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Just how good is Jarrod Bowen? H the West Ham ar became onof

2022-06-09 22:30

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Just how good is Jarrod Bowen? How the West Ham star became one of the Premier Leagues most feared attackers

Fourth place is the objective for West Ham, but there is a table they top. Or one of their players does, anyway: over the season as a whole, Mohamed Salah is the Premier Leagues top scorer. In 2022, Jarrod Bowen is, with five goals. And while it may be a small sample size in a year interrupted by the African Cup of Nations and a few postponements, it is indicative of a surge to prominence.

Controversial as Craig Dawsons late equaliser at Leicester was, it was telling it came from Bowens corner. He had scored early and bookended the game with telling contributions. While his winner against Watford was deflected, it seemed typical it was Bowen who had made something happen. Increasingly, he does.

His last FA Cup goal was against non-league opposition but a decider in injury-time of extra time against Kidderminster, like Declan Rices leveller in stoppage time at the end of the 90 minutes, seemed a case of a top player assuming responsibility for bailing out an underperforming team.

Increasingly, Bowen looks a high-grade footballer. Amid a growing focus on tactics, there can be something seemingly old-fashioned about a player who takes it upon himself to make something happen and something relentless about one who appears to do it every match. Jarrod is the one standing up at the moment, manager David Moyes said on Sunday.

It is a long moment. Since early December, Bowen has six goals and four assists in 11 league games; he is in effect contributing a goal a game, one way or another. He has a combination of form, ability and irrepressibility. Over the season as a whole, he has been directly involved in 16 goals, behind only the runaway leader Salah. And if there is something admirable about the kind of player who can improve year on year, Bowens formula appears quaintly outdated: he used to be substituted most games, but running in his uncles potato fields near Hereford has increased his stamina to mean he can carry on making injury-time interventions.

The throwback feel to his progress from non-league to Premier League seems underlined by the fact the two managers to buy him are ageing Brits: Steve Bruce paid 50,000 to take him from Hereford to Hull. Moyes plucked him out of the Championship when others may have looked for a more glamorous option. Each has a better transfer-market record than his detractors would acknowledge.

But perhaps his rise from fine to outstanding Premier League player this season was predicted elsewhere. Bowen ended last year with eight goals and five assists, excellent hauls in a West Ham team who exceeded expectations when they came sixth. It was nevertheless a surprise to many when reports emerged that Liverpool were interested in him. He looked West Ham good, not Liverpool good.

Instead, perhaps it was a sign that savvy buyers were ahead of the curve again. Maybe they realised he would reach another level. There is a pertinent comparison. Go back 18 months and Diogo Jota appeared in the same boat: a useful performer for an upper mid-table team but unlikely to attract interest from the elite. Jurgen Klopp recently reflected that if the Portuguese had stayed at Wolves for another year, he might have had then had suitors.

If there may be a similar hunger for self-improvement among forwards who seem to kick on every year, there is a second common denominator. Neither Jota nor Bowen is particularly good at expected goals; they can seem insufficiently clinical, being statistical underachievers given the calibre of chances they have. Yet perhaps the key factor is actually the elusiveness and persistence that means they get into scoring positions more often than most.

If some of Bowens goals come late, and five this season have been in or after the 80th minute, it is in part because he wears down defenders with his running. Like Jota, he has developed those happy traits of delivering when it matters and against the best. Increasingly, it feels like he belongs in that bracket. Last year, it was hard to claim he was one of the best players in the Premier League. Not now.

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