It is unlikely that West Ham would have signed Jarrod Bowen had they decided to give Manuel Pellegrini one more transfer window. Every attempt to convince Pellegrini to move for Bowen had fallen on deaf ears, with the Chilean insistent that the winger was not good enough for the Premier League, and the club’s recruitment department probably would have had to accept defeat had the board chosen not to change managers at the end of 2019.
After all West Ham were not the only top-flight side monitoring a talent whose performances for Hull had marked him out as one of the best forwards in the Championship. Crystal Palace and Newcastle also had Bowen on their radar and West Ham, who had replaced Pellegrini with David Moyes, were in danger of missing out as the January transfer window drew to a close.
Diligent when it comes to buying players, Moyes had not had much time to work out what his new squad required to avoid relegation. The Scot knew that he needed more pace in attack, but he could not make up his mind on Bowen. Could the youngster make an instant impact? Was he fast enough to get away from Premier League full-backs?
Yet time was running out. Palace and Newcastle were making moves and other figures at West Ham urged Moyes to act. The prevailing view at the London Stadium was that signing Bowen would pay off and so, with the deadline approaching, West Ham jumped in, agreed a £22m fee with Hull and managed to get the deal done just in the nick of time.
“We were attracted to the goals he has scored over the years,” said Moyes, whose decision to take a risk on Bowen looks anything but misguided now. West Ham, who have gone from relegation candidates to contenders for Champions League qualification, cannot get enough of the 25-year-old’s relentless running, bending crosses, team ethic and hunger for goals.
Bowen has established himself as one of the sharpest forwards in the top flight and even Moyes, who tends not to go overboard when he praises his players, agrees that the former Hull man would not look out of place in the England squad.
“When players come from the Championship you hope they will develop and Jarrod has taken to it really well,” Moyes said after Bowen’s double helped West Ham beat Norwich 2-0 on Wednesday. “When you look at the competition for England – Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho – it’s a decision for Gareth Southgate. But he’s getting closer.”
As Moyes acknowledged, it will not be easy for Bowen to force his way into England’s plans before the World Cup. The squad is settled and Southgate is not short of options. Moyes did not even mention Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Emile Smith Rowe, who made his debut in November; Bowen, to put it bluntly, could well be fighting a losing battle.
Yet the West Ham winger should not be discounted. Bowen has been directly involved in 16 goals in all competitions this season (eight goals and eight assists), more than any other English player in the Premier League, and is a regular source of inspiration for Moyes’s side on the right flank.
“It’s all about progressing,” Bowen said after scoring in West Ham’s 2-0 victory over Leeds in the FA Cup last weekend. “Whether that is assists or goals, they are the main two things you look at as a winger. Mo Salah is the perfect example, the goals he scores and assists he gets since he joined Liverpool. He is definitely one that I look at.”
As it happens Liverpool have been looking at Bowen. Jürgen Klopp sees him as a potential backup for Salah and could try to sign him this summer – not that West Ham, who are fourth before hosting Leeds on Sunday, are likely to welcome offers for one of their most important players.
Bowen, who has helped West Ham reach the last 16 of the Europa League, has become invaluable. His versatility enables him to play through the middle when Michail Antonio is missing, but he is at his best on the right. Bowen’s left foot allows him to cause havoc with inswinging crosses, he can be relied on to track back to protect his full-back and he is always willing to get into goalscoring positions, even though his finishing could be more refined at times.
Moyes often speaks about Bowen, who could have scored five against Norwich, needing to become more clinical. Yet part of Bowen’s appeal is that he never stops going. He scores all types of goals – he beat taller defenders to open the scoring with a header against Norwich – and does not let his head drop when he misses easy chances.
It is not part of Bowen’s character to give up. As a teenager he had an unsuccessful trial at Cardiff City and he went six months unpaid during a spell at Hereford, who were strapped for cash at the time, but he refused to let go of his dream. Bowen kept finding ways to improve and that spirit, that refusal to roll over, is still with him now.
It does not matter if people write him off: Bowen has fought his way to the top and his rise is far from over.