·6 June 2023
·6 June 2023
Now, though, with Premier League status assured, Moyes can concentrate entirely on his destination. Tomorrow night, his team, too often fragile in the Premier League this season but impregnable in Europe, hope to win their first European trophy since 1965, when Bobby Moore hoisted aloft the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
There were 100,000 fans inside Wembley that balmy May evening, as a West Ham side which also included future World Cup heroes Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters beat TSV Munich 1860.
Tomorrow, there will be almost 80,000 fewer supporters inside the 20,000-capacity Eden Arena in Prague to watch either the Hammers or Fiorentina win the Europa Conference League. Moyes admits victory against the Italian Serie A side would be one of the high spots in a managerial career spanning 25 years.
“There are different sorts of pinnacles,” he says. “For example, matches we’ve won which have been vital to us staying up. I’ve been involved in finals before in my career, but the difference this time is that word ‘European’.
“You don’t have the opportunity too often to win one of those. There are too many good clubs around Europe all trying to do what we’ve done. If it’s the biggest day for me, though, remember it’s also the same for Vincenzo Italiano, my counterpart at Fiorentina.”
Moyes’s priority when he returned to West Ham in December 2019 was the same as in his first stint two years earlier: to preserve West Ham’s Premier League status.
But he has achieved much more than that remit, guiding the club to sixth and seventh in the Premier League, as well as reaching last season’s Europa League semi-final, beating this year’s champions, Sevilla, in the process.
Heady stuff, indeed, but, as Moyes discovered early in his managerial career at Everton, those road bumps are not uncommon. If West Ham’s progression to tomorrow’s final has been largely in cruise control, this season’s Premier League campaign was often troubled and turbulent.
“I witnessed something similar when I was at Everton,” he says. “You build up, then drop off, build up, drop off, until, eventually, you find a consistency level. We’re still trying to find that.
“This is a different time, though. Maybe there wasn’t the interest back then that there is now. For West Ham to be sixth and then seventh in the Premier League before dropping off has attracted an awful lot of attention.
He says: “When you are building something, you are rarely going to get a regular upward curve, whoever is in charge of whatever club. There will be a season or two when things are going well, followed by one where it doesn’t go as good and you haven’t quite found the solution.
“If I had to, perhaps, name one reason, it would be the number of games we played the season before last. I think the achievement of finishing sixth, seventh and reaching the semi-final of a European competition, with certainly not a big squad, has probably gone under the radar a little.
“Our plan, in the light of that experience, was to build a bigger squad, and I would say that, in many ways, that plan worked, because the larger numbers have helped us reach the Europa Conference League Final.
“Where it hasn’t worked as well is that those players who came in last summer have taken time to settle into the Premier League and we maybe didn’t have everything in place right from the start.
“We probably had our worst period of the season just before the break for the World Cup, and that was a terrible time personally, because then I had to go through six weeks when nothing happened. We tried to be more attack-minded when we came back, but it didn’t necessarily work. It was more just the players taking time to come back to form.
“We had been doing well again in Europe, though, and that was helping the positivity around the club.”
There were occasions when the suggestion was that, if his team had lost the next game, West Ham’s hierarchy would make a managerial change. Moyes admits that one of his lowest points came after West Ham had beaten Fulham 1-0 at Craven Cottage in early April, when fans unfurled a “Moyes Out” banner.
“I know football is about the here and now, and you can’t look back, but it did hurt and it was disappointing,” he recalls. “The fact is, I had been asked twice to come and help keep the club in the Premier League, and this season we had to do it again.
“In between that, though, I hope everyone had enjoyed a great couple of seasons, so when I saw that banner it was hurtful, because it drains your power and strength to do things.
“There are a lot of things I would like to do at this club, and in my head I have a vision of the way we can continue to grow. When people continually question you, though, it drains you. I’ve got to say, it wasn’t a good time. Did I feel lonely? Hugely.
“Management is a lonely business. Yes, we have people to whom we can speak and who give you great advice and support, but nevertheless.
“A big part of being a manager is finding a way to win, and over the time here at West Ham, I’ve found the way to win when it’s most needed, whether it’s been in Europe or to take us away from the relegation zone.
“Fulham was one of those, when we had to find a way to win, to get back on track — and we did. You know, when things are going well, you get hundreds of texts. When it’s not going so good, though, it gets quieter, much quieter, because people don’t understand quite what to say. I understand that.”
The probable departure of Declan Rice represents yet another problem for Moyes, just as Mark Noble’s retirement did a year ago.
“Mark retiring from playing was huge, and maybe even more noticeable than I thought it would be,” he admits. “We missed him in the early weeks of this season, when we were trying to bring together eight or nine new players.
“He was so good with the players — tough, didn’t allow them to look to blame someone else, which is usually the manager when it isn’t going well.
As this season went on, though, it became much better. Declan has become much more confident in his position and other senior players —Aaron Cresswell, Lukasz Fabianski, Angelo Ogbonna — have stepped up.”
There are some who say that Moyes should quit while he is ahead, especially if West Ham win tomorrow.
“The biggest thing I can say is how much I have enjoyed working here,” he says. “I see things that I would like to change, to do things slightly differently, but right now there is nothing in my head except: how do we win this final?”
So, would he like to still be in charge at West Ham next season, to face more peaks and troughs — possibly even more banners?
“Of course I would,” he says. “There are too many good things about what we have done, what we should still try and do, to stop now.”
West Ham go into tomorrow’s game after the rare luxury of 10 days since their last competitive fixture, while Serie A helped mitigate Fiorentina’s schedule by bringing forward their final game by two days to last Friday.
“I see Wednesday as one of the biggest nights in West Ham’s history,” says Moyes. “Maybe this team will never have the same recognition that greats such as Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst, Sir Trevor Brooking, Martin Peters were afforded — but only two players in the club’s history have held aloft major trophies: Bobby and Billy Bonds. We’re hoping that Declan will be the third.”
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