The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer questions David Sullivan’s expectations.
Expectations are the most dangerous element in football. Every club should have ambition but the tricky thing is adjusting these ambitions to achieve progress. Inappropriate expectations underlie the disasters which have seen many clubs tumble from the Premiership to protracted periods in the championship or even lower.
Three weeks ago a multi web site poll revealed only a small minority of West Ham supporters wanted to extend Moyes contract. Given he was, at appointment, a remarkably unpopular choice, this was not that surprising. He had much to do to win over some of us.
Nevertheless the picture by Sunday was less straightforward. A strong end to the season saw the Irons pick up a crucial 7 out of 9 points, and equally surprisingly turn on the style in the games against Leicester and Everton.
I give no credence to anybody who downplays these performances. The more I look at the Leicester game the more impressive it seems. This was a Leicester team that West Ham dominated and largely nullified. Our much vilified defence, criticised by me as much as anybody, barely gave them a sniff. Yet this was a Leicester team that, only a few days later, convincingly put 3 goals past Arsenal to win and spoil Wenger’s final week. This same Leicester, so ineffectual against us, then romped into a 3-1 lead against Tottenham at Wembley. In the end their efforts against Arsenal only 72 hours earlier, caught up with them. They became leggy and suffered a late collapse. The fact is that, however, we had made a team look impotent which had then proceeded to score 7 goals against Arsenal and Tottenham in the space of 3 days.
Talking of late collapses and fitness, the lack of this discussion in relation to West Ham is an indication of the transformation that Moyes and his team have engineered. No pundit talked of tiredness against Everton despite performing only 72 hours after a high intensity battel against Manchester United. Mourinho had responded to Thursdays’ exertions by making 9 changes. Moyes, in contrast, went with the same 11. Yet at no time did West Ham seem more leggy or unfit despite the advantage Everton enjoyed of a full week to prepare. More significantly nobody, to my surprise, even mentioned it as an issue. Whatever else Allardyce would have done he would not have allowed slackness in fitness. I am convinced that a West Ham team 12 months earlier would have struggled with the demands of playing 2 games within 72 hours.
What I have never had any doubts about is Moyes’s abilities and experience as a man manager. I personally would prefer a Man like Bilic to manage me in any work situation. Yet the ever loyal Julian Dicks had revealed that when Bilic asked him where he had gone wrong, he simply said “you were too good to them”. Dicks was obviously disgusted by the attitude of some in the squad who he felt had let Bilic down. In contrast Moyes and indeed his entire coaching team bristled with no nonsense man management skills. The result has been that when the inevitable tantrums of the spoilt and over paid emerge, these are dealt with in straightforward fashion and have not been allowed to developed into protracted soap operas and dramas. There have been plenty of opportunities for these to have advanced within Moyes’s short tenure, from Arthur Masuaku irresponsible spitting to Carroll’s juvenile throwing of his toys out of his pram. The calm management of these issues along with the transformation of Marko Arnautovic from wild boy to responsible club professional all testified to Moyes as a safe pair of Management hands. This is a much undervalued management virtue. The most striking aspect of Pardew’s disastrous tenure at West Brom was his complete inability to instil any team discipline with terminal results. Even those who are considered allegedly the best managers in the world can struggle. José Mourinho was driven out of Chelsea by his inability to control his squad; Antonio Conte has had similar issues.
Of course there were question marks against a Moyes appointment. Apart from Mario’s recruitment the January window was hare brained and risky. We gambled on selling a central defender and selling Ayew to a relegation rival. These gambles could easily have come back to haunt us. Hugehill shows no sign of confirming any inspired talent identification. Yet Moyes has identified talent in the past and judging on one Window seems unfair. The other main concern was that Moyes had not repaired the worst defence in the league. However this was a structural problem which has persisted for 2 years and patience had been earned with recent encouraging improvement. My final concern was whether Moyes had the tactical flexibility to adjust to the modern demands of the Premiership. Despite this the displays against Leicester, Manchester United and Everton persuaded me that Moyes was not as tactically limited as I feared. He was not a one trick strategic pony. The midfield interchange between Lanzini and Mario did not arrived spontaneously but would have been born out of hours of sessions at Rush Green.
So if I had been David Sullivan I would have knocked on Moyes’s door at 6pm on Sunday and offered an immediate 1 year extension. Whether Moyes would have accepted this or held out for a 2 year deal we will never know. My instincts is that he would have accepted. I would have honestly explained the reservations and improvements I wanted and indicated my patience to see the progress we had made this season consolidated. If by January Moyes had continued realistic progress I would have then entered discussions for a further extension. The Moyes project had delivered safety but my gut feeling is that it would have offered stability and probable further progress. If expectations had not been met December would have been the time to seek a new Manager. For me the main agenda for West ham is to cease performing as a club in danger of relegations, a club which no longer yo yos regularly from Premiership to Championship and which can provide entertaining football without the constant stench of fear.
Instead in his wisdom David Sullivan has decided to take another path. Whether this path leads to the ever elusive glory which some believe is just around the corner is certainly a moot point. I am uncomfortably reminded of the similar minds set which saw the sacking of Zola and his replacement by Avram Grant. I was in the small minority at the time which regretted Zola’s sacking. His removal was supposed to clear the way for West Ham to advance to the “next level”. Whilst Zola never pulled up trees elsewhere I still feel he could have built a project with us. What is clear is that appointing Grant was a gamble which backfired massively. Instead we spiralled out of control with a demoralised and alienated squad into relegation and the championship. Grant’s appointment was driven by ambitions and expectations of the club delivering a quick fix to an unrealistic timescale. I sometimes think nothing is learnt.
I desperately hope that I am proved wrong but replacing Moyes with a similar level Manager of proven calibre is not at all straightforward. I fear the new incarnation of Avram grant. Whoever is appointed will be in a hurry, with a contracted transfer window, with a need to engage positively with the existing squad to identify weaknesses strengths and opportunities. We are entering a period of high risk transformation. I hope that this time the wager the Board has made on our future is not as disastrous.