David Moyes is the second greatest manager of the Premier League era. In one respect, anyway, and according to his peers. The League Managers Association first anointed one of its members the manager of the year in the inaugural season of the rebranded division, 1992/93. Since then, one Scot is the most decorated manager, winning five times, and there are no prizes for guessing his identity.
But behind only him, voted the LMA Manager of the Year three more times than Jose Mourinho – three times, in short – is David Moyes. Which has been the case since 2009, but assumes a certain pertinence now. With West Ham briefly in the top four on Monday, having already accumulated more points than they got in the entirety of last season, there is a growing case for Moyes to reclaim the award.
There are reasons to believe that, should West Ham sustain their form, he will. One is that there can be a British bias in the voting. Gerard Houllier noted that, when Liverpool won a treble in 2001, George Burley still got his counterparts’ vote for steering promoted Ipswich to fifth. When Pep Guardiola did the only clean sweep of the domestic trophies in 2019, Chris Wilder was the LMA Manager of the Year. League One and League Two coaches are likelier to empathise more with those who have worked their way up through the divisions; indeed, there is a greater chance they personally know them. Maybe they consider that hugely well-paid jobs that entail working with the world’s best players and bring actual silverware are reward enough.
But there is ample evidence they consider the circumstances before casting their vote. They love a narrative, a deserving overachiever, an underdog who has taken a team further than expected. Danny Wilson was recognised for steering Barnsley into the top flight for the first time in their history; so was Steve Coppell when Reading did likewise; then Eddie Howe when Bournemouth followed suit.
If West Ham were to get into the Champions League, something they have never done before, that might feel a comparable foray into previously uncharted territory. But even if they were to finish in the top six, which they have only done in the Championship in the 21st century, it would be a historic feat.
Moyes would qualify as a potential winner in two respects. He is altering the culture of West Ham, historic underachievers who have tended to be defined by their capacity to acquire expensive, injury-prone disappointments, forging something based on earthier values of industry, organisation and teamwork. He has taken a club where pessimism engulfed the supporters – remember the outrage at Grady Diangana’s summer sale – and transformed perceptions.
And he has rebuilt his own reputation after a seven-year spell that contained rather too few highlights. Moyes was tarnished by failures at Manchester United and Sunderland, underwhelming with Real Sociedad and quietly good in his first spell at West Ham, though rather too few noticed.
Two of his previous LMA trophies came amid an air of improbability. The first, for 2002/03, was in his first full season in the Premier League when Everton, like West Ham more recently, had accumulated ageing underperformers, spending too much and accomplishing too little. He rebranded them. The second, for 2004/05, came after they were almost relegated in 2003/04, sold Wayne Rooney and finished fourth. It was another unexpected rise, and the surprise factor probably brought Moyes votes.
Now his rivals could include Dean Smith, Brendan Rodgers and Guardiola. Yet while Manchester City spent some of autumn in the wrong half of the table before their spectacular surge towards glory, the reinvention of West Ham may feel the more unforeseen, and thus laudable, development. And if so, a fourth award would give Moyes as many as Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Houllier, Guardiola and Mourinho have between them. And more than even Sir Alex Ferguson has this millennium.
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