David Moyes. The underappreciated Scottish chap from the streets of Glasgow whose roots run deep into English football courtesy of his tenures at Preston North End, Everton, Manchester United and Sunderland prior to taking charge of West Ham in November 2017 to replace Slaven Bilic, as the east London side sat in the relegation zone.
The First Spell
Following Bilic’s departure, Moyes’ first spell at West Ham lasted just 31 games with 9 wins (not remarkable but it did the job) as they cruised away from the relegation battle and finished 13th. However, context is important.
Even though their win percentage was quite awful by their standards, Moyes took over an unfit squad and wasn’t allowed to strengthen in the January transfer window. The Premier League side did not renew his contract as they parted ways and instead, allowed the former Manchester City title-winning manager, Manuel Pellegrini to take over.
It didn’t take long for Moyes to be reappointed as The Hammers sat at 17th in December 2019, just one point away from the relegation zone. Pellegrini was largely seen as a failure because he was given the privilege to splash €120 million in the summer. So, ending up in a relegation battle wasn’t ideal. And so began Moyes’ second spell but with an iconic quote.
“It feels great to be home. I’ve missed being here because I really enjoyed it and I’ve got unfinished business, so I can’t wait to get started” We’ll get back later to why this quote became iconic. Moving on, Moyes once again rescued them from relegation with 20 points in the last 18 games.
In his first full season at West Ham, Moyes secured 6th place (the club’s best finish in the Premier League this century) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. For a significant part of the second half of 20/21, they were in the race for Champions League football.
But what exactly makes this so remarkable? The fact that they were fighting relegation just a year ago. This was their best points and goal-difference tally since 1985/86 as they finished above two of the English big 6, Spurs and Arsenal.
So, what made them so good? Well, to start off, Moyes unlocked Jesse Lingard, who was arguably their best player during the chase for European football. He also used Tomáš Souček effectively, making good use of his aerial and box presence that boosted his goals and assists tally.
Moving on, the utilization of Vladimír Coufal and Aaron Cresswell to perfection, led to one of the most attractive full-back duos we’ve seen in the Premier League in recent years as they finished with the most combined assists for full-backs in the league. Moyes went on to get nominated for the Premier League Manager of the Season.
A Step Further
After such a tremendous season and what was popularly believed to be an overperformance, the masses expected West Ham to put their foot off the gas. A classic mid-table finish was a very popular prediction given that they had an extra burden of European football as well.
However, David Moyes had other plans. By October-November, the east London side wasn’t just competing for the top 4 in the Premier League but also top of their group in Europa League and in contention for the Carabao and FA Cup. They weren’t messing around.
Compared to last season, their rank had fallen as they could only secure their spot in the Conference League. However, this season will go down in the history books as they cemented their legacy on European soil after decades.
Defying all odds, they knocked out Sevilla and Lyon in the round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively followed by falling short against Frankfurt in the semi-finals.
A disappointing end to the season shouldn’t stop us from pouring praise on this remarkable European progress. From fighting relegation to being so close to Champions League football twice within two years now is ridiculous.
Moyes’ man-management was top-notch yet again. He unleashed the demon in Michail Antonio by making effective use of his hold-up play, strength and ability to drift in wider areas.
Jarrod Bowen was converted into a world-class winger (4th highest goals and assists in the Premier League) announcing himself to Europe in the process. The gaffer raised Rice’s ceiling even further while he was one of the best central midfielders in the league this season.
A player development that went unnoticed was that of Craig Dawson. Moyes deserves praise for transforming a bottom-half/Championship level defender into such a unit who put top performances consistently all season.
Since Moyes took over at West Ham for his second spell, West Ham rank 7th in the league for points earned over the course of 93 games.
If this piece suggests anything, it is that not only has David Moyes washed away the stains from his tenures at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland but he also enabled West Ham fans to witness some of their best successes in recent times.
Coming back to his quote from December 2019, “I’ve got unfinished business so I can’t wait to get started”. David, perhaps you’ve now put that business to bed.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Glyn Kirk – AFP