Such is the rapid nature of the modern game that football seldom leaves time for sentiment.
The chance to look back and reflect is rarely available as the next game, the next challenge, is only ever two or three days away. Such has been the case for West Ham United and for manager David Moyes in the last few years.
The Irons are in the middle of a third season with European football; a schedule that saw the Hammers play 56 competitive matches in the 2021/22 campaign, followed by 57 in the 2022/23 season. Should the Irons progress in both the FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League knock-out stages then there is every chance that number will rise again by the time this season concludes.
As Moyes marked four years in charge of West Ham during his second spell as manager, there was time for a brief moment for consideration. The last 12 months have been incredible, both for club and coach. The team won 32 games in all competitions in 2023 and, of course, there was a very special night in Prague.
All that adds up for Moyes to what could be considered one of his finest years in management.
“I look back at things at times. I think, because of winning the UEFA Europa Conference League trophy, I would have to say that, yes, it has been [my best year as a manager],” he said.
“It was difficult for the first part of last season but, once we got back around after the World Cup, I think we really improved in the second half of last season. We’ve just had our best start to a Premier League season at West Ham and I’d have to say, because of winning the trophy, the second half of last season was probably our best finish.
“The last few weeks have been tough. I think it’s only Liverpool and Manchester City who have played more games than us in the last couple of years. But we’ve shown some resilience and picked up good results. In the main, the boys here have done a great job and 2023 has been a great year for us.”
A new year brings new obstacles and new ambitions, and West Ham will kick off 2024 with a home test against a Brighton & Hove Albion side who, like the Irons, have secured passage to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League after finishing top of their group.
A 3-1 win at the American Express Stadium back in August was a first Premier League win over the Seagulls at the 13th attempt for West Ham. Now Moyes’ men are seeking a fourth consecutive top flight win, one that would consolidate their standing in the top six of the division.
“Brighton have been our bogey team over many seasons here at West Ham,” Moyes continued. “We broke the hoodoo earlier this season down at their place. I have to say though, Robert De Zerbi has brought something different to the Premier League. I think there are so many good young coaches out there and De Zerbi is one of them.
“They’ve got an exciting team and lots of young players. They’re a good model of a football club and you can only admire them. They also won their group in Europe and they’re also in the last 16. They’re up there in the Premier League too, so it will be a tough game for us.”
Four years ago, on New Years’ Day 2020, Moyes marked his return to the West Ham technical area with a 4-0 win over another south coast side in AFC Bournemouth.
That season, Moyes’ mandate was to avoid relegation. Now, the sky appears to be the limit for the West Ham team under his management.
With knock-out European football to again look forward to, as well as competing with the Premier League’s biggest and best, expectations around London Stadium have truly shifted in the last four years. The manager is truly proud of that.
“Everything at the Club has grown. We’ve grown. We’re trying to challenge right at the top. We’re never going to say we’re not going for it, in terms of Europe. I’m trying to continue growth at this Club.
“The job as a manager is always to raise expectations but there’s part of it that you must look at the teams you’re playing against. You need to overcome some really good opposition to compete, and the competition is really tough.
“We have to keep progressing and moving forward. If we can finish in Europe again, then it would be an incredible achievement.
“This place means a lot to me. West Ham has really grown on me and, to be fair, the Club grew on me when I was here in my first spell too. This second time, I’m enjoying it even more.”