IN THE haze of Eintracht Frankfurt’s first fireworks display, West Ham’s ambitions of progressing to the Europa League final have been dashed by VAR.
We proud Hammers traveled to Germany seething with expectation.
But that was shaken by the 19th-minute dismissal of Aaron Cresswell after the referee was persuaded by slow-motion television that he should overturn his yellow card for a red.
We then had a real mountain to climb, unaided by a referee who was sure to give every decision to the home team.
Within minutes, Frankfurt was in the lead and despite the heroic effort of our ten men, who fought to the end, they were unable to achieve the expected result.
It was far less than manager David Moyes, the players and our supporters deserved.
David’s reappointment was a triumph.
His determined and resourceful leadership yielded two of the best years for the club.
And the players responded with wonderful wins over Sevilla and Lyon in our run that ended in frustration on Thursday.
Declan Rice summed it up after the game, saying the players were “emptied”.
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Like he said, we’ve come so far as a group and they’ve given it their all this year in what has been a tough game schedule.
The good news is that we know what we are capable of, the players want more European nights and we believe we have a real chance of being a powerhouse on the pitch.
THREE times now, Manchester United have named what some might call veteran players to fill gaps in front of goal.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo were signed primarily – and at a hefty price – to put the finishing touches on the lads who had just stepped out of baby clothes when this trio reached over 30.
Clubs are paying big checks to old guys who have clung to their speed of thought and reaction, if not necessarily their fastest speed.
Does anyone in the Premier League jump higher than Ronaldo, 37, run further than Luka Modric, 36, in La Liga, or convey more threat than Ibrahimovic, 40, in Serie A?
And there are many in the queue to overcome the threat of more tired legs and slower reactions, continuing their quests for a six-figure weekly salary, as well as more wins and honors.
Forwards and midfielders hit the age barrier earlier, defenders hang around for quite a while, goalkeepers go crazy and give up when they feel like it.
Nowadays, age limitations have slowed down thanks to superior training methods, better diet, improved medical treatment and reasonable lifestyle. The peak years have lengthened, and the retirement age at the highest level is generally around 34-35.
I’m sure Mark Noble, our West Ham captain who turns 35 on Sunday, has felt it and is retiring as a one club man, although he remains a good footballer.
On the other hand, Modric and others, including the remarkable 36-year-old James Milner, will continue to love the fight.
Milner has been offered a one-year deal at Liverpool, who are perhaps the best club in the world right now.
His manager Jurgen Klopp, comparing him to Modric, said: “He set (fitness) standards in a way few people can set standards and that educated us all.”
Whether it’s the loss of income or the love of the game, probably both, Ibrahimovic is the current retirement waiting to happen.
He tried once, briefly, and came back, as tall and belligerent and boastful as ever.
In his second spell at AC Milan, however, the Swede isn’t scoring as much as he used to – unsurprisingly for a man with over 500 goals in over 900 games.
Even for Superman, there comes a time.