Jarrod Bowen rejects "disrespectful" Barcelona claim as West Ham eye Europa League glory

Jarrod Bowen has recalled his humble beginnings ahead of West Ham’s Europa League semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday, as David Moyes and co bid to reach the final in Seville next month

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David Moyes previews Frankfurt clash

He is the best player not to have been picked for England this season.

Jarrod Bowen, however, is more focused on finishing yet another special season under David Moyes with team success.

Nobody would have predicted a top-six Premier League finish or a shock Europa League semi-final place for West Ham last August. Bowen’s goals and all-round play have been key to both.

The former Hull striker has exploded onto the scene to such an extent that widespread surprise greeted his omission from Gareth Southgate’s England squad to face Switzerland and the Ivory Coast last month. That will surely change if the 25-year-old adds to his 15 goals this season to help the Hammers past Eintracht Frankfurt.

Although some see the Germans as an easier obstacle than mighty Barcelona – the team Frankfurt beat in the last eight – Bowen is not among them.

“I think it would be disrespectful to say that we wanted to play Barcelona,” he said, “especially after Frankfurt beat them at the Nou Camp. We can’t take them lightly at all. They are there to be feared but I think we are as well. Especially when you look at the results we’ve had knocking out Sevilla and Lyon.”

Not that Bowen takes his rise lightly. He was rejected on his journey by Cardiff and Aston Villa, clubs that wrongly believed he didn’t have what it takes to make it big. He also went six months unpaid as he fought in vain to keep Hereford in the Conference. Now he has gone from non-league to fighting for a place in next season’s Champions League.

“The dream is a reality now,” he added. “To be sat here talking about a top-for race when seven or eight years ago we were playing in a game to decide whether Hereford played in the Conference or not, its one hell of a journey.”

Bowen scored to help West Ham beat Lyon in the quarter-finals

Experienced defenders back then showed little mercy on the 17-year-old from Herefordshire. “There were players coming to the end of their careers,” Bowen said, “When they saw a youngster coming along, running around, they wanted to kick you and put you back in your place.

“But it shapes you as a player. I’m not going to say it was nice but it was definitely character building.” Mum Natalie supported him throughout with trips to futsal and soccer schools. Dad Sam, a centre-forward for Forest Green Rovers, helped rebuild his son’s confidence – and toughen him up.

“My Dad used to have me pushing a cricket roller,” Bowen added. “The ones that flatten out the pitch. I’d push it from one end of the pitch to the other – those rollers are heavy! But that’s my Dad to a tee. He doesn’t want me doing box-to-box runs or corner flag runs, he wants me doing something completely different in terms of fitness.”

Moyes and co welcome Eintracht Frankfurt for a semi-final first leg on Thursday

Join the debate! Will West Ham reach the Europa League final? Comment your prediction below.

The difference in Bowen’s game has been striking. Nearly double his eight goals from last season. Strikes against the likes of Chelsea, Lyon, Leicester, Leeds and Aston Villa. And the confidence to cope with the pressure of dragging a club more used to battling relegation up the table.

It more than justifies the faith shown by Moyes who signed £18million Bowen from Championship side Hull in January 2020. “It’s down to the manager,” he went on. “He has given me the confidence to do it in the big leagues. Last season was about finding my feet. This season I’ve come in with a lot more confidence and that’s been showing in my game.”

Still there are some convinced the Champions League could yet be a bridge too far for Bowen and his team-mates. But after so many knockbacks, he is relishing the challenge. “People writing us off is lovely for me,” he smiled. “Because you like proving them wrong. There’s no better feeling.”

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