Whilst David Moyes has been the most obvious victim of his own success, two lynchpins of that success have paled in comparison to their former selves. When Tomas Soucek arrived in January 2020, initially on loan, his battling spirit and goals helped lift a stuttering side and spark a post-covid revival.
In that summer he was joined by his international colleague, Vladimir Coufal, and the Czech mates quickly established themselves as fan favourites. Soucek formed a formidable partnership with Declan Rice, the double pivot providing the foundations of Moyes’s success, allowing our more attack-minded players to get forward and express themselves, safe in the knowledge that they were leaving the defence protected by arguably one of the best pairings in the league.
Whilst his defensive work was crucial, the towering central midfielder also scored some hugely important goals to help us avoid relegation in 2019/20 and then lift us towards back-to-back seasons of European football. His performances in 20/21 saw him win the Hammer of the Year Award.
Coufal likewise impressed with his uncompromising, no nonsense style providing the perfect foil to Jarred Bowens attacking endeavours. He showed early on that he is the type of fullback West Ham fans adore; front footed and just as happy bombarding up the flank as he is putting opponents into advertising hoardings.
In his first season, he made 34 league appearances and ranked as one of the best defenders in the league in terms of tackles, interceptions, clearances and dribbles per game, as well as seven assists. His combinations with Bowen also made him a vital part of our attacking threat.
Together the pair, who won League and Cup honours whilst at Slavia Prague, also brought a determination, confidence and winning mentality that the club so desperately needed. Their attitude to training set the example for the rest of the squad, with Moyes commenting that he often had to ban the pair from Rush Green to get them to stop turning up on their days off.
Their contribution to our recent success is unquestionable. However, both have had their struggles of late and it poses the question: is it time to cash in our Czechs? Vladimir Coufal hasn’t been the same since he picked up a groin injury against Manchester United in the League Cup in December 2021.
He still managed to make 28 league appearances that season but regressed in all areas and looked a shadow of his former self. And things haven’t improved much for him this campaign. He has found it difficult to cement his place in the side due to his lack of form and niggling injuries.
The trend from the previous season has continued with him seeming to have lost that burst of aggression that saw him as an imposing presence in our defence despite his diminutive stature. To compound issues, just as it was starting to look like we’d got our Coufal back, he picked up a heel injury that halted his revival.
At his best, he is undoubtedly our best right back, and his commitment to the cause can’t be questioned. He will always hold a place in our hearts for his humility and hard work, but whether he should hold his place in the squad is a different matter.
His deal is due to expire this summer although the club has the option to extend his contract for a further two years and he will turn 31 at the start of next season. With form and fitness a concern and rumours that Bayer Leverkusen hold an interest for his services, it seems the time may be right to part ways and find a long term first choice with neither Ben Johnson or Thilo Kehrer so far convincing in Coufals absence.
As for Tomas Soucek, his recent struggles have been well documented. When asked to dictate play from deep, as he was at the start of the season, he is ineffective and the need for a more press-resistant, technically-assured defensive midfielder has been apparent.
However of late, with Paqueta deployed deeper and the Czech allowed to go and disrupt further up, he has been more effective – at least by comparison. His defensive work is still vital, but questions will persist about his contribution to his utility when we are in possession – especially now that the goals have dried up.
With his contract due to expire next season, our opportunity to cash in is dwindling. So with it feasible that we shall say “ahoj” to our Czech warriors, and with Declan Rice destined to depart this summer too, it may be that the pillars of Moyes’ West Ham are due for a major rebuild.