It’s been an exceptionally difficult start to the season – a start in which very few of our players have actually looked like professional footballers. Things have started to look up, and two clean sheets at the start of September steadied the ship, but we need to have all the crew on board to prevent any future leaks taking us further adrift.
While we’re calling for all hands on deck, it’s essential we’ve got everyone playing at the best of their potential – and I’m not sure everyone’s quite there yet. In particular, I’m not sure we’ve seen the best from our loveable Senegalese midfielder-cum-defender, Cheikhou Kouyate.
This is his fourth season playing for West Ham United, but it hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts for him or for the club. Kouyate missed the tail end of last season after surgery on his long-standing wrist injury – and yet, to my great surprise, has come back with his arm still in a cast but at this point I’m not sure I’d recognise him without it! He made his return in our desperately needed win over Cheltenham in the Carabao Cup. Since then, he hasn’t exactly returned to the role or level of playing that we’ve come to expect of him.
So what’s gone wrong for the always positive Kouyate – has Cheikhou checked out of West Ham this season? Or should we attempt to forget everyone’s start of season performances (or lack there off , really) and provide a universal clean slate when considering all our players?
The truth is, no one’s started this season particularly well, and I’d be hard pressed to name a player who’s delivered in every one of our five games. There is extra pressure on Kouyate, however, as he has a lot of potential to live up to.
He’s been immense in recent years, and we were lucky to get (and keep) a hold on him after Arsenal and Liverpool’s interest in him. He’s been a driving force in our squad – not to mention he’s scored some valuable goals for us, including the first ever West Ham goal at the Olympic Stadium.
But we need more from him, both defensively and in terms of driving play forward. We need his intensity and ability back in our games. He needs to get more involved and have more of an impact. Kouyate is not a player who should ever find himself as a passenger. He’s capable of greatness, and as the rest of the team gets into gear, I’m expecting him to step back up as well.
He has plenty of opportunity to get back on the right foot, or even the left, if he’d like. Even in a crowded midfield, he’s managed to retain his place in the starting line-up – and with the genuinely unfortunate injury to James Collins, we may also see Cheikhou appear in a deeper defensive role as we’re somehow running a bit low on centre backs again.
He’s good as a centre back, and it might provide a chance for the versatile Senegalese international to get stuck in and shine. At 27, he’s too young to slow down and he’s genuinely one of our best players year after year.
Here’s hoping that he, much like his teammates, simply struggled to get out of first gear when the season started, and that he’s ready to get back into the swing of things and live up to his potential yet again this season.