Is West Ham’s Fair Play Europa qualification a blessing or curse?
West Ham United (25/1 with Coral to win the 2015/16 Capital One Cup) just can’t stop grabbing the headlines lately. It certainly looks set to be a busy off-season for the Hammers as, in addition to scouring CVs for a new coach, the London club have now qualified for next term’s Europa League, after finishing in pole position in the Premier League Fair Play rankings.
Their players will now have to return from their summer holidays ahead of schedule to navigate their way through the first qualifying round, in a potentially far flung corner of the continent.
This means co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan will have to move quickly to secure a new manager as well as extra recruits, to prepare and bolster a squad that will now have to compete across four competitions.
Departed coach Sam Allardyce will surely have a wry smile on his face upon hearing the news, with West Ham’s fall from the Europa League spots perhaps one of the contributing factors behind his departure.
Fans and pundits may also find it amusing that Big Sam’s lasting legacy in east London is to qualify the club for Europe through Fair Play, with the coach famed for his direct tactics and favouring of a physical approach, with players such as tough targetman Andy Carroll and midfield bruiser Kevin Nolan seemingly adored by Allardyce.
For the Hammers hierarchy, however, who appeared desperate to return European competition to Upton Park before the side’s switch to the Olympic Stadium, this is a surprise reward for their endeavours, albeit one that has arrived ahead of schedule. Yet, the Hammers faithful must be left mulling over whether this turn of events is a blessing or a curse.
If West Ham take their chance, it could be the first time in nine years that Upton Park has tasted continental football. Apart from the obvious pitfalls, such as stretching a thin squad, that has already lost loanees Alex Song and Carl Jenkinson, across too many fronts, with Hull City, Everton and Tottenham the last to fall foul of that, taking their eyes off domestic prizes.
However, the positives far outweigh the negatives, as Allardyce may just have handed the Hammers the sweetener with which to land, or convince, a top coach to take a chance on his now ex-club’s ambitious project and put the Hammers back on the map.
Top players such as Aaron Cresswell, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia may now be easier to retain, if they can see progress and a way to advance on a bigger stage. This could, in turn, also hasten the supposed planned spending of Gold and Sullivan, who should take advantage of the lure of Europa League football to land quality acquisitions.
All this potential transfer action could see the Londoners (9/2 to be relegated in 2015/16) become a far more attractive prospect, and also make it easier on any new manager, who should be able to splash the cash more freely given extra TV revenue being expected, and given a ready-made excuse for subsequent stumbles in the Premier League.