There is nothing quite like salvaging a home draw against soon-to-be-doomed Stoke City to stir the loins, or so it seems. Forty-eight hours after Andy Carroll cancelled out a Peter Crouch goal assisted by a Joe Hart error – is there anything more definitively English? – The Times’ well-connected Matt Hughes reported that David Moyes had won his latest power battle with West Ham.
‘West Ham United have abandoned plans to appoint a director of football with the club willing to back David Moyes’ judgment in the transfer market as they prepare to appoint him as manager on a permanent contract,’ Hughes wrote.
It’s a shame that Darron Gibson might soon be off to prison then, though it does provide a handy route out of League One for Bryan Oviedo, Donald Love and Paddy McNair. Throw enough money at Marouane Fellaini and surely he could be tempted. The second sequels of rom-coms are notoriously the strongest.
It’s at this point that you need to take several steps back to capture all of Moyes’ good fortune in the same shot. Having resigned as Sunderland manager in May 2017 after the club had finished bottom of the Premier League, he was rewarded with a promotion less than six months later. Now his name has been written in pen.
Moyes has been no disaster at West Ham; it would be unfair to pretend otherwise. He has got a tune out of the previously disillusioned Marko Arnautovic, moving him to the centre-forward role that has reduced the demand on the Austrian to track back. He also memorably beat Chelsea in December, which always goes down well in those parts.
But there have been as many setbacks as steps forward. That win against Chelsea followed a run of one point from Moyes’ first four games in charge, and since it the victory West Ham have only beaten Watford (12th), Huddersfield (15th), Southampton (18th), Stoke (19th) and West Brom (20th). Their FA Cup campaign was entirely dismal, beating Shrewsbury after extra-time in a third round replay before losing 2-0 to League One Wigan.
It is also only five weeks since this club was in open civil war, with supporters entering the pitch and attempting to storm the directors’ box. Those protests were evidently fuelled by top-level incompetence more than Moyes’ own performance, but the 4-1 defeat at Swansea and 3-0 loss to Burnley were clearly the immediate catalyst. The Burnley game was described by a non-hyperbolic West Ham-supporting friend of mine as the most dispiriting home performance he had ever seen live.
The numbers don’t make for much better reading either. Since Moyes was appointed on November 5, West Ham rank 19th for chances created, and only Stoke have allowed more shots per game over that same period. Slaven Bilic was sacked after winning four and drawing three of his last ten matches in charge. West Ham have won two and drawn three of their last ten matches under Moyes, and he is reportedly dictating terms to the board. And this is progress?
It is one thing to make Moyes manager – and there is a reasonable argument for continuity over the summer – but another entirely to abandon the plan to appoint a director of football on his say so. It shows an institutional weakness that reveals plenty about West Ham’s continued struggle to achieve sustainable progress.
More than any other club in the Premier League, West Ham are in desperate need of a sporting director. There is a lot of miscommunication – and in some cases propaganda – about the legitimacy of the role, but when used properly it allows for greater separation between owners and team affairs and continuity in the case of high managerial turnover. Sporting directors also ensure a consistency in player recruitment that does not depend solely on the manager in charge, and oversee the academy structure to help create pathways to the first team.
That last paragraph identifies and exposes West Ham’s failings under Davids Gold and Sullivan and Karren Brady. The best football club owners – like referees – are the ones you don’t notice. Sullivan’s own brand of rampant self-aggrandisement has done as much damage to West Ham’s reputation as his money has helped them.
There are concerns too about Moyes’ own aptitude in the transfer market. His Manchester United targets were virtually limited to two players he had managed before (Fellaini and Leighton Baines), while at Sunderland he signed ten players on permanent deals in nine months. He had previously managed seven of them, and the other three (Didier Ndong, Papy Djilobodji and Mika) were abject failures who cost £27m in transfer fees alone. This should not be persuasive evidence for greater control.
West Ham’s hierarchy have consistently mistaken notoriety for standing, and grand gestures for leadership. They are – or should be – custodians of the club. Allowing another manager to spend what he wants on who he wants only weakens their status as guardians. A manager who has lasted less than a year in each of his last three jobs will be handing out contracts three or four times that length.
As Gary Neville wrote for the Daily Telegraph in January 2015, ‘the era of the gaffer is over’. Three years later, nobody at West Ham seems to have got the memo. Supporters hopeful that the club’s owners can learn from their own repeated mistakes would be forgiven for more irritation. Welcome to West Ham, where it is forever year zero.