Barring a Premier League last day disaster at home to Southampton, in front of 10,000 supporters who can’t wait to see their side in action, David Moyes’ West Ham should qualify for next season’s Europa League.
It’s a truly monumental achievement for the Hammers, given they were fighting for their Premier League lives a mere 10 months ago, and is reward for incredible hard work on the training ground, the embedding of a new culture and work ethic, and savvy dealings in the transfer market.
Those who are vaguely familiar with the club will know that the latter of that triumvirate of rewards is not something West Ham are traditionally known for. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite for the best part of a decade (and some). Large amounts of money have been spent on players who haven’t really worked out, and there’s been few expensive signings that you could attribute to being a success.
2020/21 has had a very different feel, though.
Vladimir Coufal, Craig Dawson, and the permanent capture of Tomas Soucek; all value for money signings that have paid off handsomely, and in the £25m case of Said Benrahma, look capable of paying off.
But the best piece of business West Ham conducted was not rushing to sign an out-and-out striker to replace Sebastien Haller in January, instead opting to bring Jesse Lingard in from the cold at Manchester United.
Lingard was a player with a point to prove. He had not featured at all in the Premier League for United, and was essentially a spare part collecting dust in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s changing room. He also wasn’t the out-and-out striker West Ham fans had wanted their club to sign, but what he did have was the right mentality for a team harbouring European aspirations.
He’d played in big games for United – featuring in both the Champions League and Europa League – and had even scored the winner for the Red Devils in an FA Cup final. He was even a regular for England at the 2018 World Cup. Handling pressure and expectation was Lingard’s bread and butter, and though he’d struggled for consistency in his performances, he had a certain x-factor that would often come to the fore.
Four months on, Lingard’s loan spell has yielded plenty of x-factor.
He’s scored nine times in 15 Premier League games – leading West Ham’s charge towards Europe – and has settled into his new London surroundings like a duck taking to water. He’s looked happier than ever in a team that plays to his strengths, and is arguably one of the club’s most talented players. No longer is he the small fish in a big pond, it’s the other way around.
Those are the things, and not the fact that he’s not scored in his last five games, that should be considered when West Ham devise their shortlist of permanent transfer targets this summer. Lingard should undisputedly be the club’s number one target, regardless of whether or not they need to sign a striker (which they do).
““I hope he stays, I really hope he does. He has changed our squad completely. From the first session he was brave on the ball, he’s an out and out No 10 – always on the half-turn and facing forward and that is the player we needed. The game he played against Villa when he scored two, we knew we had a real gem on our hands.”
– Declan Rice
Without Lingard, the Hammers simply wouldn’t be where they are now – and although there’s very little room for sentiment in football, overlooking him as the first order of business would be a huge mistake.
Fortunately, Moyes is such a fan of Lingard that it’s hard to envisage him allowing West Ham to go in another direction. It’s a good job, too, because his experience of the European stage will be pivotal next season – whether that’s in the Europa League as hoped, or the worst case scenario UEFA Embassy Conference League (or whatever it’s called).