What now for David Moyes?
The year is 2018. The 2017/18 Premier League season has drawn to a close, and Manchester United manager, David Moyes, is already drafting plans for the next season, the last under the contract he signed upon replacing Sir Alex Ferguson way back when.
Except, it hasn’t quite panned out like that.
As you all know, Moyes didn’t make it through a full season at Old Trafford, and in the meantime endured progressively more abject spells at Real Sociedad and Sunderland. Most recently, he has been let go by West Ham after two thirds of a season at the London Stadium.
This West Ham departure feels very different to the United, Sociedad and Sunderland exits. Moyes hasn’t embarrassed himself at West Ham, the fans weren’t baying for his blood (certainly not as much as they were for the board’s), and despite some weird transfer dealings – bringing in Patrice Evra was undeniably odd – the football hasn’t been as ugly as it could have been.
Given the context, and there is an awful lot of context to bear in mind, Moyes has actually done a good job. On arriving in East London, Moyes was aware his reputation had taken a bludgeoning in recent seasons and was in need of some restoration. He has since repaired his reputation somewhat. At least, as much as was possible in less than a full season in charge of a club in such turmoil.
There are plenty of things Moyes has done well at West Ham:
First of all, he kept them up. It’s a fair argument that with their resources and squad they should never have been in danger of going down. Stranger things have happened in football though.
Secondly, despite costing a club record £20+ million, it wasn’t until Moyes came in that Marko Arnautović started proving his worth. Arthur Masuaku is another player whose contribution was transformed by Moyes. He’s got the best out of many individuals who were previously struggling.
Finally, West Ham United throughout the 2017/18 season have been an absolutely toxic club. Some of the treatment of the fans by the board has been utterly disgraceful; the lies and mishandlings surrounding the stadium move have poisoned the atmosphere in the ground; under Slaven Bilić, the squad were obviously uninterested and shockingly unfit. This noxious cocktail of fan unrest, boardroom f**kery and squad apathy meant that Moyes was entering a hornet’s nest and has emerged relatively unstung. That is an achievement in itself.
Having said all that, I can fully understand why West Ham have decided to let Moyes go. Despite the decent job done he’s done, his task was essentially as firefighting one. That simply doesn’t tally up with the image, or ‘brand’, the powers that be at West Ham are trying to sell.
The abandonment of Upton Park was done under a banner of ambition, as promises of investment, competitiveness and progress were fed to fans. So far none of these ideals have been upheld by the West Ham board, hence the unrest, protests and pitch invasions.
Moyes doesn’t suit the image they’re seeking; his appointment was born of desperation. I’m sure he understood that at the time, and no one can argue that the appointment of his successor, Manuel Pellegrini, isn’t a much more progressive pick.
Cutting Moyes loose in favour of a Premier League winning manager with a less pragmatic and conservative style of play may go some way towards easing the tensions between the fans and board. Not only that, getting rid of Moyes doesn’t actually cost West Ham anything as he wasn’t sacked, his contract just expired. The board were smart enough to avoid the heavy pay-off situation Everton have found themselves in with Sam Allardyce.
This may all feel harsh on Moyes, but that’s modern football and he understands that. He must have known going into West Ham, when he was only given a short-term deal, that this is how it was always likely to end.
But where does it leave him now? His credibility is still smoking, but it’s no longer on fire.
Looking at the current crop of Premier League clubs where vacancies may be available, it’s hard to see where he fits in. If Moyes wants to escape the firefighting rat race, his options are very limited at this level.
For a ‘project’ job, and a chance to fully restore his reputation, dropping down to the Championship may be Moyes’ best bet.