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Q: 2021/22 What competition should we prioritise this season?
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Irish Hammer 1:02 Thu Jun 3
Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !

The compassion with a younger Zabeleta is spot on.


Vladimir Coufal, the making of West Ham’s RoboCop

Staff at West Ham United’s training ground have become so accustomed to seeing Vladimir Coufal turn up on his day off that they often joke he should be spending more time with his wife and kids.

Coufal’s response is always the same, he will laugh and insist he just really enjoys training. Monday was a rest day for the players, following their narrow 2-1 defeat against Manchester City, but the right-back arrived at Rush Green to do gym work. The players were also off on Thursday, yet Coufal and Tomas Soucek were out on the pitch honing their skills.

Behind the scenes the duo are leaving a lasting impression as to how dedicated they are when it comes to training. They have lifted the work ethic among the group according to insiders and staff describe Coufal as being an affable character who is grateful for the support he has received.

He’s been just as impressive on the pitch. This is the story of how a boy who lived in the small village of Ludgerovice in the north east of Czech Republic with a population of just under 4,900 was doubted by his early coaches at Banik Ostrava, called RoboCop by his team-mates and has now become one of the most impressive signings in West Ham’s recent history.

It has been five months since the right-back joined West Ham from Slavia Prague for just over £5 million. His current deal expires in the summer of 2023, although there is the option of a further two years.

When Ryan Fredericks sustained a hamstring injury in the 4-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in September, the club felt they had no choice but to sign another defender. They looked at Slavia Prague midfielder Lukas Masopust, who can also play as a full-back, before settling firmly on Coufal. The club were initially hesitant about signing the right-back due to the policy of no longer signing players from abroad who are over 27. This was in response to having had their fingers burned so often with ageing players from overseas who couldn’t adjust to the pace of the Premier League, with recent examples including Samir Nasri, Carlos Sanchez and Roberto.


Moyes got reassurances about Coufal’s quality from his former club before signing him (Photo: Rob Newell – CameraSport via Getty Images)
West Ham tried to sign Coufal on loan with the option to buy but Slavia Prague wanted €8 million (£6.8 million). A counter proposal was made, with the club offering a €2 million signing-on fee for the loan and the option to pay €5 million (£4.3 million) if they avoided relegation. But Slavia Prague were reluctant to loan out one of their key players and eventually accepted a €6 million (£5.4 million) offer for a permanent deal.

What convinced West Ham were the reassurances about Coufal’s character. The hierarchy at Slavia Prague told West Ham that he trains hard, is a team player and they likened him to Pablo Zabaleta.

David Kuban, a youth team coach at FC Hlucin, is well placed to talk about Coufal’s journey from the humble beginnings at Banik Ostrava, where former Liverpool striker Milan Baros and ex-West Ham defender Tomas Repka started their careers. Kuban and Coufal were keen to follow in their footsteps but Kuban remembers a time when the right-back was not viewed as one of the promising prospects.


Coufal (far left, front row) poses with his FC Hlucin team-mates

A young Coufal (left) is pictured with his friend Petr Krpec
“When he played for Banik, I was in the under-13s and he played for the under-12s,” Kuban tells The Athletic. “But the coaches didn’t rate Vladimir. They wanted players who were physically strong and they thought Vladimir was weak and too small. He didn’t like the fact they doubted him and Vladimir never forgot that moment. Being rejected by Banik hurt him and he used it as motivation.”

Martin Skrehot also played for Banik Ostrava’s academy and has known Coufal since they were six. While Skrehot never progressed beyond the second tier of the Czech National Football League, he is happy his childhood friend fulfilled his dreams despite the adversity he experienced at Banik.

“He was probably one of the smallest players,” Skrehot deadpans. “But he was definitely good enough and the coaches got it wrong. That was the turning point for Vladimir and he’s had a chip on his shoulder from that day onwards. He was determined to prove them wrong. They’ll definitely have regrets over how they treated him.

“He sacrificed a lot to become a footballer. Even from a young age you could tell it meant a lot to him. He was fit and even after training he would be working out. I remember one day I went to his house to see if he wanted to play outside and his father said Vladimir wants to finish his workout first. He was so dedicated. He could play three matches in one day if he wanted to. That’s how fit he was. We all loved football but none of us took it that seriously. That’s when we gave Vladimir the nickname RoboCop. It’s stuck with him ever since.”

Coufal was 17 when he joined FC Hlucin and they were confident they could turn the defender into a promising talent. Lumir Kot, the owner at the time, was keen to prioritise the development of young players and took Coufal under his wing.

