Saturday’s pre-season outing was one of sentiment for Nayef Aguerd.
The clash with Stade Rennais was the first time since moving to West Ham United that the Moroccan defender had returned to his former side, stepping back into Roazhon Park after departing the Brittany capital for east London last summer.
The delight in seeing old teammates, colleagues, and friends upon arrival at the ground was evident on the centre-back’s face. Ever the professional, however, that the moment the first-half whistle blew, Aguerd was in full focus.
Using his inside knowledge of his former side, the 27-year-old provided direction to his fellow Hammers and, while the Irons may have lost 3-1 in their penultimate pre-season fixture, Aguerd found positives.
“It was incredible return to Rennes,” he said. “It was great to be back at Roazhon Park and also to see my old teammates. I’ve kept in touch with them and, as for the fans here, I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome. I’m touched.
“Playing in the colours of West Ham, I tried to stop as much of Rennes’ attacking threat as possible and tried to tell my teammates about their strong points too. But it’s very hard to stop them. It’s a game of positioning and the wingers and full-backs are always on the move.
“I used to be on this team so I knew it was going to be a very, very tough match. Everyone here in the West Ham team knew it would be a tough match, but we didn’t come to Rennes to sightsee. We wanted to test ourselves.”
Making the occasion even more special was being asked to captain the Hammers for the very first time by manager David Moyes.
Aguerd was given the armband at Roazhon Park, an honour the defender knew nothing about until just before kick-off.
He continued: “I was surprised. The manager didn’t tell me until we were in the dressing room, before the game, that I was captain. As a player, I was just trying to pass on advice and use my leadership qualities.
“Armband or not, I’ll always try to do my job.”
Defeat to Rennes was a first loss in pre-season for the Irons, on the team’s fifth outing. Consecutive wins against Boreham Wood, A-league side Perth Glory and fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur was followed by a draw at Dagenham & Redbridge, prior to Saturday’s match in France.
A final pre-season game at Bayer Leverkusen awaits West Ham this weekend before the start of another Premier League season; one that will once again the side compete on four fronts, including a third consecutive European campaign.
After lifting last year’s UEFA Europa Conference League, and the challenges of the domestic competition, Aguerd is targeting success on all fronts.
“Last season wasn’t just about one competition for West Ham,” he added. “In some ways, it was a great season and in others, it wasn’t very good. It was tough. We were playing for our survival in the Premier League right until the end. Every weekend in this division, there are matches at a very high level, but we’ve got a great group here.
“Winning the UEFA Europa Conference League trophy was like a dessert. To be rewarded for our efforts in that competition was amazing, because it was very, very tough mentally. This year, we must start the season well. I’m a very optimistic person so we will see.”