West Ham and David Moyes should stay in this marriage of convenience for now
West Ham United are back in the bottom three, but despite the reflex reaction to want to sack the manager, David Moyes is probably as good as they’ll get.
Sometimes, the nature of a defeat can be worse than the actual fact of the defeat itself. It wasn’t so much that West Ham United lost to Tottenham Hotspur; they’d failed to win any of their previous three against a team for whom a win was somehow enough to put them back into the Premier League’s top four. To lose away to Spurs was not the biggest issue.
The biggest issue was the nature of the team’s surprisingly supine performance. Not only was this a derby game, but results elsewhere that weekend had already pushed them back down into the relegation places. Somewhere between the rivalry of this fixture and the severity of West Ham’s league position, the team should have been able to pull something out from somewhere. Maybe not a win, but at least a little stomach for a fight.
But they couldn’t, and this in itself matters. Already that weekend, Everton, Bournemouth and even Southampton had picked up three points, while Nottingham Forest picked up one from their match against Manchester City. It’s getting to the point of the season at which teams start seeming to remember just how important it is to lift their performances. Wins start occasionally coming from unusual situations.
And West Ham have been through this sort of reckoning once this year already. It’s only been a month since Everton arrived at The London Stadium for a match that was couched in very similar terms to their next, against Nottingham Forest. While most eyes were trained on the Goodisonian train wreck that was slowly unravelling before our very eyes, the home side were also in a sticky spot, going into that game without a win in their previous seven in the league.
Knives were starting to sharpen for David Moyes, but beating Everton caused them to be sheathed again through successive draws with Newcastle United and Chelsea. But this seems to have been a temporary state of affairs. All it took was the defeat at Spurs and the talk has started to amplify again because in a world which is losing its imagination, that often seems to be the only solution.
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Like an uncontrollable reflex reaction, Moyes out has started again, but this happening yet again feels more like a cri de couer rather than a specific call for change because of a specific issue with the coaching or management of the club. It seems very common at such times to talk in generalities such as the manager having ‘taken them as far as he can’, or being ‘tactically inept’, perhaps even of him having ‘lost the dressing room’ and other such generalisms.
Perhaps these come about because we don’t understand the complex mechanisms of football club politics and changing room politics as we as we think we might. David Moyes played more than 500 professional games throughout an 18-year playing career. He’s in his second spell with West Ham, who are his sixth club in a managerial career that has lasted a full quarter of a century. His last two seasons has seen him take them to sixth and seventh place in the Premier League, and to the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Managers can become dated and stale. This much is obvious and true. But the rate at which they seem to be diminished these days suggests that rather than become dated and stale more quickly than ever, perhaps the issue is with everybody else on the outside having completely lost touch with anything like a sensible sense of proportion or any sense of having patience.
West Ham are in a bad spot. After the defeat, Declan Rice said: “When you play with five at the back and the three, like we set up today, maybe our strikers felt a bit isolated when we got the ball up to them — they didn’t really have enough around them, not enough support.” This might be something and nothing, but coming from the captain and most prized asset it does add to the feeling that this is not a particularly happy club.
But what would the sense be in getting rid of Moyes at this stage of the season? Southampton and Leeds United have both jettisoned their managers in the last couple of weeks, and neither have been conspicuously successful in finding replacements. Leeds have opted for Javi Gracia, who is, well, a football manager, and Southampton seem as likely as not to give the job until Ruben Selles until the end of the season.
It seems doubtful that this was the plan for either club when they sacked their previous incumbents, but the one thing that these two managerial sackings seemed to have in common was a lack of forward planning. And it is absolutely worth asking why West Ham could expect to do any better in the managerial transfer market, should they jettison David Moyes. With their 60,000-capacity stadium and London base, West Ham could be a real magnet for ambitious managers looking to make a mark in the Premier League.
But no club in their current position is going to be anything like such an attractive proposition. Everybody knows that the stakes are high. The money and prestige that are lost with relegation are already public knowledge, and the race to prevent that from happening is a serious business.
When Arne Slot became the third manager to turn Leeds down following the sacking of Jesse Marsch, he was explicit in mentioning that he is currently involved in a title race in the Netherlands. Feyenoord are currently three points clear at the top of the Eredivisie table, and they’ve only won the league title there once this century. Why on earth would Slot surrender that for an attritional scrap against relegation which may well result in him ending up as the punchline to a joke, should he not be able to arrest a slide that started way before he arrived?
West Ham would be a similar position were they to sack Moyes, and it should already be perfectly evident that this would not be a decision that the club would want to take.
Without the certainty of knowing who a replacement would be, they would be taking a huge leap into the dark when they already have a manager with 25 years’ experience in place. Further decisions can be made at the end of the season. For now, the speculation will achieve nothing when all eyes need to be focused on staying in the Premier League.
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