Before David Moyes was even officially announced as West Ham manager on Monday, the Irons faithful were aghast with fury. While that’s a reflection of how unceremoniously the Scot’s career has panned out since leaving Everton, it’s also a damning indictment on what little trust there is between supporter and board in East London, and how David Gold and David Sullivan have slowly lost their legitimacy to rule the very club they own.
After all, we’ve seen unfashionable appointments in the Premier League before and even this season with Roy Hodgson looking to revitalise his career at Crystal Palace. Palace fans were far from inspired and far from convinced after Hodgson oversaw the most disastrous result in England’s history at Euro 2016, but they were at least prepared to give Hodgson a chance, to see if a decision made by a board with an inevitably greater grasp of facts than them would soon prove to be the right one.
Arguably, it already has – few could have imagined Palace beating reigning Premier League champions just one or two games prior to their 2-1 win over Chelsea – and there’s no reason Moyes can’t surpass expectations at West Ham as well. He is, after all, an experienced manager famed for his ability to organise and provide intensity on the training pitch – two things the Hammers abundantly lacked under Slaven Bilic.
And yet, the reaction to rumours of Moyes replacing his predecessor alone – immediate negativity – is telling enough of how David Gold and David Sullivan don’t have that same level of trust from West Ham fans. Of course, the reaction to the Moyes appointment is merely symptomatic; belief in the board has steadily seeped out of supporters for some time.
This is, after all, a board who have cut corners at practically every given opportunity, from selling Upton Park and underpaying for the London Stadium to allegedly barring their own manager from playing Ashley Fletcher due to transfer clauses and refusing to pay up for a key transfer target in William Carvalho on deadline day, from not sacking Avram Grant in spite of inevitable relegation to save on a compensation deal, to going a whole twelve months without addressing the obvious absence of a starting right-back in the first team squad.
The move between stadiums, alongside the badge change to include the word ‘London’, has been particularly significant; in the eyes of many, the board have sold the soul of the club for profit – a theory that stacks up against recent reports that the Irons could cash in on five of their promising youngsters to fund David Moyes’ revamp of the first-team squad in January. That actively defies West Ham’s historic principles of developing their own talent, fitting the narrative of Gold and Sullivan ruling with an eye on the bottom line rather than a hand on the club’s proverbial heart.
But perhaps their biggest mistake has been continuous false promises. Declarations of the London Stadium eventually housing regular European football always seemed naïve but they now look intentionally misleading, especially after starting the season with a permanent manager running out of contract and continuing with his replacement being appointed on a short-term deal amid the threat of relegation.
Likewise, although some well-proven names did arrive in east London last summer, it’s impossible to ignore the correlation between West Ham openly targeting unrealistic big names like Alexandre Lacazette and Carvalho, and those expensive deals eventually falling through. It’s almost as if Gold and Sullivan were never going to commit to them in the first place – they were just happy to say they tried.
Throw in an owner and an owner’s son who regularly discuss the club’s problems in the media like behind-the-scenes footage of a soap opera, the manner in which Bilic was hanging by a threat practically since the first kick of the season but not actually relieved of his duties until results made his position completely untenable, constant rumours of interference in team selection and lack of clarity over responsibility for transfer policy, and it’s hard to find a reason of why West Ham fans should actively support their owners, let alone like them. They’ve promised the fans a path to Eden but seem to put the stumbling blocks in the way themselves. They claim to be West Ham fans as well, yet continue to treat the club like another business venture.
Moyes may well be the band-aid that keeps West Ham ticking until the end of the season, but the dysfunction stems far deeper than that, and the fans have known for some time already. The ultimate question, then, is how far the club can go when the owners’ legitimacy begins and ends in in legal terms; they may officially own West Ham, but they’ve gradually lost the authority to rule over it to the point where fans no longer trust them. No matter who is the manager, no matter which incredible talents are brought in, that will always create an underlying toxicity at West Ham.
Either the owners decide to sell up and move on, or they win back the trust of increasingly disillusioned fans. Both, however, currently seem unlikely.