David Moyes bidding to repeat Alkmaar trick and send West Ham message over future
As David Moyes sat at the press conference top table here in Alkmaar, answering questions about AZ’s outstanding home European record, he bore the self-assured, surgical presence of a doctor who might tell you not to worry about your dismembered arm, nor the blood pouring out of one ear, because he had dealt with much worse before.
“Very good,” Moyes agreed, when informed of Alkmaar’s 25-match unbeaten home run in UEFA competitions, talked up by their London-born head coach Pascal Jansen, who is looking to overturn West Ham’s 2-1 first-leg lead on Thursday. “But I’ve been here and won before.”
It was Moyes’s father who reminded the Hammers boss of his previous trip to this Dutch city. Moyes Snr will be in attendance on Thursday, as he has been throughout much of the club’s European adventure of the past two seasons, and as he was back in 2007, when his son’s Everton team inflicted Alkmaar’s first-ever home defeat in Europe, ending a clean run of 32 matches and almost as many years.
“It took me a while [to recognise it] when I came in, because it was a long time ago,” Moyes said. “But the moment I came through the door it all came back. Louis Van Gaal was Alkmaar manager, and I was a young manager, just starting my journey, or not just starting, but still feeling like a young coach.”
It is 10 years this week since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, with Moyes already announced as his successor, the Scot’s sterling work at Everton finally bringing the reward of a major step up and the promise of a trophy-laden spell through what ought to have been the peak years of his managerial career. Within 10 months, it had all gone pear-shaped, Moyes replaced by Ryan Giggs as interim and then eventually Van Gaal.
That the Old Trafford job proved Moyes’s sole crack at the elite did not seem especially strange at the time, but does more so now. Think, for instance, of where Graham Potter’s stock remains after his disastrous stint in the Chelsea madhouse and the fairly obvious path he might tread back to the top.
That Moyes has returned to this level of competition at all is largely a product of his own work, having initially taken over at West Ham late in 2019 with the brief of keeping the club in the division. That he is still in his post is remarkable, too. Few coaches get as close to the sack as Moyes has this season and manage to turn things around.
Few coaches get as close to the sack as Moyes has this season and manage to turn things around
At 60, the Premier League’s second-oldest manager behind Roy Hodgson, and still without major silverware in his career, though, Moyes is under no illusions.
“The more experienced you get, the closer you get to realising you maybe can’t do it forever,” he said on Wednesday. “So, you have to take every opportunity you get to win a competition.”
Despite all-but securing Premier League survival, Moyes’s future beyond this season remains uncertain. Winning the Conference League may not be the decisive factor but would make any decision on the club’s part to move on a little more awkward and erode some of what has been a growing sense that now might be a sensible time for all parties to part ways.
Throughout West Ham’s struggles, Moyes has publicly remained affable, but there was a notable shift in his persona towards a sterner focus here, even if he insisted his side are not feeling the weight of expectation.
“Not at all,” he said. “Every club needs a final. Every club needs European football. We are really fortunate. We are not under any pressure, because it is a thrill we are in this situation, it really is.”
16 years on from his last visit, Moyes remains the only manager of an English side to win in Alkmaar. Repeat the trick tonight and that thrill will crank up a little more.