As West Ham embarks on a summer of signifcant spending ahead of a second successive season in Europe, and David Moyes is making a few top signings to continue his hard-hitting momentum, not the least of which is Rennes’ defender Nayef Aguerd.
The Moroccan international has penned a five-year contract with the east Londoners in a deal worth around £30m, which includes add-ons.
Aguerd is Moyes’ first foray into the summer window, and the gaffer plans to continue improving the squad ahead of a season in which he’ll aim to improve West Ham’s Premier League rank while prosecuting the clubs first Europa Conference League campaign.
Aguerd was born to a footballing family in Kénitra, which is situated in the north of Morocco. His father played in the Moroccan top-flight, and his uncle Abdelmajid Bouyboud was capped 34 times including at the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals – a milestone that his nephew could emulate in Qatar later this year.
Aguerd represented local club KAC of Kénitra before being recruited to the national Mohammed VI Football Academy where he spent four years learning the fundamentals of the game at a high level. There he played with the likes of Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri.
Interestingly, Nayef was initially a #10, but he realized the Academy had many attacking midfielders and few defenders, so that he decided to transition his role. This risk paid off handsomely.
The center-back played for the Academy until he was 18. In 2014, he joined leading club Rabat FUS, making 12 appearances in his debut season and attracting the attention of a host of leading Spanish clubs.
Aguerd then helped his team Fath Union Sports (FUS) to their first-ever Moroccan Championship in May 2016, scoring an important goal against Ittihad Tanger that all but clinched the title. Later, a consistent impressive performance for the FUS over the next two seasons saw him eventually join French Ligue 1 club Dijon in 2018.
Two encouraging seasons for Les Rouges led to a transfer to Rennes, where he started the club’s first-ever UEFA Champions League match and featured in four of six group-stage fixtures during the 2020 campaign.
Aguerd has performed very well at Roazhon Park, making 66 appearances in Ligue 1 to help Rennes qualify for Europe in each of the last two seasons. He even scored twice in seven UEFA Europa Conference League appearances and started 31 Ligue 1 games as Rennes finished fourth last term.
At the international level, the defender was capped by Morocco’s U20 and U23 teams before making his senior debut against Albania in August 2016. The 26-year-old then helped Morocco win the African Nations Championship on home turf two years later.
He is now a regular in the Atlas Lions’ starting XI with 25 senior caps to his name.
Aguerd played a major part in Morocco’s run in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as they reached the quarter-finals. He also became one of the key influencers for Morocco’s successful 2022 World Cup qualifying stage.
How will his playing style fit West Ham?
Aguerd’s arrival at West Ham will create competition for center-halves Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma.
Aguerd has consistently grown his game, especially with respect to his primary defensive duties. He is a dominating aerial presence, can read the game well to position himself, and also makes sharp, pacey recovery runs.
In Ligue 1, no defender last term won more aerial duels across the season — Aguerd averaged 3.1 headers won per match — while leaning mainly on his qualities of anticipation and sublime timing rather than pure height. During his spell at Rennes, he was in the top 10 for headed clearances in Ligue 1.
It’s an added plus to the defender’s game and a sign that he may serve them well in the Premier League that he gets a lot of opportunities during set-pieces. Since 2020, only Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian defender Marquinhos scored more headed goals (six) than Aguerd (four) in Ligue 1.
Meanwhile, the Hammers scored 20 goals from set-pieces in all competitions last season. It is an area that Moyes takes seriously. Despite Dawson, Diop, Zouma and Ogbonna all showing they are capable of scoring, adding a left-footed center-back like Aguerd brings someone who excels inside both boxes.
On the ball, the 26-year-old has been comfortable building from the back for a Rennes side that has played some of Ligue 1’s most attractive football, with only PSG scoring more than their 82 goals this season.
According to Opta, Aguerd ranked first of the Rennes players for successful passes (1,954), forward passes (822), successful long passes (173) and aerial duels won (95) during the 2021-22 campaign. The only two players among Europe’s top-five leagues to have more completed passes and aerials won were Liverpool duo Virgil van Dijk (2,369, 117) and Joel Matip (2053, 109).
Moyes is keen for his defenders to play from the back regardless if his chosen shape is a 4-2-3-1 or a 5-4-1, so Aguerd should fit the bill at London Stadium.
£30m for a player like Ageurd is not a bad bit of business in the current transfer market. But will he be a good buy for fantasy managers?
Aguerd’s ability to capitalize on set pieces certainly appeals. He is a threat in the air, scoring goals this season, and we know how good West Ham is at set-pieces, so he will add another target on top of all of the others the Hammers already have. Aguerd averaged a goal attempt every 109 minutes last season, almost exactly the same as what the aerially strong Craig Dawson (111) managed.
In defensive duties at Ligue 1, Aguerd concedes an average of 0.85 goals per 90 minutes. The club’s clean sheets ratio is currently at 39%, Aguerd keeping clean sheets in 12 out of his 31 matches. However, Aguerd’s new club kept only eight clean sheets last term; only four of twenty Premier League clubs were worse.
West Ham is an ambitious club under David Moyes, playing a decent style of football and finishing top half of the table in England to earn back-to-back Europa League spots. However a fantasy center back is most attractive under the following conditions: he’s affordable, he’s a regular starter, and he’s capable of providing returns at both ends of the pitch.
Mid-table center-backs like Ageurd are probably not going to become fantasy studs on par with assets like Trent Alexander-Arnold or João Cancelo, but Aguerd does tick most of our boxes. Let’s keep an eye on this one and see how he beds in.
[Stats and info for this article were sourced from skysports.com, bbc.com,theathletic.com, espn.com]
What are your thoughts on West Ham’s new boy at the back? Will he be a success in the Premier League? Would you consider him for your fantasy teams? Please let us know in the comments below!