After waiting 43 years to stop those bubbles fading and dying, West Ham could not have timed it better. There were 90 minutes on the clock at the Eden Arena when Jarrod Bowen’s shot slithered past Pietro Terracciano and, after 1,097 games of management, absolutely nothing was going to stop David Moyes from enjoying his crowning moment.
Fortune wasn’t hiding any more. Off Moyes went, charging down the touchline, only stopping when he was in front of the fans celebrating behind the Fiorentina goal. He stood there with his arms aloft and drank in the adulation.
Here was the Scot’s reward for recovering from the tough times and trusting that one day it would be him standing on a podium after leading a team to glory. West Ham, without a major trophy since winning the FA Cup in 1980, had a new legend: Moyes had followed in the footsteps of two of the greatest figures in the club’s history, Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, in bringing silverware to east London.
This has not been an easy campaign for the 60-year-old. Moyes has been a game away from the sack on several occasions and West Ham have struggled in the league. Europe has been the saving grace. West Ham have embraced the Europa Conference League and, while they were second best for long spells, the anxiety growing as Fiorentina pushed for a winner after cancelling out Saïd Benrahma’s penalty with a lovely goal from Giacomo Bonaventura, in the end it was the resilience instilled by Moyes that helped his team clamber over the line.
Playing in their first major European final in 47 years, West Ham refused to be denied. Declan Rice, captaining the side in what will surely be his final game for the club, never stopped leading in midfield. Rice was immense and will leave as a hero while his teammates can look forward to playing in the Europa League next season. It was fitting that the 24-year-old emulated Bobby Moore, who wore the armband when West Ham lifted their other major European trophy after beating 1860 Munich in the Cup Winners’ Cup final 58 years ago.
It was a slog at times and West Ham, who resorted to too much long-ball football during a bad-tempered contest, could not have complained if they had been defeated by Vincenzo Italiano’s clever passing side.
Yet West Ham found a second wind. Out of nowhere, with extra time on the cards, space emerged. Tomas Soucek managed to flick the ball to Lucas Paquetá, who had been waiting all night for a chance to lift his head and play a killer pass.
So lacking in creativity, West Ham had been crying out for a moment of inspiration from their £50m Brazilian. Paquetá’s pass was a beauty, weighted to perfection, piercing the Fiorentina defence, and Bowen came alive. Darting in from the right, the winger beat the offside trap, raced clear and slid a composed finish into the net.
They were all off the bench when Bowen, who was such a smart signing by Moyes three years ago, made it 2-1. West Ham had put their fans through the wringer and some of their followers had marred the occasion by repeatedly throwing plastic cups on to the pitch during the first half. One missile struck Fiorentina’s captain, Cristiano Biraghi, leaving the left-back with blood pouring from his head.
At least West Ham kept their composure on the pitch. Fiorentina, whose only European success came in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961, played the slicker football and West Ham were too quick to fall into defensive mode during the first half.
The game had started in a deafening atmosphere – what a shame that Uefa had underestimated its own competition, deeming a ground with a capacity of 19,370 a worthy venue for a final – West Ham’s concern would grow as Sofyan Amrabat, Bonaventura and Rolando Mandragora kept the ball away from them in midfield.
There was too much focus on set pieces and counterattacks. West Ham’s approach felt lumpen, their threat limited to Rice dragging a shot wide, and were not helped by the refusal of the Spanish referee, Carlos del Cerro Grande, to protect Michail Antonio against some rough challenges from Fiorentina’s centre-backs.
Moyes, who came into this game still unsure if he will have a job next season, had to rethink. West Ham were fortunate not to fall behind when Christian Kouamé headed Nicolás González’s cross against a post and Luka Jovic turned the rebound in from an offside position.
It was far from a classic. Fiorentina’s first shot on target came in the 57th minute and the encouragement for West Ham was that their centre-backs, Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd, looked solid. Vladimir Coufal, preferred to Thilo Kehrer at right-back, was diligent.
The mood changed just before the hour. Coufal found Bowen with a long throw and Biraghi handled. It was a clear penalty, even though it required a check of the pitchside monitor, and Benrahma stepped up. The Algerian’s nerveless spot-kick had West Ham dreaming.
Could they hold out? There was worry when Zouma limped off for Kehrer. Fiorentina responded and were level in the 67th minute. Amrabat found González, who beat Emerson Palmieri in the air. Aguerd and Rice could not get across in time and Bonaventura fired past Alphonse Areola. Fiorentina pushed again, Mandragora bending a shot inches wide. West Ham responded by bringing Pablo Fornals on for Benrahma. They continued to go long, Soucek going close. Extra time beckoned. Bowen had other ideas.