James Ward-Prowse exclusive interview: Why West Ham are the perfect fit for me

James Ward-Prowse exclusive interview: Why West Ham are the perfect fit for me

James Ward-Prowse spent two decades at Southampton before joining West Ham last month, but it took no time for the midfielder to feel at home in his new surroundings.

“I could feel it on my debut against Chelsea,” Ward-Prowse told Standard Sport ahead of Friday night’s visit to Luton — the Hatters’ first Premier League home game. “There was a feeling in the air — the aggressive, hard-working nature of the club. That’s what I like.

“Before joining a club, you want to make sure you’re aligned and a [good] fit. From the outside looking in, I saw West Ham as a passionate, determined, hard working, aggressive club and that’s how I’ve always based my game. It’s a good fit for me.”

Tasked with filling the hole left by Declan Rice, Ward-Prowse has made an immediate impression for David Moyes’s unbeaten side, bagging two assists in the 3-1 win over Chelsea before opening his account for the club with a 50th Premier League goal as they beat Brighton to briefly go top of the table.

The 28-year-old already appears a smart fit for the Hammers, in no small part because of his quality over a dead ball. Set pieces have been one of West Ham’s strengths under Moyes, and just seven minutes into his debut, Ward-Prowse’s corner was headed home by Nayef Aguerd.

“Looking around at the team when we’re lining up at set pieces, there’s already a bit of excitement in my stomach thinking, ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity’,” Ward-Prowse said. “For me, they’re one of the easiest ways to score.

“It doesn’t require any brilliance to put a ball in an area and have lads willing to attack it. [Set pieces are] the strongest part of my game, but I do offer a lot more than that. The manager said some nice things about why he wanted to bring me here, [mentioning] my goals and assists and the leadership factor as well.”

Perfect fit: James Ward-Prowse has quickly hit the ground running as a West Ham player (Getty Images)
Perfect fit: James Ward-Prowse has quickly hit the ground running as a West Ham player (Getty Images)

Rice’s departure to Arsenal in a £105million deal has left a vacuum in leadership in the Hammers’ dressing room and on the pitch, but the club have moved with encouraging ambition to replace the England international.

The £30million capture of Ward-Prowse was followed by the signings of Ajax midfield pair Edson Alvarez and Mohammed Kudus for a combined £75m.

Ward-Prowse, though, dismisses the suggestion that West Ham are now stronger, despite his excitement at the quality of the squad.

“Everybody is incredibly grateful to Declan for what he did for this club,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a case to say we’ll be better without him at all. He did tremendous things for this club.

“But playing a similar position to him, I’m thinking about what I can bring, and we’re excited to see what the [other] new players can do as well.”

I don’t think there’s a case to say West Ham will be better without Declan Rice at all

The experience of relegation with Saints made for a draining season “physically, emotionally and mentally” for Ward-Prowse, the pressure even more intense because he was club captain, but he has not even contemplated another season scrapping in the bottom half of the table with the Hammers. Instead, he sees an upwardly-mobile club, ready to kick on after last season’s Europa Conference League success.

“[Being in a relegation battle] has not even crossed my mind,” he said. “I think last year’s [European] success will undoubtedly give the club a huge boost in terms of their ambitions for the future.

“Some great additions to the squad have been made in the last few weeks, which is pleasing to see. Having seen the quality and the type of players we’ve got in training day to day, it’s surprising to think they were in that position last year, but not surprising they lifted a European trophy.

“Domestically, we want to improve on what we did last year and be somewhere in the top 10. Obviously, the Europa League is a fantastic opportunity. This club has been there before, done it in the Conference League and there’s no reason we can’t do that again.”

As for Friday night’s trip to Kenilworth Road, Ward-Prowse believes it will be the Hammers’ toughest test yet this season.

“It will be a brilliant atmosphere,” he said. “They’re a club on the rise and have shown why they deserve their place in the Premier League.

“It’s a fantastic fixture and we have to make sure we take that emotion out of it, because there’ll be a lot of energy in the stadium. We must concentrate on our game-plan and execute what we know we can. I’m a massive football fan, so to be involved in these sort of games is fantastic.

“For Luton to be in the Premier League and be able to show on the world stage what they’re about is football summed up. We know the challenge ahead of us and we’ll be focused on doing our part.

“You always want to start the season well, give yourself a foothold, and I think those results will start to build and build. Heading into the international break, to be able to come away with a result tonight would solidify a really good start.”