giubbotti donna David Moyes changing minds as Real Sociedad begin to recover
David Moyes changing minds as Real Sociedad show signs of recovery
When he reached the end of the narrow, low corridor that leads from the dressing room and out the stadium at the Ciutat de Valencia, Levante manager Luis Alcaraz paused and shook David Moyes’ hand. “Congratulations,” he said politely. “Thank you,” Moyes replied. And with that, Alcaraz was gone for good. It was Sunday lunchtime, Real Sociedad had just beaten Levante 4 0 and the outcome was all but inevitable. Levante’s board met soon after and agreed to sack their manager. They tried to call him but his phone was turned off, so they sent him an email instead.
As Alcaraz departed, Moyes could have been forgiven for looking at him and thinking: “That could have been me.” Pressure built and the talk in the media had been of ultimatum: lose at Levante and he would sacked. Real Sociedad came into the game having collected just six points from 24, winning just three of their past 18 stretching back to last season. Names of replacements floated, even if at least one of them privately insisted that he knew nothing about it. As for Moyes himself, he has no intention of walking away, even though there has been interest from English clubs.
The accounts were oddly apocalyptic, portrayals of a supposedly irreversible crisis that barely a day later had been reversed. Reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated. With a starting XI that included eight players from Guipuzcoa, something that had not happened since 1995, la Real had completed their biggest away win in five years. Carlos Vela scored twice, his first goals of the season. Was this the best performance so far, Moyes was asked. No, he said; they had played better and failed to win at all, let alone 4 0, but it helped.
It certainly helped. There was tranquillity now, the tone had changed, the focus shifted. “We’re getting better,” said Asier Illarramendi. Not so long ago, the more excitable members of the media, and some fans too, said the team was getting worse and could only get worse. When Real Sociedad were defeated 1 0 by Atletico Madrid the week before, there had been whistles and boos. Some said it was not just that. Watching the game back, straining to hear, it’s not clear that they actually were, but some reports claimed that fans at Anoeta were chanting “Moyes, go home.”
Pressure on David Moyes has grown throughout this season as his Real Sociedad sit 15th in the La Liga table.
Well, that’s one way of making sure he knew what people thought. And there is something significant in that idea, too. As the pressure built against Moyes, he could not help but be aware of it, yet nor could he be fully aware of it. The word “entorno” is used a lot in Spain to describe everything that goes on around the club, that kind of whispering white noise that engulfs everyone: the pressure, power and politics, supporters and media. The self interest. Much of it passes Moyes by, which may be no bad thing, but it may not be an entirely good thing either.
Moyes has not really engaged with the “entorno,” he has not been a political animal, he has not had the cynicism that many do have. He has not cultivated support in the local media, nor sought out local allies who can guide him across the minefield, maybe laying a few landmines of their own. Some think he should have done, just as others, of course, do have their allies. On one level it is laudable to stay out of that, but it may not always help. It should only be about the work you do, the performances you produce and the results you achieve. It should be, but it is not.
It is easy for a foreign manager who does not speak the language to become isolated, or to give the appearance of isolation. Easy too for there to be accusations that he has little interest in integration, even though the reality is different: communication is a natural barrier, not an easy one to overcome; what may be seen as aloofness or failure to integrate, a facile and often false accusation, is in fact more often an entirely natural linguistic and communicative difficulty.
The truth is that supporters probably back him rather more than it sometimes appears and more than some in the media admit, but inevitably there is a certain vulnerability about a foreign manager’s position. It is easy to let a foreigner manager who does not speak the language shoulder the blame when things go wrong, simply turning to the dramatic “solution” and easy headline, rather than engaging in what is actually happening not least because most attacks are launched with impunity.
Few have a vested interest in his continuity, which is not to say that they are agitating against it, but it does mean that the inclination to defend him as the pressure builds is lessened. Even the fates of his coaching staff are not necessarily tied to his. Assistant Billy McKinlay aside, they were all there when Moyes arrived and they will all be there after he’s left.
Moyes’ ally is the greatest ally of all, though: the man who fought so hard and bet so heavily on him coming to the club, president Jokin Aperribay. Moyes had turned the job down, and more than once, but Aperribay was not giving up, even when everyone else had. The sporting director Loren Juarros had lined up Pepe Mel but eventually Moyes agreed. Persistence paid off. Mel looked elsewhere. The decision, and the role Moyes was theoretically given more manager than just coach represented an implicit threat to Loren. But Aperribay has remained firm.
Some think that Moyes has a better team than is being seen in matches, a team that is too good to be where it is. European football is the dream; whether it is a realistic one is different matter. It is tempting to conclude that the talent has been over talked. Besides, it takes time to build a team and, with Jonathas for example, the process has barely begun.
Some degree of culture clash is significant: managerial mechanisms and footballing styles are different in Spain. There are some who believe that the difference is debilitating and others who believe that Moyes has lacked what the Spanish refer to as “left hand,” a soft touch. Yet in part he was brought in precisely because of a belief that his predecessors were too soft, and besides, Moyes has been delighted with his players. On the training pitch, progress has been made and understanding found.
Since taking over at Real Sociedad in November of last year, David Moyes, far right, has developed an understanding with his squad.
Against Levante, there was a 4 0 win. It might not, as Moyes implied, been their best performance they’d been unlucky in losing at Malaga, to cite one example, and had been denied a draw against Atletico when a clear penalty was turned down in the last minute but this time the result brokered little argument. “Goals are what make people take notice,” Moyes said.
They took notice here. In the light of this result there was a renewed willingness to notice the good things too, from Imanol Agirretxe’s form and consistent goal scoring to the improved fitness of the side, Carlos Vela apart; from Moyes delivering on his promise to make Inigo Martinez an international to the increasingly important role played by Illaramendi and a debut for Mikel Oiarzabal, a youth teamer Moyes has watched and worked with closely and in whom he has real hopes; from the recuperation of David Zurutuza, superb in Levante, to the impact made by substitute Chori Castro and the vision to make that change (and not make others).
There may also be a willingness now to engage with some of the flaws in a more analytical way. Vela’s decline, his apparent diffidence, can not be laid at Moyes’ door, for instance, and he is the most talented player in the team. Or the fact that Moyes’ ability to construct is curtailed while signings do not depend on him, or at least not only him.
With victory over Levante, la Real moved to nine points, still some way from where many expected them to be, particularly with theoretically easier early season fixtures, and there are tough tests to come. This weekend they face Celta de Vigo at home. Between now and Christmas they also play Sevilla, Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid. But this was a big win, precisely because of those fixtures. La Real had needed to store up points for winter. This was not just about points either: a phrase used a lot in Spain is “vencer y convencer.” It was not just about winning, but about convincing. They did so, the fatalism some held before revealed as false.
For la Real, at least. For the man who headed along the corridor, shook Moyes’ hand and offered his congratulations, leaving Levante’s ground for the last time, there was a different ending.