Don’t Give Up On Kouyate Just Yet

Cheikhou Kouyate is a polarizing figure at West Ham United. From his performance in 2017/18 many supporters are suggesting he needs to be sold, and others hark back to his seasons at the Boleyn and know he has more to offer. If we examine the best and worst of each season when judging the midfielder what are we left with? What can we truly expect from Kouyate, and will he be a factor in new manager Manuel Pellegrini’s updated version of West Ham?

Well when originally signing with West Ham for £7m, Kouyate was described as a defensive midfielder who can be played as a centre back as well. His height was his biggest noticeable attribute as he comes in at 6’4″, and was even likened to Arsenal legend Patrick Viera. Then manager Sam Allardyce wanted a solid and tall defensive player who could help outlet the ball and bring physicality to the home end of the pitch.

His stats proved that under Allardyce he developed more into a box-to-box midfielder, as he managed 4 goals and 3 assists in 2014/15, even though he spent time 4 games as a centre back. In 2015/16 it was Slaven Bilic managing the team and it was more of the same for the Swiss Army Knife type player, with 5 goals and 3 assists in 34 Premier League games mostly as a central midfielder. Kouyate had a terrific final season at the Boleyn Ground, being a dominant midfielder and using his size.

With the move to the London Stadium came a surprising and drastic drop in form for the Senegalese midfielder. In two seasons at the new stadium Kouyate has only managed 3 goals and 3 assists, and while he isn’t an offensive minded player he certainly was less of a presence in the opponents end. What is important to realize is that Kouyate’s form dipped alongside the teams form. They left their ancestral home, they lost their most electric player (Dimitri Payet) since Paulo Di Canio in a shock move, and they threw all the progress they made in their last season at Upton Park away.

With last season being a disaster from the outset it is hard to judge any player based off their play – except Kouyate. He was extremely poor, as effort seemed to be his biggest lacking aspect in his game. Payet – gone, European football – gone, Upton Park – gone. A lot of what made West Ham unique and exciting in recent seasons was lost, and with it Kouyate’s effort seemed to depart as well. He didn’t track back, he didn’t go up for aerial duels like he can, and he seemed disinterested on the pitch.

When David Moyes arrived at West Ham following Bilic’s sacking last season he promised to make playing time a stipulation to hard training. Many had Kouyate in mind with this Moyes caveat, either he’ll try like he did before or be dropped for lack of effort.

Unfortunately this was not the case as midfielder option Pedro Obiang dropped with injury, and Andre Ayew (someone who can play the midfield) was sold. The team was crying out for another 1-2 midfield options in the January transfer window, but the reinforcements never came. Kouyate was safe from Moyes conditioning simply for lack of replacement options.

He is a well liked player by his teammates, is constantly positive and dancing on social media, and was selected to Senegal’s 2018 World Cup squad as their captain. The intangibles are there, he just needs the pressure on him in order to perform. He is a player that requires a constant fire under their ass for motivation.

And this is why there may be more left for Kouyate at West Ham. New manager Manuel Pellegrini has yet to get his hands on the frustratingly talented midfielder, but the thought of the two combining is exciting.

I believe Pellegrini could want to keep him rather than sell him simply for his ability to play in three of the four zones of his preferred 4-2-2-2 formation. Centre back, check. Defensive midfielder, check. Attacking midfielder, check. Cheik checks more Pellegrini boxes than anyone else and it could prove valuable to the new manager to have a renaissance man in the team.

I was a hard critic on Kouyate this season and was desperate to see him off by season end. Now that the dust has settled and i’ve revisited his entire catalogue of West Ham stats I can see there is more than just Last Season’s Kouyate in that player. I hope Pellegrini sees it too.

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