When Tomas Soucek was despatched off in damage time in opposition to Fulham final weekend, West Ham United supervisor David Moyes and the membership’s followers have been baffled by the choice – however they’d even have been critically involved in regards to the penalties of it.
The purple card was swiftly rescinded, which means no three-game ban for the 25-year-old Czech Republic midfielder, who has been a revelation since becoming a member of the Hammers in January 2020 in a mortgage deal that was made everlasting in the summertime for £19.1m.
Because the begin of December, Soucek has scored seven league objectives. His eight in whole this season is the most effective (excluding penalties) of any midfielder within the league, higher even than Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes.
He has develop into one of many key gamers – maybe the important thing participant – in a metamorphosis that has taken West Ham to sixth within the Premier League and the sensible prospect of Champions League qualification. He has develop into a followers’ favorite, working properly alongside Declan Rice, and brings defensive solidity, aggression and a potent attacking presence.
Bayern Munich are reportedly monitoring his progress, however not so way back he was undesirable and located himself coaching between blocks of flats.
‘It wasn’t like he was ignored – he simply wasn’t ok’
Six years in the past, when Soucek was 19 and at a pivotal level in his bid to develop into knowledgeable footballer, hardly anybody believed in him.
He had trials within the Czech Republic’s second tier in January 2015, however two golf equipment – Vlasim and Frydek-Mistek – didn’t wish to signal him. Soucek, who was nonetheless Slavia Prague’s participant, was then taken on mortgage by Viktoria Zizkov, largely as a result of he was obtainable free of charge.
Zizkov had monetary issues and needed to improvise with their squad. They tried to get gamers from greater golf equipment on mortgage however failed after which Slavia provided them Soucek, who had been of their academy since he was 10.
When Zizkov’s workers noticed him in coaching they weren’t satisfied.
“It wasn’t like he was ignored by folks – he simply wasn’t ok,” David Cermak, a journalist for Czech newspaper MF Dnes, tells BBC Sport.
Zizkov’s coach, Jindrich Trpisovsky, didn’t like him, however the membership’s common supervisor Ivan Hornik intervened.
“He stated: ‘Guys, he’ll come only for a mortgage and that is free of charge.’ So, Soucek stayed at Zizkov and labored the toughest of all,” provides Cermak.
Soucek was tall and when coaches watched him, they thought-about him to be sluggish. He performed as a defensive midfielder, however his passing was not the most effective. In Slavia’s academy, they tried to show him right into a centre-back, however the participant has spoken of how he resisted any try to vary his place. He has at all times admired Cesc Fabregas and Yaya Toure and noticed himself as a central midfielder, too.
|Midfield participant||Appearances||Objectives (excluding penalties)|
|Tomas Soucek (West Ham)||23||8|
|Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester Metropolis)||17||8|
|Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)||23||7|
|James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)||22||5|
|James Rodriguez (Everton)||15||5|
Life with Zizkov was powerful. They didn’t come up with the money for to pay for the upkeep of the pitch at their dwelling stadium, so Trpisovsky determined to stage coaching classes in a close-by park, positioned between condo blocks.
Gamers may very well be seen operating within the lengthy grass, whereas locals took their canine for a stroll just some metres away. They have been studying tactical formations among the many bushes. “When the coach advised us to do a ahead roll, we did not wish to. We by no means knew what we might fall into,” Soucek stated in a 2019 interview.
He performed 14 video games within the second division and returned to Slavia in the summertime of 2015. Slavia have been coached by Dusan Uhrin Jr and had massive issues. “These have been completely different instances,” Uhrin remembers. “I got here into the membership and the earlier season they completed eleventh and have been with out cash.
“Tomas was fortunate in that. We determined to carry all younger gamers from loans again to Slavia as a result of we had no cash to purchase new gamers.”
Uhrin determined to place Soucek into the beginning line-up within the first spherical of matches in opposition to Viktoria Plzen, the champions. “I wasn’t actually satisfied. I used to be fearful about whether or not he may deal with it, however he started to attain, even when he performed as a defensive midfielder.”
Underneath Uhrin, Soucek scored seven objectives in 29 league video games.
