Lee Roden assesses what the former Manchester United boss must do to hit the ground running in San Sebastian...
David Moyes can be accused of many things, but shirking a challenge is not one of them.
BRITS AT LA REAL
- Harry Lowe (1930-35)
- John Toshack (Jul 1985-May 89; Jul 1991-Nov 94; Dec 2000-Mar 02)
- Chris Coleman (Jul 2007-Jan 06)
Given the manner in which his last period of employment ended, it must have been tempting for the Scot to err on the side of caution with his next move. Perhaps a comfortable, relatively straightforward job that would allow him to ease his way back into management and rebuild his damaged reputation.
Real Sociedad do not represent the easy option. The Basque hotseat offers the usual perils of a team requiring a surge away from the relegation zone, while at the same time also provides the pressures of a club who should really be competing for a European spot. Twice the stress for the price of one. La Real’s contradictory nature is summed up by the fact that their only two league wins this season have come against Real and Atletico Madrid.
Throw in the obvious linguistic issues and it’s clear that Moyes has a tricky road to navigate in the coming months. Since the departure of Philippe Montanier in May 2013, La Real have stumbled along without an identity, quickly morphing from one of La Liga’s most exciting teams into an uninspiring mess. Moyes needs to turn that around and give them a clearly defined style of play once more. Trickier still, he needs to do it without the benefit of a pre-season to help his ideas bed in.
Those ideas could present a problem. The physical, direct football Moyes traditionally opts for is atypical of La Liga, and isn’t likely to be what supporters of his new club expect to see for the price of admission.
That isn’t a new issue for the coach, given his favoured approach was the subject of frequent debate at Manchester United, but on paper it is even less of a fit in Spain than it was at Old Trafford. Pep Guardiola would call his task ‘counter-cultural’.
Real Sociedad’s best attackers do not specialise in crossing or box-to-box play, but skill and creativity. Captain Xabi Prieto likes to add pausa, to slow the game down a touch in congested areas and use his brain to unlock the opposition.
Carlos Vela would rather cut inside and curl a shot away, or try to embarrass a goalkeeper with something unexpected than get to the byline repeatedly. Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman they are not.
Moyes needs to find a middle ground between his own preferred way of working and the style his players are best suited for therefore – one he struggled to find in his previous job. If he can do that, there is plenty of talent at the Anoeta to put to better use than has been the case over the last year-and-a-half.
Most obviously there is Vela, the team’s talisman, but who has only scored two goals in 13 outings since August despite reaching the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career last season. At the other end of the pitch, central defender Iñigo Martinez was just breaking into the Spain squad when Montanier left, and should have been an international regular by now, but has instead regressed.
Esteban Granero and Sergio Canales, meanwhile, have only shown flashes of what they are really capable of since moving to the Basque Country. Jagoba Arrasate seemed to have a dampening effect on his brightest players, sucking away their inspiration and motivation with every game. Moyes will hope to revive them.
He will need to revive them quickly. Real Sociedad’s win over Atletico Madrid at the weekend came with somewhat unfortunate timing for their new boss, as for supporters it provided tangible evidence that with better coaching this group of players can do far better. If the Scot doesn’t hit the ground running, observers will inevitably point to the last game before he took charge and ask why he couldn’t sustain that momentum – especially when even the club’s B team coach managed to orchestrate a win over the champions.
Europe or bust?
One thread on a supporters' forum today led with the title 'Moyes – Europe, or a failure', providing a snapshot of what some view his task as being . Fans feel short-changed by an above-average squad, and are looking up towards the top of the table expectantly, not down towards a relegation scrap.
The pressure is greater still given the local press are portraying Moyes as someone of prestige, while AS claim he is now the best-paid manager in Real Sociedad’s history.
Revelations that Pepe Mel was second choice for the job will do the Scot no favours should he struggle. The former West Brom boss still has a strong reputation in his homeland after getting Real Betis into Europe in 2013, and was the preferred option of several high-profile Real Sociedad supporters who weren’t afraid to share their opinions on Twitter.
If nothing else, Moyes at least has to be admired for his bravery. Moving away from the United Kingdom is no longer a chance to step out of the spotlight for managers given the extensive television coverage of La Liga, and the lack of British coaches abroad means the scrutiny will be intense.
His post-United career starts with a trip to the Riazor against Deportivo on Saturday November 22. That may look like an ideal first fixture given Depor’s own struggles at the bottom of the table, but supporters will expect to see a fairly convincing performance considering the outcome of La Real’s previous league game.
If Moyes cannot deliver quickly, he may find a certain sense of déjà vu starts to creep in. The Anoeta won’t be an easy ride.