The badger and the rhino’s horn Published 21/03/18 on Irons United
The West Ham faithful have never once ceased supporting the team and would wish the clouds to part for every match to let the rays of hope shine down upon hallowed turf…however that fortitude has been tested more than once during the last two years and there may be more testing times ahead unless the unsung and unfashionable rise up to be the princes in a Narnian chronicle.
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” – C.S. Lewis
Two players that have attracted much derision and frustration from West Ham fans and it is less to do with their capabilities but rather about their lack of potency this season and much of last two. Michail Antonio and Cheikhou Kouyate have both struggled to recapture form of previous seasons and at times have resembled lost sheep amongst a snarling pack of wolves.
Antonio has been less than impressive in many encounter and had unfortunately suffered from injury and match fitness for most of the season. His physical frame has increased and his energy would appear to have regressed in the last twelve months or so. He is the rhino who kicked the bull out of the way and would venture forward with random application with little success. However, for all his blundering forays, he manages to occasionally find favour with other players and even finding opportunities to score, which he occasionally converts too.
Kouyate on the other hand, has looked out of sorts for some time. It would appear the desire and will has left the station and will not return anytime soon. He has been criticised on many occasions for not matching commitment and purpose with potential, whilst he has failed in the execution of his duties on numerous occasions. So much so that many fans would have seen him dropped from the starting line up and possibly never to play for the club again. Whilst harsh in some regards it is also not with substance as the once box to box player struggles with maintaining his position in midfield and seems unable to track back to prevent free agents heading straight for goal.
Of all the players in the current West Ham squad, Kouyate is the one in which I am most frustrated with and I am not sure whether whatever ails him can ever be healed. He was always the badger who would come to life in the darkest hours, feverishly work away and offer a robust presence in the midfield. Some remarked that he was upset by the whole Sakho affair and had sympathy for his great friend during his times of trouble…perhaps he too has felt troubled by his own contractual limitations? Regardless of the catalyst…his form and purpose has dipped to such an extent and that has also lost favour from much of the support.
However, nothing is ever so black and white in these troubling times for even Kouyate and Antonio have both had moments which would make the fiercest critic take stock and offer some consoling words. Both players have suffered under successive managers to find the right role for their talents. Antonio has been used in a multitude of positions, which none have really suited his game.
He came under increasing criticism under Bilic when playing at right back last season and also in the left wing back role recently too under Moyes, however he has been judged on positions he would rather not toil in. Whilst much of the time he seems to be carrying some kind of injury and he is prone to depleting his energy stores a little too quickly even after short bombarding run into the opponents penalty area. However, by hook or by crook…when played in the right midfield role or even in a more advanced position, he does tend to produce more and be more effective too.
When he played alongside Payet, I thought he had the best times in a West Ham shirt and as soon as the mercurial Frenchman left for home…Antonio seemed to lack the sprite to continue as he once did, possibly suffering from our much maligned poor delivery to him. When in these positions higher up the pitch and being played on the right hand side of the pitch, we tend to see the best out of Antonio…and our only wish is that Moyes would want to exploit those talents too.
Kouyate on the other hand has shown little this season to be thankful for, however even he has had the odd day in the sun too…his performance against Huddersfield in particular proved that in a slightly more advanced role he can be surely effective and indeed was key in a couple of the goals too and was also much more of a nuisance to the opposition than I ever thought possible. Even when West Ham played Bournemouth at the London Stadium, Moyes employed Kouyate in a similar advanced position and he had a decent game too.
However anytime he has been asked to play the deeper holding role, he has struggled for pace, resilience and quality. This has been his big undoing this season and the summer looms large for a potential exit, however he still has a big part to play and he can use his stealthy languid properties to fool opposing teams but he must show much more determination and his passing must improve tenfold.
Kouyate is the kind of playing animal that may look cute and cuddly, but given half a chance can be powerful and deadly…and we need that Kouyate back and not the one we have had for far too long.
Much of their improving performances lies in the hands of Moyes and where he would have them play for the team. Antonio really needs to be a right sided player whom we can use to make surging runs and out pace many of the opponents’ retreating defenders. Kouyate on the other hand either needs to occupy a deeper role…even slot into defence when required to do so…or show greater ambition to move forward.
One thing is for sure…without commitment and confidence, these two players can sink fast and take the whole team down with them, so it is up to Moyes to find the best tactics to make best use of their talents. We need them to step and a deliver great performances and not give up as soon as any opponents attack in kind…we need them to be the mighty badger and the charging rhino’s horn…and together we may all see a brighter tomorrow.