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Eyebrows were raised when West Ham were able to complete a £38m deal to bring highly-rated Ghanaian international Mohammed Kudus to East London in the summer, and the ex-Ajax star has more than lived up to expectations at his new club so far.

Arriving at West Ham in August as the Irons’ marquee summer signing as part of a recruitment drive undertaken by manager David Moyes and technical director Tim Steidten following the club’s Europa Conference League success last term, Kudus has not taken long to acclimatise to English football.

Initially forced to wait to break into the starting XI by Moyes, seemingly keen to ease his new man in gently, Kudus has been a mainstay in the side in the Premier League since making his first start in a 1-0 defeat against Everton in October.

A skilful and versatile operator, Kudus is the kind of player who gets bums off seats and makes supporters pay to see, with a ‘go get them’ style of play accompanied by an already refined finished product which has seen him contribute 10 goals and an assist in all competitions for West Ham so far this season.

We take a look at Kudus’ humble origins, his path to the Premier League and his impact at West Ham in the latest instalment of In Focus
 

Football

Right to Dream

As is the case with many talented African exports to European football, the story of Kudus’ rise to the top of the game is an uplifting one.

Born in Nima, a Zongo residential town in the Greater Accra region of Ghana, Kudus joined the prestigious Right to Dream Academy which provides scholarships to the most gifted young footballers in Africa at the age of 12.

It was from Right to Dream, whose alumni also includes Brighton’s Simon Adingra and Kamaldeen Sulemana of Southampton, that Kudus made the plunge to Europe with the academy’s associated club FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark aged 17 in 2018.

Kudus’ exceptional talent became apparent very quickly in Denmark, and after scoring 11 goals in the Superliga in the 2019/20, the Ghanaian youngster made his next step on his journey in a £7.8m transfer to Dutch giants Ajax.

Famed as one of European football’s most prolific talent factories, with a model based on giving young players a chance in the first team before selling them on for substantial transfer fees, Ajax was the perfect place for Kudus to take his game to the next level.

Kudus’ first season in the Netherlands saw him register seven goal contributions – four goals and three assists – in 17 Eredivisie games.

It was during the subsequent 2022/23 campaign in which Kudus’ exploits began to truly capture the attention of football fans in Europe and beyond, however.

Drawn in a blockbuster Champions League group alongside Liverpool, Napoli and Rangers, the clinical Kudus notched four goals in six games to announce himself on the biggest stage of club football.

Operating in a variety of different attacking positions – in a number 10 role, on the right flank or up front – Kudus was rapidly developing into one of Ajax’s leading men.

Finishing the 2022/23 campaign with 18 goals and seven assists in all competitions for Ajax, it came as little surprise that clubs across the continent were beginning to take a keen interest in the African.

At one point seeming close to a switch to Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton, Kudus eventually departed Ajax for another Premier League outfit in the form of West Ham for a reported fee of around £38m – making him the second most expensive Ghanaian footballer of all time behind Arsenal’s Thomas Partey.
 

Kudus won two Eredivisie titles and one KNVB during his three seasons at Ajax.

Europe's Top 7 Leagues 2022/23 take-on success rate

(130+ attempts):

  • Mohammed Kudus (Ajax) - 67.9%
  • Jeremy Doku (Rennes) - 66.2%
  • Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen) - 62.5%
  • Lionel Messi (PSG) - 59%
  • Leroy Sane (Bayern Munich) - 57.3%
     

I’ve been dreaming to play in a league like this [Premier League] since I was a kid, so I’m just taking each day by itself and following my dream and I’m here today. 

- Mohammed Kudus after signing for West Ham, Aug 2023

Becoming a Hammer

Arriving at West Ham with lofty expectations given his £38m price tag and exploits for Ajax and his country Ghana, Kudus appears to have settled into life in London exceptionally well.

Renowned for his versatility, the most pressing issue for Hammers boss David Moyes during Kudus’ integration into the first team was how to fit him into his tactical system.

A highly organised manager who likes his team to play within an established structure, in the case of his current West Ham side within a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 setup, there are a number of roles Moyes could have given the highly adaptable Kudus.

As it so happened, a knee injury picked up by Michail Antonio on international duty for Jamaica in November made a solution to Moyes’ tactical conundrum fall at his feet, with the Scotsman opting to move the prolific Bowen through the middle and place Kudus on the right-hand side.

This has seen West Ham line up with a front three of Kudus, Bowen and Brazil international Lucas Paqueta to great effect in recent times, with this exciting trio helping the Irons cement a place in the top half of the Premier League and knockout stages of the Europa League.