“Vladimir arrived at the club with the reputation for being an unpromising talent at Banik Ostrava, which I thought was unfair,” Kot says. “In reality, he wasn’t really given a chance and he immediately became the driving force and captain of our youth team. What really impressed me about Vladimir with his commitment and his eagerness to improve. His mother (Alena Drevjana) competed in gymnastics at the 1988 Olympics. That’s where Vladimir gets his movement from!


Coufal (left) and childhood friend Martin Skrehot (right) hold up a trophy during their time together in Banik Ostrava’s academy

Coufal’s mother was an Olympic gymnast
“We actually hired his mum so we could help some of the players with their fitness. After training some of them could hardly walk, especially the older players. They complained so much, it was so funny.”

Those who witnessed Coufal transform from a boy to a man at FC Hlucin are immensely proud. They also highlight Daniel Cernaj as being a hugely important figure in his life. Cernaj previously managed the club and had no qualms about giving young players in the academy an opportunity. He was immediately drawn to Coufal’s personality and they are in regular contact.

“Daniel believed in Vladimir when no one else did,” says Kuban. “He gave him the confidence to reach the next level and they’re still best friends. It’s unbelievable that he’s in the Premier League doing well for West Ham when you think about what he’s had to overcome. Daniel told Vladimir on numerous occasions that he was good enough to play in England.

“The coaches loved him because he would do the most running out of all the young players. We hated the hard physical training but sometimes Vladimir wanted us to do double training sessions. He was crazy! His mindset was different and that’s why he improved so much.

“No joke, he would run from his house to the training ground. He lived roughly 20 minutes away. He wouldn’t even be out of breath. I spoke to Milan Baros and he played with Vladimir at Slovan Liberec and he said no-one worked harder than Vlad. He said, ‘Sometimes he worked too hard and I was worried he would get injured.’ But that’s how Vladimir is. He loves it.”

After impressing in the second tier at FC Hlucin, Coufal signed for Slovan Liberec and made 118 appearances in the league during his six-year spell. He made his debut for Czech Republic in 2017 and has 12 caps so far. Then at Slavia Prague, his next club, he formed a close friendship with Soucek.


Coufal beams with joy as he poses with the Czech Cup in 2015 during his playing days with Slovan Liberec
Kuban is asked almost on a daily basis by the youngsters at FC Hlucin how they can emulate Coufal. They are inspired by his story, especially those who have been released by Banik Ostrava and are keen to follow his path to the Premier League.

“It’s great for the academy at Hlucin because all the players want to be like him,” says Kuban. “He’s a role model. Players who were told they weren’t good enough for Banik but now play for Hlucin aspire to follow in Coufal’s footsteps. We have a young lad in the academy whose name is Sebastian. He’s 12 and him and his father supported West Ham before Soucek and Coufal joined them but now Sebastian can’t stop talking about them.

“He’s so happy to see two Czech players in the first team. He often trains in the West Ham jersey because he believes he’ll play for them in the future. This is the impact players like Soucek and Coufal are having on young players in Czech Republic.”

Soucek, Declan Rice and Angelo Ogbonna may be front runners for the Hammer of the Year award, but Coufal also deserves to be in the conversation.

Kot is happy he was able to play a small part in Coufal’s development and while the right-back will hope he can help West Ham secure a top-four finish, the former owner of FC Hlucin believes the defender can go one better.

“We’re not in contact as much as before but I’m so proud of him,” says Kot. “With West Ham, he can achieve anything he wants. He’s good enough to help them win a trophy. He did it at Slavia Prague so he can definitely do it at West Ham. He has shown what you can achieve with hard work. The West Ham fans love him and I hope his story inspires the next generation of players in Czech Republic.”

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

the exile 12:36 Tue Aug 24
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
👍

Thanks Irish 12:17 Tue Aug 24
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
Thanks Irish

Irish Hammer 4:14 Tue Aug 24
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !

Shameless bump after that performance !

Alfs 5:55 Thu Jun 3
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
Coufal's mum....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op9o01JAP88

charleyfarley 2:26 Thu Jun 3
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
Cheers Irish another great article, you definitely get my vote for WHOOTY
(WHOer of the year)

chim chim cha boo 1:49 Thu Jun 3
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
Let's sign up this 12 year old Sebastian!

Cheers Irish x

Coffee 1:39 Thu Jun 3
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
dolph 1:18 Thu Jun 3

Vexed 1:27 Thu Jun 3
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
Irish son, you're absolutely bringing the articles lately!

ALAN OUT

dolph 1:18 Thu Jun 3
Re: Great background Article on Coufal. Aka Robocop !
Great stuff, cheers.





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