Few people had heard of Vladimir Coufal when he first moved to West Ham — but the whole Premier League is now fully aware of the danger he poses.
The Czech right-back moved to East London from Slavia Prague 12 months ago and made an immediate impact on England’s top flight, as David Moyes’ men romped to Europa League qualification.
That continental journey continues tonight, when the Hammers welcome Rapid Vienna to the London Stadium.
So, as West Ham prepare for their second Group H fixture, here is why Coufal has been such a success since signing for the Irons.
Coufal started 34 Premier League games last season, as West Ham came within touching distance of qualifying for the Champions League — they ultimately finished two points off the top four in sixth place.
It is fair to assume that reuniting with compatriot and former Slavia team-mate Tomas Soucek will have gone some way to helping him settle in as well as he did.
And the Hammers added to their Czech contingent in the last transfer window, bringing in Alex Kral — who had a brief spell at Slavia alongside Coufal and Soucek — on loan from Spartak Moscow, meaning they now have three of the four Czech players in England’s top tier.
In 2020-21, no pair of full-backs set up more Premier League goals than Coufal and left-back Aaron Cresswell.
Coufal provided seven assists over the course of the campaign — the same number as Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, two of the world’s best in their positions.
His figures for big chances created (nine) and expected assists (3.95) saw him rank fifth and seventh in the league respectively among defenders — £5million very well spent as far as West Ham are concerned.
Picking up where he left off
Moyes’ side have made a solid start to the season, taking 11 points from their first six Premier League matches.
Unsurprisingly, Coufal has played a significant part in laying the foundations for what they hope will be another campaign to remember.
Based on expected assists, the 29-year-old ranks just outside the top 20 creators in the division so far this term (0.98).
He also sits inside the top 10 most frequent crossers, attempting 4.67 crosses per 90 minutes — which the in-form Michail Antonio, who loves a headed goal, must be rather happy about.
A confident character
This season sees West Ham appearing in a European group stage for the first time ever — and Coufal feels the Irons have what it takes to go the distance in the Europa League.
Speaking ahead of their group opener against Dinamo Zagreb, he said: "We believe we can beat everyone in the Premier League and everyone in Europe. We’re very hard to play against and we will fight every minute on the pitch.
"We can go to the final. I would like to win the Europa League this season for the West Ham fans. We’ve signed some very good players and the squad is strong enough to fight (in all four competitions)."
Coufal came second to Soucek in West Ham’s Supporters’ Player of the Year poll last season after a stellar campaign for both the Hammers’ Czech stars.
He is clearly a popular figure at the club, and that can only bode well as he continues his career in claret and blue.
With the London Stadium crowd roaring the Irons on this season, expect their flying full-back to continue going from strength to strength in 2021-22.