We may have spent most of the summer twitching with Sky Sports News on, wondering how we were going to progress with very little transfer activity. But finally on August 9, we were rewarded for our patience, with the signing of a very talented player, who even comes with a ready-made song.
Yes, James Ward-Prowse (my Lord!), is a Hammer and he’s off to a flying start. The 28-year-old made a great first impression against Chelsea, with a solid contribution to the 3-1 victory, and he continued in this vein in a rare victory over Brighton. Did we expect anything less?
JWP was monumental for Southampton. Joining their academy at the age of eight, he gave them 20 years of service in all, something that the fans from the south coast will always be grateful for, donning him ‘Mr Saint’. In 344 Premier League appearances for the Saints, he scored 49 goals – 13 of those were penalties, 17 were free kicks.
His overall shooting accuracy was 43% across those two decades, which for a midfielder is highly impressive. To put it into more context, Harry Kane has amassed the most shots on target in Premier League history with 523 and his accuracy was 44% – and he’s a striker!
It’s his assisting that has us excited – free kicks, corners, crosses are all areas of expertise for our new recruit. Back in February, Opta provided us with the news that with 17 scored, Ward-Prowse was the second best free kick taker in Europe (in terms of goals scored directly from free kicks), behind only Messi who had netted 31.
His free kick conversion rate stood at 15.3%, which was actually the best in the top five European leagues. The closest competitor to him was Pjanic with 12.2%. In terms of English football, he’s often compared with David Beckham, whom he currently sits just one successful free kick behind in the all time records.
In his very first appearance in claret and blue, JWP laid this out in front of us, not from free kicks (although he came close), but that matters not. Within eight minutes against Chelsea, he had provided Aguerd with the opportunity to score from a beautifully whipped in corner.
Whilst later on in the 53rd minute he had the vision to provide a pass from just inside his own half to Antonio, who looked really in the mood to score, it has to be said. Following the game, the West Ham social media team uploaded images of Ward-Prowse with the simple caption: ‘How may I assist you?’.
They don’t often get praise, but I thought this was the perfect sentiment. His second game for us saw him score his first goal. Two games, one goal – excellent!
This time it was Antonio’s turn to assist JWP, who got himself into the right place at the right time and perfectly perplexed the defenders to bag his 50th in the Premier League. As the rest of the team ran over to the corner to celebrate with him with his trademark golf swing, there was an air of ‘you were what we were looking for’ about them.
So in two games he has 87% average pass completion, won 13 out of 20 duels, bagged two assists, one goal…and a partridge in a pear tree. Surprised? No. Delighted? Yes.
David Moyes wanted Ward-Prowse earlier than he got him, with good reason. The successes that our manager has delivered have often been thanks to a team well drilled on set pieces. Finishing seventh in 2021/22 was an achievement to be proud of and a season where 14 out of 60 goals came from set pieces. Just imagine what a difference someone like Ward-Prowse could have had?
When was the last time we looked to someone so certainly to place a free kick into the top corners? You’d have put your house on Dimitri Payet scoring a free when given the opportunity. This is starting to feel like the sentiment for our new signing – when he takes the ball, your heart rate involuntarily increases and the expectation is that JWP will at the very least graze the post.
Not only that, as we have seen with his first couple of games, he suits the counter-attacking style that Moyes loves to deliver on. He’s shown that already with a couple of perfect long passes, forward-thinking moves and even his communication across the pitch.
Some might say, the tailor made replacement for a certain Mr Rice, and a comfy fit for David Moyes. Sure, we would have loved to have signed him before now, but something feels right about now, perhaps it’s the belief that things happen for a reason that has brought Ward-Prowse to us now.
With Southampton relegated, he was always going to be considering his options. £30 million feels like a very good piece of business for us and fans surely can’t be anything but delighted with this signing. Early indications are excellent, not just in what James Ward-Prowse has shown off himself, but also what he’s brought the team as a whole. It looks like a new lease of life has been brought to London…my Lord.