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The Moyes Resurrection

Monday 3rd May 2021
Jason Bourne star Matt Damon portraying Hammers' boss David Moyes in a film? Unlikely, but the Oscar winner did star in Invictus.
Jason Bourne star Matt Damon portraying Hammers' boss David Moyes in a film? Unlikely, but the Oscar winner did star in Invictus.

If you missed the Academy Awards ceremony last week, it was something of a fiasco. Again. After decades of steady management established the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a reliable, distinguished institution, their reputation has been repeatedly maligned over the past five years.

Tradition decrees the Award for Best Picture be presented last, as the evening's crowning moment. That crown was severely dented in 2018 when presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced vanilla musical La La Land as Best Picture after being handed the wrong envelope. Following a brief, panicked huddle live at centre stage that left some onlookers wondering if there had been a medical emergency or terrorist attack, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz graciously corrected the error and invited actual winners, the racially charged drama Moonlight, to the podium to accept the award to scattered applause from a confused audience. That incident occurred two years after director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith led a boycott of the event to protest under-representation of people of color in the awards process.

This year's event found a way to combine those gaffes. When the late Chadwick Boseman, who tragically passed from cancer in August, posthumously won the Golden Globe's Best Actor for his portrayal of cornet player Levee Green in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the Academy Awards producers elected to move that category to the closing spot in their ceremony, supplanting Best Picture. Why? Perhaps they recalled that the Golden Globes predicted La La Land's overall success [it won six of their awards and seven Oscars] while also anticipating Moonlight's triumph as Best Picture. If Boseman won the Best Actor Oscar to cap the night, it would go a long way to restoring the Academy's image.

Only, the Golden Globes typically aren't reliable indicators for the Academy Awards and the immensely popular star of Black Panther, 21 Bridges and Marshall didn't win. Instead, tone-deaf Academy voters bestowed the Oscar on Sir Anthony Hopkins, very much alive but also not in attendance due to COVID-19 travel concerns. The result left presenter Joaquin Phoenix standing alone at the microphone, muttering an embarrassed 'good evening' to the audience with a blank look on his face awhile the Academy found its name sullied even further.

West Ham boss David Moyes is no Chadwick Boseman. Nor is he Anthony Hopkins. On the other hand, his managerial career proceeded as steadily and sedately as Academy Awards presentations for eleven years. His reputation grew as Everton squads continually asked questions of the reigning big four, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, banging on the Champions League door with increasing ferocity until, in his Best Picture moment, the Scot was unveiled as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor at United. Denizens of the Stretford End will recall how that went. Moyes' frequent blank looks at post-match pressers for United mirrored Joaquin Phoenix. The brusque Scot with the notoriously intimidating glare suddenly found himself apologizing regularly for stepping on toes.

For its part, the club is on its third attempt at identifying the managerial Moonlight to Moyes' La La Land. Neither of the two Champions League winning managers brought in, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, proved to be 'Best' at much of anything. Now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Norwegian who won a European Cup for them as a player, takes his turn,. The envelope containing the verdict on his performance remains unopened.

Not too long ago, it was easy to imagine Moyes at the window watching life pass him by as well.
Not too long ago, it was easy to imagine Moyes at the window watching life pass him by as well.

Photo: Nicholas Andrew

As the Red Devils struggled to regain Sir Alex's level of excellence, Moyes' career fell down the same celebrity rabbit hole that swallowed the likes of The Mummy's Brendan Fraser, Bridget Jones' Diary star Renee Zellweger and martial arts maven Steven Seagal. Two of the three found a path back to Hollywood relevance, Fraser returned after years in the wilderness. Hiding several stone of added weight under a ridiculous ten-gallon stetson in the Danny Boyle directed FX series Trust, Fraser nevertheless delivered a solid performance as the late oil baron John Paul Getty's fixer. Meanwhile, Zellweger needed nearly a decade for casting agents to accept her radical new look after her decision to undergo cosmetic surgery. A procedure usually intended to take off years transformed her appearance from the wholesome girl next door type who tended to pop out of the cornfield on Hee Haw or be chased around the streets of London by Benny Hill into another jaded looking cougar like you might expect to find on Real Wives of Beverley Hills. Still, her turn as Judy Garland in a highly acclaimed biopic of the legendary singer proved she still has chops. 

