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David Moyes and West Ham are in an uneasy marriage – can either do better?

David Moyes

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?

David Moyes and the Conference League
In June David Moyes led West Ham to their first proper trophy for 43 years - Alex Grimm/Getty Images

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.

Tomas Soucek of West Ham United scores the opening goal
Tomas Soucek scores West Ham's first during the victory over Arsenal at the Emirates in December - Marc Atkins/Getty Images

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.

West Ham fans show Moyes OUT banner
Some West Ham fans wanted Moyes to be sacked and made their feelings known during last year's match at Fulham – but victory saved his job - Rob Newell/CameraSport via Getty Images

After that? Moyes kept West Ham up and he took them to the triumph of winning the Europa Conference League coming out of it, as he put it, “smelling of roses”. Maybe he believed he should have arrived back from Prague, after last June, holding not just with the trophy but a new contract, then.

Moyes coped admirably with the sale of their best player Declan Rice to Arsenal for £105 million with the club making some shrewd signings including James Ward-Prowse, Mohammed Kudus and Edson Alvarez. There is no denying West Ham have backed Moyes in the transfer market but exiting the domestic cups – they lost 5-1 to Liverpool in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup, fielding a weakened team – has caused irritation.

Which brings fresh criticism. West Ham’s squad is, arguably, the strongest it has been for many years despite Rice leaving. There are some outstanding players, such as Kudus and Lucas Paqueta, but there is also a sense that under Moyes they often play with the handbrake on.

Is that fair? At times, undoubtedly, yes. But Paqueta has been out injured, Kudus has been on duty with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations – and West Ham are still ahead of Newcastle United and Chelsea in the table and are on course to qualify for Europe for the fourth consecutive season.

And it should not be forgotten that they were only one point and one place outside the relegation zone when Moyes returned in December 2019, initially signing an 18-month deal after Manuel Pellegrini was sacked. “It feels great to be home,” Moyes said at the time and he certainly returned to the job more aware of what it entailed than when he first took over in Nov 2017.

West Ham know they should never have let Moyes leave in the first place, having allowed his contract to run down, but are risking that happening again. They acknowledged their mistake by bringing him back. This time it does feel a little more complicated and, maybe, nuanced. Even if it would be a surprise if that new deal is not agreed. But maybe it also comes down to one final question: who needs the other the most? Is it Moyes or is it West Ham?

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