Will Coufal ever reach the same heights after injury woes?

Vlad impressed for the Hammers with his first season heroics but has struggled during his second season

Vladimir (WHU) at the EPL match West Ham United v Burnley, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th January, 2021. English Premier League matches are still being played behind closed doors because of the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and government social distancing/lockdown restrictions.

‘Coufal isn’t the same after his injury’ and ‘Coufal is getting old’ are just some criticisms levelled at our Vlad in recent months. His crowd-pleasing performances of last season have dulled with time and he – along with Czech counterpart Tomas Soucek – look a fraction of the players who were crowned Hammer of the Year and runner up last season.

Vlad’s amazing work rate along with the grit and tenacity he showed in vintage fullback form had garnered him the respect of the fans. He rivalled some of the best wingers and forwards on the Premier League pitch with Jack Grealish, Jamie Vardy and Wilfred Zaha a few of Coufal’s conquests.

These defensive abilities, with the addition of having seven assists – one less than Cresswell – were also enough to reward him with the accolade of “Signing of the Year” and an improved contract. But since Man United’s Matic kicked Coufal in the crotch when the ref wasn’t looking, which influenced a groin injury that Coufal needed surgery for, he hasn’t quite looked the same grizzly right back we’ve come to love.

Media critics

Even before his surgery though, Coufal faced criticism from the vast majority of media pundits. They castigated him for basic defensive errors which included how he kept his legs open when defending against Leicester, where Harvey Barnes kept turning him and made a meal of him, even delivering the cross that led to the second goal.

In an unusual occurrence Coufal was pulled off by Moyes for Ryan Fredericks after 67 minutes. His performance was in stark contrast to the previous season’s draw versus Leicester, where having signed the day before, Coufal was hailed a hero after being dropped into his first match against a stronger Leicester side and managing to keep Jamie Vardy quiet.

Now after his surgery he has yet to find his defensive vigour or pace, and at the Brentford match looked out of sorts, which has led to a shocking response by some West Ham fans.

Fan criticism

In times of great success or great failure, West Ham fans – at least on social media – start turning on players who are out of form, especially if they’ve gotten new deals worth more money. Perhaps our working class roots take umbrage with financial success, and if a player doesn’t look mean and hungry enough a poor performance means apathy.

But Vladimir Coufal isn’t that type of player. In a recent interview he expressed that he was paid in sausages and beer after playing for SS Bilovek in the third lowest division in the Czech Republic. He’s the type of player who was told he was ‘too weak’ to play professionally, and he’s the type of player who played Premier League matches with an injury so painful that he ‘couldn’t get out of the bath without help’.

Injuries always impact players more than fans and onlookers realise. I think if we are patient, we will see the hard-edged defender return to his best.

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