The 27th of August is a date pencilled in the calendar of every West Ham fan. On that Friday afternoon next month, the Europa League group-stage draw is made, and fans are purring at the possibility of who they might get.
You would have to go back to 1999 for the last time West Ham competed in Europe, winning the now-defunct Intertoto Cup under Harry Redknapp, with the Hammers crashing out of qualifying rounds in 2015/16 and 2016/17 under Slaven Bilic, as well as in 2006/07 when they had Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
However, momentum and belief have shifted in E20 under David Moyes, who inspired West Ham to a sixth-placed finish in the Premier League last season, and is now preparing his charges for an overseas adventure in 2021/22, with the likes of Napoli, Lazio, Lyon and Marseille all in the pots for the Europa League.
It is truly uncharted territory for a once-disillusioned fanbase driven to the precipice by years of underachievement and unfulfilled promises; now there is a genuine togetherness and faith in the current roll call, which has been carefully cultivated and meticulously picked by Moyes, affectionately dubbed the ‘Moyesiah’.
So, there is plenty of work to be done this summer ahead of what will be a busy season for the Hammers, but how could they potentially line up come their first Premier League game against Newcastle next month? We’ve put together a dream, realistic and wildcard option based on their reported targets.
Before West Ham and Moyes can even think about making a splash in the Europa League next season, their most important piece of business this summer will be who they keep, not who they bring in. Of course, that refers to the retention of West Ham poster boy and midfield fulcrum Declan Rice.
The entire football world got to see just how good Rice is at Euro 2020. There has been a common misconception and poorly-judged notion that Rice is nothing more than a lateral pass merchant, a poor man’s Sergio Busquets, but England’s run to the Euro 2020 final irrefutably disproved that opinion.
England's midfield warrior. 💪 pic.twitter.com/qcZtmzSdT6
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 14, 2021
For West Ham, Rice is even better, with Moyes giving license for his stand-in skipper to progress up the pitch, and the retention of his services is absolutely vital for the club if they harbour genuine ambitions of replicating their 2020/21 success, as well as making a noise in the Europa League.
Moyes stressed in March that Rice is worth “far, far more than £100m,” so despite resurfaced links to boyhood club Chelsea, it would take an eye-watering, market-disorienting bid to even tempt the makers and shakers in east London to consider a sale. Rice staying is the ‘dream’ scenario in every sense.
As for incomings, West Ham are reportedly in talks with PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who spent last season on loan at Fulham and impressed immensely. With Lukasz Fabianski now 36 and continued doubts over his fitness across an entire campaign, Areola would make for very solid business.
There is also the case of Jesse Lingard, who recaptured the burgeoning form of his formative years after transferring from Manchester United on loan. As it stands, West Ham are not prepared to meet the club’s £30m valuation, but if they can come to an agreement, he would be welcomed back with open arms. The odds seem to suggest that could happen, with Lingard currently priced at 4/6 by Sky Bet to join West Ham in this window. Alternatively, there will be clamour for Said Benrahma to get more playing time, with the mercurial midfielder desperate to showcase his God-given talents more consistently.
Jesse Lingard was directly involved in 13 goals in the Premier League this season since signing for West Ham in January.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 1, 2021
And, of course, it would not be a West Ham window without links to a Czech player. When Moyes asked Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek to recommend a compatriot, both suggested Sparta Prague wunderkind Adam Hlozek, who notched 15 goals in just 19 Czech First League games last season. Given Michail Antonio’s hamstrings are not the most reliable, a back-up striker is high on the agenda, and to get wonderkid in the process would tick two boxes.
There are other positions that will need bulking up, chiefly at centre-back after Fabian Balbuena departed at the end of his contract and uncertainty over Arthur Masuaku’s fitness at left-back, but as a starting rearguard, fans will have no complaints with Coufal, Angelo Ogbonna, Craig Dawson and Aaron Cresswell.
West Ham have a tendency to twiddle their thumbs in the transfer market but under Moyes, it has proven an efficient strategy in recruiting the right players. Their approach has been more sniper’s bullet rather than scattergun under the Scot, and the club have reaped the rewards of a more refined recruitment policy.
So, it may be a case that West Ham make just a few adjustments to their squad, rather than an overhaul. Some would argue the added strain of European football will require a bulkier, deeper squad, but Moyes has proven anything but trigger-happy in the market, so expect one or two shrewd signings.
One of those may come in the form of Tammy Abraham. In May, it was reported that Moyes will make an approach for the Chelsea marksman this summer, certainly not for the £40m asking price, but instead enquiring about the possibility of pinching the England international on loan.
Having fallen down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, Abraham may be eyeing up a route out of west London, and West Ham is now a club that would match his ambitions of competing in the Premier League upper reaches, as well as Europe, as he looks to rediscover his form ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Elsewhere, the Hammers continue to be linked with free agent Nikola Maksimovic, who left Napoli after rejecting a contract extension in Campania, while representatives of Alex Kral had reportedly held discussions with West Ham before Euro 2020. With the competition now over, those links may resurface.
Like with any transfer window, there will be twists and turns, and West Ham have proven capable of pulling off the unexpected every now and then. Think back to Tevez and Mascherano, Dimitri Payet in 2015, even the £36m acquisition of Felipe Anderson, which ultimately proved disastrous but was incredible at the time.
So, will there be another joker in the pack? A Moyes masterclass? There have been whispers of Breel Embolo, with the Swiss forward the type of temperamental talisman capable of getting fans off their feet and making the admission fee worth it. Former West Ham midfielder Don Hutchinson even endorsed the move.
Speaking on the BBC Radio Five Live Football Daily Podcast, Hutchinson said: “I’m going to chuck one at you — Breel Embolo. He plays for Switzerland and Borussia Monchengladbach and I’ve seen a lot of him over the past few years.
“He’s a terrific player with loads of speed. As an addition to the Premier League, I think he’d be amazing, it would suit him down to the ground.
“The club I could see him playing for — West Ham United. He’s a younger Michail Antonio and he would compliment him really well with all of those number 10s playing behind him.”
Other audacious transfers include Embolo’s compatriot and France nemesis Haris Seferovic, who notched 26 goals for Benfica last term and can reportedly be picked up for just £21m according to Portuguese publication A Bola, while Steven Gerrard’s midfield ‘Invincible’ Glen Kamara has also generated noise.
Finally, the club recently had a £10m bid rejected for West Brom’s Sam Johnstone, but with just one year left on his contract at the Hawthorns, Moyes may be tempted to try again. The Hammers remain 4/6 favourites for his signature according to Sky Bet. Meanwhile, Real Madrid wonderkid Miguel Gutierrez has also been mooted with a potential loan move to alleviate Masuaku’s inconsistencies.