It’s nearly a year since David Moyes signed an 18 month contract with Real Sociedad, but a poor start to his first full season has raised doubts not only about whether that deal will get extended, but also about whether he’ll see out the initially agreed term.
Last season, Moyes did the bare minimum at the Anoeta – taking over with the club languishing in 15th place and on a downward spiral, the Scot steadied the ship and guided them away from relegation worries to finish an acceptable 12th.
But that was then. This season, the club’s hierarchy and fans are looking for more. Challenging for a Europa League spot is now the basic requirement, but the season hasn’t started as well as hoped, and the former Everton boss is in trouble.
Moyes is not what you’d call an optimistic manager. He’s one of those coaches who go into football matches looking not to lose, rather than looking to go out and win. He believes that you start a game level, so you shouldn’t come back into the dressing room after the final whistle with anything less than a point. That kind of outlook informs his football, his formations, his whole picture of the game.
Moyes is competent when it comes to setting up a side to compete, but his football teams are conservative and largely functional – even predictable. Ultimately, he lacks the inventiveness required to be a really top manager. We suspected it at Everton, saw it at Manchester United and we are seeing it again in San Sebastian.
Nevertheless, his ability to put out organised, durable and game football teams means he’ll always have work. But solid and unspectacular football tends to get you solid and unspectacular results. And that’s fine if you have limited ambitions and the results keep coming. But when enough results go the wrong way, support can dry up very quickly.
One victory from seven league games is putting the manager’s methods rather unflatteringly under the spotlight. Saturday night’s 3-1 defeat to a ten-man Malaga side that hadn’t managed a goal in their first six games this season has ramped up the pressure.
Scoring goals is proving to be the most debilitating problem. But this season’s struggles, just six goals in their opening seven games, are nothing new. Last season, Real Sociedad managed just 32 league goals in Moyes’ 27 games in charge.
The lack of goals is probably none too surprising when you consider that so far this term, Sociedad have averaged only 10 attempts on goal and three on target per game. That chance creation rate mirrors their efforts under Moyes last season and suggests the issue may be deep rooted.
The Scot needs to find a way to increase his side’s goal threat – but his past record suggests that he may struggle. A recent switch from his favoured 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 hasn’t yielded much improvement and his recent public criticism of his players suggests he’s feeling the heat.
Moyes deserves credit for not simply stepping back onto the English managerial merry go round when he lost his job at Old Trafford. Too few British coaches go abroad to test themselves and to broaden their horizons.
But at the same time, Moyes needs to show that he can learn, adapt and solve problems, not only to prolong his time in Spain, but also to make sure that his decision to go there in the first place increases his marketability as a manager. But on the evidence so far, that kind of progression continues to look beyond his capabilities.