The Case Against Moyes, Volume 2: The Moyes Are Back In Town
Pellegrini had to go after the way we’ve played this season but the board have somehow decided that returning to David Moyes is the solution to this problem. The one positive to be plucked from this situation is that we’ve appointed a replacement while the arse groove in Pellegrini’s office chair is still warm, reducing the period of uncertainty that inevitably surrounds any change of manager. It gives Moyes the best possible chance to get his ideas across to the player’s quickly.
The only issue with that is that Moyes’ ideas are shit. I can’t hide my disdain for him as a person or a manager and, needless to say, I don’t think he did very well last time. I don’t anticipate it going well this time either.
I wrote more extensively about why it would’ve been the wrong decision to appoint him before the start of the 18/19 season here but after the official announcement, a few club-friendly journos have started trotting out pieces about why letting him go was a mistake in the first place and why he’s the man to turn things around in Stratford.
Some of these claims are misguided at best, deluded at worst. Here are a few from this piece by Jacob Steinberg, and a bit of analysis as to why I think they’re inaccurate:
While Moyes’s return is unlikely to sit well with fans who have grown disenchanted since the move to the London Stadium, he can point to how he revived Marko Arnautovic during his first spell, not to mention the fact he was working with a limited and unbalanced squad.
If the suggestion here is that Moyes’ performance last time was hindered by a “limited and unbalanced squad”, I don’t see how it’s reasonable to expect his performance to be any different this time round — this squad is also limited and unbalanced and, barring major targeted investment in January, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Moyes himself is quoted as saying “I do believe that the squad of players I’ve got here is a better squad of players than when I took over before, so I am looking forward to working with them.” Obviously he has to say that and it might be true if we’re looking at individuals, but this squad is arguably less equipped to play the style of football that Moyes previously tried to implement (a deep-lying counterattacking 3–4–3 system) than the squad he inherited last time.
He did squeeze some good form out of Marko Arnautović but it’s difficult to see how that will be repeatable. That uptick form seemed to be the result of a tactical change rather than anything else; by playing as a central striker, Arnautović was able to use his physical attributes to stretch opposition defences and function as essentially a one-man attacking outlet to compensate for the otherwise extremely defensively team selections.
There is no-one in the squad who can replicate that kind of switch other than perhaps Michail Antonio, but he’s been utilised centrally by a number of managers now and Moyes generally used him as a wide player when he was available during the 17/18 season. The absence of an Arnautović type player makes it hard for this squad to play the type of football Moyes identified last time, as does the lack of a midfielder with Kouyaté’s profile. Cheikhou started virtually every game under Moyes as part of a midfield 2 with Noble and his mobility allowed him to contribute in attacking and defensive phases, as well as in transition (albeit with limited success). There is no-one with that profile in the current squad.
If we’re meant to take the point as an indicator of Moyes’ general ability to “revive” floundering players, then there are certainly a few candidates but it remains to be seen whether he’s actually capable of achieving that.
Moyes does not hold a grudge against West Ham and he can count on support from within the boardroom. Gold, who is a big fan, thought it was a mistake to let Moyes leave in the first place and has been pushing for a reunion for a while. The problem in 2018 was that Sullivan, who holds far more power than Gold, had a different vision from Moyes and wanted a manager who played attractive football and could attract exciting players.
When David Gold, a man who regularly gets mugged off on Twitter and is seemingly unable to differentiate between players he’s actually signed for the football club, is your biggest advocate, alarm bells should be ringing.
West Ham are crying out for a manager to organise a leaky defence and they need a more solid structure away from the pitch.
Undoubtedly the club need a more solid structure away from the pitch, but appointing Moyes isn’t an example of that. We’ve just sacked a manager and sacked the Director of Football who was chosen by the sacked manager. We’ve just appointed a replacement manager before appointing a replacement Director of Football. This isn’t how any of this is supposed to work. This isn’t how well-run football clubs work.
The idea that Moyes is someone to “organise a leaky defence” is frankly laughable. We conceded 3 or more goals in 9 of Moyes’ 27 games in charge of West Ham. 3 of those were against top 6 sides. The others were Burnley, Swansea, Brighton, Bournemouth, Newcastle, and Everton.
Swansea failed to score in 18 of their games, Brighton 17, while Burnley and Newcastle each finished a match without a goal 13 and 14 times respectively, yet all of them scored 3+ against West Ham. To put that in perspective, each of those teams scored around 10% of their total goals for the season in 90 minutes against Moyes’ West Ham. Swansea’s 4 goal haul in March represented 14% of their overall goal tally (28 goals).