An attacking triad which is likely envied by the majority of teams in the country, West Ham’s top scorer Bowen is relishing playing alongside Kudus and Paqueta at the London Stadium, telling the media in December 2023:

"We’re playing with freedom; me, Mo and Lucas. We’ve got a really good understanding and there are times when Mo [Kudus] was up front and I am out on the wing. There are times when it was the other way around, but I think that is the quality that the three of us have.”

As a naturally left-footed player lining up on the right flank, Kudus is able to cut inside and remain close to the opposition goal in order to create and score.

With the skilful Paqueta also coming infield onto his stronger right foot from the left, West Ham’s width is typically supplied from their full-backs – Vladimir Coufal at right-back and Emerson Palmieri at left-back.

Only 5ft 9in but physically very strong, Kudus possesses both the close control and vision to unlock tight defences as well as the explosive pace to fit in with the Hammers’ counter-attacking style which has proved effective for them under the guidance of Moyes, particularly in Europe.

Still only 23, Kudus’ early impression at West Ham signals a player who could be destined for very big things in the Premier League, whether at the Irons or at an even bigger club. 
 

He’s made a brilliant start here. I always say it’s not easy for boys coming over from other leagues to do well in the Premier League initially. I think he’s done great. 

- West Ham manager David Moyes, Dec 2023

West Ham - London Stadium

Kudus is just the third Ghanaian player to represent West Ham, following John Paintsil and Andre Ayew.

West Ham 2023/24 Latest Odds:

Premier League:

To Finish in Top 4 - 40/1
To Finish in Top 6 - 13/2
To Finish in Top Half - 3/10
To Finish in Bottom Half - 12/5

FA Cup:

To Win Outright - 25/1

Europa League:

To Win Outright - 12/1

All odds correct at the time of publishing and subject to change.
 

Black Stars' big hope

Having arrived at the Qatar World Cup in November 2022 on the back of a terrific run of form in the Champions League for Ajax, Mohammed Kudus was tipped up as a potential breakout star of the tournament.

At every World Cup there are lesser known young players who rise to the occasion and showcase their talent on the biggest stage of all, and although Ghana were eliminated at the group stage, their latest jewel Kudus was able to do just this.

Lining up in central midfield within Ghana manager Otto Addo’s preferred 3-5-2 formation, Kudus provided an inspired assist for Andre Ayew in a 3-2 loss against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the West Africans' opening group match.

Kudus rose to increased prominence in his following outing against South Korea, notching a blistering brace in a 3-2 win to give the Black Stars a chance to progress to the knockout rounds ahead of a showdown with Uruguay in their final game, in a rematch of the 2010 World Cup quarter-final which the South Americans infamously won on penalties.

The Ghanaians were defeated 2-0 , however, with Kudus and Co exiting the tournament at the first hurdle.

Despite this disappointment, Kudus’ standout performances in Qatar enabled him to distinguish himself as the shining light of this generation of Ghanaian footballers and offer hope for the future.

Following the 2022 World Cup, attention has now turned to the latest edition of the African Cup of Nations, which begins in the Ivory Coast in January 2024, with Ghana now led by former Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest manager Chris Hughton.

Ghana qualified for the 2023 AFCON top of a group including Angola, Central African Republic and Madagascar, with the Black Stars unbeaten with three wins and three draws from their six matches.

Kudus registered three goals during AFCON Qualifying, with an overall record of nine in 30 caps proving he has shown up well for his country in his international career so far.

West Ham’s newest star will go to AFCON as Hughton’s most talented attacking player in a squad which also includes the likes of Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, Southampton’s Kamaldeen Sulemana, Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew, Bournemouth’s Antoine Semenyo and Inaki Williams of Athletic Bilbao.

Ghana will expect to navigate through Group B which also features Egypt, Cape Verde and Mozambique, but not an awful lot is expected of this Black Stars cohort at AFCON with a total of eight nations currently given a shorter price to win the tournament. 

Despite the odds appearing against his country, ‘Nima’s Son’ Mohammed Kudus will be desperate to be part of the first Black Stars side since 1982 to claim AFCON glory in the Ivory Coast at the start of 2024.
 

I think eventually he will be a 10, but he’s somebody that is very talented right across the forward line or as an eight.

- Ghana manager Chris Hughton, Dec 2023

The Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe in northern Abidjan, with a capacity of 60,000, will host the final of the 2023 AFCON.

Ghana AFCON 2023 Odds:

Group B Qualification:
Yes - 1/10
No - 6/1
To Win Group B - 11/8
To Reach Final - 13/2
To Win Outright - 14/1

All odds correct at the time of publishing and subject to change.
 

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