So, it turns out, does Moyes. When the bottom fell out at Old Trafford, one could empathise with the choice to put as much distance between himself and Manchester as professionally feasible. Nevertheless, the phrase 'Real Sociedad boss David Moyes' jarred the senses. His aesthetic didn't match the stereotype of Spanish football. It did, however, dovetail with the definition of relegation specialist. With his disciplined, fundamentally defensive approach shoring up the Blue and White rearguard, the Glaswegian pulled the Basque side back from the brink during the 2014-15 Liga campaign. In 15th when he took the reigns in November, the side finished twelfth. Still, Sociedad were slow out of the gate the following campaign and he was unceremoniously sacked, an event that would become all too familiar in the ensuing years.

When he succeeded Sam Allardyce at Sunderland for the 2016/17 season, the Black Cats never got out of the gate. Despite inheriting United castoffs John O'Shea and Wes Brown, then acquiring struggling Reds youngster Adnan Januzaj on loan, Moyes' run at the Stadium of Light proved dark as night. His squad ended the season with three consecutive defeats, finishing bottom of the league, 16 points from safety and relegated to the Championship. Pundits began pronouncing his career DOA, the same dismissive judgment now being applied to recently sacked Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho. The consensus after Moyes' disastrous season was that he was done; he just didn't know it.

Ignorance, they say, is bliss. Moyes turned a deaf ear to critics throwing dirt on his managerial grave and, for the second time in his career, played the November man, coming to West Ham's rescue in 2017. The Hammers languished in the drop zone when he arrived and, if there was the proverbial honeymoon period, the new man found himself locked out of the hotel suite. It was a month and two days before he consummated his appointment with his first victory. Fans and pundits questioned his signing but he'd finally found traction. More wins came and West Ham slowly clawed their way out of danger, securing their safety with two matches to spare in a 2-0 victory over Leicester City.

Chairman David Sullivan's garish Rolls wasn't the only red mark on the West Ham ledger prior to this season.
Chairman David Sullivan's garish Rolls wasn't the only red mark on the West Ham ledger prior to this season.

Limited progress didn't impress Messrs Gold and Sullivan, co-chairs at the club. They opted not to renew Moyes' contract, signing former Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean had a Premier League title on his CV whereas, at the highest level, the Scot could only boast of a Community Shield won at the outset of his brief United tenure. Pellegrini led the Hammers to a tenth place finish in his only full season but regressed in his second campaign despite culling the deadwood in the squad, most notably Chicharito, Andy Carroll and Samir Nasri, while recruiting exciting talent in the form of Sebastien Haller, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Brown and Tomas Soucek.

This time, the two Davids waited until three days before the New Year to summon Moyes back to the fold. Again, he was only able to marginally improve the side. Yet, for some reason, ownership elected to retain Moyes rather than look elsewhere for a permanent manager. The man himself wasn't surprised, as he'd indicated when reappointed.

I think there's only two or three managers with a better Premier League win record. That's what I do; I win. I'm here to get West Ham wins and get them away from the bottom three.

He wasn't wrong. Moyes entered the 2020/21 campaign fourth on the list of winningest Premier League managers, behind only Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp, and narrowly leading Jose Mourinho. That said, if you had polled London football enthusiasts or the rest of the country for that matter, I'm sure most would have anticipated the Portuguese challenging for Champions League qualification, overtaking Moyes in league victories and that the West Ham boss would be the one looking for new employment by season's end.

Instead, it's the reverse. The Glaswegian's 16 league wiins to date in '20/21 lift him to 225 for his career, within striking range of Redknapp at 236. Ahead of tonight's tilt with Burnley at Turf Moor, West Ham are positioned to vault Liverpool and Spurs and close to within three points of Chelsea, who cling to the final Champions League place in the table. While Manchester City's second half surge left the rest of the field for dead, there is an argument to be made for Moyes as Premier League manager of the Year rather than Pep Guardiola. 

City's Catalan boss has far more talent at his disposal. Moreover, winning titles is expected of the man. Been there, done that, have the long-sleeve, hipster crew neck. Next to nothing was expected of David Moyes this term. Premier League fans anticipated that Moyes would keep his side safely in the mid-table, affording him time to discuss retirement funds over tea with Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson. Guardiola backers would add that it's exceedingly difficult to stay on top. Beyond Fergie and Pep, who else occupies a permanent penthouse in the modern game? Even Mourinho has succumbed. Yet, as tough as it is to repeat, I think it requires even greater effort and focus to pull yourself from the abyss as Moyes has, to convince people they shouldn't have written you off, to be one of just five men with more than 200 Premier League victories and to have accumulated them without the luxury of deep pockets to purchase no end of world-class players.

Call me a sucker for a happy ending but David Moyes has redeemed himself in 2020/21. It's worth celebrating.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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