When Tomas Soucek was despatched off in harm time towards Fulham final weekend, West Ham United supervisor David Moyes and the membership’s followers had been baffled by the choice – however they might even have been significantly involved concerning the penalties of it.
The pink card was swiftly rescinded, which means no three-game ban for the 25-year-old Czech Republic midfielder, who has been a revelation since becoming a member of the Hammers in January 2020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.
For the reason that begin of December, Soucek has scored seven league targets. His eight in complete this season is the most effective (excluding penalties) of any midfielder within the league, higher even than Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes.
He has grow to be 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 real looking prospect of Champions League qualification. He has grow to be 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 neglected – he simply wasn’t adequate’
Six years in the past, when Soucek was 19 and at a pivotal level in his bid to grow to be an expert 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 accessible without spending a dime.
Zizkov had monetary issues and needed to improvise with their squad. They tried to get gamers from larger 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 neglected by individuals – he simply wasn’t adequate,” 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 basic supervisor Ivan Hornik intervened.
“He mentioned: ‘Guys, he’ll come only for a mortgage and that is without spending a dime.’ 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 gradual. 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||Targets (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 robust. They didn’t come up with the money for to pay for the upkeep of the pitch at their house stadium, so Trpisovsky determined to stage coaching periods in a close-by park, situated between residence blocks.
Gamers might be seen working within the lengthy grass, whereas locals took their canines for a stroll just some metres away. They had 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’d fall into,” Soucek mentioned in a 2019 interview.
He performed 14 video games within the second division and returned to Slavia in the summertime of 2015. Slavia had been coached by Dusan Uhrin Jr and had massive issues. “These had been completely different occasions,” Uhrin remembers. “I got here into the membership and the earlier season they completed 11th and had been with out cash.
“Tomas was fortunate in that. We determined to deliver 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 towards Viktoria Plzen, the champions. “I wasn’t actually satisfied. I used to be fearful about whether or not he might deal with it, however he started to attain, even when he performed as a defensive midfielder.”
Underneath Uhrin, Soucek scored seven targets in 29 league video games.
Uhrin remembers a coaching session when one Slavia participant tackled Soucek and injured him “fairly badly”. “All of us bought 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 mentioned that he may be good for the Bundesliga. He had that type 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 firstly.
“He did not have good passing. Additionally, it did not look superb when he was working. That may have been the rationale why coaches did not need him,” he says.
“However he was nice in enhancing himself and dealing onerous in coaching. He progressed actually rapidly, took accountability and remained an ideal boy. You needed to get used to watching him as a result of at first look he regarded gradual.”
Uhrin describes Soucek as a quiet and shy boy who was a soccer fanatic and undertook additional coaching periods. By working onerous, a midfielder who by no means stood out within the academy abruptly turned Slavia’s key participant.
“He actually regarded bizarre on the pitch,” provides journalist Cermak. “He had an atypical physique form – regarded fairly clumsy – however then he did some shock strikes.
“I by no means knew what to consider him. Then he scored a hat-trick towards 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 one more mortgage, at top-flight aspect Slovan Liberec. There, he met Trpisovsky once more. A number of months later they had been each at Slavia – and Trpisovsky constructed his workforce round Soucek.
Of their first season, Slavia ended second behind Plzen and had been then champions a yr later, with Soucek scoring 13 targets in 34 video games.
Trpisovsky beloved Soucek. He has described his protege as having “a pc in his head” and, underneath his steering, Soucek turned a daily within the nationwide workforce. Slavia progressed to the Champions League group stage final season, the place that they had hard-fought battles with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
Within the area of two weeks, Soucek led the the Czech Republic to a vital 2-1 victory towards England in a Euro 2020 qualifier – a outcome which ended the Three Lions’ unbeaten report in qualifying stretching again 10 years – and was then among the best gamers on the pitch as Slavia had been unfortunate to lose 2-1 towards Barcelona.
Soucek had proven he had no downside going through a few of Europe’s greatest 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 charge. Even West Ham’s provide was too small, in keeping 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 yr at West Ham, Soucek reached 10 Premier League targets in solely 33 appearances. Different Czech greats – all of them forwards or attacking midfielders – wanted extra video games to achieve that complete: 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, capable of run relentlessly – his 12.2km coated on common per recreation is the very best within the league, together with Brighton’s Pascal Gross – defend, cowl area, 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 gained their workforce extra factors with their targets in 2020-21.
“He is a wee bit old style in some ways, however his angle and dedication to the workforce is second to none,” Hammers boss Moyes has mentioned.
Uhrin wouldn’t be stunned if reported curiosity from golf equipment competing in Europe materialises. “He’s always enhancing, so why not? Who scores eight targets from his place? I would not count on a switch to Bayern, however fairly a workforce in England.”
Large challenges lie forward over the following few months. Can he encourage West Ham to a European place? And can he do harm to England when the groups meet within the group phases of this summer time’s European Championship? They’ve been warned.
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