David Moyes admits that accommodating Declan Rice may have robbed Tomas Soucek of his goalscoring edge last season, but believes a lack of self-belief was ultimately to blame for the midfielder’s poor form.
Soucek is enjoying a remarkable resurgence so far this term, having scored in five successive matches for club and country, including three late winners in as many games for West Ham.
Already this season, the Czech international has seven goals for his club, more than twice as many as he managed in the entirety of last year’s campaign.
“I think just his confidence probably,” Moyes said, when asked what had changed over the summer. “He’s playing with a bit more confidence and has a bit more self-belief in what he’s doing and how he’s performing generally.
"He’s scoring for his country as well, it’s not just for us. That happens with goalscorers, or people who want to score goals.”
Soucek spent much of last season playing alongside Rice at the base of midfield, but the former captain’s departure and the arrivals of Edson Alvarez and James Ward-Prowse have allowed him more license to get forward.
“He just did not reach his level, he thought, last season,” Moyes added. “We tried to get Declan to get a little bit farther forward at times and make the box and show his goalscoring capabilities. It might have had a slight effect on Tomas. We didn’t do quite as well on set-pieces last season and Tomas plays a big part in that.”
“We couldn’t just mention Tomas and not mention James Ward-Prowse as well. He’s probably supplied a couple of his goals from corner kicks. Tom’s got himself forward, timed his runs into the box and got himself some goals.”
West Ham have tinkered with several engine room combinations this term, but Soucek’s versatility has been key in balancing the side and Moyes believes midfielders of his type, who are capable of impacting the game in both directions, are an increasingly rare breed.
“It’s become a wee bit split at times where there’s a holding midfield player who sits and attacking midfield players who are up there on the front line,” he added. “It used to be in days gone by box-to-box midfield players. He can do that for us. He’s just a really good midfield player who’s a great team player for anybody. We’re really fortunate to have him.
“Everybody appreciates a hard-working footballer who maximises his capabilities. Tomas has some deficiencies but he makes sure the other parts of his game he gets his best, how he plays and trains. We have to nail down a lot of the gates [at the training ground] to keep the Czech boys from getting in sometimes, to calm them down to stop them from wanting to train and run. They have great attitudes.”
After his late winner away to Backa Topola in the Europa League on Thursday night, Moyes suggested Soucek could go on to exceed his best ever goalscoring season for the Hammers.
That came in his first full campaign in 2020/21, when he scored ten league goals to make Moyes’s decision to turn a loan deal from Slavia Prague into a permanent move particularly shrewd.
"When we came in the second time at West Ham, we were short of legs in midfield,” Moyes explained. “We looked around to see who was scoring in the Champions League and the truth was we didn't know anything about Tomas Soucek.
“But when we looked into it, [we thought] ‘wow', he's scoring goals, he plays for the Czech Republic, he's six-foot-four, covers plenty of ground. Suddenly he looked like a good signing for us and that's how it started.”