Despite already wrapping up six major deals so far this summer – with a seventh potentially on the way in the form of Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri – it would appear that manager David Moyes is keen to bolster his squad even further, with midfield in particular need of addressing.
While there is a shortage of depth in the defensive midfield ranks behind Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, there is also a lack of creative talent ahead of that colossal pairing, following the departure of £25m flop Nikola Vlasic and the failure to land former loanee, Jesse Lingard.
With that in mind, it is no surprise that the east London outfit have turned their attention towards Vanaken, with the “extraordinary” 29-year-old – as described by former Lokeren teammate Onur Kaya – offering a real quality addition.
The £14.4m-rated man – who joined his current side back in 2015 – notably registered 15 goals and 12 assists in 50 games across all fronts last term, with only Jarrod Bowen having registered more goal contributions (31) for West Ham during the 2021/22 campaign.
Although there may be concerns over his ability to make the transition to English football, those of an Irons persuasion should take heart from the fact that the 6 foot 5 menace shares a number of stylistic and statistical similarities to a man who is already thriving at the London Stadium – Pablo Fornals – as per FBref.
That likeness is demonstrated by the fact that both the Spaniard and Vanaken rank in the top 5% for interceptions made among those in their position across Europe’s top five leagues and European competition, showcasing their willingness to defend from the front.
Equally, the two creative midfielders are also similar due to their forward-thinking approach while in possession, with Fornals averaging 5.12 progressive passes per game, while the Belgian averages just slightly more at 6.0 progressive passes per game – albeit from fewer minutes played.
That is an indication of just how smoothly the towering gem could fit into Moyes’ side, with the man who is a “genius in the pass” in Fornals – as dubbed by journalist Guillem Balague – having thrived since his switch from Villarreal three years ago.
The 26-year-old has chipped in with 16 goals and 17 assists in 134 games in all competitions for the club thus far, although his role seemingly goes beyond just his end product, with journalist Paul Brown suggesting that the £67k-per-week ace is “very important” due to his quality and character.
Moyes and co will no doubt believe that they’ve struck gold if they can land another Fornals-esque figure in Vanaken before the deadline slams shut.