West Ham versus Tottenham was a clash of old school ways, a battle of managerial dinosaurs, writes Adam Walton.
In 2013, a meeting between David Moyes and Jose Mourinho implied a meeting between Manchester United and Chelsea. Both managers were in charge of two of the most successful football clubs in the recent history, and were counted amongst the elite coaches of the game.
Fortunes, it is fair to say, have not been kind in the years that followed. Mourinho has had two well-documented meltdowns at both aforementioned clubs. Moyes has been relegated with Sunderland and fired from Real Sociedad. Their decline has stemmed from their dogmatic use of a frustrating and old-fashioned defensive style, which in the world of false nines and gegenpressing, is not only boring but also ineffective. The general consensus amongst pundits and fans is that both are now past it. They’ve become slightly sad comedic figures in football, appearing as doddery old guys who wouldn’t know how to close a tab on a web browser.
Sunday’s meeting between the Scot’s West Ham side and the Portuguese’s Tottenham team, was therefore a clash of old school ideas, a battle of the Premier League’s dinosaurs. The game offered little fresh insight into either team. West Ham scored an early goal in each half, proceeding then to nullify and frustrate Spurs in classic Moyesian style. To their credit, the North London club did threaten through the semi-retired Gareth Bale in the second half, but otherwise suffered from their rudderless attacking that has plagued the side this season. In a game of who could stifle best, Moyes emerged victorious. One could practically hear the tabloid articles about Harry Kane’s future being written already.
The result left Spurs in ninth, nine points behind their opposition on the day, who sit in the final Champions League place. Moyes, it appears, still has life left in football, whilst Mourinho is gradually transforming into the old man from Up. Why then, is one old-timer faltering while the other is rejuvenated?
Granted, West Ham do have a kinder fixture list, with no European or cup exploits to clog up their schedule. Tottenham also have glaring tactical deficiencies, particularly on their below par right flank. However, the answer is far more simple; West Ham needed a dinosaur. They needed Moyes.
Over recent years, West Ham have attempted to modernise and establish themselves as European contenders. They’ve bought expensive stars like Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko, and appointed a Premier League winning coach in Manuel Pellegrini. Instead of the promised glory, however, the club have struggled, with signings underperforming and relegation battles taking the place of European contention. Fans, who mostly live in the working class East End, have felt the club losing its connection to their hardworking heritage, of losing its identity.
It’s this identity that has returned with the appointment of Moyes. He’s returned to the formula that served him so effectively at Everton for 11 years. Many players appear to be modern equivalents of the Moyes’ classic Everton sides. In Tomas Soucek, Moyes has his Mourane Fellani, a player that ghosts into the box and causes havoc at set pieces. Jesse Lingard is his Tim Cahill, a midfielder with an eye for goal that regularly runs beyond the central striker. There’s also a Leighton Baines re-incarnation in Aaron Cresswell, and the tireless grafter of Vladimir Coufal emulating Seamus Coleman at right-back. But beyond tactics, it’s the attitude that the manager has instilled in his players that has resonated with West Ham. They’re hardworking, aggressive, and not afraid to be left with an open head wound after challenging for a cross. In short, the club were crying out for some old fashioned grit and determination, and there’s no better manager for that than David Moyes.
Whilst Moyes’ appointment at West Ham fits, the same cannot be said for Tottenham and Mourinho. Spurs, under Pochettino, were on an upward trajectory, playing amazing pressing football with a squad filled with world class talent. Their approach under the Portuguese is now infuriating and stale. The club has taken a backwards step, choosing a manager based on his reputation as opposed to his suitability. One can imagine the anger of the players, once reaching Champions League finals, being told to sit in two rows of four and play narrow.
The difference between Mourinho and Moyes is therefore not in style, but in surroundings. To best express this, the dinosaur metaphor can be used one last time. Moyes, at West Ham, is a prehistoric shark, able to survive and thrive in the oceans which suit him best. Mourinho is a T-Rex, once the apex predator who now refuses to acknowledge his tiny arms are insufficient to deal with the approaching meteor. And like the T-Rex, his extinction is starting to look quite inevitable.