UEFA Europa League: Barcelona hit form at the wrong time for West Ham

WEST HAM United’s 2-0 victory over Sevilla was an old fashioned European night, the kind the Boleyn Ground used to host so well on the rare occasions the Hammers qualified for the long departed Cup-Winners’ Cup. In 1975-76, clashes with the likes of Den Haag and Eintracht Frankfurt produced a marvellous, memorable atmosphere and the sound of “bubbles” rang out in the cold East London air. In some ways, the London Stadium, which has been criticised for having a somewhat empty feeling, announced its arrival against Sevilla.

West Ham have enjoyed their European run this season and they now figure among the favourites to lift the Europa League trophy. They have been drawn against Lyon, an underperforming side who have also saved some of their best moments for the competition. Their two-legged win against Porto was an achievement and they actually won five of their six group games. 

West Ham have, if anything, punched above their weight this season, but following on from 2020-21, when they finished in sixth position, their performance suggests they have moved up a step in the hierarchy. They should have enough to get past Lyon, but they could then come up against Barcelona, who were sent into Europa exile after failing in the Champions League. 

A few months ago, Barcelona would not have kept West Ham boss David Moyes awake at night, but in recent weeks, the club seems to have regained its confidence and found some form. Their 4-0 victory at Real Madrid was a stunning result and demonstrated they are on their way back after a miserable end to 2021. New signings Ferran Torres (Manchester City) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) have settled in well and have scored 15 goals between them.

Barcelona face Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals, no easy draw, but the Blaugrana have not been beaten in the league since early December. Frankfurt are in eighth place in the Bundesliga and have beaten Bayern in Munich, so they will be a tough opponent for Xavi’s team. Curiously, West Ham fans were set upon by their Frankfurt counterparts in Seville, when the Hammers were in town to face Sevilla and the German side playing at Real Betis. It’s not hard to imagine what could happen if West Ham have to travel to the Deutsche Bank Park stadium for a semi-final game.

Barcelona, however, will be determined to win the Europa League to ensure a path back to the Champions League. This is important not only for the financial benefits of being involved in the premier competition, but also to erase the humiliation of their early elimination from the Champions League. As for West Ham, they will be desperate to win something for the first time in 41 years and also rubber-stamp their elevation to European club status.

But there are other contenders and Lyon are also among the clubs that could win the competition this season. RB Leipzig, for all their spectacular progress, have never won a trophy, so you could argue they are due some material success. Similarly, Atalanta, who have joined the Serie A upper bracket in the past couple of years, could also do with some silverware to provide affirmation of their rise. Braga and Rangers are two of the more unfancied sides in the draw, but in this half of the quarter-final draw, any team could go all the way to the final. Rangers have had some good nights in the Europa this season, beating Borussia Dortmund and Red Star Belgrade in the knockout phase. Braga, who beat Monaco in the round of 16, finished second to Red Star in their group. They are currently fourth in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, while Rangers are in a battle to regain the Scottish Premiership title they won in 2021.

The field is wide open, but GOTP’s prediction is a last four of West Ham v Barcelona and Leipzig v Rangers, with the final on May 18 in Sevilla being contested by Barcelona and Leipzig. On the other hand… 

Hammers cut their losses and manage the pandemic in 2020-21

WEST HAM United certainly missed their fans in 2020-21 as they played almost the entire season’s home games in a near-deserted London Stadium. West Ham’s income from matchday slumped by 98% to a mere half a million pounds. Aside from that expected drama, they still managed to record a rise in revenues, a 38% increase to £ 192.7 million and also reduced their pre-tax losses by 59% to £ 26.9 million.

On the field of play, the 2020-21 campaign was a satisfying one for West Ham, a final placing of sixth and qualification for the UEFA Europa League. The momentum under David Moyes has more or less continued into 2021-22.

West Ham’s revenues are close to breaking the £ 200 million mark which would be a landmark in itself, but also underlines how far away they still are from the elite half dozen in the Premier. In normal times, the Hammers could reasonably anticipate matchday income heading north towards £ 30 million and commercial activity rising above £ 35 million. However, these revenues streams both fell in 2020-21, predictably compromised by the pandemic.

The salvation for West Ham’s financial performance was broadcasting, which increased by 97% to £ 163.1 million and reached a record high in the process. The return of European football should boost the club’s earnings from TV/Media significantly, especially if they remain in the top six of the Premier League.

But the current climate appears to have limited West Ham’s transfer market activity. After two seasons of spending over £ 100 million, their expenditure dropped by 50% to £ 54 million but at the same time, they received £ 57 million from sales. Their net balance was a positive £ 3 million, the first time in a decade that they have not been net spenders. Their biggest signing of the season was Brentford’s Saïd Benrahma, who cost £ 25 million (plus add-ons) when he made his loan period permanent in January 2021. Other major acquisitions included the impressive Czech duo Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal, who both arrived from Slavia Prague, costing a total of £ 20 million.

Despite the loss for the year, West Ham’s wage bill still increased by 1.6% to £ 129.4 million. The club’s salaries have trebled over the course of the decade, but they now represent 67% of income compared to 91% in 2019-20. According to leading football academic Kieran Maguire, the average wage at West Ham is currently £ 60,149 per week. 

The gross squad cost is calculated to be £259 million by Maguire, while Transfermarkt currently value West Ham’s playing resources at £ 316 million in the market, with England midfielder Declan Rice valued at £ 67.6 million. According to CIES Football Observatory, West Ham have one of the oldest squads in the Premier League with an average age of over 28. Player trading remains important to the Hammers’ business model and in 2020-21, they made a profit on sales of £ 17.6 million, around 29% lower than the previous season.

West Ham have made a number of strategic moves to counter the economic impact of covid-19. As well as the agreement of players and officials to defer wages, the club launched a £ 30 million rights issue in July 2020 and has also taken a £ 120 million term loan facility from MSD Holdings, the financial arm of the Dell family, of which they have so far drawn £ 55 million. Speculation over the interest rate being charged by MSD has been fuelled over the public knowledge that Southampton were paying 9.14% on a loan from the company. West Ham also have overdraft facilities with Barclays. The club’s net debt reduced from £ 105 million in 2019-20 to £ 89.5 million.

With the fans back in the stadium – hopefully, a situation that will continue in the weeks and months ahead – and a prolonged European run, West Ham’s financial situation should improve in 2021-22. They have already made more than £ 20 million from the Europa League group stage, if they continue to focus firmly on the competition, that figure will continue to rise. And with no silverware in more than 40 years, West Ham are certainly due some real success.