Supporting West Ham is rough. It is an unforgiving, frustrating and infuriating club to dedicate one’s life to. The awfulness of it all seems to combine. Each terrible season coagulates into one amorphous mass. It is like living in the Arctic Circle in the depths of winter, the sun doesn’t rise for months and you think to yourself, ‘Why did I chose this life?’.
Yet, much like those bleak months in the North, the chance at seeing Aurora Borealis in a brief, fleeting moment of unbridled joy, is enough to keep you going. Every so often a player incarnate of this natural phenomenon appears at West Ham. Berkovic, Di Canio and Payet have sprinkled magic across the mundanity of East London. There is another player of this ilk, whose one season in Claret and Blue is as strange as it was thrillingly mental. Alessandro Diamanti arrived at Upton Park for the 2009/10 season from Livorno and was the star attraction in an otherwise horribly unforgettable and traumatic drawn-out memory.
Seven league goals and runner-up Hammer of the Year looks on paper to be a solid return for Diamanti. Except on paper is rarely where Diamanti operated. He was erratic in every sense of the word. His barber must of been the busiest in East London, but unlike Samson, each time his hair was cut he continued to play in an almost made-up manner. His left foot, in the immortal words of Alan Partridge, was indeed like a traction engine. You got the sense that Diamanti never really enjoyed running and would much rather just thwack the ball towards goal the minute he touched it. Every goal scored for West Ham came off his left, bar his penalty against Liverpool that hit his standing foot before flying into the net in a 3-2 loss.
In fact, only twice when Diamanti scored did West Ham end up winning. The first, a beautifully taken penalty against Portsmouth in a 2-0 victory. He hits the ball so hard and fast, there is literally no need for the ‘keeper to even bother. His celebration is muted compared to his goal against Chelsea the previous week, where he climbed onto the advertisement hoarding, basking in the warm glow of primal celebration from the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand. He raises his arms aloft on both occasions, his trademark long sleeves and bandaged wrist act as beacon for his onrushing teammates. The Italian Stallion, let loose by Gianfranco Zola’s free-flowing tactics was surely the newest cult hero for West Ham.
His most memorable goal is, of course, his free kick against Birmingham City in early February. About twenty-two yards from Joe Hart’s goal, Diamanti stands poised over the ball. His deadball specialities had been lauded throughout the season but he was yet to score directly from a free kick. This time he delivered. A short run up culminates in his left foot swinging at the ball like a scythe. A scythe with a massive lead weight attached to it. The ball sails through the night sky, illuminated by the floodlights, nestling in what can only be described as ‘top bins’. Hart doesn’t get anywhere near it, foreshadowing his spell with the Hammers some seven years later. Diamanti wheels away in ecstasy, charging to the dugout like the Light Brigade, gesticulating with the release of passion. This was only West Ham’s second win since November. From here on a disastrous run of results but them in real relegation danger. Yet Diamanti was not the man to pull the phoenix from the ashes.
Instead, Ilan and Scott Parker dragged the club from the Sarlacc of relegation. Diamanti didn’t feature in either the last-gasp 2-2 draw at Goodison, or in the 3-2 epic victory against Wigan at Upton Park, sealing Premier League status. It almost feels as of Diamanti’s presence doesn’t align with the particular season. The enigmatic elegance of his play are the splashes of colour in the film noir of this horrible mess. He was a luxury, the ultimate guilty pleasure of a player. A player you would will on to take on the world through his sumptuous left foot.
Yet like Aurora Borealis, his presence was brief. The moments of joy came irregularly. His lack of tactical application meant Zola sacrificed his flair for utility. When we got a glimpse, it was magic. His immediate return to Italy after one season went under the radar, after Sullivan and Gold decided to bring in Avram Grant to take the club to the next level(!). A meagre fee of around £1.3 million was laid out by Brescia. This was a pitiful return for a player who had shown such mercurial talent. Especially when replacing him was Pablo Barrera, who tallied zero goals, zero assists and didn’t make the matchday squad from February onwards.
A journeyman career to Watford via China and back to Italy leaves him in Serie B with Livorno again. A peculiar full circle of an Italian magician with a beautiful left foot, those iconic long sleeves and a cult hero status that still resonates to this day. Once again, it is a case of an immense talent finding themselves at the right club at the wrong time. Only the ‘wrong time’ feels like a never-ending eon with West Ham. Diamanti and the club are perhaps the perfect symbionts, always entwined, neither ever reaching their true potential, instead living in nostalgia of sparks of brilliance.