Six winless games have put the veteran manager and his troubled relationship with the fans in the spotlight again before visit of Arsenal
: Steven Paston/PA Wire
These are strange days at West Ham United. Seventh in the Premier League, into the last-16 of the Europa League and with a vastly experienced manager who won the club its first trophy for 43 years.
It would appear signing that manager up to a new contract, not least because both parties indicated that is what they want and would happen in January, is surely just a formality.
And yet it has not been. Not yet anyway. It had been seen as a given only a few weeks ago. But now? David Moyes, whose current deal expires in just over four months’ time, may well deny it but at the heart of it appears to be the sense that despite his achievements he feels underappreciated by some of the club’s supporters.
That is according to sources within the club – while there may be another explanation. “He dithers in his decision-making when it comes to players so why should it be any different over his own contract!” one source quipped.
And that is the core of the matter. That gets to the centre of the debate around Moyes who may be one of the most assured managers in the Premier League and has brought almost unprecedented stability to West Ham. The club want him to stay even if he still strongly divides opinion. Is he the ‘Moyesiah’ or is he ‘Dithering Dave’ whose conservative style of football can sometimes be a turn-off?
That tension is also summed up in West Ham’s results. On Sunday they host Arsenal in the Premier League, having produced one of the best – and best-organised – performances in Moyes’ four-year second tenure, when they beat them 2-0 away. They also knocked Arsenal out of the Carabao Cup and drew with them last season to help end their Premier League title hopes.
And yet that win at the Emirates in December, on the back of also beating Manchester United by the same score, has been followed by a run of six games without a victory, including being knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship club Bristol City.
It is a sequence that does not suggest it is the best time, perhaps, to negotiate a new contract and especially, also, after a January transfer window which ultimately proved to be a frustration.
West Ham looked desperately in need of a centre-forward but deals were apparently delayed or vetoed, with the manager unsure, while the attempt to sign Jota from Saudi club Al-Ittihad was always doomed to failure because of his tax liability. West Ham lost out on another winger Ibrahim Osman with a £17 million deal since agreed with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Could it be that the transfer dealings, plus the sudden run of disappointing results, has led to fresh doubts, maybe even from Moyes himself?
Following the Arsenal result it was confirmed that contract talks were due to take place in January and that a 2½-year extension, given his age, was likely. An informal chat with the owners took place in late December; formal talks were due last month. Then it felt like it was imminent and while the expectation remains that it will be agreed it is, intriguingly, no longer a given.
In fairness Moyes has suggested there is no problem, has insisted he remains relaxed and that the “noise” around it is external. “We’ll get back on it now the transfer window is shut,” he said. “We’re well down the line and moving on it. We’ll pick that up again in the next few weeks.”
But others are not so sure. There has previously, within the club, been a feeling that Moyes keeps his own counsel and can be hard to read and might even walk when his contract expires. That has always been played down but it is undeniably a curious relationship he endures with the fans.
Or, that should be qualified, as certain sections of the fans. On social media it would appear there is far greater weight against Moyes than there is within the London Stadium from those who actually attend the games. In saying that there have been boos more than once this season and not least following the recent lacklustre draw with Bournemouth.
Moyes has also been close to losing his job in the past and, most recently, last April, when he was just 90 minutes away from the sack. An away fixture at Fulham looked tricky, especially after a 5-1 hammering against Newcastle United in midweek, and Slaven Bilic lined up to return to the club, initially to the end of the season, with Mark Noble, the club’s sporting director, working alongside him.
West Ham won 1-0, through an own goal by Harrison Reed, which eased their relegation concerns. Not that there was joy in the performance with sources pointing out that Moyes had not used any of their recent signings and with his substitutions barracked. Even so he appeared to have the backing of the club’s hierarchy at the final whistle.
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