Ilan: West Ham’s forgotten saviour

Harry Burford

The 2009/10 Premier League campaign was certainly one to forget for most West Ham fans. Although Gianfranco Zola’s Hammers would eventually maintain their precious top flight status when all was said and done, it was a season largely defined by a string of disappointing defensive performances and some equally questionable efforts in front of goal.  

Current Hammers chairmen – in the form of the two Davids, Sullivan & Gold – acquired a sizeable share of the club midway through the 2009/10 campaign, immediately seeking to stamp their newfound authority by adding some much needed firepower among Gianfranco Zola’s struggling striking department. Carlton Cole was largely admired down in the East End of London of course, but his efforts alone would never be enough to keep the Hammers afloat.

So in came three hungry, determined centre-forwards with the aim of saving their new club from the impending threat of relegation. The first was former FC Porto and Blackburn Rovers hitman Benni McCarthy, who judging by his ever-expanding waistline down at Upton Park – proved a little too ‘hungry’ for all the wrong reasons.

Next up was Mido. Although the usually aggressive frontman previously represented each of Ajax, Marseille and Tottenham Hotspur with relative success – the equally hefty Egyptian striker also failed to impress at West Ham despite his notoriously cost-cutting £1,000-a-week contract.

All was not well for the Hammers, yet in the shape of Ilan Araújo Dall’Igna – West Ham’s third and final striker signing on deadline day January 2010 – the two Davids had finally sourced a frontman worthy of wearing the famous claret & blue with pride. Unlike both McCarthy and Mido before him, Ilan’s subtle contribution would eventually be enough to help see the Hammers live to fight another day.

It says a lot that the West Ham faithful were forced to pin all their hopes upon three cheap & cheerful frontmen that most other clubs had previously turned their noses up at, but sometimes this is simply how it goes when you’re scrapping it out among the dreaded relegation dogfight – fighting for your lives with the odds stacked against you.

Although Ilan would go on to score as little as four goals for the Hammers in his brief spell down in East London – that’s four more than both Benni McCarthy and Mido put together by the way – they were enough to help keep the club’s head above water, a feat few expected from such a seemingly underwhelming acquisition.

The Brazilian-born frontman wasn’t particularly quick or imposing. He lacked the technical skill necessary to dazzle his respective fanbase and baffle opposing defenders, whilst also failing to prove all that physical when looking to assert his supposed striking dominance. Yet what Ilan lacked in ability and technique, he certainly more than made up for via his intelligent movement and sheer awareness in front of goal.

Like so many slightly undervalued and overlooked strikers before him, the little known South American knew exactly where to be and precisely when to be there. His four goals for the Hammers included a handful of well-taken tap-ins and close-quarters finishes, plus one extremely fine diving header against Everton at Goodison Park. It was a goal that gave West Ham fans hope, belief and optimism. An important reminder that the plucky East-End club weren’t quite down and out just yet.

“It’s easier for me to adapt to English football because I have already played for five years in France. Normally when players come to England from the French league, they do quite well and I am confident that I can do well too.”

Ilan Araújo Dall’Igna

West Ham’s first ever Brazilian representative had previously plied his trade among the French top flight with both Sochaux and Saint-Etienne, a stage in which he was considered something of a reliable finisher. He wasn’t exactly widely coveted at the time, but Ilan’s emerging status also saw him represent the Brazilian national side briefly in 2003 – where he ultimately proved unable to oust the likes Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Denilson among the country’s famed attacking department.

Whilst the hopeful free transfer would by no means go on to represent an adored club legend or out-in-out fan favourite down at West Ham United, most Hammers fans would still have kind words to share over Ilan and his modest goalscoring record – well, those who still remember him among the hordes of equally forgettable attacking signings made by their club in recent years that is.

Although the term ‘saviour’ may admittedly feel like a bit of a push when describing Ilan’s all-round contribution in front of the Upton Park faithful, it remains to be seen whether or not West Ham would have ultimately stayed up without the Brazilian’s rewarding collection of goals and well-worked partnership with Carlton Cole up top.

He may not have captivated the Hammers supporters with Carlos Tevez-esque proportions that season, and of course most West Ham fans would have rather seen their club land someone with a little more striking pedigree among the English top flight – but at least Ilan delivered for Gianfranco Zola’s side when so many of his fellow attacking counterparts failed to raise as much as a brief smile of distant hope among the East End faithful.

As free transfers go, the little known signing of Ilan Araújo Dall’Igna certainly could have turned out a whole lot worse for Zola and his hopeful Hammers outfit. Who knows? Maybe West Ham would have never been relegated the following season if the South American striker had stuck it out at Upton Park just that little while longer…

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