RR: So then, Aji Alese - is he any good?
WHP: Alese is a very highly regarded young player who came through the academy and signed professionally I think at about 18. He’s a very good ball playing centre back who isn’t afraid to get forward when he has the chance and likes to play the ball out.
He’s very pacy but disciplined in getting back.
RR: The reaction from West Ham fans online seems pretty extreme - is it fair to say that this has taken people by surprise?
WHP: As far as I’m aware this has taken everyone by surprise.
We’re lucky at West Ham to have some very plugged in people who seem to get most things right when transfers are going on. I haven’t seen a single person speculate about this deal. So yeah, definitely a massive surprise and not a welcome one either.
RR: I noticed he’s played ninety minutes in both of West Ham’s opening pre-season games - how did he do?
WHP: He played ninety minutes against Servette in Switzerland and then against Ipswich the other night. He played well in both, scoring a goal in the first game.
Many fans saw this as a sign that he might break into the first team squad this season which adds to the surprise.
RR: With previous deals like this one Sunderland have loaded them with buy back clauses and sell on fees to keep the selling clubs happy - is that something you can imagine West Ham have gone for here with Aji?
WHP: I would like to think there is a sell on and or a buy back clause in this. We loan a lot of youngsters out and I half expected us to do the same with Alese next season.
The fact we have sold him shows that Sunderland must’ve offered a good price, but I’d be very surprised if there weren’t clauses - maybe a promotion one if you guys keep pushing on as well?
RR: He’s had a few loan spells in the EFL but never at Championship level - do you think he’s got what it takes to play every week in this division?
WHP: I think he has what it takes. Part of me wonders if the West Ham fans thought more highly of him than the club, given he has gone, but he has matured and with more experience I can’t see how he won’t settle in the Championship.
The Championship isn’t what it was - it’s technical, quick and pacy, and Alese possesses all of those qualities.
RR: In terms of ability, what’s his ceiling? Do you expect him to play in the top flight some day?
WHP: I honestly thought he would get his chance with us in the first team, so I don’t see why he can’t keep pushing on. He played for us in the Europa League game at home against Dynamo Zagreb as well, we lost that 1-0 to a freak long range effort which he was not at fault for, and he played well.
RR: What would you say his biggest strengths are as a player, and where do you think he needs to polish up his game?
WHP: I think I’ve said his strengths elsewhere, but I guess his biggest weakness is experience at his new level however, I would imagine he will get game time for you so this will be addressed quickly.
Being around such a big club with such passionate fans as Sunderland will also help.
RR: For any Sunderland fans who aren’t sure about this signing, what would you say to them?
WHP: I would say that you have signed a very bright prospect who Hammers fans regarded as someone who would work his way into the first team squad very soon.
He is young, so have patience with him, but you’ve got yourself a very good young centre back who will try hard and will use this brilliant opportunity to better himself and his new club. Good luck, Aji!
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