Youssef En-Nesyri to West Ham United is the proverbial poisoned chalice
The recent reports linking Premier League side West Ham United to Sevilla centre-forward Youssef En-Nesyri have come at a quite peculiar time for all three potentially involved parties.
For the Hammers, the attraction is clear: earlier in the ongoing winter transfer window, the club decided to cut their losses, parting with club-record signing Sebastian Haller after an 18-month spell that had seen more lows than highs.
The Ivory Coast international arrived at the club on the back of an impressive season with Eintracht Frankfurt, where, as part of a devastating front three also featuring Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic, he powered the German club to the semi-final of the Europa League in 2019.
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With his towering physique and neat hold-up play, he seemed perfectly suited for the challenges of English football, and an ambitious West Ham project also appeared to be an appropriate vehicle.
The reality, however, did not match up to the expectation. What West Ham got was a striker who, for his considerable size, was too timid in his approach to consistently lead the line in the Premier League.
An average of one goal every four games over the course of his time in London ultimately forced the club to sanction a cut-price deal to Ajax, where Haller has predictably hit the ground running, albeit in a markedly less physical and intense Eredivisie.
That, however, has left a hole in the squad for David Moyes to fill.
Whether En-Nesyri would be the man to step into that breach is, in light of a number of transfer mishaps by the Hammers over the years, impossible to second-guess.
However, what is not in doubt is the quality that the Morocco international brings, or his current form: five of his nine La Liga goals this season have come in his last five matches.
The 23-year-old is himself 12 months into life at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, having joined Sevilla from now-relegated Leganes in January 2020. Since his arrival at the club, he has had to time-share with Dutch international Luuk De Jong upfront, with boss Julen Lopetegui happy to chop and change from one match to the next.
However, while it was De Jong who got the nod in the latter stages of Sevilla’s Europa League run last season – and, in fairness, he repaid that confidence in impressive fashion against Manchester United and Inter in the semi-final and final respectively – this term it appears that En-Nesyri may have finally won the war.
He has started six of the last eight and, in the exhilarating 3-2 home victory over Real Sociedad on New Year’s Day, he hit his first hat-trick for the club in a storming performance that may very well have sealed the deal for good.
He may not offer the same level of link-up play as his Dutch competitor, but he is quicker across the ground, more dynamic and powerful in his running, and arguably a better finisher with his feet. He is also, at 6 ft 2 in and possessing a powerful leap, a not-insignificant threat in the air.
While a cursory appraisal of his style does appear to suggest he would be a good fit in the Premier League, the nagging question here is this: does leaving now, having finally won the confidence of Lopetegui, make a great deal of sense for En-Nesyri?
Of course, seizing the moment is, for a striker, the very essence of being. The Moroccan’s stock is as high as it’s ever been, and English football does have a very particular, very special allure all around the world. However, to pull up roots mid-season, and to do so only a year after joining, would a concerning degree of upheaval for one so young.
There is also, beyond the financial, little upside for En-Nesyri to swapping Sevilla for West Ham. Much as the Hammers are having a strong season under Moyes’ thumb, they still constitute a step down from a side in the latter stages of the Champions League and going strong in La Liga.
For Sevilla, losing their starting striker midway through the season would also be less than optimal.
Even granted that the fabled wizardry of sporting director Monchi in the transfer market can often make players seem expendable, strikers – more than perhaps any other position – need time, both to settle within the collective and for the rest of the team to understand them. It has taken En-Nesyri himself a whole year, which is a cautionary tale in itself.
There is a red flag for West Ham too, if they will heed it.
For all his gifts, En-Nesyri is not quite the finished article yet. He would no doubt offer the intrepidity and aggression that Haller lacked, as well as the pace to properly threaten in behind.
However, there remain concerns over his decision-making and passing, and while he is strong in his running, his work with his back to goal is still in need of perfecting. Considering the Hammers mostly play on the break, he would be required to hold the ball up and bring others into play, and that is not something he is proficient at...at least not yet.
Perhaps West Ham not having to worry about relegation this season would offer him greater latitude to learn, but considering the club’s poor track record when it comes to buying strikers, is it really a punt worth taking? Surely, it would be better to simply buy the correct profile to begin with?
Also, seeing as En-Nesyri has spent 18 and 12 months (so far) respectively at his last two clubs, a bit of stability at a critical point in his development would probably do him a lot more good than yet another transfer.
It is the proverbial poisoned chalice, this one: the glint of opportunity with the froth of disaster.