Say it quietly but West Ham could be targeting a place in the Europa League in the next two or three seasons. But we should be very cautious as to not rush our return to European football.
Firstly the ways in which the club could gain entry into Europe could disrupt our Premier League season. Just look at both Wigan and Birmingham who went on cup runs winning the FA Cup and the League Cup, respectively, only to be relegated at the end of the season. Every fan would love a cup run but there are risks, with the Premier League everemerging as the powerhouse of British football, to the detriment of the cups It takes its toll on a squad, and it could affect our league performances.
As co-chairman David Gold said in Blowing Bubbles Issue #19: “I fear of the dangers of the Europa League on a fledging Premiership club.” He says “fledging” because we must remind ourselves this is just our second season back in the Premier League so whilst optimism breathes confidence into the club, it is one that should be wrapped in cautionary cotton wool.
Teams in a similar situation to ourselves, Newcastle and Stoke, proved that playing Thursday night football had a serious impact on the playing squad and league performances. The St James’ Park side we have just faced finished 16th at the end of last season where they spent the first few months in the Europa League, and faced a real threat of relegation for some time, whilst Stoke City finished 14th in their campaign featuring European football.
At this current time we do not have a squad capable of playing three games a week, Big Sam cannot afford injuries to our key players and it is well known that he feels the club’s priorities lie in remaining in the Premier League and building on last season’s impressive campaign. European football would not be a completely bad thing of course. Fans would flock to the East End fo night time performances, with the possibility of playing against top sides from Italy, Spain and Germany.
Fulham proved that the Europa League can be a blessing to a mid-table side. There’s no doubt that the Craven Cottage side enjoyed their run to the final, beating the likes of Juventus, Hamburg and Shakhtar Donetsk before just losing out to Atletico Madrid in the final. In the summer time the club have done well in improving the quality of the squad, Downing, Carroll, Rat and Adrian bring in good experience and great ability so an improvement on last season’s 10th placed finish must be in the pipeline.
A good season for West Ham would be finishing around 8th and a cup run, but talk of going for Europe may be too much too soon for Big Sam’s Claret and Blue Army.