of the language - thinks that it isn't a problem.
"I don't think it is down to the language, it's just the way he is," insisted Zola.
"He doesn't speak very much, but he is one of those people that acts more than talks, so it's good for us."
He was certainly getting in on the act on Saturday. First he laid a chance to David Di Michele on a silver platter, only for the Italian to somehow blast miles over.
And then he got on the end of Savio's swinging free kick, to head home and earn West Ham a replay at the Riverside next Tuesday night - a replay they just about deserved.
One of the most impressive things about Ilunga this season has been his consistency.
Aside from a shaky start on his debut in the 3-2 defeat at West Brom back in September, he has been in superb form all season.
Now he is adding goals to his repertoire, with strikes against Barn-sley and Middlesbrough at Upton Park in the FA Cup and that strength in the opposition penalty area adds another string to his bow.
While McCartney has struggled with injury and form for the Black Cats this season, it seems that West Ham got the best end of the bargain after all!