EFL Goes Continental – A New Experience On The European Stage

The EFL season may have finished last month for most teams, with select teams, of course, having their seasons extended through the annual playoff promotion games after each campaign, but that has not meant the excitement of football has stopped completely, firstly with the Premier League, which runs slightly past the EFL.

But some teams are lucky enough to be involved in what is considered by many the biggest stage of football in continental competition. This year, there were three European competitions, with the Europa League, the Europa Conference League and the biggest of them all, the UEFA Champions League and there were two English teams across those three finals, Manchester City in the Champions League and West Ham in the Conference League, both sides coming out victorious in those finals.

The third final, the Europa League saw Sevilla take on Jose Mourinho’s Roma, the Spanish outfit came out victorious in a competition they are particularly experienced in, being the most successful side in the competition, claiming the trophy on seven occasions.

Manchester City picked up their first Champions League in their history as they saw off Inter Milan with a 1-0 victory over the Italian side, this was City’s second final appearance, both coming under Pep Guardiola, their last appearance saw them miss out on the trophy through a 1-0 defeat to Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.

The second English team in the Conference League, West Ham saw off another Italian team in Fiorentina, as Jarred Bowen struck late to bring the Hammers their first continental victory in almost 60 years, winning the Cup Winners Cup in a team which included 1966 World Cup winners Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.

Of course, this is not EFL football but all these players have a journey and for some in these finals, that story had to take place in the lower tiers, for some, it even began there, with that being said, Chris of therealefl takes a look at all the teams involved in European action these past couple of weeks and looks at the players who have featured in the EFL over the years, as well as how that led to them being where they are today, etching their names in European history, nights all players dream of, but so few can achieve. We have trophy wins, relegation battles and a host of different experiences across League One and the Championship.

Tammy Abraham

The first name on the list is one many will know about his time in the EFL with Aston Villa, helping them earn promotion back to the Premier League with a return of 25 goals in the 37 games he played for the club in the 2018/19 Championship season. But before that, Abraham had already spent time on loan in the second division, as he spent a season on loan with Bristol City in 2016/17. It was heartbreak for Abraham on the night as not only did Roma fall to defeat on penalties, but the striker also picked up an injury which seems to have ruled him out for a considerable amount of time.

The English striker had been with Chelsea since under eight’s and his performances at a youth level caught the attention of then-manager Guus Hiddink, who had handed the forward chances to impress in the first team the prior season. During the season he spent with Bristol City, he impressed plenty around him helping the club avoid relegation, finishing 17th in the league. The day after his loan began, he made his debut for the club, coming off the bench and scoring the first goal in a 2-1 win that saw them come from behind against Wigan Athletic.

His performances that year were excellent, his goal against Sheffield Wednesday in a 2-2 draw in January saw him break former Fulham striker Moussa Dembele’s record for most goals by a teenager since the beginning of the Football League era. Over 41 games with Bristol, Abraham scored 23 goals, a return which saw him finish second highest scorer in the league, behind Chris Wood of Leeds United. He won the Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and top goalscorer for Bristol City that season, the first player to win all three of those awards in a single season.

The following season saw him loaned to Swansea City in the Premier League, but in 2018/19, he returned to the Championship, joining Aston Villa as they pushed for promotion. He scored on his home debut for the club in a 2-0 win over Rotherham United in September. Four goals in a 5-5 draw with Nottingham Forest saw him become the first Aston Villa player to score four goals in a single match in the 21st century. A 2-1 win over Ipswich Town saw him become the first player since Tom Waring to score in seven consecutive home games for Villa, a record which had stood since 1933. A 3-3 draw with Sheffield United the following month saw him break another record when he became the first player since 1981 to score 20 goals for the club, a record held by Peter White. And in April, he became the first player to score 25 goals in a season since Andy Gray in 1977. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the season and finished second in the race for the golden boot once again, behind Teemu Pukki of Norwich City.

Karim Rekik

A name that does not have much detail to add as the previous entry, but the defender also has some experience in the second tier. Rekik was brought to England by Manchester City and was loaned to Portsmouth, who were eventually relegated to the Championship. 

It was announced in February of the following year, Rekik would reunite with former Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton at Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers. His league debut would come against Hull City in a 2-0 defeat, featuring on the left-hand side of midfield, he would go on to make five appearances for the club in the second division, not having much of an impact. Rekik went on to play for PSV, Marseille and Hertha Berlin following that spell with Blackburn before joining Sevilla and adds the Europa League to the Dutch title he holds with PSV.

Michail Antonio

The Jamaican striker has a wealth of experience across the EFL, featuring for six different clubs across the Championship and League One. Antonio joined Reading from Tooting & Mitcham United in 2008, across four years with the club he scored one goal in 28 appearances and was loaned out five times, two of which came in the same season, including five goals with the club he started his career with scoring three goals.

He was recalled from Tooting and loaned out to League One side Cheltenham Town on a month-long loan. His debut came in a 2-0 defeat to Leeds United, an appearance which only lasted 28 minutes, as he was replaced due to an ankle injury. Antonio would make nine appearances for the Robins, failing to score for the club.

The 2009/10 season was the beginning of his breakout as he joined Southampton on loan, post-administration for the club. The loan was initially for a month but was extended for the duration of the season, his first goal came against Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup.

During his loan spell with Southampton, he enjoyed a memorable 20th birthday as he scored at Wembley against Carlisle United, as the club won 4-1 in the Football League Trophy final, this victory brought him and former West Ham manager Alan Pardew their first silverware.

