What’s the crack?
If reports are to be believed, Sunderland are on the verge of their first signing in the January transfer window - French midfielder Pierre Ekwah, a 21-year-old West Ham prospect who has been a regular this season in their U21s side.
The player was first linked a few weeks back but Nixon claimed on Monday evening that a loan deal is close - with the former Chelsea youth player joining up with Tony Mowbray’s side to fill the Jay Matete-shaped void in his squad.
What do we know about him? Well, not a great deal really. Even West Ham supporters aren’t really sure about him as they’ve rarely seen him play, but the fact he’s scored four goals from midfield in the PL2 this season is promising, as are reports that he’s a big, athletic lad - something we’ve been long missing from our central midfield options at Sunderland.
Pierre, in his own words
In reading up on the lad I came across this piece on the West Ham website which offers a little bit of insight into what we can potentially expect should he sign - the club describe him as a “powerful defensive midfielder” who is “also capable of dropping into the backline”, but the player himself says he’s a little more well-rounded than that:
My favourite position is definitely playing No8 – box-to-box midfielder.
I like creative players, and players who break things up as well. I’m a ball player as well, so that’s the position I really enjoy playing in.
I would say, because I’m French, Zinedine Zidane [was my idol]! He was my guy. [I also like] Kaka, Andrea Pirlo, Claude Makélélé…
I wasn’t looking at just one player, I was literally looking at every single team who had that midfielder who was the break-up player or the playmaker, I was just looking at them and taking in everything I could. I still do it when I watch football.
The West Ham view on things
In asking around about Ekwah through my West Ham supporting mates, it’s clear they’re still very much in the dark regarding what he can offer too. It’ll come as no surprise that David Moyes is still a bit of a dinosaur and, as such, doesn’t like to give chances to young players - not even when his team are making an arse of it on the pitch.
Still, Ekwah has caught some attention with his performances this season for the U21s, like Aji Alese did for the Hammers last season, and fans are keen to see what he can do.
I caught up with David from West Ham Report to ask his thoughts on the potential of a move to Sunderland for Ekwah, and while he conceded that he’s not an expert on what the player is capable of, he’s keen to watch the Frenchman progress from afar.
RR: I know that West Ham fans haven’t seen a great deal of Pierre Ekwah, so what is the general feeling amongst supporters about his potential and his pathway to the first team?
WHR: In all honesty, his potential is largely unknown and that’s due to the fact we haven’t really seen him given the chance in any of the cups or Europe, for example.
With Moyes in charge he’s been reluctant to regularly use the youth players, so I would say most fans are disillusioned with the pathway between the u23s and the first-team squad.
However, the fact he’s being offered on loan to Championship clubs is a promising sign that the club feel he does have a future at West Ham.
RR: I read an interview with him on your club website where he talked about how he likes to play in the #8 position, as a box-to-box midfielder - would you say that was accurate? What sort of midfielder and person is he?
WHR: We’ve mostly seen him in pre-season friendlies, and on every occasion he has played in the middle - I would say describing him as a box to box midfielder is accurate. He’s scored a few for the U21s too, which shows he can get forward and amongst the goals.
If I was to describe Ekwah in one word I would say “athletic”, personally. He’s got some height on him and does get around the pitch well.
He’s often seen at either end of the pitch.
It’s hard to say too much about his character without knowing a lot about him, but I do know the club are very big on getting the “right people” at the club off the pitch as well as on it, so I suppose to be contracted at West Ham everything in that regard must be positive.
What aspects of his game would you like to see him work on at Sunderland?
WHR: I would have to say that the most important thing would be for him to get vital experience that can only be gained through playing first team football, because we’ve rarely seen him and what he can do.
But like Aji Alese, if he’s given the chance he could absolutely thrive.
RR: For any Sunderland fans who aren’t sure about this particular signing, what would you say to them?
WHR: Give him a chance. Although we West Ham fans may not know a great deal about him, he’s been a regular starter in an U21s side that had Aji Alese in it last season, and a host of other players like Harrison Ashby who have all made their senior debuts for West Ham within the last 12 months. I honestly can’t say how he will get on at Sunderland, but fingers crossed he hits the ground running.
So, what do we make of it?
At this stage I’m happy to just sit back and see what Stuart Harvey and Kristjaan Speakman have in store next for us, whether that be a lad from abroad or one of the top prospects from the academies of the Premier League elite.
Aji Alese came from absolutely nowhere in the summer and has been a revelation for us, so clearly we have a good knowledge of West Ham and the ability of their players.
Ekwah could be a superstar for all we know, and I suppose that’s the joy of it - I’m loving the fact we’re prepared to dip into the market to pluck these players from the fringes of teams in the Premier League. Worst case he’s useless but we haven’t lost anything because he’s replacing a player who wasn’t getting a game anyway - best case he’s the missing cog in the wheel and adds the power and presence we’ve lacked since the days of Yann M’Vila and Jan Kirchhoff.
I imagine there will be fans who aren’t blown away by the potential of signing a kid on loan from a Premier League team but I’d point to the successes of most the young lads we’ve signed under similar circumstances in recent years - let’s just hope he’s more Aji Alese and less Frederik Alves in that regard.