Player Profile: Vladimír Coufal

Vladimír Coufal, a 28-year old Czech right-back, is West Ham’s second signing from Slavia Prague this summer. This is a quick look at some of the key features of his game.

I watched 4 matches from last season for this: the two legs of the Champions League play-off vs CFR Cluj (to get a feel for how he did in a high stakes game where Slavia were favourites) and the group games vs Inter and Dortmund (to see how he coped against tougher opposition).

Defending

Style

Coufal’s an aggressive, front foot defender who regularly gambles on winning the ball back. His eagerness to deny his opponents space means he takes risks with his defending which often disrupts his team’s defensive shape and can leave him exposed in 1vs1 situations. His tackling can be a bit clumsy and he has a habit of getting very tight to the player he’s marking — perhaps conscious of his own lack of height and strength — both of which leads to him giving away a lot of needless fouls:

Coufal wears the number 5 shirt with yellow boots. Slavia are playing in red/white and also in green in these clips.

That desire to constantly close down his opposite number means that Coufal is easily dragged out of position by forwards who roam. He lacks a bit of awareness and doesn’t seem to be the most intelligent player — quick wingers have little trouble making runs in behind him and Coufal doesn’t really have the recovery pace to deal with that kind of movement.

Narrow Positioning

When the ball’s on the far side of the pitch or the opposition goalkeeper has possession, Coufal takes an extremely narrow defensive position within his back 4. It makes it very easy to left-sided attackers to make runs into the box on his blindside:

He often finds himself level with the penalty spot or even over to the left half of the box.

Presumably this is a tactical instruction rather than an idiosyncrasy, but it’s something to keep an eye on and something that will require an adjustment period as he adapts to a different defensive structure with us.

Although he jumps fairly well, Coufal’s not especially great in the air and his marking during set pieces is suspect at best.

Attacking

On the ball

Coufal’s first touch is decent and his passing seems fairly solid. He tends to keep it simple, often opting to feed passes up the line for players in front of him:

He can occasionally get caught in possession, but in general Coufal doesn’t hold onto the ball for too long in deep areas and rarely attempts anything beyond “tidy” with his passing. Knowing your limitations is a strength.

Final third

Coufal gets forward a lot but doesn’t offer much in the final third. His crossing is wayward and he’s often hesitant in his decision-making with the ball at his feet:

When Slavia work the ball down the left, Coufal frequently gets himself into the box, usually lurking at the back post. However, once he gets there, he rarely tests opposition defenders with his movement and instead just occupies space:

His tendency to do this can leave his team open in transition and he doesn’t have the pace to compensate for it.

Long throw

Coufal has a pretty long throw in the locker and if I were a betting man, I’d say that’s the main reason we’ve signed him. Despite not being the tallest, he’s fully capable of hurling the ball long distances:

Weirdly enough, Slavia never really used Coufal’s throw to send balls into the box in the games I watched, even though they had Souček in the side. That’ll presumably be something we see a lot of in the near future.

Conclusion

TL;DR — he can’t defend, is relatively secure in possession, likes to get into the box and get forward, but offers nothing in the final 3rd. Being repurposed as a RWB might suit him. Don’t really see what he offers that Fredericks doesn’t (except availability, perhaps — Coufal’s played 2400 mins+ in the each of the last three seasons). Good to have another body in, but this looks like a bit of a nothing signing to me.

The player Coufal most reminds me of is Serge Aurier, with his advanced positioning, his tendency to get too tight, and his constant need to defend on the front foot. The role Coufal played in this Slavia system is akin to the one Serge Aurier played for Jose Mourinho’s Spurs team last year — both pushed up incredibly high during build-up play to function as a winger while the rest of the team re-organised into a back three. I imagine Moyes will utilise him in a similar way, although from a more advanced starting position as a RWB. I’m not convinced he’ll provide enough attacking contribution to make that worthwhile, though.

Perhaps the change of role and scenery will be a game changer for him, but the best case scenario from this deal is that Coufal is a reliable 6/10 performer every week and his long throw turns into a weapon. What seems more likely to me is that this is a signing just to get a body in and ends up being a bit of a waste of time.

It’s easy to point to the low transfer fee and say that this is a low-risk signing but I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

Based on what’s reported, it seems like we’re paying somewhere around £5mil for his services. He’s agreed a three-year contract and I’d guess that he’s on somewhere between £30k-£50k a week. Put that all together and we’re looking at about £10mil for Coufal over the next three years.

It’s not the biggest waste in the world, but I think that’s pretty much £10mil down the drain — not only due to the limited value he brings to the first team but because he blocks Ben Johnson’s route to the starting XI. Give Johnson the 3 seasons of regular Premier League football we’ve signed Coufal on for and his price skyrockets. It’s difficult see how this signing makes sense from a footballing or financial point of view.

Bringing in Coufal doesn’t improve this squad in any meaningful way.

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Cast Iron Tactics

I write long, boring, and increasingly deranged articles about football tactics and West Ham @CastIronTactics on Twitter