These are strange days at West Ham United. Seventh in the Premier League, in the last 16 of the Europa League and with a very experienced manager who won the club its first trophy in 43 years.
It appears that signing a new contract for that manager, not least because both parties have indicated that this is what they want and would happen in January, is merely a formality.
And yet it wasn’t. Not yet anyway. Just a few weeks ago this was seen as a given. But now? David Moyes, whose current contract expires in just over four months, may deny this, but at the heart of it seems to be a feeling that despite his performances he feels undervalued by some of the club’s supporters.
This is what sources within the club say – while there may also be another explanation. “He hesitates in his decision-making when it comes to players, so why should it be any different with his own contract!” one source joked.
And that is the crux of the matter. That goes to the heart of the debate surrounding Moyes, who is arguably one of the most confident managers in the Premier League and who has brought almost unprecedented stability to West Ham. The club wants him to stay, even though opinions are still strongly divided. Is he the ‘Moyesiah’ or is he ‘Dithering Dave’, whose conservative style of football can sometimes be a turn-off?
That tension is also summarized in West Ham’s results. They host Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday, having put in one of the best – and best organized – performances of Moyes’ second four-year term in office when they beat them 2-0. 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 victory at the Emirates in December, having also beaten Manchester United by the same scoreline, was followed by a run of six games without a win, including elimination from the FA Cup by Championship club Bristol City.
It’s a sequence that doesn’t suggest this might be the best time to negotiate a new contract, especially after the January transfer window, which ultimately proved to be a frustration.
West Ham appeared to be in desperate need of a centre-forward, but deals were apparently delayed or vetoed, leaving the manager insecure, while the attempt to sign Jota from Saudi club Al-Ittihad was always doomed to failure due to his tax liability. West Ham lost out on another winger Ibrahim Osman in a £17million deal since agreeing an agreement with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Could it be that the transfer transactions, plus the sudden series of disappointing results, have created new doubts, perhaps even among Moyes himself?
Following Arsenal’s result, it was confirmed that contract talks would take place in January and that a 2.5-year extension was likely given his age. An informal conversation took place with the owners at the end of December; formal talks were scheduled last month. Then it felt like it was imminent, and while the expectation remains that an agreement will be reached, intriguingly, it is no longer a given.
In fairness, Moyes has suggested there is no problem, insisting he remains relaxed and that the ‘noise’ around it is external. “We’ll get back to it now that the transfer window is closed,” he said. “We are well on our way and we will continue. We will pick this up again in the coming weeks.”
But others aren’t so sure. There was previously a feeling within the club that Moyes follows his own course and is difficult to read and can even walk when his contract expires. That has always been downplayed, but it is undeniably a strange relationship he maintains with the fans.
Or, that has to be qualified, like certain sections of the fans. On social media, it seems that Moyes carries a lot more weight than at the London Stadium of those who actually attend the matches. In saying that there have been boos on more than one occasion this season, not least after the recent lackluster draw against Bournemouth.
Moyes has also almost lost his job in the past, most recently in April last year when he was just 90 minutes away from being sacked. An away game against Fulham looked tricky, especially after a 5-1 win against Newcastle United in midweek, and Slaven Bilic was in line to return to the club, initially until the end of the season, with Mark Noble , the club’s sporting director, at work. next to him.
West Ham won 1-0 through a Harrison Reed own goal, which eased concerns about relegation. Not that there was any joy in the performance, with sources pointing out that Moyes had not used any of their recent signings and his substitutes were in the barracks. Yet he appeared to have the backing of the club’s hierarchy at the final whistle.
Then? Moyes kept West Ham afloat and he took them to the triumph of winning the Europa Conference League, which came out, as he put it, “smelling like roses”. Perhaps he felt he should have returned from Prague after June last year with not only the trophy but also a new contract.
Moyes handled the sale of their best player Declan Rice to Arsenal for £105 million admirably, with the club making some smart signings including James Ward-Prowse, Mohammed Kudus and Edson Alvarez. There is no denying that West Ham have backed Moyes in the transfer market, but their exit from domestic cups – they lost 5-1 to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup quarter-final, with a weakened team – has caused irritation.
This brings new criticism. West Ham’s squad is perhaps the strongest in many years, despite Rice’s departure. There are some excellent players, such as Kudus and Lucas Paqueta, but there is also the feeling that under Moyes they often play with the handbrake on.
Is that fair? Sometimes, undoubtedly, yes. But Paqueta is out injured, Kudus is 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 on course to qualify for Europe for a fourth successive season.
And we shouldn’t forget that they were just one point and one place outside the relegation zone when Moyes returned in December 2019, initially signing an 18-month contract after Manuel Pellegrini was sacked. “It feels great to be home,” Moyes said at the time, and he certainly returned to his job more aware of what it entailed than when he first took over in November 2017.
West Ham know they should never have let Moyes leave in the first place as his contract expired, but are at risk of this happening again. They acknowledged their mistake by bringing him back. This time it feels a little more complicated and perhaps more nuanced. Even though it would be a surprise if that new deal does not materialize. But perhaps it also comes down to one final question: who needs the other most? Is it Moyes or is it West Ham?