West Ham manager David Moyes has described Wednesday’s Europa Conference League final with Fiorentina as the “biggest moment” of his managerial career.
The Hammers are preparing for their first major final in Europe since 1976 and are bidding to win a first trophy since the FA Cup 43 years ago.
Moyes, who began his managerial career with Preston in 1998, is yet to lift a major piece of silverware, the Community Shield with Manchester United in 2013 notwithstanding.
He is looking to become the first British manager since Sir Alex Ferguson, the man he replaced at the then-champions, to lift a trophy, and join the former United boss in the pantheon of great Scottish managers in the English game.
Moyes, who has attended plenty of European finals in his role on UEFA’s technical committee, and his players got a first look at the final venue on Tuesday evening.
“It is slightly surreal,” the 60-year-old said ahead of the showdown in Prague. “To turn up and have your own dressing room is a big thrill for me. I really hope I can take it to the next level and win the game.
“I’ve had a really good career since I started coaching at 35. Over a thousand matches, been in some finals, had some promotions. But this is the biggest moment. To be a coach for as long as I’ve been, you’re obviously doing something right.”
Moyes also categorically denied suggestions that he could step down after the final, regardless of the result.
“It’s great to be sitting here in a European final, for any manager it’s a thrill, one of the pinnacles you can get in football as a coach,” he added.
“Hopefully it’s the start. I’ve always said the best years are still to come and I’m certainly enjoying the moment and being here.”
Moyes’ father, David Sr, has attended all their European away matches and will once again be in the crowd at the 20,000-capacity stadium – hopefully.
“I think he’ll be in the pub,” smiled Moyes. “But to be in this position is very good and good for my family, and I hope they can enjoy it. Hopefully I can give him something he can remember.”
Declan Rice will captain the Hammers in what will almost certainly be his final game for the club with Arsenal and Manchester United among those vying for his signature.
Rice, predictably, was not put up in front of the media, high in the home of Slavia Prague, after the on-pitch walkabout.
Instead, it was left to winger Jarrod Bowen to swat aside questions over the England midfielder’s future.
“As his team-mates we are excited to go out for a final with him as our captain,” said Bowen.
“When I joined three years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would be in the final.
“We are team-mates and friends and to win it for everyone would be so special. That’s what our focus is on.”
Moyes has a fully-fit squad, bar injured striker Gianluca Scamacca, as West Ham bid to end a trophy drought stretching back to 1980’s FA Cup win over Arsenal.
Cup goalkeeper Alphonse Areola will start but regular number one Lukasz Fabianski, something of a penalty-saving expert over the years, could still have a major role to play if the final goes to a shootout.
“We’ve got those thoughts,” said Moyes. “It’s about planning, I’ve got my thoughts – but won’t reveal them if you don’t mind.”
Fiorentina boss Italiano: We will play all our cards
West Ham finished just six points above the Premier League relegation zone this season and face a Fiorentina side that ended their Serie A campaign in eighth place.
The Italians head into Wednesday’s game in impressive form and were only narrowly beaten by Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia final.
“West Ham were one of the strongest teams in the tournament and they reached the final, confirming their strength,” Fiorentina head coach Vincenzo Italiano said.
“They have high-quality players, very strong. But we also reached the final so we are also strong and we are here to play all our cards. We are ready for it.”
Moyes said: “I think you’re continuously thinking about how we’re going to play, how we’ll cause problems and how they’ll cause us problems.
“But I also think having Plan B and Plan C is important. The most important thing is being prepared and doing the things that got you to this place in the first place.
“It’s a big achievement to get through to a European final. It’s not easy to get all the way through and we’ve been competitive. It’s a great achievement for all the players and the next part is to see if we can go on and win it.”
West Ham’s route to the final…
West Ham’s journey to Prague began on August 18, three Prime Ministers ago, with a home meeting against Danish minnows Viborg.
New Italian striker Gianluca Scamacca, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio scored in a 3-1 first-leg win. Scamacca was on target again, along with Said Benrahma and Tomas Soucek, in the away leg to secure a comprehensive 6-1 aggregate victory.
The Hammers were drawn with Romanian side FCSB, Belgium’s Anderlecht and Silkeborg of Denmark in Group B.
They fell behind to FCSB at home in their first match but goals from Bowen, Emerson Palmieri and Antonio earned a 3-1 win and David Moyes’ side went on to breeze into the knockout stages with six wins out of six.
The travelling fans were rewarded with a trip to sunny Cyprus and a tie against AEK Larnaca.
West Ham were struggling domestically, having just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United and thumped 4-0 at Brighton in the Premier League, but Antonio’s double settled the away leg and a brace from Bowen helped them to a 4-0 win at home, and 6-0 on aggregate, to keep the European adventure going.
Next up were another Belgian outfit, Gent, and for the first time in the competition West Ham failed to register a victory, with Danny Ings on target in a 1-1 away draw.
But despite conceding an early goal, the home leg was comfortable thanks to another Antonio double, Lucas Paqueta’s penalty and a stunning solo goal from captain Declan Rice to wrap up a 4-1 win.
Dutch dark horses AZ Alkmaar would be no pushovers in the last four having already accounted for Lazio and Anderlecht.
West Ham fell behind at the London Stadium to Tijani Reijnders’ first-half goal but Benrahma’s penalty and Antonio’s scrambled effort secured a 2-1 win.
In an edgy second leg, Pablo Fornals raced through to score the only goal in stoppage time to inflict AZ’s first European defeat in 26 matches and send the Hammers through.