Kurt Zouma poses

Kurt Zouma: I’ve always believed we could go all the way

Kurt Zouma always believed it was possible. 

Even back in pre-season, ten months ago, as West Ham United prepared for what would transpire to be a long and, at times, difficult, campaign, the defender always knew the team had the quality to go all the way in the UEFA Europa Conference League.

Now, just one more game and more opponent stands in the team’s way. Italian outfit AC Fiorentina awaits the side on Wednesday, as does a shot to end a 43-year wait for major silverware at West Ham. 

“I definitely fully believed in this team’s ability to go all the way in this competition, from the very first day,” Zouma told whufc.com. “Especially after we got to the semi-finals of the Europa League last season. 

“I still think we could have won that competition too, or at very least got to the final, but you could feel that this time has something very special about it. Reaching this final is a great achievement, and it’s one we’re all proud of, and now we want to win the game for the fans.

Reaching this final is a great achievement, and it’s one we’re all proud of, and now we want to win the game for the fans.
Kurt Zouma

“I was pleased to have joined such a great team in 2020; one that had a big goal of wanting to win a final and lift a trophy. The last two seasons, since I’ve been here, we’ve done so well in Europe. I knew that we could do it too, and reaching the final is great. But now it’s time to think about the game itself, enjoy the game, and win it.”

Preparations have been well and truly underway for West Ham’s first European final since 1976, including a warm-weather training camp in Portugal at the start of last week for David Moyes’ men. 

Zouma felt the benefits of a change of scenery, and the opportunity to relax and bond with his teammates came at the right time for the French defender.

He continued: “Portugal was nice. It was really good to get away for the team, to be all together and to train in a different place as well. We want to prepare for the final in the best way possible so it was really good.

“I was in the waterpark with some of the boys during our down time, acting like kids! We had a lot of fun out there. I think it was needed after the tough season we had, with many games as well. We were able to get away and do something different, which came at the right time for us.”

Zouma all smiles in training

Zouma’s illustrious career so far has been filled with silverware. At 28-years-old, the No4 has a Coupe de la Ligue to his name from his spell at Saint-Étienne, as well as two Premier Leagues, a Carabao Cup, a Champions League and an UEFA Super Cup from his time at Chelsea. 

It is fair to say that Zouma therefore knows a bit about the mentality and preparation that comes with getting set for such a huge game. But this one feels different to the centre-back.

West Ham’s long wait to claim silverware, particularly on the European stage, adds even more significance.

“I’ve been lucky to win a few trophies in my career. The preparation for a final is a little bit different because you’re getting ready for just one game against a side that maybe you don’t know too much about.

“It’s going to be tough but you have to get your preparation done properly. You get a bit more time to prepare for finals at this time of year too and you want to play to win.

Zouma celebrates

“Winning this would mean a lot for me, especially for this Club which is so eager to win a trophy. It’s been a long time for West Ham and we’ve got a great chance to do it now. If we win it, then I think it’s going to be a crazy feeling for everybody. It would be a dream to do it. We have the quality and now we’re just one game away from doing so.”

Not that AC Fiorentina will simply roll over and give West Ham the trophy. Vincenzo Italiano’s side sit ninth in Serie A and also reached the final of the Coppa Italia, narrowly losing out to Inter Milan last week.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Zouma said. “We’ve started to watch them in analysis sessions, and having a look at what they do tactically. We can see it’s going to be a hard game. 

“They’ve got their ways they can hurt us, and we’ve got our weapons to, so hopefully we can give a good show for our fans and get a massive win.”

Central to any success could be the partnership between Zouma and Nayef Aguerd in the heart of defence. Since the Moroccan joined West Ham last summer, he and Zouma have developed a close friendship, one which the pair are relishing bringing to the pitch too.

“He's brilliant. Nayef is a top guy and you can see how good he is and the quality he brings to the team. I’m trying to help him where I can. 

Zouma and Aguerd

“It’s his first season in England and I can see he enjoys it. I’m pleased to be with him in defence, and with the other guys too. We’ve got a great team here and we want to top off our season with one more win.”

And so, the Hammers travel to Prague and the Eden Aréna for Wednesday’s final, for their chance at cementing their place in the history books. 

Zouma is not only determined to enjoy the Czech Republic capital, having heard so much about the host city from Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal, but to also make sure every West Ham fan – whether travelling or watching from home – can be proud of their team come the final whistle.

“They’ve both been telling all us what a great city it is. I’m really looking forward to getting out there,” he added. “They’ve been telling us that it’s one of the best cities in the world so I really want to check it out and see what it’s like.

“We know a lot of fans are going to come to Prague and we really want them all to enjoy the trip and the moment with us.”