If there’s any proof that speculation surrounding David Moyes’ potential unemployment is justified, it likely revolves around the numerous votes of confidence he’s received in recent days.
It’s a well-known sporting trope, when upper management feels the need to validate your position, it’s likely the beginning of the end. Recently, both Real Sociedad club president Jokin Aperribay and sporting director Loren have publically endorsed Moyes, but with Real Sociedad sitting in 16th place with a mere six points after eight games, even their patience must be running thin.
“Moyes is like an old tele, it takes a little while for him to warm up.”
Slow starts are not uncommon for Moyes; in fact, it’s actually a defining trait. At Everton, Moyes would consistently start the season poorly then roll off a series of low-scoring wins around the middle of the campaign, guiding his team into a respectful finish. Real Sociedad seem to be mired in “Moyes’ molasses” now, but this time it’s a bit different. Like his Manchester United tenure, expectations are far different than those at Goodison Park.
Everton, who before Moyes were a historically a workman-like club that thrived by focusing on tidy, tough and disciplined performances, likely overachieved every time they made it to Europe. And that’s due in no small part to Moyes, who deserves all of the plaudits he’s amassed for his managerial record on Merseyside.
Real Sociedad on the other hand, by virtue of their proud Basque heritage in addition to their storied history, expect more. Limping to a top half finish doesn’t suffice; the fans expect results as well as good football, and though it seemed Moyes would be able to provide results in lieu of style, at the bare minimum, he seems to be struggling with both at the moment.
This isn’t a recent development, either. Moyes has been rather average at the helm of La Real for a while now. Stretching back to the last campaign, Sociedad’s current run seems to be more of the norm than some odd anomaly. After reeling off three consecutive wins in March, La Real have recorded only three victories in their last 18 league matches. That record is cause for concern, especially considering it spans a summer transfer window.
It’s now worry that the fans in San Sebastian are being quite vocal about. In the second half of their recent 0-2 loss to Atletico Madrid, chants of “Moyes go home” (in English) reportedly reverberated around the Anoeta. The message couldn’t be much clearer.
Last November Moyes’ appointment stabilized the club. It seemed like a perfect match, and in many ways it was. Jagoba Arrasate had lost the squad, and Moyes, fresh of his tumultuous time in Manchester, seemed to relish the prospect of coaching in an idyllic city.
Then he managed the unthinkable: an early, 1-0 win over Barcelona, one that neutralized a substituting Lionel Messi in the process.
Moyes’ foray into Spain felt like some quirky middle-aged comedy – laughed out of his old job, a middle-aged British man heads off to sunny Spain where he becomes the talk of the town. Watch intently as he fumbles through the language, tells opposing managers “calma,” and eats crips in the stands with the locals.
On the pitch however, Moyes’ pragmatic approach, and focus on fitness added to La Real’s defensive stability, and Sociedad thrived. But after grinding out some impressive results and saving his new team from a relegation battle, it was assumed Moyes would use the summer to build on the squad and forge forward.
Sociedad had a good summer, too, despite the fact that Moyes’ main targets – Liverpool-destined Danny Ings and Roma-bound Mohammed Salah — landed elsewhere. Elche’s goal machine Jonathas was brought on board, and he was accompanied by the return of Asier Illarramendi, after a few fruitless years in the Spanish capital. These aren’t the kind penny-pinching transfers one would associate with relegation fodder. These are moves that indicate ambition.
Real Sociedad truly is not some ragtag club just happy to be here, and Moyes’ results thus far just aren’t adequate. His squad with far too much talented to be producing such mediocre displays, especially in attack, where any inventiveness seems to disappear around the box. La Real have notched a mere six goals in the eight matches, a paltry return for a squad that boasts such varied attacking talent; the likes of Carlos Vela, Jonathas and Inamol Aggirexte are far too prolific in front of goal for this measly return. Moyes has massively underachieved with the squad he’s been granted, and while his fitness training has improved the physicality of his squad, his tactical nous, or lack thereof, has seen him found out in La Liga.
Moyes is employing safety-first strategies at a club that should jettison such tactics. He is the classic no frills manager who concentrates on not losing over going all out for a win, a better fit at a lower-table club like Levante, who tend to embody that ideology.
Coincidentally Moyes will be facing Levante this weekend in what is by all accounts is a must win game. A loss to a strong Atletico side can be forgiven, especially after a second half where La Real found cracks in the Atletico defense only to become gun shy in front of goal. But a loss to Levante, one of the few teams below La Real in the table, should be the death knell to the scot.
In his press conference after the Atletico match, Moyes was in a bullish mood. “I am the best man for the job,” he said. “You can’t keep changing your manager and think that’s the answer to your problems.”
And while this may have been the case during on occasion last campaign, it’s becoming increasingly harder to envision Moyes ever being more than a stopgap to Real Sociedad’s long-term managerial issues. Moyes excels when he can exceed expectations, but that elusive next step, from good to great, is where he seems to falter.
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