Sat, Oct

Why West Ham's interest in Andre Ayew comes as little shock

Andre Ayew

That West Ham United are interested in Andre Ayew is not surprising. The Ghanaian 26-year-old, after all, proved his quality with Marseille and then proved he could thrive in the Premier League with Swansea City.

On his day, as perhaps he showed most thrillingly against Tunisia in the African Cup of Nations quarter-final in 2012, he can win games almost single-handed. What is surprising is that Ayew seems to be regarded as an alterative to Alexandre Lacazette.

Reports over the weekend suggested that West Ham, who have agreed a fee with West Brom for the sale of Diafra Sakho, had decided not to pursue their interest in the 25-year-old Lyon forward because of his wage demands. Ayew, for whom they are supposedly willing to bid £20m, is their second choice. But Lacazette is a centre-forward. Ayew, although he did play nine games as a central striker for Swansea last season, is not. He is not even, like Sakho, a forward who can operate wide: through his career, he has been primarily a winger.

The oddity, in fact, is less that West Ham want Ayew than that they were so keen on Lacazette. Perhaps they simply saw quality and decided to make a play for it, but in terms of the make-up of their squad, a versatile presence like Ayew is of far more value. They have Andy Carroll and they have Enner Valencia. A couple more players who can fill in there should be enough. That said, the fact that Ayew would join a squad that already has two right-wingers in Sofiane Feghouli and Michail Antonio perhaps suggests he is being seen more as a central player, although he did play three games on the left for Swansea last season.

To speak of Ayew as a winger, anyway, gives only the slightest indication of his capabilities. He can run with the ball – 0.8 dribbles per game last season – but he crosses infrequently – 0.1 per game last season. His game is about drifting infield, picking his pass – two assists and 0.7 key passes per game last season – and, especially, about shooting. No player who scored as many as he did last season – 12 goals – did so with as few shots per game: just 2.0.

Of his 12 goals, just one came from outside the box; just 20 of his 67 shots were from outside. That suggests his intelligence, a keen appreciation of probability: he is not somebody who just keeps blazing away from range.

It’s also significant that four of those 12 goals were headers. Ayew is a master at arriving at the back post, far better in the air than most wingers. Although he won only 44 of 134 aerial duels last season, that statistic compares relatively well to other players who come in from wide to attack the back post: those stats are always dominated by defenders.

In terms of West Ham’s play, it’s easy to see why that could be of great value. Feghouli, who averaged a cross a game last season for Valencia, puts in a ball from the right, Carroll takes defenders with him and even if he doesn’t make the header, there’s Ayew at the back post offering an additional threat.

That does, of course, mean Ayew playing on the left but, given he’s left-footed, that may simply mean that his game becomes slightly more weighted to staying wide and putting in crosses than cutting in-field and shooting. His key attributes – his pace, his courage (he was the second most fouled player in the league last season at 2.3 per game), his intelligence, his power – are equally applicable anywhere across the attacking or attacking midfield line.

That’s if Swansea let him go, of course and it may be that with three years remaining on his contract £20m isn’t enough