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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

David Moyes departs West Ham with reputation somewhat restored considering the context

The former Everton and Sunderland manager achieved what was asked of him and saved the club from relegation

David Moyes has left West Ham United after his short-term contract at the Premier League club expired at the end of the season. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
David Moyes has left West Ham United after his short-term contract at the Premier League club expired at the end of the season. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

It may be becoming an annual habit. In May 2017, David Moyes left Sunderland. In May 2018, he departed West Ham United.

Yet the similarities are superficial. Twelve months ago, he resigned at his lowest ebb, having taken an established Premier League club to an abject relegation. He can leave the London Stadium with reputation restored, to some degree.

A 13th-place finish sounds unspectacular for a club with the budget and the talent in the squad to equip them for better. But after inheriting a genuine relegation battle - unlike Everton’s situation, despite the sacked Sam Allardyce’s claims to the contrary – Moyes did succeed in steering his club to safety.

The context made it a more admirable achievement. The difficulties caused by the move to the London Stadium and the breakdown of the relationship between supporters and publicity-hungry owners who rarely shoulder the responsibility when anything goes wrong meant the atmosphere was often toxic.

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Failings in recruitment left an unbalanced, ageing squad, shorn of speed in key positions, lacking the extra central defender and defensive midfielder Moyes required. Defeats certainly were not all the Scot’s fault.

A manager who seemed trapped in a tactical straitjacket in his time at Manchester United defied his image in an imaginative response. Reconfiguring West Ham with a back three meant Arthur Masuaku made a swift transformation from misfit to dynamic wing-back.

The reinvention of Marko Arnautovic as a centre-forward was a masterstroke. West Ham’s record buy had fewer league goals or assists than red cards under Slaven Bilic. He delivered 11 goals and six assists for Moyes, egotistical flair player and straitlaced manager forming an odd couple in a mutually beneficial relationship.

There were times, including Sunday’s 3-1 win over Everton, where Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini formed an entertaining, effective attacking alliance who were liberated by the absence of a specialist striker. Moyes did not duck a decision, twice showing the strength to drop Joe Hart. He was vindicated both times.

It was not all positive, of course. A win ratio of 29 per cent sounds underwhelming. West Ham’s FA Cup defeat to Wigan Athletic was embarrassing. Their defensive record improved under Moyes, but remained unimpressive.

They had too few home wins and inconsistency was an issue. Moyes made progress, but it was a stop-start affair, hindered by the underlying problems that stem from the top. He felt altogether rational for West Ham, an unflashy workaholic at a club with a fondness for showy gestures, a weakness for big names and incurable addiction to the headlines.

He left the day after co-owner David Gold talked of having a shortlist of managers and then said he hoped Moyes would stay: even to the last, there was mixed messaging, coupled with the sense that West Ham were forever looking for something better.

Yet there were hints that Moyes had tired of West Ham’s culture. At 55 years old, appearing slightly old-fashioned and not always deemed the most glamorous, expansive or progressive, a realist was not a natural fit for a club where the gulf between ambition and actuality can gape.

Lest it be forgotten, West Ham wanted Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp and Rafa Benitez three years ago. They ended up with Bilic; now they are talking of appointing a “high-calibre” figure in the next 10 days.

So another strange search for overly optimistic targets may beckon. As for Moyes, he may never manage a bigger English club than West Ham again.

Yet with some indications he has rediscovered the confidence and sense of purpose he seemed to lose in his traumatic spell at Old Trafford, perhaps he is better equipped to prosper elsewhere.

The difficulty is finding a sizeable club with the stability West Ham lack.