It has taken almost eight years, but David Moyes is finally emerging from the shadow of his Manchester United nightmare. The Scot can put the seal on his rejuvenation by guiding West Ham United into the Premier League top four on Saturday, and he could do it with a win against the club that almost broke him.
The 2020-21 season has been unpredictable given the impact of COVID-19. The shortened preseason, late transfer window and hectic fixture schedule have created a situation whereby Everton, Aston Villa and Leeds United can flourish, and players such as Jack Grealish, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford excel. Carlo Ancelotti has reminded us of his calibre as an elite manager at Everton, as has Jose Mourinho at Tottenham Hotspur; Moyes, by comparison, has quietly pressed ahead with his work at West Ham without much of a fuss, bringing about stability and a sense of calm, which is no mean feat.
If managing United proved to be the impossible job for Moyes after he replaced Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2013, concluding with his sacking before the end of his first season, the challenge of restoring some kind of order and consistency at West Ham when he returned to the club for a second spell wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Despite building a reputation as a proven top-flight manager during 11 years at Everton from 2002 to 2013, Moyes’ time at United seemed to erase all those achievements. He was out of his depth at United and unprepared for a job of such magnitude. Moyes then made bad career choices, accepting jobs that were just as difficult. He was sacked after 364 days in charge of Real Sociedad after boldly, but maybe naively, trying his luck in La Liga. Then came the traumatic experience of Sunderland, where he walked into a sinking ship, predicted a struggle after just two games in charge and was proved right by going on to suffer the only relegation of his career.
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When he was hired by West Ham the first time around, in November 2017, it was a fire-fighting exercise — as evidenced by him getting a contract until the end of the 2017-18 season. He kept them up, but the owners wanted a bigger name in charge; they let Moyes leave and appointed Manuel Pellegrini.
Moyes then spent 18 months out of the game. Everton had already decided against re-hiring him when they appointed Ancelotti. It was unclear where his next opportunity would come from, and so he accepted the challenge of keeping West Ham in the Premier League amid unrest from supporters, who were angry at the club’s poor transfer recruitment and the decision to leave Upton Park for the Olympic Stadium in 2016.
Moyes could have been forgiven for thinking that his days at the top were numbered, and that his time in Manchester would hang over him for the rest of his career. But even if West Ham had turned to him as another short-term fix, the outcome has been somewhat different, and credit must go to Moyes for putting the club in a much healthier place. He is out of contract again at the end of this season, but it seems unlikely he will be told to walk away again.
West Ham were 16th and one point above the relegation zone when Moyes agreed to return to the London Stadium. It could be perceived as an act of desperation as he tried to resurrect his managerial career, but against the odds it has proved to be a great decision for both the manager and the club.
Having traded in the transfer market this summer with a net overall spend of just £3.4m, Moyes has reshaped his team and brought much-needed consistency.
Seven players have appeared in all 10 Premier League games so far, with Arthur Masuaku (9) and Fabian Balbuena (8) not far behind. Moyes has made Declan Rice one of the most impressive defensive midfielders in the country and has also revitalised Michail Antonio up front.
The principles that were the foundations of Moyes’ success at Everton — consistency, clarity and trust in a key group of players — have returned at West Ham and the old Moyes is beginning to show himself again.
His bruising experience at Old Trafford took a real toll on Moyes’ reputation, and it’s been a long road back for the 57-year-old. He has failed to record a victory against United since being sacked in 2014, losing twice and drawing twice in four games. But a win on Saturday would not only propel West Ham into the Champions League positions, it would also serve as a kind of redemption for Moyes.
And maybe, finally, it would show that he has moved on from the biggest disappointment of his career.