By Darren Lewis and Sana Noor Haq, CNN
Jarrod Bowen joined West Ham United in January 2020 and as he looks back over the last few years with the club it’s almost as if he can’t quite believe what has happened.
West Ham finished the 2019/20 season five points shy of relegation, having lost half of its matches during that campaign.
Last season the club climbed 10 places up the Premier League table — when the 25-year-old Bowen scored eight goals and made five assists — and missed out on the Champions League by just two points.
Now, the West Ham United striker is looking forward to his side’s first European semifinal in 46 years in a fated reunion against Eintracht Frankfurt.
“I think it’s people seeing West Ham for what West Ham are about now. Since I’ve been here, we were staying up from relegation which was crazy to think,” Bowen tells CNN Sport’s Darren Lewis.
“Fast forward two and a half years and we finished in the top six and (are) on course to finish in the top six again, maybe even get to a Europa League final,” he adds. “People should think about West Ham differently now.
“Just goes to show what happens when a manager [David Moyes] comes in and gets a group of players that are 100% committed and … want to work for each other.”
Europa League dream
West Ham’s Europa League journey to the last four has been nothing short of remarkable.
After topping its group stage, West Ham won 2-1 on aggregate against Sevilla with a late winner from Andriy Yarmolenko in the second-leg tie — ending the Spanish side’s hopes of adding to its record six Europa League titles.
Then, West Ham knocked out French club Lyon 4-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinals, thanks to decisive goals from Craig Dawson, Declan Rice and Bowen — despite having played with 10 men during the second half in the first leg.
“To have that opportunity against Lyon and to beat them and go through was probably the best feeling ever,” Bowen says.
It seems as though the stars have aligned for the draw against Eintracht Frankfurt, given that the previous time both clubs met was West Ham’s last European semifinal in 1976.
Like West Ham, Eintracht Frankfurt is a team to be reckoned with, having previously beaten favorites Barcelona at the Camp Nou stadium in the quarterfinals.
“They’re to be feared but I think we are as well,” Bowen says of the draw. “You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself … you’re two games away from a final. It’s an exciting time, I for one am buzzing,” he adds. “It’s a special game coming up.”
West Ham has never played in the Champions League, and their last European win was when they lifted the Intertoto Cup in 1999.
Bowen says his team won’t stop chasing a Champions League qualification. With four games still to play, West Ham is eight points behind fourth-place Arsenal.
“People writing us off is lovely for me because you like proving people wrong all the time,” Bowen says. “As a club we’ll always fight and we want to be in that fourth spot, and there’s no reason why we can’t be.”
‘Hard work does beat talent’
As a youngster, Bowen was told he wasn’t good enough to play professional football.
After a spate of unsuccessful trials at Aston Villa and Cardiff City, his childhood dream looked to be slipping out of reach.
“To be honest, I think what I’d been through going through trials and not knowing where I was going to be, it was just a case of enjoying my football and see what happens,” says Bowen. “I had a slice of luck, people know people in the game.”
He eventually broke into the first team at non-league side Hereford United when he was 17, but his ambitions took another knock when his home club financially folded in 2014.
When asked how he pushed through he says, “I think just for the love of the game and love of … playing for my boyhood club.”
“I had no bills or nothing to pay out for, but you know, you look at some of the players who were playing … that had mortgages and kids to pay for. It must have been hard for them,” he adds. “I had no fear, no responsibility.”
At the age of 17 Bowen signed with Hull City, where he played for the Under-18 team for a few years.
“My family didn’t want me to move so far away at 17, but moving that far at such a young age, I learned so many life experiences and matured off the pitch, and I think that maturity went onto the pitch as well and no obstacle appeared too high,” Bowen told West Ham’s website.
“Looking back on it now, I’m glad I went further away from home.”
He was itching to play for Hull City’s first team, but saw his hopes challenged by more experienced forwards, including Adama Diomande and Nikica Jelavic.
Bowen finally made his Premier League debut for Hull in August 2016, although the club was then relegated in May 2017.
Bowen spent a few more years at Hull polishing his game, before signing with West Ham three years later.
Reflecting on his journey he tells CNN, “I think hard work does beat talent.”
