Ambition on hold at West Ham, but Moyes is not the answer
Right time to go for Bilic
The axe finally yielded for Slaven Bilic after West Ham’s 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool on Saturday evening, and the response has been a rather strange from from the Hammers fans. It has been clear for weeks, even as far back as August, that Bilic was swimming against the tide and perhaps didn’t have the self belief to pull himself and the team through. The noises from the stands suggested he needed to go, as did the results, but his statement on the official club website was met by an outbreak of warmth and sadness.
His status as a cult hero goes back to his days as a player at Upton Park, and his first season, the last at that famous old ground, was one of the best in the club’s modern history. Spearheaded by Dimitri Payet, in some eyes a modern day Paolo Di Canio, West Ham finished seventh and qualified for Europe. But consecutive failures to reach the Europa League group stages were just one of the negatives in his reign; the turgid football played on the whole since West Ham moved to the London Stadium, and the lack of fight in the players, meant his time was up. It was another summer of heavy spending, too, with Joe Hart, Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic the most high profile arrivals. Amongst all of this, though, Bilic’s class, dignity and humility meant there is real sympathy for him.
Trouble could be brewing
Two of the Premier League’s most ambitious clubs are now on the hunt for new managers and there are some really interesting parallels between them. Everton thought they’d hit the jackpot when they hired Ronald Koeman at the start of last season, just as West Ham did with Bilic the year before. Koeman had proven his ability to play expansively in the Premier League while at Southampton, and backed by the £150million he received in the summer, he was expected to deliver. But having sacked him, any exotic and perceived ambitious managerial targets in his mould have gone out of the window. With relegation an increasing possibility, the front-runners appear to be men who are known for organising a defence, namely Sean Dyche and Sam Allardyce. By sacking Allardyce two tears ago, West Ham wanted to move away from the stigma that comes with his management, but reports they are about to appoint David Moyes until the end of the season suggest they are fearing regression.
There would be obvious symmetry if Moyes were to replace Bilic and Allardyce were to take over at Goodison Park given their past with each other’s perspective new club. Both managers have stonewall reputations within English football as two of the best on these shores, but while Allardyce has continuously implemented his limited but effective style right throughout his career, Moyes has lost his way somewhat. He perpetuated the plucky underdog in 11 years at Everton, consistently troubling the top six on a shoestring budget, but after failing miserably at Manchester United and struggling to evolve in La Liga with Real Sociedad. His top flight career appeared to reach the point of no return when he presided over a disastrous relegation campaign with Sunderland last season. In the volatile and ruthless game of football management, Moyes appears more bulletproof than most.
Once again, the crucial difference between Allardyce and Moyes is the longevity of their relative success. The former is still likely to guarantee what he brings, and while hiring him will appear an acceptance that their pursuit of the big boys is on hold, it feels like it might be necessary at this point. But Moyes has failed consecutively, so the notion that he will come in as the answer to the problems Bilic has left is not one to be taken for granted. It could be argued that Sunderland’s issues ran much deeper than him, but there was never a feeling coming from him to suggest he believed he could stay up. He even attempted to manage expectations on a massive scale at Old Trafford. Bilic had said after defeat to Newcastle in the third game of the season that he had to believe rather than he did. It would be much of a muchness with Moyes at the helm.
Both West Ham and Everton are finding out the hard way that having a talented squad of players is not enough. The immediate answer for the Toffees may well be Allardyce, but if London is really calling for David Moyes then that raises a number of doubts. Putting substance categorically over style is right, but as Moyes is yesterday’s man and is not the answer.