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ray winstone 6:18 Sat Mar 9
Bowen ipaper article
This must all seem very surreal to a boy who grew up a Manchester United supporter on a farm in Herefordshire idolising David Beckham

Jarrod Bowen is at the top of the hill, a wheelbarrow handle in each hand. Dad, Sam, waits at the bottom, next to a gently churning cement mixer.

The drill starts and Bowen heads down, the going light and easy. He reaches the bottom and Sam fills the wheelbarrow with fresh cement before sending his son on his way. Bowen heaves, his arms and legs straining with the effort to push the wheelbarrow back up.

This is how Bowen can often be found in the summer, working hard with his dad in fitness drills that you wouldn’t find on the pristine pitches of Premier Leaguetraining grounds. Hauling giant tractor tyres around – Bowen is from farming family, making them easier to source. Pushing wheelbarrows and heavy-duty lawn rollers. Doing sprints on the challenging, uneven surface of the potato fields outside his uncle’s home.

That last one makes Bowen feel like he’s flying during games when he sets off on one of those blistering runs that invariably leads to scoring a goal.

How has a young boy who never graced the glimmering world of Premier League academies become one of the most talked about forwards outside the Big Six? Bowen had never even considered the prospect of a career in professional football when he was scoring goals for fun at local side Leominster Minors and then, from his mid-teens, at Hereford United.

It has been an unconventional route to the top for a footballer who still trusts in unusual methods. A free transfer from Hereford to Hull City then six years later, after impressing in the Championship, an £18m signing for West Ham.

Bowen was signed in the first transfer window after David Moyes returned to West Ham for a second spell. Moyes said Bowen was “probably what you’d call a wide forward these days, or perhaps an old-fashioned inside-right” but saw his potential across the front three and the Scot is credited with adding a versatility that has taken Bowen’s game to the next level.

Bowen took a while to grow into his skin in the Premier League. His first few seasons decent but not mind blowing. There was a period at the start of the 2021-22 season when Bowen felt he was playing well but went nine games without a goal or assist and began panicking. Then they started going in everywhere.

Even before the goals flowed, Mark Noble was impressed by the way Bowen “didn’t think that his goals and assists meant that he didn’t have to track back”.

If ever a single strike has had such an impact on a player it is the goal in Prague – one of the most important in West Ham’s history. The 90th-minute winner against Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final to deliver West Ham a first trophy in 43 years.

Staff at West Ham noticed a massive transformation in Bowen, professionally and personally, when he returned to the club for preseason that summer. And the 27-year-old is only getting better, notching 17 goals in 34 appearances – 14 of those in the Premier League, leaving him only four adrift of Erling Haaland.

This season he has benefited from an understanding with Lucas Paqueta that is so razor-sharp they can now be seen celebrating goals by mimicking holding glasses over eyes at each other.

England manager Gareth Southgate and his assistant, Steve Holland, have been spotted frequently in attendance at West Ham games – not only to watch Bowen, they are keeping tabs on James Ward-Prowse and Kalvin Phillips, but the people I spoke to last week predict the forward will be in England’s Euro 2024 squad.

Since Noble became sporting director and Declan Rice left for Arsenal, Bowen (alongside Aaron Cresswell) has become a leading figure behind the scenes, taking on more responsibility on and off the pitch. “He’s probably come out a little bit out of Dec’s shadow,” one well-placed source told me.

On the Sunday night before he is due to join up with the England squad for the first time, six days after a dream came true, Bowen was nervous. The call came when he was alone in his mother’s house in Hereford wondering if he had made the England squad, due to be announced later that day, when he received a text message from an unsaved number asking “can I call you?” and signed only with the letter “G”.

Was that Gareth? He wasn’t certain. But he replied “yes” instantly and then the phone was ringing and Southgate’s voice was coming through the speaker. Bowen was in. He took a moment to let it sink in.

Later, he exchanged messages with Rice, asking what to bring, what to pack, what to expect. But the night before camp he is nervous and isn’t sure if this is normal, so he calls Rice.

Rice tells him not to worry – that he was nervous his first time but that when you meet up at St George’s Park with the squad and staff it is brilliant. And Rice helps his teammate ease into it.

