It says everything about the vast improvement West Ham have made under David Moyes that there was a sense of disappointment around both the result and performance in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Fulham.
Had they won at Craven Cottage, the Hammers would have moved up to fourth, a position they occupied for a couple of days last month but one the club have only matched or bettered by season’s end once in their entire history – the 1985-86 season when they finished third under John Lyall.
Instead, West Ham’s supporters can console themselves with the knowledge their team have their highest points tally after 23 games since that memorable 80s campaign – and have now matched the 39 they accumulated in the whole of last season.
Moyes deserves much of the credit for this.
His contract runs out at the end of the season and it is regarded as a given that an extension will be agreed at some point in the next couple of months.
As Moyes prepares for Tuesday’s FA Cup tie at Manchester United – where he endured an ill-fated eight-month stint as boss in 2013-14 – is it time to acknowledge the Scot’s reputation, so damaged by his tenure at Old Trafford, is now fully restored?
Sullivan swallows his pride
Those who know him say it was not a big deal for West Ham owner David Sullivan when he contacted Moyes in search of a replacement for Manuel Pellegrini in December 2019, just 18 months after the Scot was released from his first spell in charge at the club.
Sullivan is never afraid to admit he has made a mistake, I was told, and felt Moyes was the best man for the job.
Yet the move did not just involve Sullivan publicly eating a very large slice of humble pie. It also once again put him at odds with a significant section of the Hammers supporter base.
Sullivan released Moyes to get Pellegrini in May 2018, even though the Scot had dragged West Ham out of the relegation mire they were in when popular boss Slaven Bilic was sacked six months previously.
Pellegrini, with his title-winning credentials from Manchester City and a CV that also included Real Madrid, was felt to be more in keeping with the lofty ambitions surrounding West Ham’s controversial move from Upton Park to London Stadium.
The appointment did not work. Pellegrini blew £200m in transfer fees but of the team that started at Fulham, only goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianksi joined the club on his watch.
Andriy Yarmolenko, Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop, Pablo Fornals and Fabian Balbuena were on the bench, while other expensive recruits including Felipe Anderson, Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri, Carlos Sanchez, Lucas Perez and goalkeeper Roberto have left, either permanently or on loan. Club record signing Sebastian Haller was sold to Ajax last month at a £25m loss.
Going back to Moyes did not just underline that profligacy, it also meant rejecting the theory the Scot did not excite the club’s fan-base, which was the underlying reason for the 57-year-old’s exit in the first place.
Changing the West Ham way
Rather than be put off that he was being courted by a club who had spurned him months earlier, Moyes regarded it as a positive.
At the time, he was talking to Everton about a return to Goodison Park. The timeline shows Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as Marco Silva’s successor before Moyes’ return to West Ham but there is no doubt Everton’s overtures were serious.
Nevertheless, given the circumstances, Moyes felt it said a lot about how much Sullivan wanted him that West Ham made contact.
In truth, a lot of good will remained from the first appointment, which smoothed the process of his return.
One of his first pieces of business was to sign Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek on loan from Slavia Prague. It proved inspired.
Not only was the 25-year-old pivotal in the club’s survival fight last season, in scouting him the Hammers also spotted full-back Vladimir Coufal, who at £5m, is proving outstanding value for money.
They are the two stand-outs but Moyes’ transfer dealings across the board have solidified trust between manager and club hierarchy.
This was the chief reason for not bringing in a replacement for Haller last month when moves for initial striking reinforcements fell through, even though the only orthodox forward, Michail Antonio, has a patchy injury record.
“The money was there and we tried but I don’t think signing overpaid, overpriced players is the right way to go,” said Moyes recently. “What I will not do is sign players which, if we are being honest, will just appease people.”
Following the Everton model
When Jose Mourinho remarked Moyes had found his “new Fellaini” in Soucek, after West Ham had fought back from 3-0 down to draw at Tottenham in October, it was taken as a cheap shot at perceived long-ball tactics.
But Mourinho was also highlighting the period of Moyes’ career that best stands up to scrutiny and saw him become ‘The Chosen One’ to replace Sir Alex Ferguson.
His 11 full seasons at Goodison Park brought nine top-half finishes. He came fifth twice, fourth once and was named League Managers’ Association manager of the year three times, a feat bettered only by Ferguson himself.
And Moyes has adopted the same approach to management in east London as he did on Merseyside. There is a tight relationship between the playing side and the administration, which has not always been true of West Ham and certainly did not exist when Pellegrini was at the helm.
Unlike some managers, who stay in flats and keep a family base elsewhere, Moyes lives locally. He arrives at the training ground early and leaves late. He plans and runs training sessions. On days off for the players, he is almost always on site.
He is actively involved in the community side of the club and was among club staff who rang fans during the early weeks of lockdown to create a point of contact.
The players are buying into Moyes’ methods. But this goes beyond the sometimes superficial nature of the scoreboard.
Moyes’ positive relationship with club captain Mark Noble is particularly important. At a time when Noble has been eased out of the starting XI, Moyes has made a point of keeping the veteran midfielder, a local-born, lifelong Hammer and fans’ favourite, on the inside. Conversations between the pair are two-way and Moyes knows and respects the fact Noble understands West Ham in a way he cannot.
Putting the building blocks in place
Moyes did not waste the time between Hammers’ appointments. It freed him up to do more work for Uefa’s technical department, analysing Champions League games to stay across coaching developments within the game.
Despite disappointing spells at Real Sociedad and Sunderland after his Manchester United experience was cut short, Moyes never lost faith in his ability.
“We are at a better level now than the last time I was here,” he said. “The idea is that we get towards having a young, hungry team.
“There will be dips and bumps in the road but when we started the journey at Everton, we didn’t know how long it was going to be. It became a great and very successful one.
“I would like a long journey at West Ham. I see room for things to get better and I think what I have learned can help West Ham to get better as well.”