It was a weird December with no Premier League. It was a feat the pandemic couldn’t accomplish, but a human rights violation masquerading as a football tournament was successful in pausing the league this winter and hosting a memorable experience for a few of West Ham’s own.
This World Cup, one Hammer reached historic heights while another nearly got their hands on the World Cup – yet others weren’t so lucky. Current Hammers who represented their countries included mighty Morocco’s Nayef Aguerd, brilliant Brazil’s Lucas Paqueta, fantastic France’s Alphonse Areola, enigmatic England’s Declan Rice and gutless Germany’s Thilo Kehrer.
The creative Croatian attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic also impressed – and he’s still a Hammer whilst on loan. It wasn’t just current Hammers making memories at the World Cup. Many former players represented their countries.
Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Kouyate, Edimilson Fernandes, JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio, and Andre Ayew all played in the World Cup. But did any of these ex-West Ham employees give West Ham seller’s remorse? Here’s a look at how our current and former Hammers fared under Qatar’s scorching sun.
The best tournament came from the Hammer with the least to do who got within 90(ish) minutes of the trophy. France’s Hugo Lloris kept Alphonse Areola off the pitch, but perhaps it was for the best for the French.
Although Lloris let in four penalties to lose the final, anyone who watched Areola’s take on penalties against Blackburn would know he’d have found a way to somehow make it even worse. Our Lions fared well – that’s Lions (Three) as in Declan, and Lions (Atlas) as in Nayef. England didn’t go all the way, but Rice was part of the team who put six past Iran, three past Wales and Senegal, and kept clean sheets in three matches.
Aguerd was in the first African team to reach the World Cup knockout stages — and as group winners, no less. They finished fourth; a massive achievement. Unfortunately for Nayef, while he made his country proud, it came at a cost.
The lanky defender came home sick and injured, and has since lost so much weight that he’s been a doubt for West Ham games. Only at West Ham, you’d think, would a player lose too much weight to play football. Brazil’s Lucas Paqueta was a name of note in Qatar, with the Hammer being an influence in midfield.
He’s also the only current Hammer to score, having netted in Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea. He demonstrated a masterclass to Moyes for how to actually make use of him in a match.
He could have done more with more time, but Brazil were not up to scratch and got turfed out of the competition by Vlasic’s Croatia in the quarter-finals. Vlasic didn’t score, but looked lively and full of chances when playing for Croatia in all six of their matches.
His loan side are keen to keep him after his energetic display, but Hammers fans will wonder if his specific set of skills could be useful in east London to try to keep the Hammers afloat. Meanwhile, Germany were not very good and the less said about Thilo Kehrer’s role the better. Nicht eine gut jahre.
On West Ham’s list of former friends, a few names stood out – including striker Enner Valencia, who had a flying start to the tournament, and was in contention for a golden boot after scoring three goals in three games before Ecuador were eliminated. Likable former Hammer Kouyate started one game for Senegal, while Andre Ayew captained Ghana for three matches and managed to bag a goal.
Edimilson Fernandes played in three of Switzerland’s four games, with the Swiss advancing to the round of 16 before getting thrashed by the Portuguese in a 6-1 defeat. Fernandes was on the pitch for that one, and perhaps had flashbacks of life in claret and blue as the goals rained in.
Another Hammer attended the game, albeit on the bench – ex-Irons midfielder JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio who, during Portugal’s run in the tournament played in two games with zero goals. Irrespective of how the individual players fared or how their nations delivered (Aguerd) or didn’t deliver (Kehrer) one win in this tournament is how many current and former players West Ham fed into it.
Hearing a West Ham reference made by commentators on the footballing world’s greatest stage is important – and acknowledges the calibre of player West Ham are capable of attracting and retaining (at the time of writing, at least). It’s hard to predict the future, but if West Ham can stay in the league and continue to attract International stars, we must be on the path to better football – no matter how long and arduous the path is.