Hugh Southon: West Ham’s stars will expect to be playing in Europe next year

The Hammers simply have to be in the hunt for a top six spot this season

It’s always hard to become a Hammers optimist. After years of living on the dark side, the shadows spread across the brightest hopes. Fortune has indeed been hiding for too long.

But at long last, the signs are good and getting better. Yep, there’s a way to go but in what I see as a pretty critical season a top seven place begins to look more than a possibility.

There’s no question, however, that with it will come some problems and Wolves – who crept into the Europa League last season via seventh place – have shown those this time around.

Thursday nights in Europe followed by a Sunday game can stretch a squad and that’s been shown with Wolves winning just one of their first five games.

Should we make it into Europe, a lot of investment will be required from the board to ensure we can cope at both levels – a situation that appears to have eluded Wolves.

In the meantime I have been dwelling on the growing reputations of such as Felipe Anderson, Seb Haller, Declan Rice, Manu Lanzini and Issa Diop.

And what should make us very happy indeed is – that as time goes by – each of them have, and no doubt soon in Haller’s case, been linked with top six clubs.

Rice, of course, is apparently a United target whilst Anderson has been mentioned at times as being on the Real Madrid and Chelsea wanted list.

Diop was chased in the summer by the Old Trafford club and Lanzini has apparently caught Liverpool’s eye.

But here’s the thing: Rice and Diop showed no interest at all in moving to the Old Trafford club, with the 20-year-old defensive midfielder signing a six year deal while Lanzini has just signed up for another four.

I honestly can’t remember a time previously when our best players were linked with bigger outfits and gave a ‘thanks but no thanks’ response. They may know something from the training ground not known to the rest of us!

After the dramas of recent seasons under a series of run of the mill bosses and worse, Pellegrini’s arrival has changed perceptions about this club. But I reckon this season is crucial and if we are going to hold on to the likes of Rice and Diop, a top seven finish is really necessary.

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