Club: West Ham
Position(s): AM, RW, ST, CF, CM
Preferred Foot: Left
Strengths: dribbling, shot volume, finishing, speed, physicality, athleticism, technical ability
Areas for development: weak-foot usage & ability, decision making
West Ham were the last Premier League team to complete a summer signing, but despite leaving their business late for the second straight year, they have put the Declan Rice money to good use, reinforcing their defense with the signing of Kostas Mavropanos from Stuttgart and adding James Ward-Prowse from Southampton and Edson Alvarez from Ajax to reinforce their midfield, but perhaps their most signing of the window is the arrival of Mohammed Kudus.
After a 3-1 victory at Brighton that put them temporarily in first place, the Hammers announced the signing of Kudus from Ajax for €41.5 million plus €3m in add-ons, with the Dutch club retaining a 10 percent sell-on clause. Born in Kumasi, Ghana, Kudus spent eight years at the Right to Dream Academy before heading to Danish club FC Nordsjælland after turning 18. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact in Scandinavia, with Ajax completing a deal for €9 million in July 2020.
He struggled with injuries at first but eventually showcased his world-class potential during the 2022/23 season, playing a leading role for Ghana in the World Cup, finding the back of the net against Rangers, Liverpool and Napoli and grabbing 4 goals and 2 assists in the Champions League group stage, racking up a total of 18 goals and 7 assists in 42 appearances across all competitions. This form would earn him a move to West Ham, who are clicking on all cylinders at the moment under David Moyes on the back of their Europa Conference League title, drawing to Bournemouth and beating Chelsea and Brighton to start the campaign.
Kudus is an explosive, skillful player who is coming off his best season to date. The way Kudus manipulates the ball makes him a serious threat to an opponent’s defence — he has a ‘match-winning’ quality about him. The Ghanaian is a mazy dribbler. He has 7.33 take-ons attempted, 4.57 being successful (62.3%), and his strong compact body allows him to protect the ball when dribbling and this can allow him to hold the ball for longer, giving him time to increase his passing options.
The Ghanaian’s direct style makes him constantly look to take on players and create chances. Don’t let his explosive style fool you though, Kudus is a very technical player. Technical ability is one of Kudus’ strengths, he drives with the ball with his head up looking for the options to create. Ajax are a possession-heavy team (averaged 66.7% in the Eredivisie last season), meaning that a lot of the time Kudus was tasked with breaking down defences and creating chances for those around him.
Technical ability is one of Kudus strengths, he drives with the ball with his head up looking for the options to create. Ajax are a possession heavy team (66.7% in the Eredivisie last season). So a lot of the time Kudus is tasked with breaking down defences & creating chances pic.twitter.com/X0bOaWVh3N
— Ben Mattinson (@Ben_Mattinson_) July 21, 2023
His low creation numbers are deceiving as when you watch him play, he’s always looking to create options for players around him, but there’s a real lack of runs made by his attacking teammates (one of the problems for Ajax last season) — this may change in a team like West Ham that boast the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio and Lucas Paqueta who can exchange passes in the final third and make runs in behind, allowing Kudus’ creative talents to shine through.
The Ghanaian has a very high shots per 90 average with 3.46. This is a big factor in Kudus scoring so many goals, he loves to shoot. With an xG of 14.8 and scoring 16 goals in 38 games last season, it shows that he could’ve even scored more goals, but in front of goal, he has great finishing ability.
Out of those 3.46 shots, 1.36 are on target (top 4%), which gives him an accuracy of 39.1%. His xG per 90 and non-penalty xG per 90 are the same because he didn’t take any penalties and they’re both 0.58. This puts Kudus in the top 1% across the leagues outside the top 5 leagues.
A clear strength is Kudus’ athleticism and physicality. He has a great burst of acceleration which helps him great separation from his marker. His sprint speed is high but due to having shorter legs, when given a long distance to run on the transition he doesn’t continue to accelerate further. His strong build allows him to battle with defenders whilst his low centre of gravity gives him good agility as well.
Kudus often led the press for Ajax last season when utilized in an attacking role, and his pace and physicality put pressure on defenders/midfielders and forced errors. He definitely needs to improve his defensive positioning and anticipation because when tackling, he often has to sprint to close down defenders and make slide tackles. This should always be a last resort because you should be in the best position to make a normal tackle in the first place and the risk of a red card that a slide tackle creates.
