The Zouma situation was simple and Moyes f***ed it

John Nicholson
Kurt Zouma

Kurt Zouma’s feline assault threw David Moyes into an unwanted spotlight last week. He and the club have and continue to handle the whole thing badly. Asked to explain why he had played Zouma against Watford, Moyes – who has something of a history of talking rubbish about things outside of football – gave incomprehensible answers that made as little sense as when, clearly confused, he talked about the need for ‘diversity’ to try explain why players who were not vaccinated could still play.

I’m sure Moyes is a perfectly decent bloke, but being in football since 1980 does not seem to have equipped him to deal with the real world without talking about the real world as though it is football. He seemed embarrassed and awkward throughout all his media duties, even though it wasn’t a complicated issue.

Graeme Souness, perhaps one of the least likely vegans and animal rights proponents, said it right.

“I’ve not no sympathy for him. The fact that they put it on social media, means they think there is nothing wrong with it. For me, I wouldn’t have played him again this year and if I was still a player, I wouldn’t want to play in a team with him. I think he deserves everything he gets, he’s abused an animal for entertainment in front of a child.”

Right on, G.

Now, what have you got to say, Davey?

“We’re so disappointed, it’s completely out of character from Kurt, we’ve never seen this in him,” which sounds like he’s defending a brutal tackle by a player who’s “not that sort of lad”. And you’re just ‘disappointed?’ We’re disappointed with that and so is Graeme.

After amateurishly throwing in that he’s an animal lover himself, he goes on, both feet in the bucket with a messy, strangled and strange juxtaposition. “Just like people with drink-drive offences have to go to classes to learn the reasons and the damage that can be done, the RSPCA are going to provide some courses for Kurt to understand exactly about animals and how to treat them. We’ll do everything we possibly can to make sure Kurt is getting better at understanding it.”

Going on courses to learn how not to slap and kick your cat? Really? Yeah, it’s just like getting your coaching badges, isn’t it? You go on courses for them. Must be the same thing. Courses? Plural? What’s to say? It’d take one minute.

‘OK Kurt, I’ll say this very slowly. Don’t. Hit. Cats. It hurts them, it upsets children, it’s not funny and it’s illegal. Got that? Good. Sure? Now feck off you cruel man.’

Kurt Zouma runs out to warm up

Some psychotherapy to find out why Zouma wants to impose his will on a small defenceless creature for his own amusement, might be more beneficial, as would asking him what other sentient beings he has assaulted recently, because no way was this the first time. I’d guess it was common enough for his brother to film it on this occasion and post it on social media, because they thought it was funny and that others would find it funny too. Why else? That’s how adrift from decency this is; hurting a cat for a laugh.

You can’t film a sudden out-of-character outburst, simply because it happens before you’ve even picked up your phone. So that at least questions the ‘he’s a good lad’ defence. Moyes and the club might have thought about that. That they didn’t or just ignored it does not show them in a good light.

The RSPCA say they have not been asked to offer such education and have not been offered his £250,000 wages fine either. So on top of all that other clunky, twisted waffle, Moyes got ahead of reality there.

He ploughed on. “I’m not condoning his actions, they were terrible. We all accept that they were diabolical. But we’ve chosen to play him and we stand by that.” That’s just weird. The first two sentences are not explained by the third. He needed to explain why his ‘diabolical’ actions did not disqualify him when ‘diabolical’ actions surely normally would, what with being diabolical, and everything. C’mon Davey, wake up.

He concludes with a bit more football speak. “He’s really disappointed in his action and that can affect people. And there’ll be a reaction at football grounds, which he’ll have to expect. Kurt knows he’s made a mistake and will have to take his punishment.”

‘Disappointed’ again, as though he’d got a second yellow. Note also how the perpetrator is already being turned into the victim here. Experts in domestic abuse (a marker for which is often abuse of pets) see this all the time. Quickly, the abuser becomes the one who is suffering and the real victim is the cause of that suffering.

“The club has done everything we possibly can in the situation that was not of the club’s doing or my doing.” We didn’t think you asked him to hurt the cat, David, but that aside, well you haven’t, have you? Not ‘everything’. You could have not picked him to play. So that’s a lie to top all this off with, isn’t it?

Then Moyes picked him for the Leicester game, doubling down on his mistake, but Zouma did him a favour by developing what seemed like a diplomatic illness, having already been booed while warming up, so withdrew to be replaced by Issa Diop, who set up their first goal, as if to prove how wrong Moyes had been to pick Zouma in the first place. It looked like Zouma was a scaredy cat, because he would certainly have been booed throughout – by both sets of fans.

In some ways, it isn’t fair to pick solely on Moyes for talking like this, because he’s not alone in being a football person out of his depth having to talk about anything non-football. If, like Moyes, you’ve been in football since you were 16, it is quite literally all you know, so maybe it becomes the only vocabulary you’ve got.

The lesson here is if the club knows its manager can only speak football, don’t hang him out to dry by asking him to be articulate about non-football stuff. Like Moyes, he’ll either make a fool of himself, or make things worse, or both. Even members of the media which are normally very supportive of him have been very critical of this choice of money over morals.

Despite all the whataboutery that proliferated last week, the Zouma case wasn’t a difficult situation to deal with. A horrible thing had happened and there had to be consequences. For PR reasons as much as anything else, it needed putting to bed. And the only way to do that was to suspend Zouma until the end of the season, get special dispensation from the FA to fine him more heavily – his net worth of over £20 million, with a further £6.5 million dropping into his account every year ensures £250,000 is a drop in his financial ocean – and everyone would have thought some sort of justice had been done. The last thing it needed was to be turned into a weird football-style analysis of his character and behaviour.

Ironically, West Ham will likely achieve a Europa League place, regardless of whether Zouma plays or not. So Moyes’ despicable ‘he’s one of our better players’ defence for playing him against Watford was as pointless as it was tin-eared and awful..

As it stands, the controversy will likely rumble on for weeks with Moyes having to justify his decision, when he clearly doesn’t have the understanding or vocabulary to do so.

The whole thing has been a very unedifying spectacle, Moyes’ reputation has taken a massive hit and it was all easily avoidable if everyone involved just had some moral fibre and didn’t prioritise football over money and decency.