On the first morning, Bowen wakes in his room at the on-site Hilton, seeing breakfast is scheduled for 9.30am but unsure how early people get there. He heads down at 8.45am to find the place empty. He realises he appears super-keen and is a little embarrassed, but thankfully Conor Coady soon turns up and they share a coffee before the rest of the squad arrived shortly before 9.30am.

Training with Harry Kane for the first time is an eye opener – seeing the level he now aspires to, how clinical Kane’s finishing is, noting how frustrated England’s all-time top scorer is at missing anything.

This must all have been vaguely surreal for the boy who grew up a Manchester United supporter idolising David Beckham and has always been a passionate England fan. Marking his call-up, the Football Association posted a photograph of Bowen as a kid with St George’s flag painted on his face, fake England kit, Beckham’s No 7 on his shirt, red mohawk.

Bowen was at Wembley with his mates watching England knock Germany out of Euro 2020. How far he has come since that he could well be in Germany this summer representing his country.

Holland was at the London Stadium to witness Bowen score the hat-trick against Brentford that lifted him up the Premier League goal-scoring charts. Southgate was at Goodison Park the following weekend watching him star in another West Ham win, starting up front, then playing off the right then the left, his incredible energy levels on display in the fifth minute of stoppage time when he carried the ball half the length of the pitch to set up Edson Alvarez.

It is that versatility, honed by Moyes, which makes him so hard to play against for opponents, the way he “bobs and weaves” into positions, spaces, gaps, as one source put it (around half his goals this season have come from wide, half down the middle). It is an attribute that will appeal to Southgate when he considers his wealth of options up front.

A near nailed-on front three of Phil Foden, Kane and Bukayo Saka will be one of the strongest in world football and hard to break into.

But Jack Grealish has struggled to hit the heights of Manchester City’s Treble-winning season and is struggling with injury, making him a doubt for the upcoming squad for games against Brazil and Belgium. Marcus Rashford has had difficulties on and off the field. Ollie Watkins is impressing for Aston Villa but lacks Bowen’s flexibility.

Meanwhile, there are shades of Jamie Vardy to Bowen’s rise. By the time the Leicester City title-winner was Bowen’s age now, he was still a few months away from making his Premier League debut.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

zico 12:15 Mon Mar 18
Re: Bowen ipaper article
I do know that the last player to score over 20 goals for us in the top division was Tony Cottee, and that's before the PL (just League not all comps). In the PL the closest we got was John Hartson (15) and Paolo Di Canio (16) within a couple of years of each other.

Leavemyarcelona 5:56 Mon Mar 18
Re: Bowen ipaper article
I think the 04/05 season Harewood & Sheringham got 20+ each. Zamora got 16-18

dealcanvey 11:40 Fri Mar 15
Re: Bowen ipaper article

Think it was Hartson 25+ years ago!

he needs 2 more goals in the prem to beat Hartsons record for us (15).

Mex Martillo 9:21 Fri Mar 15
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Thats 18 goals over all competitions!
Looking great.
When was the last time we had 20+ goal forward?

The Fonz 12:33 Mon Mar 11
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Looked much better in the second half back on the wing. He's a good finisher but not a striker. Can he do a job there? Yes but hes nowhere near as good as playing on the right.

The White Horse 6:33 Sun Mar 10
Re: Bowen ipaper article
It’s actual the opposite- just think where he could be if we had a manager that subscribed to innovative football principles.

wd40 4:01 Sun Mar 10
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Moyes giving no credit by anyone...again.

Matthew Holmes 12:23 Sun Mar 10
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Good read. Thanks Ray

Mex Martillo 11:20 Sat Mar 9
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Great player, but I’d like to see him improve on holding on to the ball, less of getting pushed back by defenders to either loss possession or pass back to our defense. That frustrates me about him. Still he has the goals and pace when there is space.
Thanks Ray

bruuuno 7:59 Sat Mar 9
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Cheers Raymond

charleyfarley 7:16 Sat Mar 9
Re: Bowen ipaper article
Thanks Ray enjoyed that

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