“A manager who once seemed an avatar of the same old is now an outlier and an essential sign of tactical variation.”Illustration: Matt Johnstone
Ever since David Moyes left Manchester United, or at least since it became clear that Manchester United did something terrible to David Moyes rather than the other way around, that he was essentially a bystander, I have been trying to analyze a hypothetical process that some (i.e. no one, where anyway) already call it the Moyes Revenge Horizon (no one has ever called it that).
This theoretical Moyes curve is an attempt to map the related career trajectories of Moyes and United in that decade since. At the heart of this model is a scenario in which Moyes’s steady rise in popularity as a managerial asset will eventually intersect and then surpass United’s downward progress on the Y-axis as a football luxury commodity, an economic event apocalyptically known as Brailsford’s Ballbag . .
At that moment the poles are officially reversed. From a point where the United job was obviously too big for David Moyes, we will have reached a scenario where David Moyes has, however briefly, become too big for Manchester United, where pundits start saying things like You have to wonder: would this actually be a good move for David at this point?where Moyes is pictured coyly dismissing speculation ahead of his latest Euro Hyper-Conference third leg second final (“I look no further than Ghent”).
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The Moyes Revenge Horizon would probably never be reached, not in this human lifetime. But last year you could almost catch a glimpse of what it might look like. West Ham won a trophy. United sank into an autumn crop of player scandals and bad PR.
The recent mini-takeover wave has put an end to that. The lines diverge. There are genuinely happy, talented, youthful footballers running around Old Trafford, like crocus buds in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Meanwhile, Moyes faces a more familiar crisis point.
His contract expires at the end of the season. There has been a lot of informed speculation this week about how close he might be to agreeing a new one, as always soundtracked by fans and talking heads worried about the prospect of keeping Moyes in a job that he has carried out so far with great skill. tangible success.
This is a natural scenario for Moyes, who is inexorably trending towards a state of contention. There is dark talk about his methods, about the need for ‘more expansive’ football. Understandably so. Moyes offers functional stiffness. Oh great, you say. Give me seven years of that. Let me tackle that functional stiffness pipe one more time. Life is hard enough the rest of the week. People also like new things.
On the other hand, for the neutral party this feels like a broader starting point, perhaps even a final tug of a dying hand. Moyes has been on a journey in recent years, albeit one that has required him to remain static as the landscape around him changes.
When he first got the West Ham job in 2017, Liam Rosenior wrote a widely shared column on these pages complaining, with some justification, about insular skills, jobs for the boys, “same faces linked to every job available” .
Seven years later, football seems to have listened. The backdrop has changed so much that Moyes is now a truly rare commodity. A manager who once resembled an avatar of the same old, basically a tracksuit, a scowl and a set of inherited methods, is now an outlier and an essential paragon of tactical variety.
Moyes is a great fit for West Ham; a manager who absolutely stinks of football
Moyes is actually the last of the anti-ball-handlers, the only current manager who has made an active decision to have less, not more, possession. West Ham are seventh in the top five European leagues in terms of possession this season, and are the only team in that group for whom this is a conscious decision, the only team to have turned so little possession into so many points and unobtrusively stayed. on every metric except clearances and goals from set pieces.
In this context, Moyes’ team are now the exotics and the cultural antagonists. L’Équipe’s report on the match against Brighton in August described “a style clash that bordered on cartoonish”, as West Ham made 13 passes to Brighton’s 221 in the first half hour, but still won the match. And while the football can be austere and tedious at times, it is also an invigorating point of contrast for the neutral players in a competition where an entire half can be spent watching the defense and deep midfield engage in the football equivalent of competitive to knit.
West Ham are seventh in the league and still in Europe, despite a fundamental energy that runs counter to almost every dynamic in the modern game. This includes referees in the surveillance culture, with a tendency to fire micro-penalties at the first sign of defense in depth. It involves a fundamental disregard for self-promotion, when so many other managers treat the current job as an interview for the next one, a chance to show that they have a whizzy and engaging ‘philosophy’, a look, a style, something that can are sold to the next group of fans.
The current version of the boys’ jobs is not an angry, damp Scot who loves the minutiae of one-on-one defending. It’s easy charisma, sculpted beard, executive trainers, erratic hand gestures. This is not Moyes. Moyes is uncooperative and prone to saying the wrong, outdated thing even when he’s trying to say the right thing.
But perhaps unexpectedly, this is also a redemption story. United was a terrible time for Moyes, who in those final weeks was reduced to a captain of a ghost ship, spinning on his touchline, eyes bewildered and seeing only shapes and shadows.
People don’t always bounce back from these kinds of mega layoffs. Moyes strolled around for a while, a man watching things happen to himself. West Ham was something great for him. It was also great for West Ham.
It’s easy to forget how tinny and empty the place still was when he arrived, devoid of heat, blood and dirt, a state of dislocation for a club that seemed to have left an important part of its soul behind somewhere down the E6. Moyes, in retrospect, was ideally suited to fill that void, a manager who, whatever his flaws, absolutely stinks of football.
While right now he feels like he’s the last of something. There is also the Scottish question. When it comes to England’s top management, Moyes is also currently the last of that 130-year line, while Brighton-born Russell Martin is the only other Scot in the top two.
Does this matter? The Premier League has its own fresh tropes. A Portuguese nihilist. A nervous, well-dressed Spaniard. For now, Moyes’ role will be to carry that cultural weight, to act as a living, breathing, frowning reminder.
So far, he’s been a team builder, a punchline, a failure, a redemption arc, a belated trophy winner; and in this final form something that perhaps needs to be cherished a little more, a real point of difference, a grappling hook from there to here, the last of the same old faces.