Vladimír Coufal: Praise, pride, Phil Foden and preparing for Everton
A year ago, Vladimír Coufal was a virtual unknown in English football.
Now, however, after a hugely impressive and consistent first season with West Ham United, the Czech Republic right-back is already a household name.
Popular with his teammates and coaches alike for his positive attitude, non-stop work-rate and ability to help his team at both ends of the pitch, the No5 has been earning widespread praise from Hammers fans, former players and television pundits alike.
Following his latest masterclass in Monday’s 2-1 Premier League win at Burnley, where he kept the dangerous Dwight McNeil quiet and registered his sixth assist of the campaign, Sky Sports’ former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher hailed him as ‘one of the signings of the season’.
For Coufal himself, the compliments are welcome, but he will not allow them to go to his head, instead insisting his only focus is on maintaining and improving his standards and helping West Ham secure European qualification.
We had many better players than me in Czech Republic in my childhood, so I never reckoned I could play in the Premier League like many of them did
“Of course, I realised my position changed from my coming to West Ham but, to be honest, I am still the same guy who came to West Ham from Prague and I have to be!” he told whufc.com.
“It’s nice to receive praise but if you read these things again and again, it can cause you to stop doing your hard work, so I can’t allow my head to be turned by it.”
Coufal’s modesty perhaps comes from his own career path, which saw him work his way up from Czech second-tier sides Hlučín and Opava to top-flight Slovan Liberec before joining Slavia Prague in 2018. After two fine seasons there, at the age of 28, he moved to the Premier League with the Hammers in September last year.
“To be honest, I am proud of myself, but I know I have never been a big talent,” he continued. “We had many better players than me in Czech Republic in my childhood, so I never reckoned I could play in the Premier League like many of them did.
“I am pleased and when I see the big talents in English football like Phil Foden (pictured, below) and other fantastic players and I am here at West Ham trying to stop them, it’s a beautiful feeling.”
Another beautiful feeling would come from helping West Ham secure a place in Europe for next season – a target Coufal believes the Irons can achieve in their final four games.
The Hammers go into the weekend fifth in the table, three points behind Chelsea in fourth and knowing a win over Everton at London Stadium on Sunday would strengthen their claims for a top-six finish, at least.
For the Czech Republic international, a repeat of the performance David Moyes’ side produced at Burnley would give them a superb chance of securing that win.
“We have four games to go and we know our position and we will try to do everything to reach fourth place and to be in the Champions League for next season,” Coufal insisted.
“I think our mentality is good and it’s a winning mentality. You can see it in every session and our goal on Monday was to win the game and we reached this goal, so that’s all I can say about our mentality. We believe we are able to win, even when we go a goal down, so it’s always about mentality and never giving up.
“Our tactics and our gameplan were fantastic on Monday and we absolutely dominated them during the game and we created many opportunities to score. To be fair, we could have won 7-1 or 8-1 if we had scored more of them. I hope we will play like this in our remaining games.
“Sunday will be a different game. I expect a totally different football game so we have to hope we play as well as we did at Burnley and we know this game could be a key for fourth place, so we hope we are able to win.”
Coufal’s assist for Michail Antonio at Turf Moor took him onto six for the season, as mentioned, which is just one behind Aaron Cresswell, who has seven.
With four games to go, he would love to beat his fellow full-back’s tally, but he would love to qualify for the Champions League even more…
“I have to catch him and the best time to catch him is in the next game!” he smiled. “To be honest, though, it’s not important who scores or who assists every goal. Of course, I am pleased that I got another assist but, for me, the first thing is always the team’s success.”