Uhrin remembers a coaching session when one Slavia participant tackled Soucek and injured him “fairly badly”. “All of us acquired very nervous,” he remembers. “In that second, I realised he was irreplaceable for us. I assumed: ‘What are we going to do now with out him?’
“After a few months, I used to be speaking together with his agent and stated that he could be good for the Bundesliga. He had that sort of motion, solidity and braveness. The agent advised me I used to be loopy.”
Uhrin understood he had a particular participant, even when he was additionally sceptical in the beginning.
“He did not have good passing. Additionally, it did not look excellent when he was operating. That may have been the explanation why coaches did not need him,” he says.
“However he was nice in bettering himself and dealing arduous in coaching. He progressed actually shortly, took duty and remained an important boy. You needed to get used to watching him as a result of at first look he seemed sluggish.”
Uhrin describes Soucek as a quiet and shy boy who was a soccer fanatic and undertook additional coaching classes. By working arduous, a midfielder who by no means stood out within the academy all of a sudden turned Slavia’s key participant.
“He actually seemed bizarre on the pitch,” provides journalist Cermak. “He had an atypical physique form – seemed fairly clumsy – however then he did some shock strikes.
“I by no means knew what to consider him. Then he scored a hat-trick in opposition to Banik Ostrava and that caught my consideration, as he performed as a defensive midfielder. Progressively, it was clear he was not a defensive midfielder in any respect.”
‘He has a pc in his head’
In September 2015, CEFC China Vitality Firm purchased Slavia and the membership returned to the summit of the Czech league. Uhrin was sacked in August 2016 and Soucek left for an additional mortgage, at top-flight aspect Slovan Liberec. There, he met Trpisovsky once more. Just a few months later they have been each at Slavia – and Trpisovsky constructed his crew round Soucek.
Of their first season, Slavia ended second behind Plzen and have been then champions a 12 months later, with Soucek scoring 13 objectives in 34 video games.
Trpisovsky beloved Soucek. He has described his protege as having “a pc in his head” and, beneath his steering, Soucek turned a daily within the nationwide crew. Slavia progressed to the Champions League group stage final season, the place they’d hard-fought battles with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
Within the house of two weeks, Soucek led the the Czech Republic to a vital 2-1 victory in opposition to England in a Euro 2020 qualifier – a outcome which ended the Three Lions’ unbeaten document in qualifying stretching again 10 years – and was then among the finest gamers on the pitch as Slavia have been unfortunate to lose 2-1 in opposition to Barcelona.
Soucek had proven he had no drawback going through a few of Europe’s finest midfielders. “Trpisovsky knew properly that Soucek was distinctive even by European requirements,” Cermak says. “He tried to persuade Slavia’s bosses to not promote him for a low price. Even West Ham’s supply was too small, in accordance with him.”
The Hammers did get their man although, making him the most costly participant within the historical past of the Czech league.
In his first 12 months at West Ham, Soucek reached 10 Premier League objectives in solely 33 appearances. Different Czech greats – all of them forwards or attacking midfielders – wanted extra video games to succeed in that whole: Tomas Rosicky 45, Patrik Berger 48 and Vladimir Smicer 107. Smicer, who performed for Liverpool, has in contrast Soucek’s model to Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.
Soucek has proved himself a flexible participant, in a position to run relentlessly – his 12.2km coated on common per sport is the best within the league, together with Brighton’s Pascal Gross – defend, cowl house, and begin and end assaults. And it’s that attacking prowess that has actually caught the attention.
Solely three gamers – Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Fernandes – have received their crew extra factors with their objectives in 2020-21.
“He is a wee bit old school in some ways, however his perspective and dedication to the crew is second to none,” Hammers boss Moyes has stated.
Uhrin wouldn’t be stunned if reported curiosity from golf equipment competing in Europe materialises. “He’s always bettering, so why not? Who scores eight objectives from his place? I would not count on a switch to Bayern, however somewhat a crew in England.”
Huge challenges lie forward over the subsequent few months. Can he encourage West Ham to a European place? And can he do injury to England when the groups meet within the group phases of this summer time’s European Championship? They’ve been warned.