Reality Czech

When David Moyes returned to the helm at the tail end of 2019, his first signing as he sought to bring stability and avoid relegation was Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek.

Initially on loan view an option to make it permanent, it’s fair enough to say that not many were fully aware of the player. A Czech international maybe, but not one many would have naturally courted.

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What quickly became apparent as the Covid interrupted season finally unfolded was that we had managed to secure someone who fully hit the brief required at the time. Combative, hard working, brace and with an uncanny knack for making runs into the penalty area at the right time.

Here was an asset, a man who quickly became a core component of the Moyes machine. Despite the accusations of being a Fellaini knock off, he seemed to me at least have more in his locker. Not least in terms of leadership and intelligence.

Now, it’s also fair to say Tomas isn’t the most gifted with the ball at his feet, but the work rare and goalscoring knack mote than compensated as his role as the attacking pivot in our midfield payed dividends. In his first 51 Premier lLeague games he notched a highly impressive 13 goals, as we established firstly Premier League security, then the following season European qualification.

He went on to bag the Hammer of the Year award in 2020/21 - more of which in a moment - but not bad for a man, who had battled against the odds to get where he was.

In his early career before eventually sealing a move to the Premier League he had struggled following his initial move to Slavia Prague. Two loan moves and a rock hard mentality persevered and he eventually established himself as not only as a key player for Slavia but also the Czech national team.

Such was his influence that following a somewhat sparse transfer window and injuries to Ryan Fredericks and Ben Johnson, we turned to his compatriot Vladimir Coufal to fill the void at right back for the princely sum of £5m. He too became a fans' favourite. Again combative, but enjoying forays down the flank. His all action displays and seven assists landed him runner up spot in that season's Hammer of the Year award, behind his countryman.

But as ever in football, nothing is ever permanent and various factors can play parts in altering dynamics. In Soucek’s case he was forced to shift to a different role to accommodate the desires and influence of our former No, 41. Whist many argued that this wasn't the case, it simply cannot be denied.

While ultimately there was a happy outcome, as we notched a European trophy, pandering to Declan Rice's desires and ego clearly affected Soucek's role in the side, productivity and influence. He has publicly admitted he suffered with confidence and motivation last season amidst the #41 show. And as the deeper lying, defensive calling he was entrusted with, ripped not only the goals from him but the self belief. It’s testament to his character that he’s come through such a trying period.

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While shifted to deeper lying positions, which clearly didn’t suit him or attributes, it led (and still does) to him becoming the latest of West Ham’s pantomime villains. Whilst his stars bore up, as explained at the time on the KUMB podcast hosted by our very own Wilko1304, the less than pleasing aesthetics didn’t to many, who failed to understand how off the ball and defensive responsibility combined with reduced late forays into the opponents box don’t equate to silky smooth and exciting football.

Similarly Coufal also became a target for derision last season. As his form dipped, out came the wolves to pick holes in his game. As it turns out, hamstring and groin injuries hampered him - but like his compatriot, he tried to battle on when called upon and then re-established himself as our first choice right back.

All this in the backdrop of a tumultuous period for the club. After two consecutive years of league success and European qualification we endured a sticky patch. As Moyes struggled to try and implement a shift in style with a big shift in personnel, fatigue and the gurning/arm waving #41 sideshow all combined to poor performances domestically, fan unrest and a general air of despondency which hung over the club.

Yet here we are, 12 months on. Silverware in the cabinet, a string of positive results in the bank, a swathe of new signings all contributing and bringing smiles to the fanbase. All this whilst playing some easy on the eye football and with a team seemingly enjoying life again.

That two of the key components to help bring back the smiles to east London are our two Czech players shouldn’t be ignored. Shorn of a lot of the defensive shackles as Edson Alvarez slots effortlessly into our set up, Soucek has knocked three goals from eight games and seems to be back to the right place, right time form we loved. Yes he isn’t a naturally gifted footballer, but as one of the sum of all parts he’s performing a key role.

Coufal is back fit too, encouraged by some excellent footballers and better movement and confidence around him. He too seems back to the Vlad we took to when he joined. Strong in the tackle, contributing some wonderful assists - just admire the play in the Man City and Sheffield United goals. He’s flourishing and happy again.

These guys aren’t world beaters, but for every Lucas Paqueta and Mo Kudus you need players to do the nuts and bolts in order to make us function. At this stage of the club’s development the Czech pair’s abilities, work rate, bravery and professionalism are things to be applauded not criticised.

For a combined £26m they have delivered and will continue to do so. We often forget that form, external factors and injury can hamper performance. We shouldn’t ignore the positivity and contribution this pair have supplied.

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