West Ham United fans, myself included, want this team to take the next step and begin challenging for Europa League spots and success in Europe. I have some bad news: this team isn’t built to do that.
Right now the Europa League is a big flashy distraction with little pay-off for participation. In 2017 group stage teams earn €2.6 million. Every win gets you €360k while a draw gets half that. Winning the group stage would net us about €3.8 million. That couldn’t even buy us Marko Arnautovic’s right arm, much less make a difference to the club.
The financial payoff isn’t there yet for West Ham. Especially when you consider that many Premier League teams domestic league form drops when they compete in Europa League. The pay-off for finishing in 8th rather than 12th in the Premier League would offset that potential income from Europa League play. Call me a bad fan, call me whatever you want but I do not want West Ham to qualify for the Europa League next season.
We played in the qualifying rounds the past two seasons and I think it’s been a determent to our development as a club. Prior to the 16/17 season the board bought up players on the hopes of making a Europa League run. A tiring USA tour coupled with early Europa League games burned out our players and our league form suffered majorly because of it.
West Ham cannot buy their way to European success. Without some rich investors ready to throw millions at the club going the route of Chelsea, Manchester United, or Manchester City, isn’t possible. To build for sustained European and Premier League success we need to look north at our rivals Tottenham.
Let me just say it off the bat. I HATE TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR! There I said it, now you know how I feel. However, we need to be more like Spurs if West Ham United are to take the next step and challenge the big six clubs of Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Arsenal.
Let’s go back in time. It’s 2000. Tottenham have been stuck in a pattern of finishing between 14th and 10th in Premier League and dreams of playing the Champions League are exactly that, just dreams.
Fast forward six years its the 06/07 season and now Spurs have finished fifth for the second time in a row. They’re about to sign Gareth Bale, a young talent from Southampton for £5 million and things are looking up.
Now it’s 2017 and Spurs are runner up in the Premier League and bottled it just enough to finish third the year before. They are a team that looks set to challenge for the Premier League title for the next five years. They don’t need to buy £100 million players in the transfer market. They just need to hold on to their current players who continue to improve.
They have young stars in Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, and Victor Wanyama. They’re got veteran talent in Danny Rose, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele, Hugo Lloris, and others. They also have exciting young prospects like Kieran Trippier, Harry Winks, Cameron Carter-Vickers, to name a few.
They did this by investing in their youth team and savvy transfers for young promising players that got bedded into the team. Even before Marico Ponchettino came to the club they’d been building to play young talent and let them take their lumps. They have built a sustainable model for success where splashing big money isn’t necessary to continue their success.
In order to compete in Europa League you need depth and talent. West Ham certainly have talent but they do not have depth. In an ideal world you use the group stage games to bed in young talent and give squad players game time to stay sharp. Your typical first team players then begin to play as you make it further in the knockout rounds. This allows you to keep your true first team fresh for the Premier League grind.
With the current build of the team I don’t believe West Ham have the depth to avoid a drop in Premier League form while also competing well in the Europa League. I don’t want to be in a yoyo situation where we qualify one year, try hard but ultimately fall short, and then have our league form drop and we can’t qualify again. With such a small financial pay-off it doesn’t suit the club to risk domestic success and money unless your team has a realistic shot of going to the Europa League final. Which I don’t see West Ham having at this time.
Which is why I do not want West Ham to qualify for Europa League play for next year. We need to build a team that can compete in Europe but also hold form domestically. To do this I believe West Ham need at least five years before we can truly make the next step that so many fans want and contend for a top six finish consistently. Lucky for you I’m going to lay out that plan and hopefully one of the Davids reads this.
West Ham this season should look to finish in the 8-12 range. Making a strong showing in the EFL and FA Cup would be nice to make up for a mid-table finish. It’d be nice if we could sign a few more academy prospects specifically at striker, and defensive midfield.
The Thames Twins Reece Oxford and Burke will return from their loans ready to take the spots of the hopefully departing Jose Fonte, and the retiring James Collins. Josh Cullen will also be in the mix for the defensive midfield positions.
We should look to sign at least one YOUNG promising striker ala Kelechi Iheanacho type player. Combine that with types of players like Sead Habaskanovic who are promising but need further development, and we can build a squad for the future.
This season we challenge for a Europa qualifier spot all season, make a deep cup run, but ultimately fall a few points short of a Europa spot. We start to bed in our young players in Burke, Oxford, Cullen, etc... We might see a few of the academy kids get shots in the first team during early cup games. It’s a year to get our young players used to top flight football.
Our young players have settled into life as Premier League footballers. Our core group of players Arnie, Chicharito, Antonio, Ayew, are still playing well but the young attackers are pushing for places in the first team.
For signings we continue to look at young promising players. Some of them would have immediate first team talent while others will need some development. If we can get a Chicharito type signing of a veteran on a bargain deal we look at it.
This is the season where the next step is taken. Our young striker is pushing Chicharito hard for his spot, Arnie and Antonio are being pushed by Nathan Holland, Quina, and Samuelson. Oxford, Burke, and Rice have supplanted Ogbonna and Reid for the starting XI. Sam Byram has developed into a good right back and Masuaku has supplanted Cresswell but the battle continues. Cullen has pushed into the starting XI on a regular basis and there’s a new academy product at every position looking to break into the first team.
We now have young talent that has played in the first team and performed well, we still have veteran talent in their prime years pushing for their spot. We’re deep enough and talented enough to play well in Europa League, the EFL Cup, FA Cup, and Premier League. Our young players are getting plenty of playing time to develop and gain experience in the first team.
We’re battling for a champions league spot most of the year, get out of our Europa Group but fall to a bigger opponent in the knockouts, our cup runs end shorter than we’d like, but it’s a successful season because we continue to play European football next season.
2019-2020 Season and beyond
After getting a taste of Europe the fans, players, and owners are primed for another great season. Our young players continue to get better and we continue to make savvy moves in the transfer market bringing in young promising players from other clubs. Our academy is thriving and we’re consistently having 20-year-olds playing in the first team for our cup and group state games.
From there on out we’ve got the talent to challenge for the Champions League and even make it. We have the depth that we can keep our true starting XI rested for the Premier League season while also succeeding in our cup and European competitions. It’s a remarkable feeling to be a West Ham fan. Our players are linked with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich and occasionally one leaves but we’re able to purchase a replacement or we have one in our youth team ready to step up.
I know the idea of making it to Europe this season is tempting and exciting. However, it’s not worth making it if we get out of the group stage but then finish in 12th in the Premier League. We need to be able to sustain our European competition spot in the Premier League if we are to make the next step.
Spurs have followed this model and look a them, they’re challenging for the title, playing Champions League football, playing well in the domestic cups, and have a thriving youth system that is producing players that get bed into their first team.
Unless the Davids find some insanely wealthy partner to invest in the club, we aren’t going to buy our way into the Champions League like Manchester City or Chelsea did. We have to do it the hard and slow way. I want West Ham to succeed and be winning competitions but I also want to be more than a flash in the pan. I want to be like Spurs, I feel dirty saying that, but it’s a blueprint that we can follow.
We have committed competent owners (for the most part), we have a beautiful huge stadium, we have passionate fans, we have talented players, and we have a growing (but not quite there) youth system, we have a blueprint for success. We have the first part of a foundation for success, now we need to build the foundation up. Only after that foundation is built can we build our big beautiful house in Surrey and invite the entire world to come see it.