David Moyes acknowledged that West Ham being one step away from the Europa League final may have stunned most, including himself, last season.
West Ham qualified for UEFA’s secondary club football competition by finishing sixth in the 2020-21 Premier League and have adapted well to European football.
The Hammers also emerged as early contenders to qualify for the Champions League this season, but now sit seventh – eight points behind fourth-placed Arsenal having played a game more – with their focus seemingly on Europe.
West Ham defeated Europa League specialists Sevilla and Lyon to reach the final four, where they will meet Eintracht Frankfurt, who defeated Barcelona at the quarter-final stage.
Indeed, it will be West Ham’s first semi-final in a major competition since 2013-14, when they lost 9-0 on aggregate against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.
While Moyes expressed his surprise that his side had made it this far in their first year in Europe since falling in the 2016-17 Europa League play-off to Astra Giurgiu, the Scotsman remains confident.
“It’s good to be nervous,” Moyes told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Wednesday ahead of the first leg at home to Eintracht on Thursday.
“It makes you realise the level of the game, but you want the players to play with confidence and do a lot of things naturally in the game – but I think nerves are really important for the players to understand the level we’re at.
“It’s a great game. We’re hugely excited by it. The thrill of qualifying for Europe last year was great.
“If you’d have said to us in May last year ‘you’re going to be in the semi-finals of the Europa League, with the chance of getting to the final,’ I think we’d have all said, ‘you’re joking’.
“We’re in a really good place and I think we’re worthy of it. Beating Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea at home shows that on our home patch, on our day, we can be a good match for just about any team.”
Central to the success of West Ham has been the presence of England international Declan Rice and the scoring form of Jarrod Bowen, who has 17 direct goal involvements in the Premier League this season.
Only Mason Mount (19) and Harry Kane (20) can boast more among English players in the Premier League, leading to calls for Bowen to feature in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad at Qatar 2022.
Moyes cited former Hull City forward Bowen and Czech Republic duo Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek as vital for the upturn in West Ham’s fortunes.
“When I first returned, I honestly thought if I could get it going, I’d get a team challenging around the top of the league. That’s what I planned,” Moyes added.
“I think for most of my career, I’ve been closer to that than the bottom, even though I’ve come back a couple of times to take over a team near the bottom, but I always felt if I could get a chance to get it done…
“On that journey, you need to make sure your recruitment is good. We signed a couple of Czech boys on the journey who have been brilliant for us, and we took Jarrod Bowen from the Championship, whose gone on to do great things. Sometimes you need bits of that for all those things to happen.
“Is it by luck, by plan or design? I hope it’s a bit of both. Sometimes it doesn’t always go right when you’re a manager, and for the majority of managers it’s very difficult, but I always felt that if I could get it going here, I could get a team challenging.”
— West Ham United (@WestHam) April 27, 2022
It will be Moyes’ first semi-final since 2013-14, when his Manchester United side were defeated by Sunderland in the EFL Cup, while he is the first Scottish manager to reach the semi-final stage of the UEFA Cup or Europa League since 2007-08.
But Moyes appreciates the job is not completed as his side prepare to meet Eintracht in European competition for just the second time, West Ham previously eliminating the German side at the semi-final stage of the 1975-76 Cup Winners’ Cup.
“I’ve still got a long way to go. I’ve got to win a two-legged semi-final and then I would need to, if I was good enough to do that, try to win a final – so from my point of view, there’s still a long way to go,” he said.
“To bring West Ham from where it’s been, to where we are today, is huge.
“People who know West Ham far better than I do will tell you that to get to the semi-final of a European competition and give ourselves a real chance of getting to a final is something really special. It’s not easy to do.
“I think when the tournament started, people were asking me if I thought we were favourites in the tournament, and I said: ‘No, what a load of rubbish.’ All the Champions League team were still to drop in.
“We did a really good job in the group – the whole squad did a brilliant job winning the group – and then we’ve had two huge ties, which all the teams are going to have.
“We’re now in a semi-final. You would always like the second leg at home, but we’re at home in the first leg, so we have to deal with that, but I think we’re in a good place and we have to try to challenge to get to the final.”