With Moyes at that stadium, what are West Ham even for?

Date published: Monday 3rd February 2020 8:37

It was all so obvious, wasn’t it? The moment West Ham United’s owners turned once again to David Moyes to manage their expensive but unmotivated team, they were going to at least flirt with relegation and possibly consummate given Moyes’ frankly poor win ratio since the Manchester United job was handed to him and subsequently overwhelmed him, as indeed every subsequent job seems to have done.

He still has the air of the abandoned fairground owner dressed as a ghost in a Scooby Doo episode, or the terrified look of a local news caravan owner as he watches it go up in flames, powerless to stop the conflagration.

People tell me that Moyes is a lovely bloke and I have no reason to doubt it, but when it comes to being a manager – despite his own words – he is at the very best someone who once did pretty well with Everton with a 42% win percentage. Never won anything, of course, once got them into the Champions League where they were promptly hammered in the qualifying game – an illustrative lesson there, one feels – but kept them between fifth and eighth most though not all of the time. Who knows, maybe another manager would have done even better? That is never a question asked, for some reason.

While this is some sort of achievement, it is certainly not enough to recommend him as a manager of a top club over half a decade later and a full 18 years since he began at Goodison Park.

Manchester United was too big for him and things were no better at Real Sociedad where he won just 12 in 42. By the end of a whole season at Sunderland, his 18.6% win rate should have disqualified him from any future top-flight job.

He has now won just 19 games in his last 82 as a manager. One wonders exactly what qualified him for the West Ham job in the first place? There is plenty of proof of his unsuitability to manage West Ham once, never mind twice. After all, he only won nine games in 31 last time; he has secured two in eight since his return.

I doubt there was one casual observer, one fan, one pundit, who thought he was the man to rescue the Hammers’ season. Why would he be? With the Hammers now in the bottom three and looking like an expensive clown car in a sports car showroom, after a pathetic collapse from a 3-1 lead against the mighty Brighton (managed by someone who would do a far better job than Moyes at West Ham), who would bet against them sacking Moyes before the end of the season and re-employing someone else who also wasn’t much cop? Big Sam? Pards? Curbs? ‘arry? A blow-up doll in the image of Ron Greenwood? Or maybe just put one of the owner’s infamous dildos in charge. Could it be any worse?

The addiction English clubs have had to employing moth-eaten past-their-sell-by-date British lags has been remarkable and West Ham’s especially bad, where even re-employing a manager that produced football that actually enraged fans to the point of riot is not beyond the pale.

The motivation for making these decisions is surely born out of their innate conservatism and narrowness of vision. There are more progressive, interesting and enthused managers who are doing a very good job in other leagues both domestically and in Europe who would have done no worse than Moyes, and who would likely have done better. A cursory glance down the pyramid reveals people with promise and verve. People with ambition and a real desire to prove themselves. Has Chris Wilder’s success at Sheffield United not been noted by the useless West Ham owners? Does it not occur to them that another Wilder might be working in the second or third tier right now? Would things have been any worse if they had taken a chance on Gareth Ainsworth, for example? Or Marco Rose from Mönchengladbach. Or pretty much anyone else.

It was almost as if they just couldn’t be bothered and certainly didn’t have the vision or courage, so opted for a very conservative choice in the hope it would just stop them being relegated. Another sticking plaster for another self-inflicted wound. That’s what Sunderland thought too. How did West Ham not learn from their experience?

Moyes tried to justify himself in his first press conference with a lot of obfuscating guff about his win rate that was almost Freudian in its subtext of drawing back the curtain on his own inadequacy. The whole “that’s what I do, I win” business was embarrassing to anyone with access to actual facts. But the West Ham owners chose to remain blind to them. He took over with them in 17th, now they’re 18th. What is the opposite of a new manager bounce?

When I played club cricket as a teenager the coach always used to drum into us that if you’re afraid of the ball, you will get hit by the ball, whereas being confident and making your shots gave you a better chance of a decent knock. That’s pretty much West Ham’s attitude to relegation. Instead of being expansive, interesting and forward-looking, they tried to shut up shop with Moyes. Not just a conservative move but a terrified one.

When you’re struggling, that’s the time to do something more radical and different. The time to change things, the time to stop doing what you’ve been doing because it isn’t working. It absolutely is not the moment to go back to someone who has already proven not to be up to the job. Being the thick end of £30 million in the red, relegation will have a significant impact on the club financially and perhaps it is a lesson they need to learn and learn well. It is one they certainly deserve.

They need to stop employing managers whose best days are well behind them and who are unable to get expensive players to play to their maximum, but above everything else they need to create a structure and purpose to the club. It is aimlessly drifting with no real point to its existence, no direction, no theme or style, all of which leads to that most modern existential football question; what are West Ham United for?

Even if they survive this year, what then? What exactly are they trying to achieve and how are they going to go about achieving it? Do they have any idea at all? They sold the move to the London Stadium on a very false prospectus and thus stripped the club of one of its defining characteristics: Upton Park. Now it seems anonymous; a generic club from Anytown, England playing in a soulless, characterless ground to the massed ranks of the disillusioned. And it was never that before, not even when relegated.

One thing is certain, Moyes will not be leading them to the upland pastures of the Premier League and will almost certainly be once again paid off handsomely sooner than later for failing to be even half as good as his mediocre rhetoric on appointment. It will surely be his last top-flight job. This isn’t his fault per se, he just took the gig when offered, it is wholly the fault of the owners for such a profound failure of judgement in making such a ludicrous appointment and for thinking that this was the best they could do. At least fail whilst trying to do something differently because right now, even survival will feel like losing.

John Nicholson

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