Football Features

Perfect Salah understudy? Why West Ham’s ‘Jamie Vardy’ might be on Liverpool’s transfer shortlist | Jarrod Bowen

By Ben Green

Published: 17:03, 21 July 2021

Seven years ago, Jarrod Bowen made his competitive debut for Hereford United against Barnet in the Conference Premier. Now, he is a Premier League star for West Ham United, getting ready to play in Europe and drawing links to Liverpool.

Since that 2-0 defeat at the Underhill Stadium in 2014, Bowen’s boyhood club has gone into liquidation and dissolved, but his trajectory has taken a different path, with the 24-year-old working his way up the footballing ladder, one rung at a time, and he’s now an invaluable cog for David Moyes in east London.

Signed from Hull City for an initial £18m fee in January 2020 after making the Championship his playground, Bowen has gone from strength to strength since that move, helping West Ham gatecrash the top-six party last season, securing Europa League football as a result — and now he is hot property.

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In fact, a lot of West Ham players are en vogue this summer thanks to their barnstorming 2020/21 efforts that saw them almost seal Champions League qualification; Declan Rice chief among those. But, the latest from E20 to gain the attention of football’s elite is Bowen, with The Athletic‘s James Pearce reporting that Jurgen Klopp is keeping tabs on the wily winger.

With uncertainty over the futures of fringe attackers Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri at Anfield, with the latter said to be in the crosshairs of Lazio, Klopp’s frontline may need an adrenaline shot this summer, and Bowen fits the profile of Liverpool’s current playing philosophy: prolific, versatile, direct.

Of course, Moyes will be reluctant to part with any of his charges given his side are about to embark on a club-defining season in the Europa League (learning their group-stage fate on August 27), with the continental greenhorns needing as much depth as possible to cope with the added burden of ‘Thursday nights’.

Bowen, too, will be dipping his toes into Europe for the first time, coming a long way from those formative years at Edgar Street, but the phone call from Melwood does not come around often; for some, it’s as rare as hen’s teeth. The temptation to play in front of a raucous Kop End may be too great to pass up.

However, Pearce’s report suggests Liverpool may only move for Bowen if they can shift Origi and/or Shaqiri, while he would not be a guaranteed starter, instead providing top-level back-up to, predominantly, Mohamed Salah, given both are left-footed, right inside forwards — the similarities are indeed striking.

On the surface, it may seem an underwhelming choice of targets, given some of the high-profile names inevitably and perennially linked to Anfield every window, but scratch beneath the surface and you can start to understand why Klopp would be interested in the man from the cider capital of England.

At this moment in time, Bowen is in season. Not only did he rack up commendable tallies of eight Premier League goals and five assists in 2020/21, making him the fourth-most productive player at West Ham and Liverpool combined but, quite incredibly, of the 29 chances he created, 11 were ‘big chances’.

For context, 37.9% of Bowen’s chances created were recorded by Opta as ‘big chances’, the highest such proportion in the Premier League among players to create 10 or more ‘big chances’. He outranked the likes of Bruno Fernandes (21%, 20 big chances created, 95 chances created) and Kevin De Bruyne (23.6%, 19 big chances created, 80 chances created). In short, when Bowen creates a chance in the final third, it tends to be on the money.

In terms of like-for-like, few resemble Salah more than Bowen. Both stand at 5ft 9in; both have a wand of a left boot; both play in identical positions (and roles as inside forwards) on the right; both look to cut in at every available opportunity; both know where the back of the net is; both can play up front if needs be.

On the latter point, it may be an option Klopp could explore, as he has previously done so with Salah as a No.9. When Michail Antonio sustained a hamstring injury in the Wolves game in early April, the immediate forecast looked grim for the Hammers as they had no recognised striker, selling Sebastien Haller in January.

With no obvious Plan B, Moyes turned to Bowen to lead his line, replacing Antonio in the 36th minute at the Molineux to moonlight as a centre-forward. Two minutes later he scored, cutting through the Wolves defence and firing past a stunned Rui Patricio as West Ham went 3-0 up, eventually winning 3-2.

He was entrusted with a starting berth up front in the following game against Leicester (a proverbial six-pointer at the time for the top four), going on to score and assist as Moyes masterminded a double over Brendan Rodgers, with the club winning back-to-back 3-2s, and Bowen showcasing his attacking flair.

It is that kind of versatility and devastation in front of goal that has alerted Klopp who, likewise, has utilised Salah as a No.9, notably playing him through the middle in the 1-1 draw with Man City last term, with the Egyptian flanked by Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota, and in the 3-1 win over West Ham at the London Stadium.

Naturally, Salah scored in both matches, notching a brace against West Ham with one of the goals of the season, in which he collected a lofted pass from Shaqiri, effortlessly bringing the ball down as though trapping a beanbag, ghosting into the box, and delectably dinking Lukasz Fabianski.

Bowen has showcased a similar ingenuity at times, notably, his finish against Arsenal, in which he was on his toes to collect Jesse Lingard’s quickly-taken free-kick, catching Mikel Arteta’s defence completely unawares, before slotting past Bernd Leno, shades of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quick corner against Barcelona.

For all the talent, though, Bowen is a player with a resolute temperament, someone willing to put in the hard work to progress. Self-improvement is part of his creed, a sentiment echoed by Moyes, who has previously likened the winger to Jamie Vardy, in terms of his desire to rise up.

“Jamie Vardy is a really good example [for Jarrod] of what you can do if you dedicate yourself and you don’t give up, you don’t let anybody put you down and keep going.’ Moyes said in April.

“That raw potential came from inside hunger, to take the chance when you get it. I wouldn’t say it’s proving people wrong but to prove to yourself you can compete and Jarrod Bowen is doing that. He’s a great example, he has come through Hull and is trying to make his way in the Premier League.

“But the really big thing is that you can’t lose your hunger, you can’t ever think you’ve made [it] or can stop working at what you’re good at.

“The minute you stop, it finishes for you. Jarrod is really hungry, he is at it. He’s still trying to establish himself in his first full season in the Premier League and you’d have to say he’s making a good go of it, he’s doing a good job.”

Whether or not a deal, or even a bid, transpires this summer, there can be no question that West Ham have a real asset, and if Bowen plays his cards right, who knows? Gareth Southgate may be popping his head through the London Stadium turnstiles more frequently as the clock for the 2022 World Cup counts down.