Every pundit, media outlet and so-called expert wrote West Ham off at the start of the 2021/22 season. They said we would struggle with fans back, and that games would catch up with us meaning we’d struggle in the league. And yet as I write this with eight weeks to go in the season, we sit in a European place and in the last eight of the Europa League.
David Moyes’ men still have an outside chance of reaching the Champions League should everything click into place in the Europa League. We could also still finish in the top six although, with Spurs and Arsenal boasting games in hand over us and already accumulating more points it seems a hard task.
Much more likely is the Europa Conference League, the competition which made its debut this season and saw Tottenham fail in the group stages, and Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers forgetting his team was even in it after the Foxes were knocked out in the group stages of the Europa League.
But, would it be such a bad thing for us to fall into it as a last resort? It would give us a guaranteed three more European away days at the very least, and you’d like to think we would progress through depending on the quality of the group we were drawn in.
The Europa League has provided some unbelievable memories already for fans, and it has given everyone a taste of football on the continent. Literal limbs have been sacrificed for the cause as thousands of our fans have descended into Spain, Croatia and Belgium, with the only blip coming with fans missing out on a trip to Austria due to a mixture of crowd disturbances and Covid-19.
Being in some form of European competition is crucial for this football club, not only does it help to continue with our rebuild, we have progressed faster than anyone would have thought and another year in Europe will allow us to further continue with that upward trajectory.
The Conference League may not be the most exciting competition in the world, but it will help attract players to the club. The form of the current crop means we have already improved our reputation, so to be in any form of European competition will only help to strengthen that pull further.
It does, of course, also give you that extra chance at qualification into the Europa League should you have a disappointing season in the league, winning the Conference League gives you instant access to the Europa League group stage. It would be foolish to turn your nose up at that, and who doesn’t want a potential European trophy in the cabinet.
Any chance of silverware should never be taken lightly, it has simply been way too long since a West Ham captain has lifted a meaningful trophy of note. Should we drop out of the Europa League this season, and finish outside of the European places, you have to fear that players like Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen will have their heads turned by the more established clubs.
It would be such a shame to lose players like Bowen and Rice just as we begin to build something special. We so crave nights like Sevilla at home to become the norm and not just a flash in the pan, and I am sure Declan feels the same way.
Moyes knows the importance of these last eight-weeks, failure to qualify for Europe, be it in any form would put a kibosh on his summer plans. Suddenly the calibre of players you can choose from goes from top tier to middle tier, and the club cannot afford to waste this opportunity. On top of all that, should we have to settle for the Europa Conference League, it would give such a great platform for our younger players as well.
The calibre of teams are a step below what we have faced in Europe this season, and it could really give opportunities to one or two youngsters to grab their chance, the likes of Armstrong Oko-Flex and Conor Coventry will finally be able to showcase their skills on the European stage.
It is an absolute no brainer to me to shoot for any European competition. Of course, the dream is to win the Europa League this season and fast track our way into the Champions League (whilst knocking out Spurs – who fight their way to fourth out of the Champions League).
But the memories we have created in Europe this season should be enough of a case for wanting the Europa Conference League should we have to settle for that.