West Ham don’t need a firefighter to stave off relegation – they need a firestarter to reignite a spark

Dave Tickner
West Ham manager David Moyes looks dejected after a defeat

West Ham are deep in the relegation mire and might have to consider giving David Moyes the boot. What they absolutely must not then do is appoint another David Moyes.


‘Nuno Espirito Santo, Rafael Benitez and Sean Dyche are all viewed as potential fire-fighters for West Ham,’ reckons the Daily Telegraph.

‘West Ham’s conundrum: the ideal replacement for David Moyes is… David Moyes,’ clever-clevers Martin Samuel in the Times. ‘Relegation zone is no place to learn on the job, so club need a firefighter. Trouble is, they already have one.’

It’s a neat construct cleverly framed, as is often the way with Samuel. But it’s also absolute bollocks, isn’t it? (As is often the etc. etc. etc.)

The logical blackhole in Samuel’s argument is right there if he could step back from being pleased with himself for a moment and look at it. If West Ham’s problem is that they need a David Moyes to sort them out then they don’t have a problem because they have literal David Moyes to sort them out.

It doesn’t make sense because…it doesn’t make sense. Apart from a hyphen (and we have no f**king clue there either, to be fair) the Telegraph and Times are in agreement here: West Ham need a firefighter. Or fire-fighter.

But they don’t. They need a firestarter. Or fire-starter. Someone to actually make West Ham a bit more West Ham again.

They don’t need organising and corralling. They are organised. They are corralled. They have the best defensive record in the bottom half. They have conceded the same number of goals as Liverpool and Brighton, and fewer than Spurs, Brentford or Fulham. What they need is a spark. A bit of joy. The players just look bored. As does Moyes, but he generally looks like that.

That’s a throwaway line, but we reckon there’s something in it. Players can absolutely get bored of a certain manager who does things certain ways. This West Ham team has been really good under Moyes – and quite un-Moyes-like at their best as well. The trouble is, neither manager nor players look like they’re going to get back to that without some external influence. Faced with things going wrong, Moyes is retreating ever further into his safe place.

They’ve scored 15 goals in 19 games. Only the offensively goal-averse Wolves have fewer. That’s your problem right there, not the 25 conceded at the other end. This is a squad blessed with plenty of attacking talent. You can’t seriously argue that a squad containing Gianluca Scamacca, Lucas Paqueta, Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen should be scoring comfortably under a goal a game.

The Hammers have conceded more than twice in only one game all season – and that’s in all competitions. And it was away at runaway leaders Arsenal in a game where West Ham actually gave a decent account of themselves and led 1-0 at the break.

It was a classic of the ‘not the kind of game that will define your season’ genre. West Ham have been losing those too, of course, but never by much. It really does not need a huge amount to lift this West Ham team back out of the doldrums. Playing properly, this West Ham team is levels above the rest of the relegation scrappers.

Not viewing players like Scamacca and Benrahma with narrow-eyed suspicion would be a start. Because it’s worth remembering this is a West Ham team that finished sixth two seasons ago and came within 10 minutes or so of repeating the trick last season. And then spent a boatload of money in the summer. Their place on the five-year net spend table is eye-catching, and for a team in the relegation fight not in a good way.

But the point is that this is not a team that has suddenly forgotten how to defend, like early-season Leicester. Or one that fundamentally lacks quality like some of the teams they’re currently fighting, or one that lacks Premier League knowhow and nous. At the moment it lacks confidence, belief and a bit of joie de vivre.

West Ham has always been a curious club. We’re going to generalise wildly here, but in the fans’ mind it always seemed to occupy a curious place in a land of cognitive dissonance, simultaneously a club big enough to turn its noses up at unacceptably drab football and demand things be done a certain way while simultaneously small enough that a 43-year trophy drought in no way diminishes their right to chortle at Tottenham’s silverware aversion.

It’s amusing, really, to see Hammers fans unhappy at the idea of Champions League winner Rafa Benitez taking over. But you can also sort of see their point. This is a squad that finished sixth and seventh and had a fine crack at winning the Europa League. After a summer of ostentatious spending they should be at least as good as they were, if not better.

The fans are absolutely entitled to expect better than this. And they are absolutely entitled to want the next manager to be someone a bit fun, a bit progressive, rather than another defensively minded coach.

Beyond the simple desire for joy and excitement from watching your football team it’s also the practical and logical step to take right now.

It’s often said that every managerial appointment is a response to the previous one and there’s some truth in it. It follows that when replacing a manager whose flaws have outweighed their strengths it would seem remiss to then go for a manager with the same weaknesses.

West Ham’s current lamentable run has brought just five points in 10 Premier League games either side of the World Cup break. But anyone looking at that run, featuring three 1-0 away defeats and an overall goals aggregate score of 15-7 in favour of the Hammers’ opponents and concluding that what’s needed is some Dyche-style stoicism is surely wide of the mark.

There are many reasons a team can find themselves embroiled where they ought not be, and it’s folly to suggest the solution in all cases must be the same. Especially if that’s the same as what’s already not working.