Like an east London Forrest Gump, the 25-year-old’s ceaseless smiles and storming runs have driven the side to the next level.
Without the former Slavia Prague man West Ham may not have survived the drop last season. Now, his infectious work-rate and zest are lifting the Hammers to new heights. A sixth career Premier League goal – crashing home a Jarrod Bowen corner at the far post – came at Elland Road on Friday night, drawing West Ham level before Angelo Ogbonna sealed the win and sent West Ham fifth with a tally of 20 points from 12 games.
Hailed by manager David Moyes as West Ham’s running man in his first weeks at the club, the Czech is ever present at the top of the distance covered charts at the end of each game. Soucek takes the notion of the engine room to another level, but his game is about far more than hard work and heading.
The Czech Republic international must be a nightmare to face. In midfield he never shirks a challenge, and possess a touch far more deft than his towering 6ft 4in frame would suggest while in the box he is near impossible to shackle.
Soucek, the first player to well and truly unseat Mark Noble in east London, has formed a formidable partnership with Declan Rice in midfield. The two shield and strengthen together while also taking it in turns to make the odd foray forward, charging through and leaving opposing midfielders in their wake with marauding runs into the final third.
“Him and Declan [Rice] have been so good, their effort, their commitment, every game we have a high standard of steady and consistent performance from them,” said Moyes.
Up against a usually rampant Leeds side many feared West Ham would not be able to go the distance, unable to match the energy of Marcelo Bielsa’s side. But Soucek knows nothing of the old West Ham that Moyes is so keen to draw a line under. He never gives up, never runs out and always bears a smile at the end.
Fighting spirit, confidence and enjoying the game are natural to Soucek, though have been in short supply at West Ham in recent years.
It’s not gone completely, as Rice revealed last night saying: “To be fair, it’s always horrible going 2-1 up because some West Ham teams over the years would have caved in.”
But Soucek is helping to change the mindset and teaching those around him to relish the moment, often re-emerging after successful away games for a picture with one or two teammates on the turf they’ve just conquered.
That spirit may be just as important to Moyes’s side as his running. The midfielder quickly became a popular figure following his January arrival, taking east London to his heart during lockdown – training alone on Hackney Marshes – and has become a pivotal part of the dressing room, settling in summer signing and former Slavia Prague teammate Vladimir Coufal with ease.
His signing has been a cornerstone of the transformation in east London since survival was secured last season. Even the trio of West Ham fans who made the trip to Tier 3 Elland Road in order to stand outside and protest against the board must, albeit through gritted teeth, give messers Sullivan, Gold and Brady some credit for backing Moyes and spending on a relatively unknown, rather goofy looking, quantity from Slavia Prague.
Soucek is certainly not an unknown quantity now. Fans, teammates and opponents know exactly what they’re going to get from the rampaging figure and few know quite how to stop him.
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