The Art of Hope: A lesson in motivation from David Moyes

On The Left Side

There are certain things a new manager must say when addressing a packed press room for the first time.

The new man in the job may have only just walked through the door and unpacked his giant Sports Direct mug but there are certain rules that must be obeyed. The baying press-pack need bite-sized quotes to adorn their back pages and the team’s fans want to know how the gaffer is going to do to turn this ship around… its a vital time.

As they face the sea of microphones and flashbulbs there are a few important things to remember, a checklist of credits and statements that every new football manager must make when they take a new job. Failure to get this right could result in early disaster.

  • Comment on the fantastic group of players. Check.
  • Refer to how “big” the club you have just joined is (if it’s not “big” then use the term “a sleeping giant”). Check.
  • Announce with certainty that you can change the fortunes of said club and bring them back from the brink. Check.

Job done. Simple.

It’s really not rocket science. It’s not even sport’s science. It’s simply the offer of hope: The chance that something might change, that the bad can become good.

A fan with hope might change his half-time boos for cheers of encouragement. A chairman with hope may refrain from swinging his unemployment axe for a few more game. A player with hope might run that little bit harder in an attempt to turn his team’s fortunes around. Hope is important.

For the most part, managers abide by these simple rules and all goes swimmingly. For the MOST part, but we’ll come to that.

Roy Hodgson has been around the block, so to speak. He knows how to play the game (and I don’t mean football, I’m not so sure on that front). When he took charge of Crystal Palace, replacing the outgoing Frank De Boer, he said everything that Palace fans wanted to hear:

“It is very rewarding to find myself here now at a club that I have always loved and admired with a huge potential. The ambitions here are realistic and there is an enormous potential for growth and I hope we can achieve our goals.”
Roy Hodgson | Sept 2017

Potential. Goals. Ambition… The holy trinity.

It’s an accomplished textbook performance. The kind you would expect from an old battle-owl like Hodgson. The Palace Fan’s were already fearing relegation and here. Woy presented them with a light on the horizon, a silver lining on a cloud. He may not have mentioned Champions League or promised a trophy, but he gave the supporters a tantalizing glimpse of its ankle. Hope.

Claude Puel isn’t even from these shores (Alright, calm down Mr. Merson) but he still gets the rules of English football management. Upon taking the reigns at Leicester City earlier this season he used a similar rhetoric to Palace’s new boss and delivered his own rallying cry to club and supporters:

“The opportunity to help the club build on its remarkable recent achievements is a truly exciting and I’m looking forward to delivering further lasting success.”
Claude Puel | October 2017

It’s almost beautiful in its simplicity. Tapping into the unexpected joy that Leicester City fans will still hold deer in the ventricles of their hearts and suggesting that maybe, one day, possibly it might return. Hope.

Even Steve Cotterill taking over the Birmingham City job from Harry Redknapp nailed it with one simple sentence.

“This is a premier league club”
Steve Cotterill | Nov 2017

I mean it’s factually incorrect. Birmingham City certainly aren’t a Premier League club, but it did the job. He didn’t make any hasty promises, didn’t suggest things would change quickly. He simply offered hope.

But not all managers seem to grasp this simple rule… and that brings us to David William Moyes.

When he took control at the Sunderland they were on the brink of relegation. Sam Allardyce had packed his pint glass of wine and headed off to St Georges Park and it was Moyes the Messiah, rising again from his crucifixion at Old Trafford to lead them to the promised land (apologies for the mixed religious metaphors).

What the faithful congregation who gather the Stadium of Light each weekend needed at this point was belief. They needed words of encouragement. A pat on the back, a warming cup of tea. A whisper in the ear that everything was going to be OK and that this man was there to save them.

What they got was the opposite. They got a stern Scotsman telling them that, everything was very very far from ok indeed. When Moyes was quizzed on concerns from the fans that the club was facing yet another relegation battle he was quick to agree:

“That’s where they’ve been every other year for the last four years, so why would it suddenly change? It can’t dramatically change, it can’t.”
David Moyes | July 2016

I’m sure Moyes would argue that he was a realist, avoiding unrealistic expectations. He would have a point: To anyone who had a pair of eyes and a basic grasp of mathematics you knew that Sunderland was in real trouble. He knew it. The fans knew it. It just didn’t need saying out loud. The last thing you want to hear as your airplane nose dives towards the ground with its engine on fire is… “Well looks like we’re stuffed”. We want hope.

Moyes never escaped the negativity of that first press conference. The terraces reflected those emotions back to the players and the players never looked once like they could escape that unwanted trip to the Championship that weighed them down. Which of course they didn’t.

You would think that after the Sunderland-S**t-Storm Moyes would take a different approach when he spoke to the media having been appointed West Ham’s new manager but you would have to think again.

Upon his appointment, and in some carefully scripted promotional videos from the club, Moyes initially said the right things. He talked about a talented squad, he talked about turning things around, he talked about ambition. However, as soon as he was taken away from polished PR world and thrust into a press conference, the belief and bluster vanished to be replaced by the harbinger of doom and Moyes escape plan if (when) things go wrong:

“If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then I’ll see the East End of London for seven months, then I’ll go elsewhere.”
David Moyes | November 2017

Really shows a commitment to the job and a belief in the future doesn’t it?

It might not make any difference to the team. It might not make the difference to the results but it will make a difference to the fans and how they react to Moyes. When times get tough and he needs the backing of the ticket-paying public he may find them wanting. If only he had provided one simple thing.

Because we all need that something.


You can find more from Jim on his twice-weekly, satirical football podcast. Its always under 10mins and it’s always bloomin’ funny. Have a listen to the latest episode here!