David Moyes is a divisive figure, as all famous managers should be. There are some who openly despise him, for his dour and antagonistic demeanour; for his failures and the hubris shown throughout those failures. Others merely dislike the 58 year old Glaswegian quite a lot.
Moyes should be grateful then that his occupation does not amount to a popularity contest because that would surely see him cast into punditry and – if very fortunate – coaching in the hinterland of the Championship. He should also be thankful that coaching at the highest echelon is no longer a results business. It should be and it certainly used to be, but that is no longer the case. Results get you fired, not hired, and what really matters to ensure you remain employable in a fiercely competitive field is that you achieved something impressive once. If you did it once you can do it again and so desperate are clubs to stumble on the alchemy of a manager synching with a squad and making it better than the sum of its parts that they are willing to overlook pretty much anything that occurred thereafter.
We all know what occurred thereafter, after forging a collective spirit at Everton that saw them established as a Premier League top six side, a sustained achievement that led to three LMA Manager of the Year awards for Moyes and three times more Manager of the Month glassware than has ever been dished out to Jose Mourinho. First up was the impossible task of being handed Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy where the big boots he had to fill soon morphed into clown’s feet. In a disastrous ten month stint, the ‘Chosen One’ failed to secure Champions League football for the first time in two decades at Old Trafford while on a personal level Moyes endured a sharp reassessment of his capabilities that questioned his credentials to manage an elite club.
Where recently he was begrudgingly held in high esteem now he was the punchline to a hundred jokes and it didn’t help that Moyes had rubbed so many people up the wrong way down the years. Baiting him therefore became a national sport.
It was a wise move to escape the mockery and take up the reins at Real Sociedad, but though there were high points along the way in Spain he was still sacked a day shy of his one year anniversary to a chorus of chuckling back home. Moyes had horribly revealed his limitations and lack of nuance at United and now he’d shown his naivety abroad. Where was there left to go?
The answer, of course, was Sunderland and on paper at least it was a coupling that potentially suited both parties. For Moyes it was a chance at redemption, while the rebuilding work needed in the north-east mirrored the task at hand at Goodison Park way back in 2002. Should Moyes even half replicate what he achieved there then the Mackems were onto a winner.
Alas this was a very different David Moyes to the one who accompanied his bellicose self-belief to his opening press conference on Merseyside and declared the Toffees as the ‘people’s football club’. Just two weeks in to his tenure and with the season barely underway Moyes was already talking of the spectre of relegation and the long fight ahead and where once he was cock-sure now he was defeatist, worn down by the failures and jibes that had reduced his reputation to tatters. Somewhat inevitably, his self-prophesising pessimism spread to the players and played out through a thoroughly miserable campaign as Sunderland managed a woeful six wins from 38 and finished rock bottom. A comprehensively ill-judged recruitment drive in the summer also damned Moyes significantly.
In any other walk of life that would be that. Three strikes and you’re out. But that would be discounting the perverse rule of thumb mentioned above that has clubs viewing a successful past as a precursor to a successful future.
The appointment of Moyes as West Ham manager on November 7th brought utter despair to Hammers fans, a despondency that frankly they’ve endured enough of already, and even now, with signs of recovery evident at the London Stadium the forums are awash with doom and gloom. Once again Moyes should be grateful that his occupation doesn’t amount to a popularity contest.
If this hints at a charmed existence what can be stated with certainty is that he is now drinking in the last chance saloon and, should it go awry in east London, the currency Moyes carries from his Everton days will finally become as worthless as shilling and halfpennies.
Yet that is looking at it entirely negatively, whereas as stated there are genuine grounds for optimism right now for a club that was until recently descending into a full-blown crisis under Slaven Bilic. Moyes is deserving of credit for instilling organisation and balance, particularly at the back and consequently – against Chelsea and Arsenal of all teams – the Hammers managed consecutive clean sheets this month for the first time since early September. At the other end eight goals from their last three fixtures represents a third of their season’s total tally while revitalised performances from Ogbonna in defence, Masuaku in midfield, and record-signing Marko Arnautovic running the shows here, there and everywhere have resulted in crucial points being picked up. Prior to Moyes’ arrival West Ham appeared doomed. Now they’re on the front foot and up for the fight.
As it seems is Moyes himself. It took brave single-mindedness to drop Joe Hart while his comments prior to Christmas that he could ‘do any job in the world’ might have rightfully prompted hilarity, but also contrasts greatly to the down-at-heel grumblings that has become the norm in recent years. This was the old Moyes talking; the conceited braggart who carried Everton to surprising heights through sheer force of will.
Though it is admittedly still very early days what is particularly intriguing about West Ham’s resurgence is what it might afford the gruff Scot should it continue. It was unavoidable that he would have to lower his ambitions and find a niche beyond the top six and perhaps if he proves to be the Hammers’ saviour he might become the latest ‘firefighter’ in the vein of Big Sam and others. Only they do it through personality management: lifting morale and injecting belief and putting the smile back onto players’ faces. Moyes’ way will be one of pragmatism and extra homework.
It’s a unique niche should he carve it out and I suppose it has a place in the Premier League. As too has this most divisive of men.