Mark Noble said he’s never looked forward to a game as much as this in his life, is it the same for you?
Yes. I have a lot of games under my belt, but this one is up with so many others. But the most important one is always the next one.
We’ve got most people who were available over the weekend available again. We’ve got some people making recoveries, but we don’t know if they’ll be ready yet.
Good enough to play tomorrow?
I’m not sure.
Do you have an idea of what you want from the game?
I want a good performance first of all. I need a good result from it if I can get it as well. But it’s a two-legged game once again. The quarter-finals games were interesting where our game was 1-1 against Lyon and Frankfurt were 1-1 against Barcelona. The only game that opened up was Rangers and Braga, where Braga were one up, but Rangers won.
It seemed to be the second game which was different. That’s not to say the semi-finals won’t change, which we saw last night. It looked as if Manchester City would go well in front, but it tightened up. So you never know in Europe, the games are tight, and they have been so far. So we probably expect much the same tomorrow.
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How much do nerves kick in now the prize is in sight and do you take your form against Liverpool – one of the world’s best teams – into tomorrow?
I think the demeanour of home form has been pretty good. We’ve had good results. From the nervousness side of things, it’s good to b nervous. I think it makes you realise the level of the game. You want the players to play with confidence. You want them to do a lot of things naturally in the game, but I still think nerves will help. It’s a great game. It’s hugely exciting with the thrill of being in Europe. Last year was great qualifying. If you said to us at the end of May last year, you’re going to be in the semi-final in the Europa League with a chance against the final, I think we’d have all said you’re joking. So let’s be clear, we’re in a really good place. Like beating Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea at home it shows we’re going to give any team a good match on our home turf.
When you came back to West Ham, did you think you’d come back to this kind of situation?
Honestly, I did. I honestly thought that if I could get the team going, then we’d challenge – that’s what I panned. I think for most of my career, I’ve been closer to the bottom.
On the journey, you need to make sure your recruitment is good. We signed a couple of Czech boys who have been brilliant, and we signed Jarrod Bowen from the Championship, who has gone on to do great things. Sometimes you need bits of that for all that to happen. Is it by luck, by plan or by design? Sometimes, you need a bit of both. It doesn’t always go right, but I always felt that if I could get it going here, I could get a team challenging. The job to keep it going is the hardest bit. We can’t dwell on how well we did last year. We’ve got to try and do it again this year – hopefully, we can finish well and not dwell on that this year. So often, you hear the really top players who are fortunate enough to win trophies and league titles say they’re straight onto the next one. We can’t dwell on last year, we have to go again and hopefully finish well this year.
Really looking forward to these matches after plenty of hard work?
You don’t get longevity in football nowadays if you don’t put the hard work in. What you hope is that you get a few cup finals and win a few trophies along the way. I’ve still got a long way to go starting with the semi-finals, there’s a long way to go. To bring West Ham from where it’s been to where we are today is huge. It’s a huge thing for the club. People who follow West Ham and know the club far better than I do, they’ll be the ones who will tell you. To get to the semi-final of a European competition and give ourselves a real chance of getting to a final is something really special.
Can you do it? Is there belief?
I think so. When the tournament started, people asked me if I thought we were one of the favourites. But obviously, with all the Champions League teams dropping in it’s difficult. We did a really good job in the group – the whole squad did a brilliant job – and then we’ve had two huge ties. We’re in a semi-final. You would always like the second leg at home, but we have to deal with that, and I think we’re in a good place and have to challenge to get to the final.
After your spells at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland – is this a nice moment to look back at and compare to where you are now?
I look back, and I felt as if I could make this level. I wanted to compete against the elite managers, but to be able to do that, you have to have a team capable of doing that. The team’s given us a really good chance. All managers need the players to build and get better. The players here have got better and even our style, how we’ve played and their development, so many of the players have improved individually. Even our style with the way we play has developed, and so many individuals have improved. As I mentioned earlier, we brought in a couple of boys with the Czech boys and Jarrod, but nearly all of the players who have played here have improved individually, or they wouldn’t be playing in the top six of the Premier League and this level of European football. They’re all seeing this as a great moment for them. The semi-final sounds good, but the final sounds even better.
Is it hard not to rush players back?
