Who is Nayef Aguerd? New West Ham defender is dominant in the air and compared to Antonio Rudiger

New signing: Nayef Aguerd  (West Ham United (credit Javier Garcia / Shutterstock) )
New signing: Nayef Aguerd (West Ham United (credit Javier Garcia / Shutterstock) )

West Ham have confirmed a £28million deal to sign Rennes defender Nayef Aguerd as David Moyes embarks on a summer of significant spending ahead of a second successive season in Europe.

Here’s all you need to know…

Career so far

Aguerd began his senior career at FUS Rabat in his native Morocco, winning the country’s top division in 2016 before making the move to Europe with French side Dijon two years later.

Unlike many of Ligue 1’s most talented prospects, he was not picked out early on as likely to make the familiar move across The Channel, with his potential not immediately clear even to those inside the club.

Though he eventually became first choice under three separate managers, there was still a degree of surprise in France when, in the summer of 2020, Rennes, having just qualified for the Champions League for the first time, moved for the centre-back, who had managed only 25 league appearances in his two seasons in the division.

Dijon had flirted precariously with relegation in each of those campaigns, but regular watchers reported them to be a markedly more solid side with the centre-back present, a view arguably vindicated when they finished bottom and slipped into Ligue 2 the season after his departure.

Nayef Aguerd (left) in action for Dijon, August 2018 (AFP via Getty Images)
Nayef Aguerd (left) in action for Dijon, August 2018 (AFP via Getty Images)

Aguerd quickly justified Rennes’ faith with an impressive start to the 2020/21 campaign, so much so that the club felt confident enough to terminate the loan of Italian international Daniele Rugani midway through the season, with the Juventus defender deemed surplus to requirements having struggled with a hamstring injury.

Save for a Covid-enforced absence and one suspension, Aguerd was ever-present in the league and Champions League and attracted interest from a number of clubs, including West Ham, last summer, but opted to continue his development in Brittany.

This term he has maintained his form, establishing a reputation as one of Ligue 1’s most reliable defenders and playing every minute for a Morocco side that conceded just once in the group stage of World Cup qualifying, impressed at the AFCON before falling to Mo Salah’s Egypt and then qualified for Qatar via a play-off.

Playing style

Defensively, Aguerd is known for his dominant aerial presence, ability to read the game and sharp recovery speed. He is not the most naturally gifted centre-back in terms of physicality but has developed that part of his game year-on-year and those close to him say he is not concerned about it being a perceived weakness, having tested himself against Premier League opposition in meetings with Leicester and Tottenham in this season’s Europa Conference League group stage, as well as Chelsea in last season’s Champions League.

In possession, Aguerd has been comfortable building from the back in a Rennes side that, under Bruno Genesio, have played some of Ligue 1’s most attractive football, with only PSG scoring more than their 82 goals this season. He has previously been compared to Antonio Rudiger.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Prior to working with Genesio, Aguerd was also under the tutelage of one of French football’s most highly-rated young managers in Julien Stephan, who delivered Rennes’ first major trophy in 48 years when winning the 2019 French Cup and played a key role in the development of the likes of Leeds star Raphinha and Eduardo Camavinga, now a Champions League winner with Real Madrid.

Where will he fit in at West Ham?

David Moyes has made signing a left-footed centre-back a key priority this summer as he looks to bring balance to his backline and also increase the quality and depth of his squad ahead of another season in Europe, with current fourth-choice Issa Diop set to be sold.

Aguerd fits the bill and already speaks English (along with French, Spanish and Arabic), which should smooth his transition to the Premier League, while having scored seven times for Rennes from centre-back in the past two seasons, he will add to the Hammers’ potent set-piece threat, too.

When Boubacar Kamara’s move from Marseille to Aston Villa was announced, it was viewed as a damning indictment of the monetary chasm between the English and French leagues, but it is a testament to the Irons’ growing European stature that there are few of those grumbles around Aguerd’s switch, the move recognised as a timely step up despite Rennes having secured a Europa League spot next season.

This article was first published on June 1.