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The Europa Cup has become something of a poisoned chalice for most English clubs.
There is no doubt Everton’s poor Premier League campaign was in part caused by playing in the competition. Tottenham too felt their chances of challenging for the top four were compromised by their involvement in the tournament.
As everyone knows West Ham’s absolute priority in the Premier League is to stay in it in the ramp up season to the Promised Land of the Olympic Stadium.
So understandably club policy for for a tournament reached via the back door will be not to throw all their best resources at it in the early qualifying rounds.
It seems ridiculous that the first matches of the qualifying rounds will start as soon as July 2…the Hammers learning who their opponents will be when the draw is made next Monday the same day as Slaven Bilic starts his work at Chadwell Heath. In that sense though there is perhaps a big positive about participation.
Involvement in the competition offers Bilic the opportunity to cut his teeth as the new West Ham boss in competitive matches which could help him “hit the ground running” when new Premier League campaign starts.
It also gives him the opportunity to assess first team fringe players and those from the development squad who will play in the qualifying rounds. One of the several frustrations of the Allardyce regime was , Reece Burke aside, his refusal to give emerging young players a proper chance.
The Europa Cup will now give the likes of Elliot Lee and Diego Poyet the chance the state their cases to Bilic that they should not just be part of the 25 man Premier League squad but also be fully involved.
If the qualifying rounds are negotiated and the Europa League proper is reached such players can form part of a “hardcore” of the squad for that tournament which will then be strengthened by a clutch of front line players on a suck it and see basis.
And those of us of a certain generation can’t deny there would be a sense of nostalgic excitement about midweek European games especially in the Boleyn Ground farewell season.
For me two of the most memorable games I ever watched with my old man from the Chicken Run came in the 1975-76 European Cup winners Cup campaign. The 3-1 win over Den Haag. Then the 3-1 semi final victory over Eintracht Frankfurt.
Indeed when I am asked my favourite West Ham match of all time I cite that game against Frankfurt , Keith Robson’s wonderful long range goal then Trevor Brooking wading through the mud to score the third, remain vivid images.
Now wouldn’t it be lovely to have some more of that ? But even the romantic in me recognises where the club’s priorities lie.
That said, part of the “fatigue” that clubs say they suffer when they are in the Europa Cup is about mindset.
In 2010 Fulham showed that you can go all the way , reaching the final where they lost 2-1 to Atletic Madrid after extra time and finishing 12th in the Premier League.
And now not only is there much more participation money to be made the big carrot is that winning the Europa Cup offers a Champions League place.
In that sense the competition is not be sniffed at. But I still can’t help thinking UEFA have got the format wrong.
For one thing kicking off six weeks ahead of most domestic season is clearly stupid.
Then there are three two legged qualifying rounds plus a play off to even reach the league phase. That’s EIGHT games before the season proper starts.
Then again, if the planning is right these matches could be seen as a far better way for Bilic to bed in as boss and new signings integrate into the team ahead of the Premier League season than playing in sterile pre season matches.
I suspect Bilic will see it that way and recognise that the Europa Cup could well give him an opportunity to impose his will on the team ahead of what in many senses will be the most important domestic campaign in West Ham history.