They confirmed his signing with a golf-themed teaser video on social media – and now West Ham will hope their £30 million gamble on James Ward-Prowse will prove to be a hole-in-one.
After a month of speculation, in which the 28-year-old midfielder’s deal was deemed all but certain or a non-starter based on whom you asked, the Hammers finally got their man a day after their first game of the new season. The former Southampton captain, who spent 20 years at his boyhood club, joins after the Saints were relegated from the Premier League last season. In a dismal year for the south coast side, Ward-Prowse was not only the leader of the team on and off the field but by far their best player, proving an effective creative outlet while being arguably the best dead-ball specialist in the league.
While his self-described strengths of “hard work, graft and giving 100%” play right into manager David Moyes’ preferred Brexit Ball tactics, fans remain divided on if the purchase of an almost-30, fringe England international represents the requisite ambition for the holders of a European trophy. Tactically, last year’s promising passing interplay between the likes of Declan Rice, Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen may be forsaken for good old British route one tactic, with Ward-Prowse’s elite crossing and dead-ball ability potentially key to Moyes’ offensive strategy for the season to come.
Can set-piece wizard Ward-Prowse help fill Rice’s void in the West Ham midfield?
When Declan Rice decided to move on to new pastures this summer, West Ham decided to replace their club captain and midfield talisman with someone else’s. Like Rice, Ward-Prowse was the heart and soul of his boyhood club, and in this regard, his purchase will go a long way to filling the leadership and culture void of their former captain’s departure.
But tactically, West Ham always knew replacing Rice (a modern midfield unicorn who excels in both attack and defence), was to be via committee and not by a like-for-like replacement. In the recent purchase of Edson Alvarez, they acquired a player capable of replacing Rice’s defensive steel, protection, and ability to progress the ball from the defensive third – while Ward-Prowse (in theory) helps cover his attacking impetus and off-field leadership.
What Ward-Prowse adds is his outstanding direct and indirect set-piece skills, which, when combined with West Ham’s phalanx of “vertically blessed” players, will leave every PL defense in cold sweats.