How to solve a problem like Benrahma?

He arrived at the London Stadium with all the usual platitudes generally directed towards any pint-sized foreign player.

‘Mercurial talent’, ‘little magician’, ‘game changer’, we heard them all. Then came the obligatory comparisons – Dimitri Payet, Mohammed Salah. One rather optimistic article even dared to mention the Algerian in the same breath as Lionel Messi. Unfair of course on the Algerian, and all to be taken with a pinch of salt (or tabil spice mix for the more culinary cultured).


Embed from Getty Images


But there was good reason for the excitement. Benrahma had arrived in England in 2018. Signed for then Championship side Brentford for a little shy of £3m from French club Nice, ‘Benny’ became an instant fans favourite in west London. 11 goals and 17 assists in his debut season had the Bees fans buzzing (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

A one-season wonder? No chance! The African added a further 17 goals and 10 assists the following season, helping to guide Thomas Franks’ side to the 2019/20 Championship Playoff Final. That same season, he was voted the fan’s ‘Player of the Year’ and included in the Championship PFA ‘Team of the Year’. It had been an impressive start to life in England and his performances and stats caught the attention of David Moyes. And in October 2020, Benrahma was announced as a West Ham United player.

Initially signed on loan, the deal quickly became permanent, with owners Gold and Sullivan ponying up almost £30m including add-ons… Their third highest transfer fee at the time. Having had their financial fingers burnt by attacking flops Seb Haller and Felipe Anderson, Benrahma was viewed as a ‘safer’ signing, given his experience in English football.

Ahead of the Algerian’s debut, those unacquainted with Championship football headed for the obligatory youtube sizzle reel - and boy it didn’t disappoint. Hat-tricks against Hull and Wigan, twisting and turning big, burly defenders inside out, and the assists? My word, the assists. 30 goals in 94 appearances was impressive enough but combine that with his 27 assists in his two years at Brentford, and it was obvious… The Hammers had found the heir to the plump-sized, Payet throne.

This little fella was the key to unlocking West Ham’s somewhat impotent attack. Albian Ajeti, Felipe Anderson and Javier Hernandez were old news. It was now all about Benny… No, not McCarthy.

Benrahma’s creativity would spark Seb Haller’s Hammers career. His goals from midfield would see him fire in double-digits. His magical dancing feet would unite the London stadium in a chorus not heard since the Frenchman that shall not be named… again. ‘We’ve got Benny, Said Benny’ they would sing in unison amongst the 60,000 inside the Olympic Stadium. It was going to be massive, before Hammers fans even knew what ‘massive’ was.

Patience.

David Moyes tends to treat new signings from the Championship in a similar way other coaches might manage kids coming through the youth team. ‘Slow and steady. Slow and steady.’

To be fair, it worked wonders with Jarrod Bowen. Since signing from Hull in January 2020, Bowen’s gradual introduction to first team football has seen his stats and performances peak in the last 12 months. Let’s not forget, Bowen’s Hammers career started with just one league goal in his debut season. Questions were raised about his suitability. Then, in his first full campaign with the club, his numbers rose. Eight goals in season two at the London Stadium. And then to this year. A staggering 18 goals and an England debut to boot. Moyes’ ‘slow and steady’ mantra appears to have been vindicated.

And so it seems the kid gloves were on for Benrahma too. Just 14 Premier League starts in his first season in east London, with a further 16 from the bench, limited the Algerian to just three goals and seven assists in all competitions. And away from the stats, already questions were being asked of his suitability to the managers’ style of play.


Embed from Getty Images


For all the positivity around Benrahma’s spell with Brentford, some of the more impatient Hammers’ fans started to question what the Algerian brings to the table. He’s not fast. He’s not tall. He’s not particularly hard-working. He’s not a traditional tricky, wing wizard. He’s not a set-piece specialist – in fact his delivery at times is highly questionable. So what then? Well, he brings the stats.

In his second season with the club, Benrahma scored 11 goals in 48 appearances across all competitions. He added six assists too. To put that in context, that’s the same goal tally as Leeds star man Raphinha, and with three more assists than the Brazilian – and yet it’s Raphinha who is currently the £60m target of both Spurs and Arsenal.

So why no such tug-of-war over Benrahma? Why no media love for the Algerian? Why are some Hammers fans ready to give up on their number nine in the hope of an upgrade? Using the Jarrod Bowen ‘slow and steady’ mantra, Benrahma has shown similar impressive improvement from his debut season. His numbers suggest there’s more to come too.

But… There’s a but.

In truth, first class performances from the Algerian have been few and far between in West Ham colours. It’s clear for anyone who was lured in by the initial bluster surrounding his arrival, that he’s a million miles away from the Payets and Di Canios of this world. While those sorts of comparisons are always unfair, they are also unfortunately, quite predictable.

So can he forge a name and reputation for himself? Is there enough about the little number nine to suggest he can help the Hammers push on to a top six finish and then even into the top four? Is he capable of matching the types of numbers and performances of his English teammate, Bowen?

Like many before him, the answer to this has left the West Ham fanbase divided. Some feel, like Bowen, he deserves a third season. We know how well that turned out for the now England forward. Others have taken a harsher, more hard-line view of the Algerian. Too inconsistent, with an all-too-often, poor end product. He’s the very antithesis of Bowen whose hard-work rate, energetic performances and now, end product made last season one of the most exciting in the club’s history.

Recent murmurs from inside the club have suggested that offers for Benrahma would be taken seriously. But would any other club be prepared to table the £30m West Ham stumped up only two years ago? If not, why not? Why would David Moyes be prepared to let go of a player who outscored the £80m Jaden Sancho last season, who amassed more assists in the league than the lauded, Phil Foden? On paper at least, Benrahma is a more than adequate squad player. So why no love?

At times last season, Moyes seemed reluctant to trust Benrahma. Too often the playmaker was sidelined to suit the manager’s more pragmatic approach to games. Hardly the midfielder’s fault, but an ominous sign that the Algerian’s future may lay away from the London Stadium.

* Like to share your thoughts on this article? Please visit the KUMB Forum to leave a comment.

* Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the highlighted author/s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official policy or position of KUMB.com.


More Opinion