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Duncan Alexander: Moyes' Redemption


Duncan Alexander: Moyes' Redemption

David Moyes has West Ham firing on all cylinders, but can the Hammers keep it going?

THE perception of time in the Premier League can be curiously loose. The competition is still viewed by some as a new toy of entryism even as we luxuriate in its 30th season. That’s longer than the period between the first English league season in 1888-89 and the final campaign before the start of the First World War, or the period in between 1918 and 1939, yet you’ll see both of those periods happily referenced as specific and definitive moments in the sport’s history. In truth the Premier League has been going so long that we are into our third decade of David Moyes’ career in it, each one a wildly differing journey.

The 2000s saw an eager Moyes build his top-flight reputation at Everton, guiding the club back to a semblance of competitiveness on a restricted budget. Everton finished as one of the top four clubs in England 33 times between 1890 and 1988 but have done so just once since, and that was in 2004-05 under Moyes. He then added fifth placed finishes in 2007-08 and 2008-09, which, at the shimmering peak of the Big Four era, was about as good as it got.

That meant that by the time that Alex Ferguson’s time at Manchester United drew to a close in 2013, Moyes was the chosen successor at Old Trafford. Your Job Now Is To Stand By The New Manager. Except, no-one outside of Guy Roux’s circle of close friends knew how a club coming out of a long dynasty could handle patience, and it turned out the answer was: not so well. After being dispensed with less than a season into his six year contract, Moyes spent the remainder of the decade trying to recalibrate his working methods. Leading clubs still absolutely trusted that the Scot was potentially one of the best managers in the game, but it just didn’t click. First, a doomed continental experiment with Real Sociedad, like some sort of Instagram-era Howard Kendall, then up to Sunderland, then a first, largely dreary, spell at West Ham.

At none of those organisations did Moyes look capable of rolling back the years to his seamless Everton operating system. Born just three months after Jose Mourinho in 1963, one of Moyes’ similarly underwhelming successors at Old Trafford, both men spent the 2010s demonstrating that their methods were becoming more and more archaic. They were the last wave of the baby boomers and everyone knew it was time up for boomers. Or was it?

David Moyes’ return to West Ham in 2019 to replace Manuel Pellegrini, aka the man who replaced David Moyes, seemed as underwhelming as it was unusual. A bullish Moyes lobbed out bullish claims, insisting “that's what I do, I win,” even as his first (half) season back at the club saw them complete 74% of their passes and average 39% possession in Premier League games, both figures lower than his team’s numbers in his previous time at West Ham. As the cursed 2020s began, some of the sport’s biggest thinkers continued to dismiss Moyes as yesterday’s man(ager). And who could blame them.    

But 2020-21 saw a reborn Moyes guide West Ham to sixth place, only the 21st time they had ever finished as one of the top half dozen clubs in England, an achievement that earned them entry to the Europa League. Anyone predicting how the 2021-22 Premier League would go had to wrestle with fears that the previous campaign was just some sort of psychic fluke, along with the devastation that a fixture-heavy European campaign would unleash on a numerically limited squad. So, hats off to the loyalists who believed West Ham could continue to progress under a reborn Moyes, because that’s what is happening and the 3-2 against Liverpool in the last round of Premier League games was noteworthy without being a surprise, just as Moyes likes it.

And here’s the genius of David Moyes in late 2021: he’s married old school set piece prowess with clever squad building with our old friend hard work with a subtle layer of progressive football that continues to unsettle rival teams. West Ham 2021-22 are illusive and slippery; concentrate on their (admittedly effective) set-piece ability and you miss the fact that they are fourth for open play xG in the Premier League this season. The only clubs above them in that list are arguably the three best club sides in Europe, along with Bayern Munich, right now. That’s the company Moyes and West Ham are keeping at the moment, and it feels fine.

Defensively this West Ham side work like the sort of dogs that might now roam London Stadium had it been left unoccupied after London 2012. Only Leicester and Liverpool have made more shot ending high turnovers than Moyes’ side, and no team has scored more than the three goals his team have registered from such pressing situations this season. All David Moyes needs to make his work successful is to convince his teams to work hard. And now they are.

We were told by the most successful manager in English club history to stand by Moyes and none of us did so now we are all scrambling to pretend it never happened. No-one really thought the Olympic Stadium could become a footballing fortress and no-one really thought David Moyes could once again become one of the game’s most impressive managers, but that’s where we’re at. Your job now is to get behind it.

 

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Duncan Alexander
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