“It’s about taking your chance and I think you can get all the luck in the world, but I think if you’re not ready to be ready at the time that you need to be, then you won’t do well.
“I think (it) just shows (the) mental strength I’ve got and the resilience I’ve got,” he says. “No matter how many times something goes wrong, there’s always going to be light at the end of the tunnel.
“I look back on that now and think thank God I kept playing and put my mind to it and I had my family around me to support me, to get me to where I am now.”
Like father like son
The West Ham forward attributes much of his success to his father, Sam Bowen.
A retired non-league Welsh footballer, Sam was once on the verge of signing with West Ham at the behest of then-manager Harry Redknapp, according to the club’s website.
He enjoyed a career as a striker for clubs including Worcester City, Forest Green Rovers and Leominster Town.
“I mean, he’s done everything,” Bowen says of his father. “He’s seen the highs, the lows of my career, so you know, he’s everything to me and he’s been there every step of the way for me.
“As much as he praises me, he’s also my number one critic as well. You know when I don’t play well or something, he’d be the first one to tell me. I’d prefer that than him just telling me how good I am.”
Bowen grew up on a farm in Herefordshire, England, and has memories of pushing wheelbarrows of concrete up and down potato fields — an exercise indicative of his father’s unique training style.
“It’s a bit different to what you’re probably used to seeing pre-season … but that’s my dad, he’s old school. He’s different, he doesn’t want me to be the same as everyone else.”
Bowen explains his father’s mantra is to have “a reverse gear.”
“No matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s about pushing forwards,” adds Bowen.
“I think that’s worked a lot for my mind as well; I’m resilient, I’m never beaten, I think it’s just hard work and I think that’s why the work I put on the pitch gets noticed by the fans … and I think that’s come from a young age.”
Underdog turned rising star
As he’s risen through the ranks of English football Bowen has been likened to Premier League strikers such as Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, both of whom have enjoyed later success after their days as underdogs in the early stages of their careers.
“I think the talent they’ve got is unquestionable, they’re unbelievable two strikers but I think the hard work they’ve got and the character they’ve got within themselves pushes them even more,” Bowen says.
When it comes to players in attacking positions Bowen counts Lionel Messi and David Beckham as sources of inspiration, but he says Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah currently represents the gold standard.
“I think that the goals he scores, you know, when he gets a chance, nine times out of 10 it’s in the back of the net, the work he does off the ball as well,” says Bowen.
“When we played against them, I wasn’t watching him when I was playing because that would be wrong to say, but I noticed the work he does off the ball.”
Salah has scored 30 goals for Liverpool across the Premier League and the Champions League this season, as well as making 13 assists.
“I think consistency is a big word. I think especially in (an) attacking position, people expect you to produce goals or set up goals for your teammates and that comes with being an attacker, so definitely scoring goals helps with the confidence,” Bowen says of Salah. “I think it just comes from standards within yourself that you set.”
West Ham won their home Premier League match against Liverpool 3-2 this season, having lost the game at Anfield 1-0.
As the season comes to a close, Bowen says he has also noticed the level of consistency that’s been shown by Liverpool’s forward players like Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.
“I think you look at every front three that Liverpool have and the work they do off the ball and we played them especially the way they pressed from the front as well, their front three isn’t just a case of they don’t defend; they just attack. They do attack and defend and you know, they get their rewards from it.”
From scoring nine goals in the Premier League this season, to tallying three winners for West Ham’s Europa League campaign, Bowen is having a season to remember.
“The dream is a reality now. Growing up, it was ‘I wanted to be a footballer’, it’s football or nothing really,” Bowen says. “It’s one hell of a journey and it’s gone so quick.
“I’ve blinked and it’s fast-forwarded eigh years, but (I’m) loving every minute of it.”
But there’s one goal that he hasn’t ticked off his list.
“Of course playing for England is a target of mine for sure, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Bowen tells CNN. “I think I’m on the right path, so whether it happens now or in the future, I don’t know, all I can do is play my game and do everything I can to try to please the England manager [Gareth Southgate].”
Asked if he hopes to join Southgate’s squad at the FIFA World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in Qatar in December, Bowen says: “One million percent.”
“Playing for your country in the best tournament; I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it, because why wouldn’t I? It is still a long way to go but that’s the dream.”
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