Cast your mind back to pre-pandemic football. It’s March 2020 and Jarrod Bowen has recently signed for West Ham.
David Moyes, quite rightly, decided not to throw the 23-year-old in at the deep end for 90 minutes against Man City and Liverpool. He played 10 minutes at the Etihad and six minutes at Anfield, just to stretch his legs.
The manager knew what he had to offer, but admitted that the step up from the Championship to the Premier League is hard enough without adding the pressure of playing the toughest opposition.
His full, home debut then was a sight to behold. He had the ball in the net after 15 minutes and gave a Man of the Match performance. He got an incredible standing ovation when he came off on 76 minutes.
Watching from the stands, it felt like this was the signing we’d waited years for.
In that one game, he showed us what an influence he could have on the team; even if he hadn’t scored, he put in a hell of a shift.
He passed successfully, chased the ball, put in tackles, won free kicks. It was a breath of fresh air to watch.
He did well in the next game against Arsenal and displayed how his cool exterior matched his passing ability. There were no goals this time, but it was clear that he’d settled into life at West Ham.
Unfortunately, the next thing he had to adapt to was a national lockdown. If ever there was something to disturb your vibe, it’s a pandemic.
Since the restart last season, we haven’t seen that same spark from Bowen as we did on his debut. But even still, there are no complaints to have with him – he’s done nothing wrong.
This season he has a 75% pass success rate. He’s provided three assists and five goals.
So why do we feel like we can get so much more out of him? Is it his relaxed demeanour? Did he spoil us with his initial performance?
It’s very hard to compare this unusual time to pre-pandemic times. It’s also unfair to compare Championship stats to Premier League figures. But what do we get minute for minute?
Well, in terms of assists, during the first half of the 19/20 season at Hull City, Bowen put in an assist every 373 minutes.
In the second half of the season at West Ham, he managed an assist every 231 minutes. This season, so far, the 24-year-old has assisted once every 618 minutes.
In terms of goals, the portion of the 19/20 season at Hull saw him score a goal every 163 minutes.
He then went on to get one goal in 922 minutes in the remainder of that season at West Ham. During the 20/21 season so far, he has given the Hammers a goal every 371 minutes.
Perhaps we need to expect more goals from the Englishman than crosses this season, based on that evidence.
Is this a case of having a player who goes about their work very effectively, but without making a noise and grabbing the headlines?
At the time of writing, Bowen has played an average of 71 minutes per game. It’s been a running joke in our household to see the substitute board going up around 70 minutes and to say: ‘I wonder who that will be?!’
When you look at the amount of effort that Jarrod puts in those minutes, Moyes is right to continue to rest him for the end of games.
Fatigue, this season and last in particular, plays a big part in effectiveness. We don’t want to see him making mistakes or getting injured because he’s playing too much.
Looking at Bowen’s heat maps for the last few games in comparison to the beginning of this season though, the areas of the pitch he covers are considerably smaller.
Of course, we’ve made new signings and really settled into a style of play now, so that’s not to say he’s not making as much of an effort to cover ground, it’s just that he’s sticking to his position much more.
When this year’s January transfer window came around, I took stock of potential competition for places. I actually think Bowen could benefit from this in the long run.
Having signed Benrahma on a permanent basis, the club has two very different options available. Both are quick, neither of them are particularly great at holding the ball up, but they offer two sides of a coin – one will trick his way through the field, the other will run and put in a cross.
The point is, we don’t want the former Hull star to get too comfortable in the Premier League.
At his former club he won Players’ Player of the Year award twice, Fans Player of the Year award twice and Club Player of the Year once.
In the Championship he picked up one award for Player of the Month and was once in the Team of the Year.
You don’t achieve all of that from resting on your laurels.
What Bowen has on his side is his versatility. He’s a better attacker than defender, but he works well as a winger, a “number 10” and a striker.
He rarely makes mistakes and yes, he has settled down into the team. But he hasn’t stopped impressing us – it’s more likely that actually the rest of the team has upped their game to accommodate his strengths.
Perhaps the next step for Jarrod Bowen is to see Gareth Southgate in the stands at the London Stadium more often.
Then we might notice the spark displayed in his full debut to remind us that we really did make a brilliant signing, ready to make the step up to the Premier League.