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Soccer’s Most-Maligned Man Gets His Reputation Back

The 2020-21 English Premier League season has proven to be one of the most interesting in years. There are multiple narratives to keep fans interested, even if their team is not winning: Liverpool’s collapse into mediocrity; Man City’s excellence; the emergence of Aston Villa and Jack Grealish; the question of whether Manchester United’s results are representative of a great team, or a lucky one; Jose Mourinho’s demise. These are just some of the stories of what has been an intriguing season. 

But perhaps the most heart-warming episode of the Premier League drama has been the rehabilitation of David Moyes. The West Ham manager was, for want of a better term, a laughing-stock among fans for several years. But he has guided his team towards the Champions League qualification spots, something that seems almost miraculous given the resources at his disposal. Making Premier League predictions this season has made experts look foolish at times, but nobody would have predicted that West Ham would be above Liverpool by late February. 

But the Moyes’ story needs more context than what we have seen this season. Back in the 2000s and early 2010s, he was seen as one of the brightest managers in Europe. He guided Everton to several strong finishes in the league, being voted the LMA Manager of the Year on three separate occasions (only the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson has won more). Moyes gained the reputation as the man who could work with average players and build them into a good team. He also had an eye for a bargain in the transfer market.

david moyes english premier league
Credit: PA:PRESS ASSOCIATION

Moyes had poisoned chalice at Manchester United 

Moyes replaced Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager in 2013. The United board decided (at the behest of Ferguson, apparently) to give Moyes a lengthy six-year contract. The Scot didn’t last until the end of the first season. It was always going to be difficult to follow a legend through the door at Old Trafford, but Moyes oversaw the worst run of results in decades. The jokes from rival fans started flying in: he was mocked ironically as The Chosen One, the Moyesiah (a play on the Messiah). 

United still struggled when Moyes left, leaving some experts to muse that it was not his fault alone. World-renowned coaches like Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho also failed to deliver the results and style of soccer that fans wanted, and it became clear that the team had problems beyond the coaching staff. Moyes, however, could not rebuild his reputation. He flopped in Spain at Real Sociedad, and he had a terrible year at Sunderland. 

West Ham finally gave him a chance in 2017, although the fans were vocal about not wanting him. Moyes came in as a ‘fire-fighter’ mid-season to replace Slavin Bilic, who had left the club in 18th and in danger of relegation. Moyes steered the club away from trouble, finishing in 13th. That was not enough to give him a new contract, however, and Moyes was replaced by Manuel Pellegrini at the end of 2017-18 season. Pellegrini was given a massive transfer budget and a lot of goodwill by the fans, but poor results saw him sacked in December 2019. Enter Moyes once more. 

Moyes will earn new contract at West Ham

Moyes, this time on an 18-month contract, stabilised the club. But it was not enough for fans to embrace him. He was still seen as tainted, the joke manager who failed to win with Manchester United. But by the start of this season, the fans’ ire turned towards the board. Not only had they kept the unfashionable Moyes in the post, but they had also failed to strengthen the squad. West Ham had a hugely difficult fixture list to begin the 2020/21 season, and Moyes was top of the sportsbooks’ sack race list. Nobody gave him any hope of surviving to Christmas. 

But Moyes turned West Ham into a formidable force. At the time of writing, they are ahead of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in the table. An incredible feat on a shoe-string budget. Moyes is set to be offered a new contract at the end of the season, and that could come with a chance to guide West Ham though the Champions League or Europa League. But more importantly, the man has got his reputation back. He might not be The Chosen One, but he has proven he is a very good manager indeed. 

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