I wouldn’t rush anybody back. We could do with some central defenders getting fit, that’s for sure, but that’s the way it’s been. We’re getting to the business end, and we really could do with our best players. We’ve been quite short, but great credit to the group of players for how they’ve done to get to this stage.
Has your message changed for this tie as you could be seen as favourites by fans?
I don’t think we’ve really considered it. When we look at the opposition, it’d be hard to say we would beat Sevilla because of their record. Lyon became a difficult game against a good team. Frankfurt are very much the same. They’ve got a lot of similarities to us. They’re very high as far as running goes, and they’ve got one or two individual players who can make a difference.
We’ll have an incredible atmosphere in Frankfurt, so I know how difficult that’ll be, but we need to use that and London Stadium to our advantage. Overall, I don’t know if you’d put us as favourites, but we didn’t think about being underdogs last time.
Do you want players to think about the final and the trophy or to rein it in and focus on the next game?
It would be ridiculous to think about the prize. We have two games to play and Premier League games to play in between them. Even if you’re good enough to get to the final, to see this as a route to the Champions League, it’s an incredibly difficult route. You never know in this competition. Manchester United were probably favourites [against Villareal].
How much have you seen the belief in your players growing?
I think probably, if we go back, winning in Zagreb was probably the toughest away game in the group we had. We went there and played really well. That gave us a lot of confidence. At that time, we made the choice to split the team a little bit, and I think that working as well helped the morale and made sure everybody knew they would play their part in it. Declan was just back from a European final, and the Czech boys had just come back from the Euros as well. Suddenly we had started to have an international group of players as well, and we had some players with that level of experience.
Thoughts on Frankfurt’s supporters and philosophy?
I think it’s really special that two teams with a history are back together. I know some of the players from the 1976 semi-final were here the other day.
They’re a big name in German football with incredible support. I’ve been to a couple of games at Frankfurt before, and they’ve always had really big support. We’ve got a really big stadium and a fantastic crowd, so I’m hoping we can show that as well. To beat Barcelona over two games was an incredible achievement, and it shows Frankfurt’s qualities. They’ve got quite a lot of similarities to us, and it’ll be an interesting game.
How powerful and rewarding is it to see the London Stadium and the fans react so well to the team this season?
ou want to make sure as a manager you can give the supporters something back, and they’re getting decent football and some success. All those things I’d hope our supporters would turn around and say yes to this season. On top of that, from our point of view, there’s been a togetherness among the club, supporters and players, and I think you can see that growing. If we can get London Stadium the way it was the night we played Sevilla, it’ll take some doing.
Do you get time to savour moments?
I’m going to try, but the games are on you so quick. We’ve got another game in three days’ time. I think really to embrace it in football is very hard. We’d loved to have basked in the glory of Lyon, but we can’t – we had to quickly get onto the next game. In the Premier League, you don’t have any real time. I’m guessing this is what it’s like if you’re going to be a regular challenger, you have to get used to doing that, so I don’t think I’ve had loads of time to sit back and celebrate and have a few glasses of wine. I probably have, actually. But you don’t really get a chance to turn off because the job is all-consuming.
Now, the amount of games the teams have to play is really, really tough, but I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I don’t think the players want it any other way.
How do the backroom staff get the best out of you?
They would probably say they’re kept on their toes! They think they’re lucky if they get home at half-six at night! If the staff want to come to work for me, they need to know what I expect. We try to work really hard on doing the best we can for the players and being as planned as organised as we can be. They’ve all brought different things, and in their own way, they’ve been really important.
Stuart Pearce, Billy, Kevin, they’ve all been really good. Paul and Kevin have done a lot on set-pieces, Pearcey is really good at sensing the feeling and the mood. Billy is someone who I have worked with for such a long time, and he knows what I expect and how I like things done.
How is Angeloa Ogbonna?
Angelo Ogbonna’s back, he only came back this week. When I say ‘back’ I mean back in the building, so I would be amazed if he played before the end of the season. Kurt Zouma’s back doing some light work – he’s ahead of schedule, which is really good – and Issa Diop is actually doing quite well as well. He just feels a little better than we first hoped, so there’s a bit of positivity around those players, and because of that, it’s given us a bit of positivity that it won’t be quite as long as we thought it would be.
I never rush players back. It’s always better to make sure they’re right, so we would only put players out if we thought they were trained and we thought fit and ready to play.
Source by Football London