Upson hungry for Euro boost
MATTY UPSON S switch to West Ham back in January 2007 was probably the best move he has made in his entire career, writes DAVE EVANS. The former Arsenal youngster never quite made it at Highbury, despite the affection that manager Arsene Wenger had for hi
MATTY UPSON'S switch to West Ham back in January 2007 was probably the best move he has made in his entire career, writes DAVE EVANS.
The former Arsenal youngster never quite made it at Highbury, despite the affection that manager Arsene Wenger had for him, and he felt compelled to try and rebuild his career at Birmingham City when he left the north London giants.
Now the central defender, who celebrates his 30th birthday the day after Saturday's trip to Aston Villa, is looking to return to those heady heights that he once had at the Gunners with a return to the European stage.
It is something that he thinks is vital for his progress: "Battling for a place in Europe is very satisfying," said Upson, who now has 14 England caps to his name following his recent appearance in the 4-0 thumping of Slovakia at Wembley.
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"It's something that as an individual, I need to be doing. I have personal aspirations that I want to achieve and the better standard my domestic football is, the greater chance that has of helping me achieve those.
"I'm desperate for the club to succeed and finish as high as it can. It helps me individually as well as the team collectively."
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Upson has been the rock at the heart of the West Ham defence all season. His stability has helped the likes of James Collins and youngster James Tomkins, putting them at ease alongside him and turning them into better players.
"Tactically the team is very good," he said. "We've done a lot of work on the back four in terms of positional play - defending crosses, defending the box and we've done most of those things pretty well."
They have, and Upson is hoping that it will prove enough by the end of the season to book that coveted place in Europe.
"I think it can only help you to play against the best players in the world every season. You're testing yourself and showing people that you are capable of doing that and that's something that I want to do because I want to play for England, so the better West Ham are playing, the more it helps me," he explained.
West Ham have certainly struggled recently with the loss of key players, so is a lack of strength in depth a problem if the Hammers are to make it into the gruelling Europa League next season, where they would need to play a staggering 21 games if they get all the way to the final.
It is something that has crossed Upson's mind too: "I did mention that to Steve Clarke, I said 'Is the squad prepared if we did actually finish in a Europa League spot?" he admitted.
"I've read a few articles this year about teams putting out second string sides to play UEFA Cup ties and getting criticised for that, because for most teams like West Ham, Villa, Everton - the Premier League is the most important thing for them.
"So it will be interesting and it will test the ambition of this football club and how deep their pockets are."
It certainly will, but first West Ham have to cope with the loss of some key players and hold on to that seventh position. Upson believes they can, and when they get all their players back next season, he also believes that they have the potential to push on even further.
"We can definitely step into the top six, who knows - with a bit of quality back in the team and some strength in depth, we could make the top four.
But the top six is a big target for this club and I think if we achieve that in the next season or two, it would give the club a good basis to push on."
With players like Upson at the heart of the team, then you can't rule anything out for the Hammers.
The England defender has faced disappointments in his career, but he came out the other side and it has made him into the international player he now is.
"I think my time at Arsenal was a part of my career when I made mistakes," he admitted. "I didn't succeed the way I wanted to and I had to take a step backwards and go to Birmingham.
"I don't regret that, everyone's got their own journey and perhaps I needed to fail to realise how to behave and how to conduct myself as a professional."
Upson has been on a journey, and West Ham fans will be hoping that his journey will have a successful conclusion at Upton Park.