Nayef Aguerd’s arrival from Rennes in the summer was a transfer David Moyes desperately needed. Last season we often found ourselves extremely thin in defence, not helped by the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Angelo Ogbonna.
So it was no surprise that Moyes kicked off his £170m summer spending spree by forking out £30m on Aguerd, a highly-rated 26-year-old Morocco international. But when Aguerd suffered an ankle injury, which subsequently required surgery, against Rangers in pre-season, Moyes’ transfer plans for the remainder of the summer suffered a cruel blow. It meant he would either need to reinvest in another centre-back or make do with what he had. Again.
Issa Diop’s departure to Fulham meant it had to be the former and it was PSG’s Thilo Kehrer who eventually arrived for a little over £10m. And what a bargain he is turning out to be. The Germany international was only supposed to be a back up while the likes of Aguerd and Ogbonna fought their way back to fitness but after just a handful of games alongside Kurt Zouma, both might find it hard to regain their place in Moyes’ starting XI.
Kehrer’s start wasn’t perfect, though. Just 22 minutes into his Premier League debut he clumsily tripped Danny Welbeck to give away a penalty as we continued our baffling inability to beat Brighton.
In his third league outing, he was forced to put the ball into his own net in a 1-1 draw with Spurs, although if he doesn’t do that, Heung-min Son scores anyway, so there can be no criticism aimed at the defender for that one. But those two little blotches on his record sheet, albeit so early in his career in east London, do not tell the whole story.
Overall, Kehrer has been a breath of fresh air. He’s calm on the ball, he’s a very good passer of the ball and his positioning appears to be getting better with each game as he gets used to a new team in a new league in a new country.
After just five top-flight appearances, the German ranks fourth for interceptions (1.6), second for clearances (3.6) and second for pass success (86.6%) per 90 minutes amongst his West Ham teammates. There has rarely been a moment, apart from the tackle that led to Brighton’s penalty, where there has been any doubt about his quality.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, though, given he’s won more caps for Germany than any other player since Hansi Flick replaced Joachim Lowe in the dugout 12 months ago, and had made 128 appearances over four seasons for PSG before signing for West Ham. But at the same time, his ability may have surprised some given the measly £10m fee we paid for him.
He gets it
The modern game rarely offers anyone a chance to sign an experienced Germany international who plays at the highest level of club football for that kind of money. It’s just so cheap in this day and age. Whatsmore, he has already shown that he just gets it. He gets West Ham. He gets the fans. He gets the ambition and the passion.
There was a moment during the draw with Spurs when he ushered the ball out of play for a goal kick and, as he went to collect the ball to pass it to Lukasz Fabianski, he signalled to the fans on the corner of the Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking Stands to pick up the noise. He waved his arms in the air, signalling to the fans to take things up a notch. Not long after that, Tomas Soucek bagged the equaliser.
When players do that kind of thing, they’ll always get a reaction. But when they do it during a London derby against your bitter rivals, they instantly win the hearts of the fans. He showed that he understood what that very game meant to every single West Ham fan and he wanted us to know that he was just as up for it as we were, despite scoring an own goal in the first-half.
He has already acknowledged the fans both on and off the pitch, explaining how he ‘felt’ the fans behind him and his teammates in the victory at Villa Park, while he’s also gone public with his amazement at the London Stadium atmosphere. Footballers always know the right things to say these days, but Kehrer just seems like he understands us and knows what is required to be a success in east London.
With Craig Dawson potentially leaving in January, we may already have his heir waiting in the wings for cult hero status at London Stadium. Kehrer is certainly on his way to being just that but the most important thing is his performances and, so far, it’s very difficult not to be impressed by the quality of business David Moyes has done with his capture.