It was just past the half hour-mark against TSC Backa Topola when Mohammed Kudus showed why West Ham United were so keen to sign him this summer.
The £38million ($48m) summer signing from Ajax scored on his first start as the club marked their Europa League return with a win, but it was a dazzling solo run in the 37th minute which served notice of his talents.
He received the ball from James Ward-Prowse, who registered two assists in the victory, and glided past five players to initiate a break for the home side.
The TSC Backa Topola players tried in vain to retrieve possession from Kudus, who held them off with ease.
The move ended in Kudus threading a pass to Thilo Kehrer who cut inside, only for his shot to be blocked.
Even so, in a game that lacked quality during the early stages, it was a moment which proved Kudus could be the difference-maker.
The versatile forward had interest from Chelsea in the summer, but Stamford Bridge executives stalled on finalising a move. Having missed out on winger Jeremy Doku, who joined Manchester City, West Ham were so keen to sign Kudus they made three offers.
During negotiations, Tim Steidten, the technical director, convinced Kudus that he would develop into a key player for the club. Kudus accepted a five-year deal, with the option of a further season, including a salary significantly higher than what he was being paid at Ajax.
Before the loss against Manchester City, Kudus spoke about how he intends to impress. “I like to entertain the fans as I think that is what football is about, and my dribbling ability, strength and finishing also,” he said. “The fans should expect some entertainment!”
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Thursday’s performance – following cameo appearances off the bench against Luton Town and City – suggests he intends to make good on his promise.
Kudus has already proven popular off the field. A supporter travelled 3,000 miles from Ghana to watch his performance against TSC Backa Topola and he was rewarded for his efforts with a performance full of personality and flair. He stepped up when manager David Moyes needed someone to provide that extra bit of quality, with West Ham having fallen behind just after half-time to Petar Stanic’s goal.
“I thought Mo started the game really well and the team was playing well in the opening 20 minutes,” said Moyes. “He came up with one and maybe two goals, so I’m really, really pleased for him.
“He’s made a good start, we like him a lot and we’ll edge him in when we get the opportunities in the right moments to do so. I’m pleased because we needed someone to come up with goals tonight and he was the one who did it. I couldn’t see where the goals were coming from up to that point.”
The graphic below shows the number of take ons and passes Kudus attempted. Notice how he wasn’t dispossessed. Kudus’ ball retention impressed his manager and teammate.
“I’m happy for him because today he made a good start on home soil,” said Tomas Soucek. “I hope there’s many more goals to come. I can see how strong he is and how strong he is on the ball. It’s very good for us that we can pass to him and he can keep the ball very well. He’s been here for a few weeks but he will show much more in the future.”
Including a goal threat. In Kudus’ three seasons at Ajax, he scored 16 goals in 63 Eredivisie matches, while he also has nine in 25 appearances for Ghana. This is a player who should provide competition for Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen, who is a doubt for Sunday’s game against Liverpool.
West Ham’s equaliser against Topola, just after the hour-mark, came when Benrahma combined well with Kudus, although the strike was ultimately ruled as a Nemanja Petrovic own goal.
A few minutes later, Kudus showed his aerial ability to convert Ward-Prowse’s corner – following Nayef Aguerd, Kurt Zouma and Soucek in converting headers from Ward-Prowse’s set pieces this season.
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That ultimately set up West Ham’s victory, and a satisfying return to Europe’s second tier competition.
“We showed a lot of good things today,” said Kehrer. “Maybe we made it a little more difficult than it needed to be but in the end we got the result we needed. Kudus is ready (to make his mark on this team) and he has a lot of qualities that we know will help us during the season. He shows good character and a good mentality in training.
“You can see in his game that he is very agile, strong, has a good balance and movement. He’s always dynamic and is dangerous offensively. I think there will be more goals to come.”
Pre-match Moyes spoke about Kudus needing time to adapt to life at West Ham; this suggested that may have happened quicker than expected.
(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)