Nayef Aguerd’s loyalty to West Ham United was tested this summer.
The defender received offers from a club in the Saudi Pro League and two unnamed European suitors. But, on each occasion, Aguerd informed his representatives he was happy at West Ham and had no interest in leaving. Al Ittihad, managed by Nuno Espirito Santo, showed late interest in the 27-year-old but failed to make an offer.
Aguerd joined David Moyes’ side from Rennes in June 2022 for €31million (£26.7m; $31m), which could rise to €35million with add-ons.
The defender appreciates the patience shown by Moyes and the physio team when he was sidelined for four months with an ankle injury in his debut season, and wants to repay that faith by excelling over a full season with West Ham. The manager was so keen to bring in Aguerd’s technical qualities as a left-footed centre-back that he waited 12 months to sign him.
“I spoke to Eddie Howe (Newcastle United’s manager) about it and we thought that, in that price range, Sven Botman and Aguerd were the two best left-footed centre-backs in France,” said Moyes. “We (West Ham) were watching both of them, but we went with Aguerd because we watched him the year before and stuck with it because we liked him.”
Aguerd, whose contract expires in the summer of 2027, resisted interest from other clubs after playing an important role in West Ham avoiding relegation and winning the Europa Conference League. But it has not been easy for him.
The defender sustained an injury in last summer’s pre-season loss away to Rangers. After the match, he had an MRI scan on his left ankle and West Ham’s medical team sought the opinion of James Calder, a renowned surgeon at the Fortius Clinic in London. Calder advised Aguerd to have surgery if he wanted to be fit for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
The defender worked with three physios and a personal trainer at his national team’s camp to aid his recovery. He featured against Silkeborg, Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City before the start of the tournament. When Aguerd discovered he had been named in Morocco’s 26-man squad, he sent Calder a signed shirt in thanks. The defender’s performances during the World Cup duly highlighted why he is such a sought-after talent.
Aguerd helped his country achieve their best result at a World Cup, finishing fourth overall. Morocco only conceded once when Aguerd was in the starting XI — his own goal against Canada. In recognition of their achievements in Qatar as Africa’s first World Cup semi-finalists, King Mohammed VI honoured the team once the tournament was complete.
Morocco, the team who gave everything
Since recovering from his ankle injury, Aguerd’s availability has not been an issue. But with Morocco qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, he could miss more than four games across January and February. Until then, his focus will be on helping West Ham maintain their league form and seal qualification from the group stage of the Europa League.
Before returning to Rush Green for pre-season in July, Aguerd trained with Noe Vendrells, a performance coach, to ensure he was in the best shape. They worked together for four days in Marrakesh, the sessions encompassing lower and upper body workouts, high vertical jumps, running and passing drills. Aguerd’s hard work was rewarded when he scored a leaping header in the 3-1 home victory against Chelsea.
The centre-back, who was shown a red card in that win, was suspended for the next league game away to Brighton & Hove Albion. Angelo Ogbonna replaced him in another 3-1 victory and played well alongside Zouma, suppressing the threat of Evan Ferguson. But despite Ogbonna impressing, Moyes restored Aguerd to the starting XI in the subsequent 2-1 win against Premier League newcomers Luton Town — a measure of his standing.
The defender completed the most passes (68) by any outfield player at Kenilworth Road.
Moyes’ options in central defence are Aguerd, Zouma, Ogbonna, Thilo Kehrer and summer signing Konstantinos Mavropanos. The latter has recovered from a minor injury and returned to action by scoring twice in Greece’s 5-0 European Championship qualifier victory over Gibraltar. Yet, on the evidence of Aguerd and Zouma’s performances to date, Mavropanos will have to bide his time. Aguerd and Zouma, close friends, have formed a solid defensive partnership and appear to be first choice.
The duo have started 10 league games together, with West Ham winning five, drawing two and losing three. Moyes’ side have kept three clean sheets with Aguerd and Zouma as the defensive duo and have scored 19 goals.
Before Aguerd’s solitary goal in the 1-0 win over Southampton in April, Zouma gave his team-mate much-needed motivation. The 11-cap France international, hoping to provoke a response, told Aguerd he would never score at the London Stadium. The defender responded by scoring twice in his next five league games.
“Since Nayef joined, I have tried to help him because he did not know England very well,” said Zouma. “But he has settled in very well. We are like a family here and we all help each other as much as possible.”
French speakers Aguerd, Zouma, Kehrer, Alphonse Areola, Maxwel Cornet and Said Benrahma have formed a close bond. That has helped Aguerd feel so settled — much to Moyes’ and West Ham’s delight.
(Top photo: Rob Newell – CameraSport via Getty Images)