The trouble with the Europa League is that while it’s seen as a milestone to qualify for it, actually having to devote time and energy to playing in it is another thing entirely. I’m glad we qualifi ed, and obviously I’m thrilled that our fi rst ever game at the Olympic Stadium is against a team I have to Google in order to spell correctly, but the truth is, I’m not sold on investing heavily in our Europa League campaign. Playing in Europe means extra games, extra potential for injuries and a lot of extra work for the very minimal potential of being the best team in what is effectively the second tier of European football. West Ham had a good season in the league last year and could look to improve on that drastically in the upcoming season.
Last year’s stability and this summer’s initial signings could signal a big period for the club. It would be better to focus our attention on climbing up the league and being a regular top six or top four contender, rather than scrap in random corners of Europe on Th ursday evenings. Teams tend to struggle in the league when they have these mid-week European games in their already congested fi xture list.
English teams rocket up the league standings once dumped out of the continent – take Southampton last year, who came out of nowhere to leap frog West Ham into 6th place. Tottenham were the same; a strong team, but one that struggled having to play Thursday and Sunday. Alternatively, Leicester, the eventual league winners, didn’t have to contend with European football. You can’t help but think their ability to concentrate on the Premier League against top of the table teams, who were committed to both domestic and international leagues, was a factor in their drive to the title.
It’s Leicester City’s underdog story that makes me so determined for West Ham to focus on the league this year. After all, their domination made the league a more open competition. Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea – all are ‘big’ clubs who have very uncertain seasons ahead of them as they move into phases of new management. We don’t have that uncertainty this year. Instead, we’ve got Payet. We’ve got Bilic. Why not concentrate on the league and actually focus on the very realistic possibility of a top five finish?
Of course, there is a danger in taking our qualification for the Europa League for granted. We don’t want to be seen as a club that doesn’t appreciate and respect qualifying for a competition that other teams dream of playing in, and we may find it gets harder to qualify in the future and for other teams to take us seriously. I’m still pleased we qualified but for me, I won’t be overly upset if we make a quick Brexit so we can concentrate on becoming a mainstay at the top of the Premier League. BBM