West Ham’s Europa Conference League Glory

West Ham United Flag

West Ham beat Fiorentina 2-1 in Prague on 7th June 2023 to win the Europa Conference League, their first major trophy since they lifted the FA Cup in 1980 (and no, we’re not counting the Intertoto Cup win of 1999 as a major trophy!). It was only the second time the Hammers had won a major European competition after their 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph with a team that included future England World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst. With two major European trophies in their cabinet (again, we’re ignoring the Intertoto Cup), they now have one more than the likes of Arsenal, Everton and even Paris Saint Germain.

Last Minute Drama

In what was generally a rather tight final and one in which it could be argued the Hammers didn’t play brilliantly for the most part, it took a penalty to break the deadlock. That penalty was converted by West Ham’s Said Benrahma in the 62nd minute. But the English side’s lead lasted barely five minutes before Fiorentina struck the equaliser through Giacomo Bonaventura.

As the game appeared to be heading for extra time and possibly even penalties, West Ham withstood a couple of dangerous moments before Jarrod Bowen stepped up to claim victory for the Hammers. Lucas Paqueta played a measured pass to pick out Bowen’s perfectly timed run that split the Italian side’s defence, and the 26-year-old kept his nerve to finish calmly past Fiorentina keeper Pietro Terracciano.

After starting his career at Hereford United, Bowen moved to Hull City and then landed a move to West Ham in 2020. In his Hereford days he could surely only have dreamed of scoring a last-minute winner in a European final. But sometimes such dreams do come true!

West Ham’s Route to the Final

West Ham’s Europa Conference League triumph was certainly no fluke. Despite their rather patchy domestic form, the Hammers were imperious on the continent. They won six out of six Group Stage matches and became the only team in the tournament’s history to do so (granted, this was only the second year of the competition, but it’s still impressive!).

It could be argued that West Ham had a relatively easy route to the final, but you can only beat the opposition you face. After hammering AEK Larnaca 6-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16, the Hammers then eased past Belgian side Gent (5-2 on aggregate) to set up a semi-final with Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. It was their toughest test to that point, but one which West Ham passed with flying colours, winning 2-1 on home soil and then sealing their place in the final with a measured and deserved 1-0 triumph in Holland.

What Victory Means for Moyes

For manager David Moyes, it was a particularly satisfying victory. Remarkably, given how long he’s been in the management game, it was the first major honour the former Everton and Manchester United boss had landed (he did win the Community Shield with Man United in 2013 and the Football League Second Division title with Preston, but this is another level).

West Ham finished in 14th position in the Premier League in the 2022/23 season with a total of 40 points, and though they were well clear of relegation in the end, at times during the campaign Moyes was under significant pressure. There’s a sense that West Ham’s success on the continent kept Moyes in a job, and he and his side repaid that decision to keep the faith went they went all the way in the competition.

At the final whistle in Prague, Moyes danced for joy and the elation on his face was evident for all to see. Once he collected his winners’ medal, he took it straight to his father, also called David, and hung it around his neck. After 25 years of trying, Moyes has finally got his hands on the major trophy he’s always craved, and there’s little doubt that he deserves it.

Will Declan Rice Stay at West Ham?

In the build-up to the Europa Conference League final, there was plenty of talk about the future of West Ham captain and England star Declan Rice and he’s been strongly linked with a move to near-neighbours Arsenal (among others). But after Rice emulated former Hammers captains Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds in lifting a major trophy, there were chants from the Hammers faithful of “one more year”. Indeed, Rice stated after the game, “I love this club, I love playing for this club.” But does he love it enough to stay on at West Ham for another season? It seems doubtful.

The lure of playing Champions League football with Arsenal or even Manchester United might prove too great a temptation for Rice. But he will also be wary of fellow England midfielder Kalvin Phillips who left Leeds United at the end of last season in a big-money move to Manchester City… and has only featured in 12 league games all season. On balance though, we think Rice will be on the move and if his West Ham career has indeed ended, it’s done so in such amazing fashion that few could begrudge him a career-enhancing move.

Can West Ham Build on European Glory?

As winners of the Europa Conference League, West Ham have now gained a place in next season’s Europa League, Europe’s second-tier tournament (behind the Champions League). So even after finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League, they’ll be mixing it with the likes of Liverpool, Roma, Bayer Leverkusen and Villarreal, who have all also qualified for the group stage of the tournament. So after nailing the third-tier European tournament, could Moyes guide his side to Europa League glory next term?

Realistically, if Rice moves on to pastures new, West Ham’s chances of landing the Europa League next term dramatically decrease. But, on the other hand, assuming they get a bumper payday for the midfielder, if they spend their cash wisely, there’s a chance their squad could be sufficiently bolstered for them to have a decent tilt at the competition. Of course, securing their Premier League safety might be at the top of David Moyes’ list of priorities for the 2023/24 campaign, but once that’s in the bag, why not dream of a second European trophy in as many years?