Moyes, despite his successes, still divides opinion at West Ham

Sport

It is a tale as old as time. Football fans, frustrated with aspects of the way their club is working or performing despite a good league position, call for change, only to be lambasted as ungrateful by the media and others looking in from the outside.

There are few more annoying situations for supporters, who insist they only want to better themselves, understand what is going on at their clubs better than anyone and hate the idea of being patronised.

West Ham fans are finding themselves in this situation with David Moyes. It would be unfair to characterise the Scot as universally unpopular in the stands, but there is a vocal percentage who are disgruntled with the football being played and their belief that, with the players they have at their disposal, they should be offering a stronger challenge for the top six than they are.

The counter argument, of course, is that Moyes has established West Ham as a Premier League force, finishing sixth and seventh in the first two seasons of his second spell, having staved off relegation after replacing Manuel Pellegrini in December 2019.

It is in Europe, though, where Moyes has made enough strides to be immune from criticism in the eyes of many outsiders. Having almost taken the Hammers into the Champions League, he reached the Europa League semi-finals in 2022, only to be knocked out by eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt.

Last season, he went on to lift the Europa Conference League, his first major trophy and a first for West Ham in over 40 years. He did that against a backdrop of negativity over the league form; although relegation was never a serious possibility, there was definitely an element of underperforming as they finished 14th.

Fixture congestion and constantly playing Thursday and Sunday were a factor, how could they not be? But they also shouldn’t have been used as a bulletproof vest for Moyes; after all, the year before and now in this one, they have maintained their competitive element while managing that same schedule.

Emotions run high after defeats, particularly heavy ones. It is no surprise that the anti-Moyes sentiment has been at its most vocal after conceding five goals against Fulham and  Liverpool. Ultimately, though, what you see is what you get with a Moyes team; they are compact, resolute, competitive and they work hard for each other. They are unspectacular and always at a level; even the off days, and there have been a few of late, rarely constitute a real crisis. But the flip side of that is, embracing Moyes means embracing a ceiling; he works best as an underdog, railing against the elite. Even if he achieves great things, there will always be a perception about him.

While football is about results, it is also hugely snout perceptions. How you see yourselves against how others see you. This is the crux of the issue.

West Ham fans want more; they want to compete and win trophies, both of which Moyes has given them, but they want to be entertained and taken seriously as a big club. Even at Everton, where Moyes perfected the blueprint of the job he has repeated in East London over 11 years, that was a lasting issue.

There were regular top six finishes, even qualification for the Champions League albeit a failure to reach the group stage and an FA Cup final, but never that moment that really announced Everton as a force to threaten the top sides. They never hauled themselves out of Liverpool’s shadow under his management, and there were difficult seasons too.

Once Moyes left for Manchester United, where he failed chiefly because while there he faced the ultimate expectation to win and dominate, Everton went in search of progress and although they found it fleetingly under the likes of Roberto Martinez and Carlo Ancelotti, ultimately they’ve struggled since Moyes left. Even West Ham, who first hired the Scot on an interim basis in the 2016/17 season, wanted a more glamorous image when they hired Pellegrini before ultimately going back to Moyes.

West Ham fans’ desire for more is not delusional. It is not right or wrong. Moyes has done a fantastic job, nobody would dispute that. But the rate of progress at clubs like Brighton, Brentford and Fulham, under the stewardship of coaches with exciting, fresh, attacking ideas must be hard to watch given the reality of what Moyes offers.

With that said, he is a safe pair of hands who is creating history with the club right now. Others have tried to shake the image he brings, as have this club before, and it hasn’t gone well. If they do move on, there is certainly an element of risk, but Moyes surely can’t outrun the narrative forever.

Author: Mark Hayes