David Moyes admitted it was “surreal” to walk into Prague’s Eden Arena in preparation for his first European final, the “biggest moment” of his career.
Moyes’ West Ham will meet Fiorentina in the final of the Europa Conference League in the Czech capital on Wednesday evening.
The 60-year-old, who began his managerial career at Preston in 1998, has yet to pick up a big piece of silverware despite winning the Community Shield with Manchester United in 2013.
Moyes wants to become the first British manager since Sir Alex Ferguson, the man he replaced at the then champions, to lift a trophy and join the former United boss in the pantheon of great Scottish managers in English football.
Moyes, who has attended numerous European finals in his role on UEFA’s technical committee, and his players got a first look at the final venue on Tuesday evening.
“It’s a bit surreal,” he said. “To show up today and have your own dressing room is a big thrill for me. I really hope I can take it to the next level and win the match.
“I’ve had a really good career since I started coaching when I was 35. Over a thousand matches, been in some finals, had some promotions. But this is the greatest moment. To have been a coach for as long as I have, you are clearly doing something right.”
Moyes also categorically denied suggestions that he could resign after the final regardless of the result.
“It’s great to be here in a European final, for any manager it’s a thrill, one of the highlights you can achieve as a coach in football,” he added.
“Hopefully this is the beginning. I’ve always said the best years are yet to come and I’m definitely enjoying the moment and being here.”
Moyes’ father, David Snr, has attended all of their European away games and will hopefully be back in the crowd at the 20,000 capacity stadium.
“I think he’ll be at the pub,” Moyes smiled. “But to be in this position is very good and good for my family, and I hope they can enjoy it. Hopefully I can give him something to remember.”
Declan Rice will captain the Hammers in what will almost certainly be his last game for the club, with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United vying for his signature.
Rice, predictably, was not placed in front of the media, high up in Slavia Prague’s house, after the on-field walkabout.
Instead, it was left to winger Jarrod Bowen to brush aside questions about the England midfielder’s future.
“As his teammates, we are excited to go to a final tomorrow with him as our captain,” said Bowen.
“When I joined three years ago, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we would be in the final.
“We are teammates and friends and to win it for everyone would be so special. That is our focus.”
Moyes have a fully fit squad, with an injured striker Gianluca Scamacca, as West Ham try to end a drought dating back to their FA Cup win over Arsenal in 1980.
Cup goalkeeper Alphonse Areola will start, but regular number one Lukasz Fabianski, an expert at saving penalties over the years, could still play a big part if the final goes to a shoot-out.
“We have those thoughts,” Moyes said. “It’s about planning. I have my thoughts — but won’t reveal them if you don’t mind.”
West Ham enjoyed a very pleasant draw on their trip to Prague, but Fiorentina are a different proposition to AEK Larnaca and AZ Alkmaar.
They ended the Serie A season with a run of 12 wins, four draws and only two defeats, only narrowly beating Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia final.
Coach Vincenzo Italiano said: “West Ham were one of the strongest teams in the tournament and they reached the final and confirmed their strength.
“They have high quality players, very strong. But we also reached the final, so we are also strong and we are here to play all our cards. We are ready.”