The smile was broad, if nervous. The language was positive, especially about himself. “It’s good for West Ham as well,” said David Moyes “I think they’ve got a good manager.”
The November afternoon in the Great Briton suite of the London Stadium where the Hammers unveiled their new manager was full of awkward moments like that. Moyes has never been the most polished at PR but was clearly mindful of what happened at Sunderland, when the pronouncement that his new club were in for a relegation battle set the tone for a season of doom.
His brief was simple: keep West Ham in the Premier League. His contract, just six months, was no cause for concern. “I think it is a chance for both parties to get to know each other,” he said, suggesting the completion of his objective would lead to an extension.
West Ham will be a Premier League club next season, and may even end this season in mid-table, but will Moyes be their manager come August? The signs are nothing like positive. Despite survival being confirmed with two games left to play, the fans are at best unconvinced, and the boardroom has hardly been publicly supportive.
The club’s problems run far, far deeper than on-field matters, with the London Stadium such an unsatisfactory venue and the owners so unpopular. It has suited them for Moyes to be a lightning rod for at least some of the dissatisfaction.
After Thursday’s drab 0-0 draw with Manchester United, it sounded distinctly like Moyes was talking about West Ham in the past tense. “It’s been a tough job but I have really enjoyed it,” he said. “We’ll have a chat next week and we’ll see how things go.”
Moyes had previously been asking questions of the club’s ambitions and hinted that he is receiving other offers. “I want to be a manager pushing the top six or eight,” he said in pre-match. “You need the tools for that. I want to make sure I can give the supporters what they crave. But I’ve got other things if it’s not renewed. It’s not a problem.”
He needn’t be holding his breath waiting for a three-year contract. Before Thursday’s match, fans entering the London Stadium had their “Moyes out” placards and A4 printouts confiscated.
The Moyes style of play, perhaps best explained during that unveiling by the promise to “get some crosses in”, has failed to meet the approval of a fanbase that demands attacking play of a little more intricacy. Only Sir Alex Ferguson, in mystifyingly anointing his fellow Scot as Manchester United manager, ever had faith in Moyes’ attacking credentials.
Moyes, then, despite a successful rescue mission, is likely to be the latest victim of the “West Ham Way”, that nebulous idea of a club where football is played off the cuff, and winning is not as important as entertainment.
In recent years, this mysterious phenomena has claimed many a manager.
Predecessor and former player Slaven Bilic seemed to “get it” for a while, and received considerable leeway for the Dimitri Payet-inspired excitement of his first season in charge, 2015-16, the swan song of the old Boleyn Ground. After that, West Ham played goddawful football for much of the first season at the new ground and until Bilic’s removal in November, standards and spirits had slipped even lower.
And before Bilic, Sam Allardyce had openly scoffed at the pretensions of the notion. “You won’t find two Hammers anywhere who agree on what that is,” read his 2015 autobiography of the “West Ham Way”, penned after his contract was not renewed following the 2014-15 season.
Moyes has been a tad more diplomatic, but he has never claimed to be the begotten son of Ron Greenwood or John Lyall, those managers who presided over the 1960s and 1970s eras in which the Hammers won cup competitions but were too much of a soft touch to compete for the league.
In completing his assignment, Moyes received meagre backing to change up an imbalanced squad. The only January transfer window cash was spent on Jordan Hugill, an £8m purchase from Preston, who has featured in just three matches, while Joao Mario has made a contribution on loan from Inter Milan without anyone being able to work out what his best position is. The only further addition was 36-year-old Patrice Evra.
The club, which has stated ambitions to host Champions League football at the London Stadium, had a net transfer spend of minus £9m over the season. And so co-owners Davids Sullivan and Gold and vice-chairman Baroness Karren Brady will look for a new boss, someone more adventurous and exotic than Moyes, with names as fantastical like Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel being floated on the rumour mill.
Back in November, Moyes was realistic. “If it works, great,” he said. “If it doesn’t, then I’ll see the East End of London for seven months, then I’ll go elsewhere.”
His personal reputation was in tatters after Sunderland followed disasters at Real Sociedad and Old Trafford so securing survival, no matter in how unspectacular a fashion and how little artistic impression was created, reinvigorates his career. If an opportunity doesn’t come this summer, he has added his name to the shortlist of survival specialists. Moyes rescued West Ham, and also himself.