A thousand matches later and David Moyes finally has his crowning glory

David Moyes could celebrate a first major trophy of his career  (Getty)
David Moyes could celebrate a first major trophy of his career (Getty)

There were two men running free in the Fiorentina half. First Jarrod Bowen, en route to winning West Ham United their first trophy in 43 years.

And then David Moyes, sprinting onto the Prague pitch in celebration, arms stretched out wide. It was a run that was 25 years in the making, a journey that took him from the Auto Windscreens Shield to the Europa Conference League.

Few clubs have waited longer for the emotional release of securing silverware. Few managers, either. It began in a derided knockout competition for Moyes, the Auto Windscreens where Preston North End, newly under a 34-year-old centre-back, faced Macclesfield in January 1998.

A quarter of a century later and, in game number 1,097 of a marathon managerial career, Moyes had a major honour he could call his own. He had credited Sir Alex Ferguson with the Community Shield his Manchester United claimed, perhaps thinking there would be further glory for him at Old Trafford.

There wasn’t. But if Moyes has long been destined to be remembered as the man miscast as Ferguson’s successor, he has other places in footballing history. The best Everton manager since Howard Kendall is in select company. Like Ron Greenwood, like John Lyall but like no one else, Moyes has won a major trophy with, and for, West Ham.

The ungainly, unglamorous figure bouncing up and down in front of their fans finally has the crowning glory he has long lacked. It may be “only” the Conference League and West Ham’s resources perhaps dictate they ought to triumph, but Moyes had been the manager whose considerable achievements lacked that defining feat.

He has ten top-eight finishes in the Premier League with either West Ham or Everton and if taking the Merseysiders to fourth in 2005 involved greater alchemy, the reality is that two clubs who used to have more hope of silverware now operate in an environment where the superpowers sweep up the prizes, even those they scarcely want.

Successive European runs have shown what the medals mean to West Ham: for Moyes, sent off in the semi-final last year for rather ignominiously booting the ball at a ball boy, there is a happier ending. The Scot had called this the biggest game of his career and, before the night finished, he was placing his medal around the neck of his 87-year-old father, David Sr.

He saw names being etched into West Ham folklore. Only Alan Sealey had scored the goal to win West Ham a European trophy until Bowen burst clear. Only Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds had captained them to silverware until Declan Rice, almost certainly in his valedictory act, joined an elite band.

Happy Hammer: Moyes lifts the Europa Conference League trophy after his side’s last-gasp win against Fiorentina (Getty)
Happy Hammer: Moyes lifts the Europa Conference League trophy after his side’s last-gasp win against Fiorentina (Getty)

Rice will probably leave. For much of the season, there has been a debate if Moyes should, and for other reasons.

West Ham underachieved in the Premier League, spending the best part of £200m, finishing 14th. The 60-year-old was taken aback last season when Jurgen Klopp informed him he was the oldest manager in the division and grateful when Roy Hodgson relieved him of that mantle; the more pertinent issue is whether he is deemed yesterday’s manager now. Certainly Fiorentina out-passed West Ham for swathes of the final. They looked the team with the more progressive ethos, the side with the manager, in Vincenzo Italiano, bound for better things.

But Moyes’ management has always been based in part on grit and grind, on putting in hard work in hard times. It hasn’t always reaped a reward but West Ham stayed in the game.

There weren’t VAR penalties or the Europa Conference League when Moyes started out in the Auto Windscreens Shield but Said Benrahma scored from the spot. Moyes had led in a final before – Louis Saha’s goal after 25 seconds in the 2009 FA Cup was a record until Saturday – and, when Giacomo Bonaventura cancelled out the opener, he could have been forgiven for having flashbacks to Chelsea’s comeback against Everton 14 years ago.

But not this time. The Conference League was not actually created for Premier League or Serie A clubs but for Fiorentina and West Ham, starved of honours for two and four decades respectively, it had a purpose, a chance to create memories and Bowen did. And so on a night when a section of West Ham’s fans disgraced themselves, pelting Fiorentina captain Cristiano Biraghi with missiles, leaving him with blood running down his head and neck, their manager got the reward that had long eluded him.

For much of Moyes’s quarter of a century, he has seen the major prizes go to the coaching Galacticos. He had earned his peers’ approval, being voted the LMA’s manager of the year three times, but as he stood on the podium, tugging at the gold medal Aleksander Ceferin had placed around his neck, Moyes had something he had been searching for since over a thousand games ago.