West Ham have a chance nobody expected; time to seize it

Jacque Talbot
West Ham

“We are enjoying it, but also, we’re not going to go daft. We’d be stupid to say anything and we’re going to keep calm about it.”

Presumably, David Moyes’s blood pressure can’t take this kind of fervour. Such euphoria and spectacle have eluded him for too long, he’s just not used to it anymore.

And that goes for West Ham fans, too – they have been deprived of anything noteworthy for years.

Even before the season, hope and expectancy at the London Stadium were non-existent. Hands clasped together, heads tilted to the skies in unified prayer that they not be relegated. And that was the extent of the achievement they envisioned.

Such anxiety is hardly surprising – it was following their worst ever season since Avram Grant’s relegation in 2010-11 and a spending spree in the summer, Tomas Soucek making a temporary contract a permanent one, with as much velocity as a leaky water pistol.

Today they are fourth and of course to get 68 points. Their best ever in the Premier League season is fifth, in the 1998-1999 season, with 57 points. The last couple of years have thrown some curveballs alright but no one would think, at this point, David Moyes would be heading towards becoming West Ham’s most successful ever Premier League manager.

Indeed, it’s been an astounding charge upwards despite everything before suggesting otherwise. One single, shoddy signing in the summer shouldn’t result in this. Neither really, if we’re honest, should a reappointment of a man who really didn’t work out the first occasion.

Despite Moyes’ words after the 2-1 win over Tottenham asking for a reality check, you can tell he’s is getting carried away by the possibilities at this club’s feet. His thumbnailed face on the BBC post-match video piece contrasted to its headline is quite something. Given the squad, he’s no doubt surprised West Ham are doing so well, but equally, the same could be said of the Scotsman’s ability, too.

It’s been a welcome rejuvenation for Moyes, who’s beginning to channel his younger, fiery, gingery self; the one that marched down Goodison Park in navy tracksuit bottoms with blue piping, as commentators mentioned every passing 25 minutes how he was the youngest manager in the league, able to grind out results against the league elite. The one that won LMA Manager of the Year three times in seven years.

The Everton days also spoke of a superb man-manager, and we never got a chance to quite reflect on what happened thereafter: issues at Man United stemmed from, supposedly, not being able to deal with the big characters, and maybe his stubbornness did have something to play in part; at Real Sociedad, it could’ve been more of cultural issues – no British native since Sir Bobby Robson has yet to have a successful trophy-laden career over there – and by the time he re-entered the Premier League with Sunderland in 2016, tactics had evolved. Tiki-taka was being mimicked. Barcelona managers were now at Manchester City. Chelsea managers at Man United. Goalkeepers stood on halfway lines. Soon he was penned in a high electric fence with the rest of the dinosaurs, trudging around the grounds attempting to latch onto any recently manager-less club in a precarious position, before finding West Ham in the first, uninspired occasion.

This time is different. And surprisingly so. There’s a real temptation to say he’s been the best performing manager in the league this season.

This is a campaign that started with Mark Noble – the walking, eponymous Mr West Ham – openly blasting the board for releasing one of their hottest prospects to what they thought at the time would be a relegation rival. It began with murmurs of protest and premonitions about future collapse.

But it has culminated in an unprecedented run of form which is yet to end. The start of 2021 was meant to be the inevitable drag back down to reality, but actually, it’s seen West Ham propel further into the stars: This year, they have taken 22 points out of a possible 27. It’s an emphatic result for a side that only managed 39 points in the entirety of last season.

Indeed, it’s often, at this point, clubs run out of steam, and in that, owners have somewhat handed the manager some semblance of help through some January purchases – Jesse Lingard has been at his 2015 JLingz best, while Sebastien Haller’s departure, too, some say, has helped – but if West Ham were to peel off in their next four tricky fixtures, these purchases, perhaps cynically, will be seen as too late for West Ham’s European certainty.

Moyes recently spoke about building teams, reminiscing on his signings of Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta at Everton. “It took me years to do that,” he said. “I had to go through different stages to get the team up. As you go along, you realise we’d like more flair, more athleticism, more stature. Everybody wants teams to be built immediately.”

That ‘everybody’ undoubtedly includes Moyes himself…

It’s 2012 and Alan Pardew, back in London territory, has just witnessed Papiss Cisse score an easy Goal of the Month, and probably Goal of the Decade each within the space of 85 minutes. Newcastle, now fifth and neck and neck with Tottenham, on 65 points, and with Arsenal, in third with a point more, need to achieve six points from their last remaining two games and they could well earn a Champions League position. However, they lose both their remaining games, to Man City and Everton, and settle for fifth. It’s a slightly sour ending to a monumental campaign.

Pardew is rightly awarded the Premier League Manager of the Season and the LMA Manager of the Year awards for the 2011–12 season but he now faces the prospect of a Europa League campaign to contend with as well as the league.

Clearly, it’s time to build – but that’s not quite Newcastle’s way. In fact, that summer they decide the only significant transfer they need to make is Vurnon Anita from Ajax. Their spending in that window totals £3.2million.

Unsurprisingly and startlingly in equal measure, they finish the season 16th and are knocked out of each domestic cup in their first game. Conversations in hindsight suggest the team’s finish the season before was almost detriment to their following campaign, where they were two points off relegation. Resting on laurels and slow movement is an absolute crime in today’s ever-evolving game.

Indeed, it’s highly doubtful many will attribute the West Ham’s success so far this season to owners Davids Gold and Sullivan.

The idea to move to the London Stadium was about as tin-eared as a Wizard of Oz character, while their spending has never exceeded the expectations matched by the stadium-size anyway. And when money is spent, it’s directed towards a handful of high-end gambles, Haller, or managers on high-end wages – Manuel Pellegrini was on £8million – and this limits proper organic growth. They do this or they attempt to choose the safest option possible: Moyes’ return was not the sequel anyone anyone wanted to see at the time. The worry is none of Gold and Sullivan’s actions so far have screamed progression and innovation in any sense, so what the future holds is limited to their own vision and not that of the supporters and Moyes.

A one-season wonder, if it really is that, simply, must be capitalised on, if not for the supporters, who are already aggrieved at the board for the stadium switch among other things, then for Moyes, a man who’s proved all but every single football follower entirely wrong in this instance. (And we’re all for it, by the way.)

The ability to raise a sinking ship, board up the leaks, and get to cruising again in the direction of utopia should not go unrecognised.

Now West Ham must pay their dues to a man who’ve granted a possible opportunity for European football. It must start with keeping youngsters, it must end with competing for sought-after talent in the window – and acting fast for them. Pushing up their average season spend of just more than £30million across five seasons will also help greatly. Otherwise, West Ham will fall victim to what many clubs have done before. There’s no greater punishment in football than not to realise ambition, and with a West Ham side performing with every fibre for their manager, and a club of their stature with bounds of untapped potential, this predicament they’re in should be any owners’ wet dream.

Jacque Talbot is on Twitter