‘Our Czech mates are showing why they are still key men for us’

Whilst Coufal has been clocking up the assists, Soucek has been netting late winners recently

Tomas Soucek (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.

It’s been over three years since the Czech Republic international Vladimir Coufal joined us from Slavia Prague for a snip – £5m, and what a brilliant signing he’s turned out to be. I’m going to come straight off the bat and tell you that I absolutely love him – and so I was delighted to read that it would seem that he’s set to be offered a further one-year deal by the club, putting to bed any rumours that he might be off elsewhere.

I’ve always thought of Coufal, and indeed his fellow countryman Tomas Soucek, as being the bulls of the club – they have the attitude of not only wanting to run through brick walls for the team, but also, once they’ve run through those walls, simply pick themselves up and do it again. The West Ham website describes Coufal as committed, which I think could win a prize for Understatement of the Year. Seriously, I’m not sure what Coufal is made of, but whatever it is, I’ll have some of it.

Coufal’s debut was in the 3-0 win away at Leicester on 4 October 2020, two days after he joined the club. It was a great first season for him, not only in helping the team to a sixth place finish that season, but also personally registering seven assists, only second in the chart behind Aaron Cresswell. 

Between them, they created more assists than any other Premier League full-back duo that season. Thirty-four Premier League appearances, and a fully-fledged Czech Republic international; the season couldn’t have gone much better.

Since the heights of that first season, Coufal has suffered a few dips in form. Who hasn’t? He’s also had the odd knock and he was out of the team for large chunks of last season. There are also question marks around his pace – at 31 years old now, he isn’t getting any younger. 

However, I think that this season, he’s been superb, re-established himself in the side, and has made that right-back spot his own. Maybe his pace might be more of an issue over the next year or two, but right now, he deserves his place in this side.

Whilst we talk about Coufal’s defensive abilities, let’s not forget that he also set a new West Ham record earlier this season – becoming the first West Ham player to record an assist in four straight games, against Manchester City, Liverpool, Sheffield United and Newcastle United. That’s a valuable dimension to his game, and one that has significantly improved since last season, when he only recorded one assist during the whole campaign.

Overall, Coufal is a valuable player for us, adds experience and nous, and he needs to stay. I love him, but I already told you that. Whilst we’re on the topic of our Czech boys, let’s talk about Soucek. or as I’m starting to refer to him, ‘the guy who scores the winner once West Ham have played for 89 minutes’. 

Not only is his attitude similar to Coufal’s in that he just keeps going and going, but his goalscoring form has significantly improved this season. At the time of writing, he’s scored in each of his past five matches for club and country, including three very late winners against Nottingham Forest, Burnley, and Backla Topola. 

Counter this against the fact that across the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, he scored nine goals in total. Why is this? The answer is really quite simple. Rice left.

In order for Rice to stamp his authority on a match, Moyes wanted him to move further forward, and to roam more freely. This did, however, mean that a bit more solidity behind him was needed. To counterbalance this, Soucek reduced his running from deep, meaning that his goalscoring record was blunted: his weaponry of height and timing was sacrificed.

Now, alongside the creativity of the likes of Paqueta and Ward-Prowse, Soucek has licence to make those late runs into the box. The end result has become clear: opposition defences don’t know what to do, because they’re having to deal with such a mix of attacking options, and Soucek takes advantage. 

Worry about Ward-Prowse or Paqueta, or obsess over Bowen, but players have forgotten the prowess in front of goal that Soucek has. This, of course, has positively impacted the side: after a third of the season, in 13 games, West Ham have scored 23 goals. 

Now I’m not sour grapes or anything, but I hear an awful lot about how entertaining Tottenham have been this season and how wonderful they are, and they’ve only scored two more goals. The league leaders Arsenal only have four more. They just concede a lot less.

In a footballing world often obsessed with flashy signings and big-name players, are Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek perfect? No. But they do stand as a testament to the timeless virtues of commitment, resilience, and sheer hard work – everything being a Hammer encapsulates. As West Ham fans, isn’t that all we really ask for?

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