Even as late as Tuesday night, David Moyes had the backing of one of West Ham’s owners. But when David Gold appeared on Sky Sports News to throw his support behind Moyes, his words only heightened the growing uncertainty. A day earlier, after all, David Sullivan had met Shakhtar Donetsk’s Paulo Fonseca at his Essex mansion and that left Moyes feeling he had to take matters into his own hands.
Sullivan, not Gold, is the man who holds the power at West Ham. He was the one on the other end of the phone when Moyes said he no longer had any interest in extending his contract and he is the one promising the club will make a “high-calibre” appointment by the end of next week. After two turbulent seasons at the London Stadium, the pressure has gone up another level.
The concern for West Ham must be that they have backed themselves into a corner. While Moyes’s chances of being given a new deal were rated at no more than 25% by club sources, he had not been scrubbed out of the picture. He was expected to hold final talks with Sullivan in the middle of next week. The end has come sooner than expected, with Moyes understood to feel he has been treated shabbily after saving the club from relegation.
West Ham’s safety net has disappeared and the situation is complicated for Sullivan. The optimism that greeted news of productive talks with Fonseca has given way to a sense of unease. Sources had warned West Ham the 45-year-old was likely to be using them to flush out better offers and it has since emerged he is likely to extend his contract with Shakhtar. One candidate has thus been crossed off the list already and supporters are bracing themselves for more disappointment. Sullivan risks stoking more discontent if he cannot deliver on his bold promise.
Naturally the early rumblings are ambitious. Unai Emery, who has been replaced by Thomas Tuchel at PSG, has been a target for a while and West Ham will ponder whether Newcastle’s Rafael Benítez represents value for money. The Spaniard would come at a high price.
So would Manuel Pellegrini, who is in charge of Hebei China Fortune. West Ham have held early talks with the former Manchester City manager’s representatives and want to give him a formal interview. Yet Sevilla are also interested in the Chilean, who led City to the Premier League title in 2014, and his wages could be a stumbling block.
There lies the rub, though. At some stage West Ham are going to have to pay the going rate if they have designs on breaking into the elite, which is how they sold the move to the London Stadium to their fans.
There has been plenty of big talk but they have still not settled in their new home. They have been stalked by relegation fears since leaving Upton Park in 2016, were unable to stop Dimitri Payet from returning to Marseille last year and are described as the most dysfunctional club in the Premier League by one former executive, who argued in private that they do not focus enough on analytics, sports science and recruitment.
Fans chunter about West Ham selling their soul for nothing, there were protests during the 3-0 home defeat to Burnley in March and it did not go down well when Karren Brady, the club’s vice-chairman, wrote in her weekly Sun column that “malcontents and keyboard warriors” have undermined attempts to improve the London Stadium. Brady has been urged from within the club to end her association with the newspaper.
With chaos reigning off the pitch, Moyes needed plenty of self-belief to replace Slaven Bilic on a six-month deal in November. His stock was low after spells at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland, and he inherited an unfit, ageing team. He adopted an uncompromising attitude and told his players they would have to run harder.
The team gradually improved, benefiting from greater organisation, and Marko Arnautovic finally showed why West Ham broke their transfer record to sign him last summer. The Austrian ended the season with 11 league goals after being moved up front by Moyes, who found a way to adapt to his lack of resources, hitting on a 3-4-2-1 system that papered over the holes in his unbalanced squad.
Moyes also dealt with a frustrating January transfer window, which ended with Tony Henry sacked as head of recruitment following offensive comments about African footballers, and a daunting injury list. Moyes kept his nerve, took on senior players when they stepped out of line and earned respect around the club for his diligent preparation.
Some players felt his methods were old-fashioned but Moyes had plans to emulate his successes at Everton by turning West Ham into a top-eight club. He spoke about the need for better training facilities and criticised the club’s culture of news leaks. He pushed for greater control over signings and wanted West Ham to be cannier in the transfer market.
He could have given them stability and it is telling that figures close to Moyes have pointed out Gold wanted him to stay. The problem was convincing the person who mattered most. Sullivan wanted to keep his options open but he cannot afford to get his next move wrong.