We conceded 22 goals in our last 10 games under him, one fewer than Pellegrini’s last 10 games.
The outcomes were terrible under Moyes and the performance data was even worse:
And that’s the biggest issue. It’s easy to just look at the results and say “he kept us up last time and therefore he’ll be able to do it again.” Football doesn’t work like that. Pellegrini kept us up last season with broadly the same set of players as we have this season but we were on track to be relegated this time round. And that didn’t come out of nowhere; while the results were tolerable last season, there were warning signs of this collapse in the performances and the data.
The same applies for Moyes: he might have got the results but the performances were poor and suggest that more trouble lies ahead if he performs in the same way.
The final table was misleading anyway. Prior to the final 3 games, this was the state of play:
We’d lost two on the spin, won only one in five games, and were 3 points ahead of the relegation zone. We then had the good fortune of playing two games against clubs marooned in midtable with nothing to play for (Leicester and Everton), who we got 6 points from.
You can only beat what’s in front of you, but the circumstances and fixture list worked in Moyes’ favour at a vital time. This bit of fortune papered over the cracks and hid just how terrible we’d been up until that point. There’s no guarantee that the timing will work out as well this time around.
They need a manager with a record of building sides; someone to give them stability.
The last side that Moyes “built” was the Everton team that finished 6th in 12/13, his last season in charge at Goodison Park. Since then, he’s left Manchester United, Real Sociedad, and Sunderland in worse states than when he arrived at those clubs, despite being given a degree of freedom in the transfer market. Hardly a bastion of stability. Why is what he achieved 8–10 years ago more relevant than everything that’s followed since?
Manuel Pellegrini built sides that progressed out of midtable into European football at both Villarreal and Malaga during the same time frame that Moyes was working at Everton, and he wasn’t able to successfully build anything at West Ham. If he couldn’t do it, what reason is there to think that Moyes will be able to?
He spoke about the need for better training facilities and pushed for greater control over signings. He wanted the club to be cannier in the transfer market.
Yes to the need for better training facilities. No to the greater control over signings.
Moyes is lauded for his cheap signings that worked out (Baines, Howard, Lescott, Cahill, Arteta) but his record is significantly worse any time he spent a substantial amount of money on a player.
Looking at this list of players purchased by Moyes over the course of his career, one thing that jumps out is that virtually every player he spent more than £6mil on was either outright disastrous, underwhelming, or poor value for money.
The exceptions to that are probably the signing of Marouane Fellaini (for Everton) and Asier Illaramendi, but even moderate successes like Yakubu, James Beattie, or Andy Johnson had exactly one decent season for Everton before dropping off a cliff.
Moyes’ work in the transfer market, Illaramendi aside, has been uniformly awful since leaving Everton, with none of his permanent signings for Manchester United (Mata, Fellaini), Real Sociedad (Jonathas), Sunderland (Ndong, Djilobodji, McNair, Oviedo), and West Ham (Hugill, Evra) amounting to anything more than expensive mistakes. There is also seemingly a divide between his generally successful defensive acquisitions and his terrible attacking signings.
The Hugill purchase for West Ham is particularly egregious. If this report is to be believed, Hugill’s on £35k p/w (although I’ve seen it reported as high as £40k p/w). If we take the transfer fee we reportedly paid Preston for him (transfermarkt has it at just over £9mil) and add on the wages we’ve been paying him (assuming that Middlesbrough paid a similar proportion of Hugill’s wages last season as QPR supposedly are now), that means we will have sunk somewhere around £12mil by the end of this season into a player who has played 22 minutes of football for us.
By contrast, Jack Wilshere’s £100k p/w contract has cost us about £7.5mil thus far. If we could find a taker, we could let him go for nothing tomorrow and we’d have to sell Jordan Hugill for £5mil+ for him to be less financially damaging for the club that Wilshere has been.
It’s even more galling when Moyes allegedly rejected the opportunity to sign James Maddison in the same window we signed Hugill because Maddison didn’t perform well for Norwich in an FA Cup game away at Chelsea.
This is not someone we should hand over the keys to.
The performances weren’t good enough last time round and if you’re not making the decision to appoint him based on that, what are you making the decision based on? He’s not had another job anywhere else since we let him go and that in itself should be a red flag.
The tone of a lot of the criticism I’ve seen has been “he’ll keep us up, but it shows a lack of ambition beyond that” but I think the bigger problem is that this appointment doesn’t make us any more likely to avoid relegation. All we’ve achieved here is to swap one type of relegation battle for another.