An area for improvement for Kudus is for him to refine his decision-making in the final third. Sometimes, he can make the wrong final pass which can blunt the attacks. Often, his poor decision-making is due to him carrying the ball for too long due to avoiding using his right foot, which brings me to his next area for development.
His weak-foot usage & weak-foot ability is poor. This can often make him opt to come inside where all the traffic is and be surrounded, run out of options, and dispossessed. Kudus is clearly not as comfortable on his right foot, so he doesn’t use it or force himself into positions where he’ll have to use it. An over-reliance on one side can make him too predictable on the wings, so for him to become the best possible version of himself as an RW this is the area he needs to develop.
One of Kudus’ biggest strengths is his versatility and his relative spatial awareness depending on the role he’s played. His technical ability and game understanding make him very dangerous in many different roles. Last season for Ajax, he played 17 games starting at RW, 16 at ST and 9 at AM. These are the positions where you’ll get the optimal goal output from him.
In his first season at Ajax, Kudus played as a CM in a double pivot that was more attack-minded of the two. However, as he’s progressed, his attacking qualities have been wasted in a deeper role in Ajax’s system here, so he’s been played in either the no.10 role behind the ST, as a RW or even as the ST.
When playing as a ST, he supports the midfielders by linking up with them but also runs the channels to pull the defenders out of position and make space for other attackers to exploit. He’s a very intelligent player and even Marco Van Basten himself said that Kudus is ‘smarter and more technical’ than Manchester United’s Antony. Kudus’ application of his ability is much more effective.
As a RW, he’s much more at home. Kudus’ 1v1 prowess and direct style of play is what makes him such a deadly RW. He drives with the ball with so much conviction and has great goal-scoring ability. But a flaw in his game as a winger is he doesn’t have the 2-way ability that some of the best wingers have. He’s much more dominant on his left side which can make him a tad predictable on the wings because there’s less space and obvious running pathways.
If Kudus develops this aspect, then he could become a world-class winger, particularly because of how high his technical ceiling is. However, his physicality and creativity do give him a lot of traits that could be harnessed by a great coach to become a world-class 8 too. In this role, he can use his great ball-carrying ability to initiate attacks and progress play.
As previously mentioned, he would need to build his defensive awareness to become the best possible version of himself as an 8. At the same time, if played with an elite technically secure ball-winner behind him and the protection of an inverted FB, then he could be perfect for this role within a box midfield.
He is a very controlled dribbler at high speeds. His short strides enable the ball to be glued to his feet in tighter spaces as he easily turns past players. For this reason, he looks a lot more comfortable running in central areas. His compact frame combined with his low centre of gravity makes him a duel monster. He’s very active in duels and his physicality helps him thrive in them, winning the 4th-most ground duels in Eredivisie with 158.
Kudus’ duel stats per 90 in the Eredivisie were as follows:
-16.2 duels contested
-1.2 aerial duels contested
-0.6 aerial duels won (43.48%)
-15.1 ground duels contested
-8 ground duels won
-ground duel success
It remains to be seen whether or not Paqueta faces punishment after the FA opened an investigation into the Brazilian midfielder over potential betting breaches, but Kudus could be an ideal replacement for the ex-Lyon man. Paqueta operated as the most advanced midfielder as a left-sided 8 in a 4-3-3 or as a 10 in a 4-2-3-1, and Kudus has what it takes to thrive in either role or potentially as a right winger, with Bowen being moved into a central role. He could add a completely new threat to their attack as it lacks directness, pace and physicality on the wings — Kudus provides all this plus technical ability.
Kudus made his West Ham debut on Friday, coming on for the final six minutes of a 2-1 win at Luton Town, before jetting off to Africa as he looks to lead Ghana to victory in their final AFCON qualifier against Central African Republic. Whilst it won’t be easy for him to nail down a starting spot immediately, Kudus will have plenty of chances to impress David Moyes with the Hammers facing a busy fortnight that will see them host Manchester City, Bačka Topola, and Sheffield United as well as travel to Liverpool and face League One side Lincoln City in the EFL Cup.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / BSR Agency / Getty Images