Seeing Eintracht Frankfurt make it through to the last sixteen of the Champions League made me wonder what might have happened in a parallel reality had things worked out differently in last seasons Europa League semi-final. What if Aaron Cresswell hadn’t had a rush of blood to the head in the 19th minute, didn’t receive a foolish red card, and West Ham had gone on to overturn the one goal first-leg deficit? A footballing Sliding Doors moment, or Sliding Tackles, in this case.
Granted it would still have required the Hammers also to overcome Glasgow Rangers in the final – no foregone conclusion if pre-season friendlies were anything to go by – but how might our boys team have fared in the glare of Champions League floodlights? Could they have emulated the admirable success of Frankfurt or would it have been the abject failure of Rangers?
Frankfurt probably got lucky in being drawn into one of the weaker or, at least, more balanced of groups – but that should not detract from their fine achievement. Their squad is not radically different to the one we met last May and net summer spending was a modest €6 million. West Ham target, Filip Kostic departed for Juventus while the largest outlay was the permanent signing of loanee Jens Petter Hauge (the player Cresswell had fouled) who was promptly loaned out to Gent in Belgium. Kostic’s replacement was another reported Hammer’s target, Luca Pellegrini, signed on a season long loan from Juventus. In addition to their impressive Champions League exploits, Frankfurt also currently sit a creditable fifth in the Bundesliga.
So what if West Ham had qualified for the Champions League? Would it have been easier to recruit new players in the summer, get the first choices in early and have a reasonably settled side before the season started? Or would the usual haggling and dithering have been just the same?
Despite never being wholly convincing, the Hammers Europa Conference campaign has mostly been a walk in the park against the also-rans of the Denmark, Romania, and Belgium leagues. How might they have fared in group games against the likes of Marseille or Sporting Lisbon? Or against one of the qualifiers from either Italy or Germany – as it would not have been possible to be drawn against Tottenham? Would we have seen the same negative away day tactics that have become the norm in domestic matches against ‘bigger’ clubs?
Many unknowns but my feeling is that dropping down to the Europa League would have been the most likely outcome. We can never know and the best we can now hope for is another shot at the Europa League next year. It remains the easiest route to the holy grail of Champions League participation for a club like ours.
I’m sure we were all shocked when the cunning David Moyes plan of ‘not trying to score until going a goal down’ failed once again to pay dividends at Old Trafford. Do you think he has spotted a pattern yet? We will have to wait until Boxing Day when his team visit Arsenal to see how Plan B is coming along.
Back in the present reality, there is a meaningless final Conference League group game tonight as West Ham travel to play FCSB, the club formerly known as Steaua Bucharest. Apparently, a West Ham win would be the first time any club has won all six games in this particular competition’s group stages. Even the most desperate manager would be embarrassed to put that on his CV!
By all accounts it will be a mix of second string and youth players representing the Hammers tonight. According to one unverified source, the only first-team squad members travelling to Romania were Areola, Randolph, Ogbonna, Coufal, Ashby, Johnson, Aguerd, Downes, Coventry, Fornals and Lanzini. So that could very well mean Darren Randolph doing a Les Sealey turn up front!
Still no sign of Maxwell Cornet who was last seen wandering the labyrinth of corridors in the West Ham treatment facility – searching for the way out. You can check out, but you can never leave!
I should be looking forward to seeing a few youngsters getting a run out in tonight’s game – unleashed, I think, is the technical term. Hopefully it will be for more than three minutes of added time, although with the U21s rock bottom of the Premier League 2 perhaps we shouldn’t be getting too excited. But it would be a great experience for the lads involved.
Very difficult to generate any real enthusiasm for the game with all jeopardy removed, but hoping it’s an enjoyable trip for any travelling fans. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!