The massive improvement that West Ham United have undergone with David Moyes at the helm has been nothing short of remarkable.
Football fans, or sport fans in general, often have short memories. It is why when David Moyes said “that’s what I do, I win” before the start of his second managerial stint at West Ham began, most snorted with laughter.
After all his disastrous spells at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and even Sunderland were still fresh in the memory. It is why, after he led the Hammers to Premier League safety in 2018, he was not offered a new contract. Instead, the club turned to Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean’s first stint in English football is well remembered, as he led Manchester City to league and domestic cup success. However, his time at West Ham was an unmitigated disaster.
Still, few if any thought going back to the man he replaced was the right idea. Would he really bring about wholesale change at a club which so badly needed it? Could he take West Ham further up the table? Would the owners’ dreams of playing in Europe be fulfilled with Moyes at the helm?
In hindsight, the answer was a resounding yes. West Ham missed out on fourth place by a whisker last season; their time in the Europa League, however, has so far been rewarding.
And, after inflicting a 3-2 defeat on Liverpool this weekend, the club now sit joint-third in the league table.
Why then, were there so many doubts about his suitability for the West Ham job? To answer that question, we’ll need to go back to a few years ago.
When David Moyes was signed to be Manchester United’s manager, he was handed a six-year deal. However, his time at the club was anything but a success.
As such, it was little surprise when the club exercised a break clause in his contract and sacked him. Some might say that is the kind of decisiveness United lack in terms of their current managerial situation. But I digress.
Anyhow, Moyes’ post-United career did not get better. His time at Real Sociedad was a mixed bag at best, and his time at Sunderland saw the Black Cats relegated.
As such, when West Ham came calling in 2017, there was plenty of surprise. However, it was clear even then that the man who once built a long-term project at Everton was now seen only as a relegation firefighting option.
This was duly confirmed when, despite leading West Ham to safety, he was moved aside for Pellegrini. When that didn’t work out, they turned to Moyes again – crucially, again as a short-term option.
It’s worth remembering that Moyes was first given an 18-month deal upon his return to the Hammers. The club did not plan long-term with him at the helm.
However, a 2020-21 season that exceeded all expectations saw him handed a three-year deal before this season. And no one can say it wasn’t deserved.
Indeed, prior to Moyes’ arrival at the club, there was a clear sense of drift setting in. West Ham fans were hugely dissatisfied with the direction of the club and there was ire aimed at owners David Gold andDavid Sullivan.
Fan protests before games were a norm, and there was a fear that West Ham would become a club obsessed with Premier League survival and little else.
However, David Moyes changed that in record time. Most expected the 2020-21 season to be about consolidation rather than fighting for survival. It turned out to be so much more; and for that, the manager deserves credit.
The apathy against ownership hasn’t gone away. But Moyes has brought a clear-cut strategy to the side’s transfer policy – and that has paid big dividends.
The two-pronged strategy consists of buying the best performers in the Championship – English football’s second division – while also scouting the lesser-known European markets.
Hence the arrival of Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and Nikola Vlasic from the Czech and Russian leagues. And also the signing of Said Benhrama and Jarrod Bowen, the latter of whom has become a mainstay in the line-up.
Kurt Zouma’s signing from Chelsea was a notable exception. But his aerial prowess fits perfectly with a Moyes side – and has made West Ham even tougher to beat in the air.
The emergence of Declan Rice as a midfield monster and Michail Antonio’s relentless forward play also helped. But good players only get you so far.
Moyes’ West Ham work hard off the ball and are clinical on it. It’s why they are currently one of those sides no one fancies coming up against.
However, if there’s something else to be learned about how the Hammers got it right with Moyes, it’s the idea of getting the right manager – and why it is so difficult.
In 2014, Moyes was seen as a manager in decline after his United spell ended. His subsequent jobs supposedly proved that. But here he is, mixing it up with the likes of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea – on a budget that is shoestring compared to theirs.
What’s more, Moyes is doing well despite the fact that the club, at top management level, aren’t exactly renowned for good decisions.
However, what is key about their approach is that they’re happy to give Moyes time – and also back him to do the right thing.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that other managers might not have done as well as the Scotsman has at West Ham. And in the process, he’s proved what many knew all along – that he’s very good at this football managing business.