As soon as West Ham snuck in to the Europa League by the proverbial ‘back door’ – fair play – the usual negativity was quickly spouted in the media, by some fans, and even by our old friend Sam Allardyce, about the drawbacks of European football.
The Europa League does take its fair share of criticism, and it is by no means a perfect competition.
Firstly, there are obviously far too many games. To get to the final, West Ham would have to play 24 fixtures. Put that together with the distances that a side can potentially have to travel midweek, with teams from Kazazkhstan and Israel in the draw, it’s no great secret that the competition can be a pretty serious drain on any team’s domestic campaign.
You only have to look as far as Everton last season for evidence of this. Whilst they got to the round of 16, eventually losing 4-6 on aggregate to Dinamo Kiev, their domestic form really suffered as a result, and they only really recovered once they were out of the competition in the latter stages of the season, meaning they were able to climb back up the table to finish in 11th, leapfrogging us on goal difference.
However, even with these pretty obvious flaws, there are actually many positives to a European campaign that get far less media attention.
First and foremost, the Europa League brings with it European away days. The excitement that away day trips to Europe provide for fans is definitely overlooked by journalists and pundits, but we West Ham fans, and fans of other clubs not spoiled by season after season of Champions League football, know that these events can be few and far between.
Being only in my 20s, this season will provide my first real opportunity to follow the hammers abroad, and it’s an opportunity I will definitely be taking up.
Secondly, whilst it has been a somewhat chaotic start to the pre-season, with the first team in Ireland and the Academy still at Chadwell Heath, and various players and the manager flying in between to coordinate our games against FC Lusitans and Birkakara, it is no bad thing to be involved in competitive games this early on.
As the players have said themselves, they would rather be involved in a meaningful fixture than in a lukewarm friendly, and as our attendances at the Boleyn have shown already, the fans certainly agree.
The Europa League can be damaging to clubs with thin squads, but it can also be a great opportunity for younger players, or those at the fringes of the squads, to shine on the big stage. As much as it pains me to take some sort of inspiration from Tottenham, the development of Harry Kane, who’s run of form started in the Europa League, is a perfect example of that.
European football also may have given us something of an edge in the transfer market this summer. Whilst it is difficult to judge the exact importance of the Europa League in every transfer we have made, every signing has said of their desire to play European football and shine on the European stage, and it certainly gives us something over our competitors in the Premier League market.
Whilst we obviously want to avoid relegation at all costs, does being a few places lower in the Premier League really matter, if we were to advance to the late stages of the Europa League?
I would certainly take a long European campaign and 12th place in the League, than getting knocked out early and finishing 9th or 10th. Obviously, we want to finish as highly as possible domestically, but unless we finish in the top four, we aren’t going to achieve any better than the Europa League anyway!
I think West Ham should really go for it in the Europa League this year. These chances don’t come around often, especially for us.
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