Ward-Prowse will NOT wear Mark Noble's iconic No 16 shirt at West Ham

James Ward-Prowse will NOT wear Mark Noble’s famous No 16 shirt at West Ham, instead taking No 7 as he aims to surpass David Beckham’s free-kick haul

  • James Ward-Prowse opted not to wear the No 16 shirt after joining West Ham
  • The number has gone unused since Mark Noble retired from football in 2022
  • Click here to watch Mail Sport’s brand new show ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ in full 

James Ward-Prowse decided against taking Mark Noble’s No 16 shirt. Nobody has been brave enough to take on Mr West Ham’s old number since his retirement and it was on offer to Mr Southampton, given he wore it previously.

Instead Ward-Prowse opted for the No 7 shirt, a number synonymous in the Premier League with David Beckham. Beckham is relevant because now that Ward-Prowse has signed for West Ham, his free-kick record is there for the taking.

The 28-year-old is one away from equalling Beckham’s tally of 18 for Manchester United in the Premier League. 

He was six when Beckham scored that goal for England against Greece and in a previous interview with Mail Sport, spoke about how he immediately went out into his parents’ back garden to try to replicate it.

Ward-Prowse is an artist from dead balls and that is a big reason why West Ham manager David Moyes pushed so hard for this £30million transfer to go through.

James Ward-Prowse will wear the No 7 shirt at West Ham after joining the club this summer

The 28-year-old has joined David Moyes’ side in a four-year deal following Southampton’s relegation last season

Moyes could be accused of trying to transform West Ham into ‘Set Piece FC’. In Ward-Prowse, he has acquired a specialist for those situations. In Edson Alvarez, his £35m signing from Ajax, he has a 6ft 2in midfielder who has scored more headed goals from corners and free-kicks than any other player in Holland’s Eredivisie since 2021. 

Harry Maguire could follow, too, if West Ham can convince the 6ft 4in defender to leave Manchester United after their £30m bid was accepted. Tomas Soucek is also set to sign a contract extension, Mail Sport can reveal, and at 6ft 4in, he is also lethal in the air.

In Moyes’ first full season back at West Ham, they topped the Premier League’s rankings for goals from set pieces. The following season, they dropped to fifth. Last season, they fell further to 11th. With Ward-Prowse and Alvarez – their cross connoisseur and their head honcho – that decline should be arrested.

Yet it would be wrong to say Ward-Prowse’s contribution will begin and end with free-kicks and corners. He will bring leadership to West Ham, having captained Southampton since 2020, and his work ethic has been described as ‘infectious’ by Saints insiders. As one said yesterday: ‘JWP was often the first to arrive at the training ground and regularly topped our pre-season fitness tests. West Ham have got themselves a hell of a player and person for £30m.’

He is underrated in the daringness of his passing, too. Nobody produced more passes for Southampton last season and most of them were progressive, rather than looking sideways or backwards. Sometimes he dropped deep to pick up possession before pinging a diagonal ball in behind for the wide men. Other times he played a pass through the middle for a more advanced team-mate who had drifted in between the opposition’s lines.

Move will see Ward-Prowse emulate fellow free kick specialist David Beckham’s iconic number

Meanwhile the Hammers’ No 16 shirt has remained vacant since Mark Noble retirement in 2022

Only six Premier League players created more chances than Ward-Prowse and he was doing it for a struggling side that was ultimately relegated.

The burden will not be as heavy on Ward-Prowse at West Ham as it was at Southampton, whose plan to score in last season’s fight for Premier League survival often resembled a ‘get it to Prowsey’ mindset. He will have others to help him create chances, such as Lucas Paqueta, so long as he does not leave for Manchester City in this window.

When West Ham are pushing up the pitch, if they cannot find a way into the box, they will know that if they recycle the ball to Ward-Prowse, he can and will deliver a tantalising cross.

Ward-Prowse, Alvarez and Paqueta have the makings of an exciting three-man midfield for West Ham. It contains a healthy combination of defensive steel and attacking style, and having tried to sign Ward-Prowse in previous windows, Moyes finally has his man.

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