West Ham, despite having no reason to, have sucked for the better part of a year now. Because of this, today they’ve finally decided to fire manager Slaven Bilić. Probably a smart move. What probably isn’t a smart move is entrusting this squad of very talented attackers to David Moyes, an old, stodgy coach whose only talent as of late appears to be taking a pristine managerial reputation and turning it to shit in record time.
Bilić had a great start to his West Ham managerial career back in the 2015-16 season. Those where the heady days, back when Dimitri Payet was going Super Saiyan every weekend and the Hammers were flirting with the Champions League places. Then Payet got fed up with England’s rain or shitty food or whatever and more or less quit trying the following season, and forced a move back to France in January of 2017. Without the disinterested and then departed Payet’s services, Bilić has never been able to make the team look convincing. If his firing today is surprising at all, it’s only because of how long it took the club’s leadership to move on from the popular, well-liked, but clearly ineffectual manager.
On paper, it seems that the Hammers’ struggles have been mostly strategic. All the building blocks of a perfectly good and fun team should already be there. Bilić has the reputation of being a fairly attack-minded manager, but that mainly stems from his mediocre attacks being exponentially better than his piss-poor defenses. His team’s non-Payet attacks have never impressed, which is a shame considering the quality of players the club has on that side of the pitch. Manuel Lanzini, Javier Hernández, André Ayew, and Marko Arnautović have the makings of a very good attacking line between them, and Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll are more than capable rotation options.
Ideally, then, you’d like to see West Ham go for a proven and/or promising attacking manager in an effort to get the best out of their best players. Instead, reports say they’re on the cusp of hiring the old, unadventurous, proven-to-suck David Moyes.
We don’t need to detail the litany of Moyes’s failures of the past few years here, since those failures are basically the only things anyone remembers about him at this point. Suffice it to say, Moyes is not and has never been a particularly attack-minded coach, and favors a playing strategy that focuses primarily on being incredibly stubborn defensively and thumping in just enough goals from counters and crosses to stitch together some wins.
None of those formerly demonstrated traits of Moyes’s are bad, of course. All teams should be good defensively, and if you have big plodders good with their heads playing through the middle and quick wide guys who can curve in pretty crosses, then by all means you should exploit those skills.
West Ham, though, aren’t quite that kind of team. Hernández and Carroll are penalty box poachers, yes, but the rest of West Ham’s starters would seem to be better served with a playing style reliant on keeping the ball and pulling off neat, intricate passes to poke their way through on goal. This way of playing is decidedly not Moyes’s style.
No one is saying that West Ham and Moyes are necessarily doomed here. West Ham are in the relegation places right now, and at the very least you’d expect a team with the Hammers’ talent and a manager of Moyes’s proclivities to come up with a thick enough defensive wall that should protect them from actually getting sent down. (Now, you arguably could’ve said the same about Sunderland last year before Moyes submarined with that club, but there are legitimate reasons to expect better this time around.) And since the reports say Moyes’s contract will only be for six months, it’s not the worst plan in the world to bring in a defensive manager, have him clean up the mess the team has played its way into by securing the club’s safety this year, and afterwards shaking said manager’s hand and go looking for a more ambitious choice to lead what should be a perennial top-half club into its future. And who knows, maybe Moyes of 2012 will reemerge from the desiccated, crusty husk that is Moyes 2017 and the Hammers will have happened upon one of the savviest, most effective coaches in the league’s recent history.
But this still has to be a worrying sign for the West Ham faithful. The last time Moyes took over an underachieving team with lots of attacking talent, he got ran out of Spain for playing some of the most dreadful, uninspired, inept soccer the land of tiki taka had ever seen. If West Ham see themselves as a legitimate relegation candidate and thus turn a designated relegation-avoider (and let’s be clear, that is what Moyes is at this point), then what does that say about the club’s future prospects and ambitions?
That last question is one West Ham fans and players will certainly be pondering right now, and it’s something only they can answer for themselves. For Moyes, the issue is much clearer. This has to be his last chance at a damn good gig in a top-tier league. The raw materials are all there to make this a great rebound job in the short and long terms. But then again that’s been true of all Moyes’s post-Everton jobs, and he hasn’t managed to recapture even a semblance of that brilliant coach who worked miracles at Everton for a whole decade. Still, no better time than the present to turn his career around.