David Moyes was a very good football manager when he was at Preston and Everton. Since then, it has been harder to say.
Manchester United was too big for him and that didn’t surprise everybody. Real Sociedad — where he spent a year — was a brave posting that would have challenged better managers while Sunderland — six League wins from 38 games — was an exercise in defeatism and misery right from the start.
Which brings us to West Ham. Having kept the club in the Premier League on a short-term contract in 2018, Moyes was not invited to hang around.
Now — with West Ham under-achieving once again — he is back and this time his contract is 18 months. It is hardly an invitation to plan long-term but long enough to tell us what we need to know about a manager who, at 56, should really be at his peak.
In many people’s eyes, the bar has already been set and it’s strangely low. ‘Can Moyes keep West Ham up?’ they have asked.
The answer to that question is ‘yes’ simply because he will. Even under the barely interested Manuel Pellegrini, West Ham were never likely to drop. They are not that good but they are not that bad, either.
So for Moyes to properly succeed at West Ham — where he has a decent squad not lacking in depth — he must do more. He must provide evidence of what he did at Everton, namely get the very best out of players, develop team spirit and move a club from the shadows to the edge of real achievement.
During his peak years on Merseyside, Everton — despite the odd setback and a modest record in really big matches — felt like a club moving forwards. Taking over at West Ham for the first time in November 2017, Moyes won eight of 27 remaining League matches. It was enough to finish 13th but did not feel like a major shift in trajectory and that, as much as anything, is why he wasn’t retained.
You could argue that was a harsh call and Moyes continues to back himself. ‘I win,’ he said last week, which appeared to overlook the fact that he didn’t at United or, indeed, Sociedad or Sunderland.
And this is the nub of the debate. Old Moyes — Everton Moyes — won a lot but the recent version not so much.
Sometimes it is hard to escape the feeling that something fundamental died within Moyes at Old Trafford. He is right when he says he didn’t get much time at United — less than nine months — but he didn’t do much to buy a longer stay either.
Moyes believes he was failed in terms of transfers but in parts of the job only he could control — such as winning the trust of big players and dealing with scrutiny — he failed too.
Belief is key in management and if a light did go out in Moyes’ soul in Manchester, this second spell at West Ham may be the last chance he gets to switch it back on.
At Leicester, Brendan Rodgers and his new club have been good for each other and that is the benchmark. That is improvement, real improvement. That is a manager proving his real worth after some time away.
Nobody is asking Moyes to take West Ham to second place. But it is not too much to ask him to take West Ham well into the top half of a congested and rather average Premier League table. That is where they should be. Despite what people may say, survival will not be enough this time.
MATCH of The Day commentator Martin Fisher described Ben Mee’s New Year’s Day tackle on Aston Villa striker Wesley as ‘robust’ and that was correct. Another appropriate word would have been ‘fair’.
Mee, the Burnley defender, played the ball cleanly in tackling a player who was trying to poke it past him and was therefore slightly passive in the challenge. Wesley suffered a knee injury that ended his season but that does not mean it was Mee’s fault.
Defenders have a responsibility with regards to safety but they are also paid to do their job.