Hammers European Return Comes Against Super League Backdrop

David Moyes (West Ham manager) at the EPL match West Ham United v Burnley, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th January, 2021. English Premier League matches are still being played behind closed doors because of the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and government social distancing/lockdown restrictions.

You have to go back to September 1999 for the last main draw European tie that West Ham United won. They ran out 6-1 aggregate winners over Croatian club Osijek, scoring three goals both home and away in the old UEFA Cup.

Subsequent European campaigns have been short and not at all sweet. The Hammers couldn’t make it past Palermo in 2006 as the Italian Serie A side from Sicily kept clean sheets in both legs with subsequent Boleyn Ground loanee David Di Michele completing the scoring in a 4-0 aggregate win.

Since the UEFA Cup was replaced with the Europa League, West Ham haven’t made it out of the qualifiers in two attempts. Needing penalties to sneak past Maltese club Birkirkara was almost as embarrassing as the 4-3 aggregate exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu in 2015.

The following season, the Hammers came up short in the play-offs against the same Romanian opposition. Humbling as that recent European history is, David Moyes’s boys go straight into the Europa League group stage after claiming a first top six Premier League finish since 1998-99.

It is an interesting time to be back in continental competitions with a campaign of at least six group games to plan for in the autumn. European football is undergoing some changes with the introduction of the UEFA Europa Conference League, which London rivals Tottenham Hotspur enter.

Reform of the continental competitions was the fig leaf used to disguise the attempted formation of a breakaway European Super League (ESL) by clubs in England and abroad. Football’s elite has been widely condemned for letting the sport down.

Writing in the MansionBet football blog, Ross O’Connor feels that the ESL is going to kill the beautiful game and isn’t exactly alone in holding that view. The proposed new competition was by invitation only, taking away opportunities which the current UEFA structures provide for clubs like West Ham who only make Europe on rare occasions.

Removing that inclusiveness would render football at the top no longer for everyone, and the ssporting equivalent of a private gentlemen’s club. Some of the potential reforms coming into UEFA competitions in the years ahead aren’t exactly appealing or particularly logical, nor do they represent a better alternative to the current format in practice.

The Europa Conference will be very much under the microscope in its inaugural season. Its creation has served to elevate the Europa League, however, and that reflects well on a Hammers side taking part in the competition proper for the first time since the rebrand from the UEFA Cup.

Bringing European football to the London Stadium for what in essence is the first time for 15 years, as those failed qualifying campaigns of 2015 and 2016 don’t really count, may help Moyes attract better calibre players to strengthen the West Ham squad. The club’s record in the transfer market isn’t great, however, and fans will be wary of making outlays on signing the wrong type of character. 

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