After such an amazing opening few months to the 2014/15 campaign for West Ham, the thought of playing in Europe all of a sudden became a truly attainable goal for Big Sam’s side and the Upton Park faithful.
The lofty heights of a top four finish always seemed an unrealistic task for the Hammers to achieve this season – but in the Champions League’s somewhat less desired and all round uglier cousin of a tournament, the Europa League – West Ham suddenly had the chance to bring European football back to the east end in the club’s final year at the Boleyn Ground.
It was seemingly meant to be, yet because fate often proves testing for our side even at the best of times, such a fairy-tale outcome invariably fell by the wayside half way through the campaign. In finishing the season in 12th place, West Ham well and truly underperformed and let a massive chance slip rather easily.
In tune with the strange comings and goings of life in the Premier League however, the Hammers have nonetheless been handed a somewhat ambiguous route to the Europa League next season through the advent of fair play. Yes, that’s right – West Ham have the chance to qualify for the competition this summer because we performed admirably in the discipline charts, and not because of our limited success out on the pitch.
So then, in taking such a notion on board, just what does the Europa League pose for the club’s fortunes in 2015/16? Is it just an unavoidable poisoned chalice that none of us really want, or does it in-fact represent a massive opportunity for West Ham going forward?
Well for one thing, the club simply didn’t arrive at this opportunity based on merit alone – and for that rather inconvenient reason – anyone who wishes to discredit our Europa League challenge next season does unfortunately have a fair bit of weight behind their argument.
Should teams really be given such a role just because they picked up fewer cards than anyone else throughout the season? – The answer could well be, no. Such a notion arguably devalues the whole tournament and turns the Europa League into somewhat of a joke in the cold light of day.
The competition also comes with the possibility of completely ruining the club’s domestic campaign just before we make the switch to the Olympic Stadium in 2016. We’ve all seen what’s happened to the likes of Newcastle and Everton before as they’ve had to juggle Premier League duties with the chance to play in Europe – and it invariably leaves teams in a far worse position than the year before.
West Ham simply can’t get relegated next season in our last year at Upton Park – yet as the club are going to be entering the campaign with Europa League football potentially on the table, a new manager at the helm, and a squad simply not big enough for dealing with such a task as it stands – it seems the risks are certainly mounting at the moment.
However, now that we have already been entered into the qualification stages for the Europa League, the Upton Park faithful may as well see this opportunity as something different for the club and the chance for exciting times ahead.
Yes, many of our league matches may end up being playing at 4:00pm on a Sunday, and of course, our somewhat cursed injury list is likely to extend with the prospect of playing even more matches, but ultimately such a task could perhaps propel West Ham to greater heights in the future.
The chairman must look at this as a chance to grow the club and eventually reach that next level. Money simply has to be spent this summer to make sure our squad is big enough, and good enough, for such a seemingly tough proposition ahead – and with the move to the Olympic Stadium soon to be on the horizon – now seems like as good a time as any to start making some serious moves in the transfer market.
Whilst that statement is much easier said than done, last summer proved that the club could find somewhat unknown talents like Diafra Sakho and Aaron Cresswell, and turn them into truly promising prospects for the future. More of the same will therefore have to be done for next season.
With several new faces being sourced, and a more attack minded manager leading the charge – there is absolutely no reason to suggest that 2015/16 won’t be a success for West Ham.
Knowing our luck however, the Hammers will probably fall at the first qualification hurdle anyway – and this whole discussion may just end up becoming a pretty meaningless affair. Nonetheless, the excitement in and around Upton Park for the new season still remains prevalent.