When our manager – the foundation stone of our club’s newfound stability – leaves for new endeavours, we need a replacement we can trust. We need a replacement who knows this unpredictable Premier League. We need a replacement with experience of potential relegation battles to come. We need a replacement with savvy knowledge and safe hands.
We need David Moyes. And not just for now – for a while.
Okay, so plenty has been already on this. Some of us think Moyes is the logical choice. Some of us believe he is in decline. He’s got traits similar enough to Sam Allardyce for a smooth transition, but he’s still the same manager who botched tenures at Manchester United and Real Sociedad.
So why does it feel like this appointment is the only silver lining in a sorry pre-season?
Well, there are several reasons. For one, Sunderland AFC has a squad that – finally! – does not require an upheaval. Allardyce brought tactical cohesion and structure, yes, but not a stamp of playing style. The re-established post-Poyet ‘basics’ are as instinctive in Moyes as they are in his predecessor, and with pre-season training thankfully not disrupted, there’s a relieving sense of continuity.
Also, Sunderland has a deadline: in twenty-or-so days, the squad travels to Manchester City for the 16/17 Premier League campaign. Not only is that no time to recruit preferred players but, depending on who you believe, there ain’t that much money to be spent either. The optimists of us may suggest the squad doesn’t need too much added to it, but there are still blatant necessities: Yann M’Vila, for a start.
Fortunately, shoe-string budgets are a hallmark in how David Moyes built his reputation at Everton. In case you needed a reminder; in the 07/08 season, Moyes amassed a fifth placed finish on 65 points, after two transfer windows that saw Everton gain £18.49m after all earnings and expenditures. Not a loss – gained!
And that was no fluke. Nor was Moyes’ record of making a loss in transfer dealings only four times in eleven seasons; two of which were losses of under £5 million. Better yet, look at his entire tenure at Everton. From 2002 to 2013, the Toffees actually made a profit of £31.32 million from David Moyes’ transfer dealings alone, after earnings and expenditure. That is credit to a manager who understands both the market and a talent’s potential.
Most importantly (and the reason why all that matters), Moyes has the proven record of keeping a club competitive in this league despite financial restrictions. Many forget that, when the Scot joined Everton from Preston North End in 2002, the Toffees were a club on its knees, doomed to relegation battles not too dissimilar to Sunderlands in recent years. That Moyes turned Everton into the outside glass-ceiling-breakers of a monopolised Premier League within three years is excellent.
However, we shouldn’t be getting as carried away as to expect immediate good fortune. Sunderland will not ‘do a’ Leicester City, or even a Southampton or West Ham United. Expect Moyes to instead build upon Sam Allardyce’s good work last season, and ensure that the stability brought about by his predecessor is maintained. That, really, is what Sunderland needs right now – an unglamorous, unspectacular, run-of-the-mill campaign, never in danger, and without expecting too much.
That is something David Moyes can do. Remember, at Everton, Moyes only ever finished a season on under 40 points once, and that was twelve years ago. Since then, he brought Everton to nine top-half finishes, with over half of those seasons ending in the top six; reaching 50 points in ten seasons, and 60 points in five. But none of this happened immediately – he needed time.
Another positive to take from David Moyes’ appointment is his ability to thrive when perceived as the underdog. For all that Sunderland can expect preferred frustration at drawing instead of winning (as opposed to years of losing instead of anything else), when it comes to the ‘big matches’, Moyes has an uncanny knack for bamboozling the perceived ‘elite clubs’. This wasn’t just a trait he instilled at Everton, either; get the time to watch how his Real Sociedad side defensively mind-f***ed FC Barcelona in a hard-fought 1-0 win. The sucker-punch routine would do well here.
In a wider context, David Moyes as Sunderland manager makes only the more sense because he is the successor to Sam Allardyce. As managers, only three men have more Premier League experience than the two, with Moyes having coached 31 matches more than Big Sam. Their familiarity of this league is important, but their similarities to each other are crucial.
Expect much of the same under David Moyes as we’ve seen since October last year; the improved discipline of the players, logical decision-making, tactical cohesion – y’know, the sort of one-dimensional simplicity that actually still works in football, contrary to modern beliefs.
And that’s not to be knocked as being too predictable, either (something many of Moyes’ detractors call to). Predictability is a foolish description for a successful setup. FC Barcelona are studied to death for how they’ve played for years – they’re predictable – but you still can’t stop them when the setup is strong and the right players are coordinated properly. That is what David Moyes prefers (granted on a less extravagant scale) – the inevitability of it all; that no matter what the opposition attempts, they cannot stop a well-prepared, consistent setup.
Despite his cultural downfall at Real Sociedad and unsuited poisoned chalice at Manchester United, I believe there is little doubt that David Moyes can succeed at Sunderland. However, due to this summer’s circumstances, expectations of him must be balanced with some realism.
Sunderland needs stability first to ensure last season’s work is not undone. If that comes in spite of, say, more adventurous ambition as it relates to league positioning, then so be it. Ask yourself: would you accept a season of constantly hovering between tenth and twelfth if it meant never being associated with that bottom red bracket all season? That may be how this season unfolds.
However, what is also important is that the club trusts Moyes beyond just this season’s objectives. For the first time in a long time, Sunderland has a manager fully capable of taking the club into loftier heights than mid-table – after all, he’s done it before with fewer resources. It may happen this season, or it may take three or four seasons, but for the sake of solidity, we should entrust Moyes’ long-term achievements to a long-term plan.
So here we go. Another season, another manager; at least now we have one who has been here before. This is a new yet familiar beginning for David Moyes; the man who took Everton from relegation to Europe on thread-bare budgets, pragmatism and good instinct. Now wouldn’t it be something if he could do that again . . .