Hammers beat Blues; cue the cynics, right?
After West Ham’s impressive victory over Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea, how long will it be before the skeptics return?
Statistically speaking, David Moyes is one of West Ham’s most successful managers in history. Yet, for the last year, it has rarely felt that way. Doubters have ranged from backroom staff to supporters in the stands.
The Scot has the club’s highest win percentage of any previous permanent manager. He has brought the Hammers three years of European football and their first trophy in over 40 years. Aside from Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, it is hard to argue any coach has come close to his achievements at the East London side.
Their 3-1 victory over Chelsea at the weekend was perhaps the epitome of a Moyes team at their best. A resilient, defensive-focused display that ruthlessly punished its opponents with the limited opportunities provided. A set-piece, a finely finished counter and a penalty leading the The Irons to victory with only 26% of possession.
Moyes’ cautious approach
It is exactly this style of play that has caused many to question the Scots management at the club. Accused of a cautious approach, not utilising the club’s attacking talents, Moyes faced a continuous battle to keep his job before last seasons Conference League success.
Back in March, Jacob Steinberg, of The Guardian, reported of growing discontent amongst West Ham’s players:
“His tactics are causing unease in the dressing room. It is understood some players have grown weary of his caution and feel it is holding them back. There is an increasing lack of faith in the approach favoured by Moyes.”
There is no denying the Scot’s approach is often a cautious one. Mikhael Antonio spoke to exactly that when discussing Moyes’ management last November. Speaking on the Fooballers Football Podcast, Antonio noted:
“That’s one thing with our gaffer, he loses his mind over keeping it tight. When we concede one he’s like ‘you do not concede two within 10 minutes.’”
“The only time you can actually really go for it (under Moyes)? Last 10 of a match you can probably go for it and try get something if it’s 1-0.
“But before that, if it’s one goal, you can get that one goal from anything, it could be like a corner, a throw-in, they could score an own goal, anything can happen when it’s 1-0. Just try not to concede two.”
When other managers might focus on attacking talent to flip a game, Moyes is focused on limiting damage so it doesn’t run away. It is understandable for supporters, even attacking players, to get frustrated with such a defensive approach.
And this is especially true since the club spent more than £160 million in the 2022 summer transfer market to challenge for European places yet ended up battling relegation. Much of that money put towards attacking talents brought in Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paquetá. To leave them wanting up front often appeared criminal.
Trouble behind closed doors
For Mark Warburton, a coach under Moyes until the end of last season, the Scot’s reluctance to change ended up leading to his own departure. Speaking to Talksport, Warburton said:
“My philosophy is more attacking. (Moyes has) obviously built a reputation on having a strong defence, hard to beat, etcetera. That was the combination and that was the idea, and David will understand exactly what I’m saying, it’s hard to change the way you do things.”
Warburton spoke of how it was normal for coaches to challenge managers but, for him, it became unsustainable:
“It got to the point where I was challenging too often, it wasn’t right. David, he’s the manager.”
It is clear things were far from rosy behind closed doors last time out. This is why for many the fairytale success of winning the European Conference League simply papered over the cracks.
It gave Moyes a lifeline he seemed far from only weeks before, when ‘Moyes Out’ banners regularly popped up in West Ham crowds.
But that emergence of victory in the height of pressure wasn’t uncommon for Moyes. The players often pulling it out the bag for the manager when his head appeared on the chopping block. Avoiding relegation, achieving a 14th place finish and winning a European trophy isn’t necessarily the usual signs of a despised manager.
In fact, after their 2-1 victory over Florentina in the Conference League final, then-captain Declan Rice was practically glowing in his praise of the Scot:
“I want to say a big mention to the manager. There’s been times this year when he’s been tested. There was a period where a lot of the fan base wanted him out because the results weren’t going well.”
“But if you actually look at his time at this club. He came in, saved us. Pellegrini came in. He then came back, saved us. He then got us Europe two years in a row and has now won that. I think he’s on there with West Ham’s best-ever manager … He got every call right tonight.”
The forgotten ‘Moyesiah’
Not long ago, Rice’s views of the manager were widely shared by the club’s supporters. After a 6th place finish in 2021 and a realistic challenge for Champions League football the following season, many Hammers fans coined the nickname ‘Moyesiah’ to describe the man in charge.
It is a sign of the short-term thinking of modern football that, within a year, many of those same fans were calling for his head.
European success did temporarily quell some of that discontent. Not for long though. A lack of immediate investment following Rice’s £105 million departure and reported tensions between the Scot and new technical director Tim Steitden left many doubting his survival this time out.
The impressive nature of their despatching of chaotic spenders Chelsea should however be a cause to celebrate. It demonstrated what Moyes can and has achieved at the club. Creating a stability and solidity to the team that countless managers before him had failed to do.
The arrival of Edson Alvarez and James Ward-Prowse are further signs of intent. Not revolutionary but necessary. They fit the system Moyes has honed. A system sometimes faltering. But a system that has brought success.
It may not be the attractive attacking football dreamt of following Paquetá’s arrival last summer but, he surely deserves breathing space. Time to go again after his most lacklustre season still ended the club’s decades long trophy drought.