West Ham on cusp of European silverware for first time in almost 60 years

Hammers take on Fiorentina in Europa Conference League with ‘chance to create legacy’ within their grasp

The story goes back to Andriy Yarmolenko cutting in from the right flank and giving West Ham a last-minute win over Chelsea at the start of July 2020. David Moyes remembers it as a turning point; the moment everything started to come together. The Ukraine winger’s goal acted as a catalyst, pulling West Ham away from danger during Project Restart, giving them the belief to beat relegation and shed the discord that had threatened to swallow them whole.

Before long they were fighting back from 3-0 down against Tottenham, rescuing a point thanks to a stoppage-time thunderbolt from Manuel Lanzini. Once so flaky, West Ham discovered resilience. They were punchy during the 2020-21 campaign, defying expectations by finishing sixth and qualifying for Europe. They upset big teams and made the London Stadium feel like home.

It has been emotional. West Ham have been massive, to paraphrase the chant that will fill the Eden Arena in Prague tomorrow night, and who could have seen that coming when Moyes returned to the club for a second spell in December 2019? “I’ve been here three years,” said Jarrod Bowen, speaking before West Ham face Fiorentina in the final of the Europa Conference League. “If you’d told me we’d be in a European final I’d have bitten your hand off.”

Of course, it has not been all plain sailing. Full of confidence after knocking Sevilla and Lyon out of the Europa League last season, West Ham were crushed when they lost their semi-final to Eintracht Frankfurt. They qualified for the Conference League after finishing seventh, but their league form tailed off.


This season has been tough. Moyes spent almost £160 million (€186 million) last summer and tried to refine the team’s style but it backfired. The league campaign became a slog. West Ham were only safe from relegation with two games left and Moyes, who has reverted to a more physical approach, has had to fight for his job. Slaven Bilic would have come in as interim if West Ham had lost to Fulham in April.

Yet Moyes has always found ways to survive. The game against Fiorentina will be his 1,097th as a manager and it is his chance to win his first major trophy. He does not care if there is sniffiness at West Ham reaching their first European final since 1976 by defeating Viborg in qualifying, Anderlecht, Silkeborg and FCSB in the group stage and AEK Larnaca, Gent and AZ Alkmaar in the knock-outs.

True, West Ham have not faced elite opposition. They have Lucas Paqueta, a £50 million Brazil midfielder, and their captain, Declan Rice, is wanted by Arsenal and Bayern Munich. Based on finances, West Ham should be capable of matching Fiorentina. Vincenzo Italiano’s side have weapons — Sofyan Amrabat and Giacomo Bonaventura must be overcome in midfield and Nicolas Gonzalez is a huge threat from out wide — and are in excellent form, but they are not unbeatable. Italiano, who must choose between Luka Jovic and Arthur Cabral up front, has lost influential midfielder Gaetano Castrovilli to injury.

West Ham must seize the moment. They have not tasted success since winning the FA Cup in 1980 and it is 58 years since they won their only European trophy, Bobby Moore captaining the side to victory over 1860 Munich. “There’s a chance to create a legacy where everyone involved will be remembered forever,” said Rice.

Rice, whose duel with Amrabat could be vital, will leave this summer. Change could be on the way. Only two West Ham managers have won trophies: Ron Greenwood and John Lyall; Moyes would be unsackable if he joins those legendary figures.

Defeat, though, could alter the picture. Supporters have barracked Moyes — could he walk away even if he wins? — and West Ham are considering alternatives. They are unhappy after finishing 14th and dissatisfied with signings such as injured Italy striker Gianluca Scamacca who has struggled since joining for £35.5 million last year.

Moyes’s pragmatism has drawn criticism. West Ham are strong on the counterattack but they cannot fall too deep against Fiorentina. There has been a lot of focus on Fiorentina disrupting West Ham with tactical fouls.

La Viola, whose only European honour was the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961, will be dangerous. Moyes was impressed when he saw them lose the Coppa Italia final to Internazionale in Rome last month. Fiorentina are a flexible side and Moyes has prepared for every eventuality. He is expected to keep faith with his number two goalkeeper, Alphonse Areola, but he is weighing up whether to bring on Lukasz Fabianski if the game goes to penalties.

Expect tension. West Ham must handle the occasion and take opportunities to express themselves. They have taken their fans on a wild ride and, as Moyes said, will hope this is just the start. Win and they will be in the Europa League next season. Lose and the adventure ends here.

— Guardian