We all owe David Moyes an apology. And by we, I mean anyone who ever doubted his abilities as a manager or took pleasure by scoffing at his failures. I put myself in that category, not necessarily to the same degree as some others but I did publicly question whether he “found his level” at Everton after failing at United. For that I apologize and so should everyone else. Under Moyes, West Ham are revitalized, performing well and sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premier League. The project is far from completion, there is a lot of work still to be done but it’s on the right path. And Moyes should be credited for that change.
Moyes never doubted his abilities nor his “level”. He knew deep down that he was a good manager, but he fell foul to something that brings down a lot of managers – circumstance. In the eight years since leaving Everton, Moyes has been a victim of circumstance on more than a few occasions which has rapidly tarnished the reputation he built for himself first at Deepdale (Preston NE) then at Goodison Park.
It started with a dream move to Manchester United as the chosen successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. On the surface, the move made a lot of sense. Moyes had consistently overperformed with the financially strapped Everton, relying heavily on his coaching and man management skills to get the best out of his sub-par squads as opposed to buying success through the transfer market. Moving to the more affluent Manchester United; a club that can attract the best talents in the game, should have given him the opportunity to build something special but circumstances beyond his control would prevent him from ultimately being successful.
In truth, Moyes inherited a mess from Sir Alex. It’s unlikely that the latter did that deliberately, but he certainly knew that he wasn’t handing over the club set for success. Indeed, Sir Alex had meant to retire two years previously according to several reports but was persuaded to stay on. In those two years the squad hadn’t improve significantly with only Ashley Young, Robin Van Persie and a very inexperienced David De Gea arriving but it did age badly. By the time Moyes stepped into Old Trafford, most of the key members of the first team were on the wrong side of 30. Ferdinand, Vidic, Giggs, Evra were all coming towards the end of their careers whilst Berbatov had moved on and the influential duo of Van Der Sar and Scholes retired. The squad Moyes inherited was unbalanced, over paid and tired. Efforts were made to correct this but the inefficiencies of Edward Woodward in the transfer market were plain to see as United missed out on target after target. Only Mauroune Fellaini would arrive that summer; hardly a transformational player even at his best.
Granted the expectation place on Moyes to live up to Ferguson played a significant role in his downfall but in truth it only added to the problems he inherited when he started. Moyes was always seen as Ferguson’s choice, not the fans first choice nor even the clubs who would have preferred a more blockbuster name. In the end, the mountain proved too steep for Moyes to conquer and he fell hard less than 10 months into his six-year deal. It’s only now with hindsight that we can look back and understand that his failure was not necessarily of his own doing. Bigger name managers like Van Gaal and Mourinho have come and gone at Old Trafford without failing to conquer the same mountain.
Burned badly by the United experience, Moyes moved to Spain to join Real Sociedad having been sold the vision of the club by president Jokin Aperribay only to find that what he was buying into was not what was expected. Circumstances and expectations of what Moyes could deliver changed rapidly during his first six months in charge. Gone was the understanding by the Scot that he would be afforded time to remould and reprogram the squad in his vision and in its place was unrealistic ambitions including challenging for honours right away. Even if Moyes was afforded more time to craft something from nothing, Aperribay’s delusions of grandeur would have crippled his chances before long. The axe fell almost a year to the day of his arrival.
Returning to the UK was never going to be easy especially with his spell at United still fresh in the mind and now a secondary “failure” in Spain with Sociedad. Moyes looked for a redemption project, somewhere without high expectations or a generous war chest to bankroll massive change. He needed a club that needed him and his ability to get the best out of its existing players. Sunderland appeared to be that challenge having spent the better part of the previous five seasons fighting tooth and nail to save themselves from Premier League relegation. Moyes presumably expected to have to put out a few fires at Sunderland but I don’t think he expected to walk into the entire house engulfed in flames. Anyone who watched a single episode of Netflix’s ” Sunderland Til i Die” documentary will know exactly what i mean. Two points from the first ten games told the story of a squad bereaved of confidence, lacking quality and full of overpaid disengaged footballers. With little money to overhaul the squad, Moyes struggled to turn things around and paid the price with a costly relegation, his first in management. Questions were asked over who he did bring in – namely the £20m spent on Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong who failed to add anything significantly to the troubled squad but it mattered little in the grander scheme of things.
Licking his wounds, Moyes moved to West Ham to help steer them away from relegation but that was not good enough for the Chuckle Brothers (David Gold and David Sullivan) who had their eyes on a more marquee manager in Manuel Pellegrini. Moyes watched in disgust as the owners ran out the clock on his 6-month deal in favour of the Chilean. It took them 19 months to realize the error of their ways and reappoint Moyes after Pellegrini burned through a small fortune only to deliver zero progress. Tails between their legs, Moyes was given an 18 month contract this time and more importantly control to put things right at the London Stadium.
This season, West Ham have been transformed under Moyes propelling them into 6th place in the table (at the time of writing). The changes he has implemented are apparent. Defensively West Ham under Moyes are more compact and disciplined than before with the towering Angelo Ogbonna marshalling the backline. Clever acquisitions in the midfield, namely Sourek and Bowen offer more attacking threat at pace allowing for a better turnover of the ball whilst the more defensively minded Declan Rice prowls in front of the back four. Set pieces have been worked on extensively on the training field both defensively and offensively leading to less goals conceded and more scored at the other end. All in all West Ham are a difficult side to face which has translated into their current league position.
Moyes may have finally found his club and now has a chance to rebuild that somewhat damaged reputation. It’s been a long and treacherous road for the Scot who remained confident, at least externally, about where he belonged and what he brought to the table. The moral lesson for us all should be to not jump to quick conclusions and instead look at the bigger picture. Perhaps if we had all done that back in 2017, Moyes wouldn’t have been put through the ringer as much as he was following his United exit. Maybe indeed he would have bounced back quicker if we had supported him rather than tearing him down. That’s our mistake, our misgivings, our moment of shame. For that alone, we should collectively say “Sorry David”.