Former Premier League striker Tony Cascarino believes that West Ham are throwing everything at qualifying for the Champions League because the Europa League is a “poisoned chalice” they want to avoid.
The ex-Republic of Ireland international writing in The Times on Monday claims that the Europa League would “destroy” the Hammers next season.
Cascarino, who made 40 league appearances for Chelsea, scoring eight times between 1992-1994 and also played for Aston Villa, Marseille and Millwall, makes some fair points in his column but some of his claims are to put it kindly, not exactly accurate.
Let’s begin with the things the pundit got right.
“Burnley had an arduous run — to Aberdeen, Istanbul and Athens — in qualifying two years ago and it took so much out of them that they went from seventh in the Premier League the year they qualified to almost going down the next season,” Cascarino writes.
This is factually correct Burnley did drop from 7th to a relegation battle, if this can be completely put down to the Europa League or not is a matter of opinion and Cascarino is well within his rights to have his.
“You might say both competitions bring extra fixtures and test the depth of your squad, but it isn’t that simple. For one, there is the financial incentive: being at the top table brings in enough money that you can add a couple of players without breaking the bank.
“Then there is the prestige: there is a mass of excitement about being in the Champions League, which just isn’t the case with the second-tier tournament until you are into the latter stages.”
Again, Cascarino is correct the Champions League does of course bring more prestige and money to the club, as for excitement he may be right about that also. Although were West Ham to get a Europa League spot and if travel is permitted by then, the away trips are bound to see thousands flock abroad no matter what competition the club is in.
Now we come to where Cascarino has got it wrong.
“Some English teams can handle the Europa League. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United who have deep squads, with quality players to rotate in, can go out to try to win the tournament as a way into the Champions League. West Ham United can’t — it would destroy them next season.”
Sure, some teams may be better equipped for European football, but destroy West Ham? Don’t be silly.
David Moyes is an experienced enough manager to add players to his squad, just look at his recruitment over the past 16 months for proof he can add quality without breaking the bank.
With a European campaign on the horizon West Ham would not go into next season with the same squad, if they did maybe Cascarino might have a point but with the right recruitment, the Europa League could be the perfect stepping stone for some younger players and the club as a whole.
“The apprehension about Thursday night football is actually spurring West Ham on. Yes, they squandered a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 with Arsenal yesterday, but David Moyes is rolling the dice because he knows the Champions League is a jackpot and the Europa League is a poisoned chalice. That fear has made West Ham more open and willing to attack.”
Where to begin with this one? Let’s start at Old Trafford a week ago. Were West Ham more open and willing to attack? I’ll keep this brief. No.
If Moyes was really using avoiding the Europa League as a reason to go all-out attack then narrowing the gap to Manchester United to three points and keeping them looking over their shoulder would have been the time to do it. Not a week later against the team in tenth.
Moyes has constantly played down West Ham’s Champions League aspirations but has said on numerous occasions that he would love to bring European football to the club. Well, if the Champions League is unrealistic then that leaves the Europa League of the Europa Conference League. a competition Cascarino seems to be unaware of.
His final point is one that is up for debate: “On top of that, the fact of playing on a Thursday in the Europa League means less time to recover. That’s made worse by the poorer opponents — from outside the traditional strongholds of France, Germany, Spain and Italy — being farther away.
“So you lose twice, on distance and time. Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice are durable players but they couldn’t last a whole season of Europa League football.”
By my maths, if a Europa League game finishes at 10pm on a Thursday and your next one is at 3pm on Sunday that is 65 hours.
If a Champions League game finishes at 10pm on a Wednesday and the next league game is at 3pm on Saturday that is… 65 hours.
Of course, a Champions League game could be played on a Tuesday evening which gives you more recovery time to your next game but would have meant less time recovering from the previous weekend’s fixtures.
The argument of less recovery time is therefore moot. As for travel time that is not something that can be considered until the draw is made. Tottenham for example had trips to Belgium, Poland and Bulgaria in the Europa League group stages this season. The longest flight they had to take? Three hours.
Chelsea on the other hand were in the Champions League where according to Cascarino travel is nowhere near as daunting. Unless of course, you have Sevilla, Rennes and Krasnodar in your group that is, which by pure coincidence is what the Blues had this season. Chelsea’s longest flight time? Five hours 25 minutes
Cascarino is right that West Ham would be facing poorer opponents in the Europa League than if they were in the Champions League, which if anything goes against his argument. If you are facing weaker teams then there is more opportunity to rest and rotate in the group stages.
He is right that Soucek and Rice would struggle to play every minute of a European and Premier League campaign, but this would be true of either competition.
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Of course, the Champions League is the dream, but the Europa League is still very much a competition worth striving for. Even if West Ham end up in the Europa Conference League then it is a competition worth going all out to win.
West Ham have won one European trophy in their history, two if you include the Intertoto Cup, a Europa League run would be a fantastic reward for an excellent season and if Cascarino can’t see that then it is his loss.
Just ask Tottenham fans if they would rather still be in the Europa League or not, we all know what the answer would be. Even if Cascarino does not appreciate the competition there are plenty of others who do and luckily for West Ham David Moyes is one of them.