The following season saw the forward move on loan twice once again, his season began with Colchester United, scoring four goals in 15 appearances, and he would eventually return to his parent club. In February 2012, Sheffield Wednesday would sign Antonio on an emergency loan, as they looked to secure promotion from League One, he would score five goals in 14 games for the Owls, including the first in a 2-0 win over Wycombe on the final day, a victory which sealed promotion as they finished above their city rivals Sheffield United.

He would join permanently for the following season in the Championship spending two seasons with the club, making 78 appearances and scoring 17 goals before he departed for Nottingham Forest. Another two seasons came in the Championship making 50 appearances and scoring 16 goals, he joined West Ham in 2015.

Said Benrahma

Another wealth of experience here which came in the second division, Benrahma joined Brentford in 2018. He struggled to break into the first team for some time, especially as an injury kept him out until December. Mid-January saw him burst into form, as his form saw him pick up nine goals in 14 matches before an ankle injury in April saw him miss the remainder of the season.

Returning in August after missing pre-season training, Benrahma enjoyed a stellar season in 2019/20 with Brentford, which saw him win multiple Player of the Month awards, as well as being nominated for multiple Player of the Year awards, the Algerian was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year and win the Supporters Player of the Year award. Benrahma made 46 appearances scoring 17 goals for the club, which included two hat-tricks.

He earned himself a move to West Ham in 2021 and since joining, he has played for the Hammers 81 times, scoring 15 goals, one of which from the spot in the final to put West Ham ahead.

Jarred Bowen

Bowen started his career with Hereford United in 2014, following unsuccessful trials with Aston Villa and Cardiff City. He only made eight appearances for the club before they were expelled from the Football Conference and he once again found himself seeking a new club. The Englishman found his new home in Hull City and became somewhat of a hero for the Tigers during his six years with the club.

Bowen would make 124 appearances for Hull City and score 52 goals for the club during his time, despite six years with the club, he would only spend four years as an active player, his first appearance for the senior team coming in 2016. His best season would come in 2018/19, making 46 appearances for the club and scoring 22 goals.

After becoming a much-loved figure for Hull City, Bowen would depart for West Ham in 2019 and has made 125 appearances with the club scoring 27 goals. And one of those goals made him a hero for another club once again, his last-gasp goal in the final bringing West Ham their European success. 

Aaron Cresswell & Danny Ings (Honourable Mentions)

These two players come in the form of honourable mentions, with both players being unused substitutes for West Ham in the final.

Cresswell started his career with Liverpool but was released from the club’s youth system at the age of 15. Following his release, he would sign for Tranmere Rovers and sign his first professional contract with the side in 2008.

Over three years with Rovers, he made 70 appearances scoring five goals, making himself a standout performer, as was shown by his manager’s comments when coming to the end of his contract, that he fully expected the full-back to turn down the contract offer with interest coming from the Championship.

Cresswell made the step up to the Championship joining Ipswich in 2011, he made 132 appearances for the club and scored six goals for the side before joining West Ham in 2014. Since arriving, he has made 263 appearances for the Hammers and scored ten goals.

Danny Ings started his career with Bournemouth, making just the singular appearance for the League Two outfit in his first season in the 2009/10 campaign. In his first full season with the club in League One, he made 26 appearances, scoring seven goals. He made one appearance the next season before he joined Burnley in the Championship.

Ings has featured for several clubs and is in his first season with the Hammers, scoring three goals in 22 appearances.

Jack Grealish

Many know of Grealish’s time with Aston Villa in the Championship, however, what not many remember is his time in League One with Notts County.

Grealish joined Villa in 2001 and began his journey with the professional team in 2012. In 2013, he joined Notts County on a youth loan until January 2014. He made his debut against MK Dons in League One and over 37 appearances for the club, he scored five goals. At the end of his loan spell, he returned to Villa and made his debut for the Midlands club against the club he plays for now, as they suffered a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City.

Three seasons in the Championship with Villa saw Grealish make 89 appearances for the club, scoring 14 goals and ultimately helped lead Villa back to the Premier League. He would spend two seasons in the top flight with the club before departing for City, making himself the most expensive British signing.

Kyle Walker

Walker began his career with his boyhood club Sheffield United and made seven appearances in his first season with the Blades, before going out on loan to League One side Northampton Town. Upon his return from his loan spell, he was given a chance in the first team at Bramall Lane and was part of the side that lost the playoff final to Burnley, his appearance at Wembley made him the youngest player to play at Wembley.

His performances earned him a move to the Premier League regardless of their defeat at Wembley, as Tottenham Hotspur recruited Walker and secured his signature. He would remain with the Blades for another season, as he stayed on loan with the Championship side, making 26 appearances. The following season he would go out on loan once again, making 20 appearances for Queens Park Rangers. 

Following those loan spells, he would break into the Tottenham first team and made 183 appearances for Spurs before joining City in 2017, making 185 appearances for the club so far.

Walker has become renowned as one of the most accomplished full-backs in the game today and now has a reputation as a serial winner of trophies with City. The Champions League he won was the last trophy that eluded him at club level and he can finally say he got his hands on the renowned trophy.

At an international level, Walker is not quite as successful but is still a key figure in the England set-up. He has been capped 75 times for England at a senior level and was part of the England team that reached the final of the 2020 Euros that were delayed into 2021 due to Covid.







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