West Ham United are in a considerably more concerning position at Christmas than the previous two years, with the club currently shackled to the depths of the Premier League with just four divisional wins all season, just one point above 18th-placed Nottingham Forest.
And despite the summer signings of the likes of Gianluca Scamacca for £35.5m and Lucas Paqueta for £51m, the club have taken a big step backwards having qualified for Europe in the previous two seasons.
The onus now for boss David Moyes is on navigating away from the turmoil at the bottom of the division and steering towards success once again, and the signing of one Azzedine Ounahi could be the key to unlocking that door.
According to reports from Spain, the Moroccan maestro, plying his trade with French strugglers Angers SCO, could soon switch to claret and blue colours, with the club’s chairman Said Chabane stating that the outfit might look to cash in on him and the Daily Mail quoting a fee of £40m to prise him away.
Moyes will indeed be desperate to clinch the services of one of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar’s burgeoning talents, but after spending big in the summer, it remains to be seen whether the Hammers will be able to part with such a large sum midseason.
Even Luka Modric, 2018 Ballon d’Or winner and esteemed midfield maestro of the very highest calibre, did not quite blossom into brilliance until after the midpoint of his twenties, and with Ounahi not quite earning the attention of the big European outfits thus far, his prowess and slick transitional play have certainly gone under the radar.
However, all changed when the phenom played a pivotal role at the nucleus of the vibrant Morocco beating heart, combining his innate physical ability with a diligent approach to his play to dictate proceedings and lay the foundation for offensive-minded compatriots to lough forward and search for promising chinks in the opposing armour.
As per Sofascore, the 22-year-old started six of his nation’s seven World Cup matches, earning a commendable average rating of 6.97 and completing 83% of his passes, while also chipping in with 1.3 tackles per match and dazzling by succeeding with 83% of his dribbles and 70% of his ground duels.
Making 14 appearances for Angers this term, the “sensational” Ounahi – as dubbed by Zach Lowy – has played a robust role, forging promising transitions and attempting to instil assurance and composure among the ranks, despite the club languishing at the very bottom of the Ligue 1 table.
His 89% passing accuracy, three big chances created and 1.2 key passes per match are a clear indication that he might thrive in a side bearing more fruit, making a step up to a team brimming with quality and perhaps emulating someone of Modric’s ilk.
The legendary 37-year-old Croatian played 160 times for Tottenham Hotspur before signing for Real Madrid in 2012 in a deal worth roughly £30m; his supreme level of passing and orchestrating role at the heart of the Los Blancos outfit left bounteous rewards, with the player making 454 displays, scoring 36 goals and assisting 74 more from his industrious role.
More impressively, though, Modric has ridden an illustrious wave of a career littered with success, winning five Champions League trophies and three Spanish La Liga triumphs, among many other honours.
Ounahi would be wise to study the trajectory that Modric took, absorb the skill set and dominate at the heart of a very ambitious West Ham team; he could rival the impact at the London Stadium of that of Modric, who kickstarted a stunning career down the road at Spurs.