Sam Allardyce and David Moyes can consider themselves reasonably unlucky to be out of a job this week. Reports indicate that Moyes simply lost patience with a club that showed little indication they wanted him after he did the job he was hired to do, while Allardyce’s Jupiter-sized ego rarely allows him to contemplate the notion that any adverse outcomes are his fault.
Both clubs could have made solid cases had they wanted to keep their men. Allardyce tightened Everton’s defence and got them to eighth in the Premier League, a pretty good finish considering their start to the season under Ronald Koeman, and the state of their squad.
Moyes arguably did an even better job, keeping a side in the Premier League who were not only heading for relegation, but he had to deal with a confused decision-making structure at the top of the club, and a fan base furious with how they were being managed. He steered a lopsided, injury-ridden team to safety with games to spare.
Equally, both clubs can easily justify their decision to change. In the end it was Moyes who walked, but if West Ham wanted him to stay then he probably would have stayed. But they can acknowledge that Moyes did a good job given the circumstances, but not that he would do a similarly good job in different, hopefully more favourable circumstances.
Everton’s case is even more clear-cut. They can defend getting rid of a manager who played broadly hideous football, who was thus disliked by those in the stands (not just online, Sam), who claimed all the credit but accepted none of the blame, and who viewed drawing with Swansea a triumph.
They may well be told that they are getting rid of a perfectly good manager for no good reason. But the reason, surely, is ambition. Allardyce’s skill is firefighting — whether he likes it or not, and he doesn’t — solidifying a team in trouble and getting them out of trouble.
He excels at places where the situation dictates they don’t especially care about how something is done, simply that it is done. Sunderland, for example, probably wouldn’t be in the mess they currently find themselves in if Allardyce was still there.
But Everton do care about the how. It’s in the nature of things that once the necessary is dealt with, once you’ve held your nose and accepted that it might take something unpalatable to escape from bother, that you might want something more. In Everton’s case, once it was clear they were no longer battling relegation, there was less and less appetite to watch a team that looked like it still was.
It’s really not overly demanding to want some joy, some attacking verve, some positivity in their football. But this season Everton had a manager who was going to bring on a defensive midfielder to defend a point against Watford, and who brought on two defensive midfielders against Liverpool.
That’s why Allardyce is out, and to a lesser extent Moyes. These are two clubs who, misguided or otherwise, think they can do better, and in some respects it’s admirable that they are aiming high.
Because what else can these clubs do, given how the Premier League is structured? These are two clubs that exist outside the elite six, that know it would take something reasonably extraordinary for them to break into it, but who really shouldn’t be criticised for aiming to do it anyway.
This is a division of 14 teams who, in many seasons, are essentially just competing to be the best of the rest. To be the seventh-best team in the Premier League. But even if that is the sum total of their realistic goals, surely the best way to achieve that is to aim higher. If you aim for mediocrity, then that’s the best you’re going to get.
Criticism of Everton certainly, and perhaps West Ham too, is at least partly rooted in the idea that they should know their place: what more do they expect than what they have been given this season? But it’s not a bad thing to expect more: they might not get it, and of course they may fail, but ambition is not a bad thing.
It’s always something of a mystery why clubs don’t do this sort of thing more often: hire a firefighter manager then, once the fire is out, bring in someone more suitable to their ambitions. You don’t get the person with the hose to redecorate your house when the embers have cooled. Everton wanted Marco Silva last autumn, so it’s not a surprise that they want him again now. Thank you Sam, but we want something else now.
Certainly Allardyce, and probably Moyes, will find work in the Premier League next season. A few clubs will panic in the autumn, find themselves in the situation where they need someone to temporarily fix their team, and pick up the phone. The question is whether Allardyce, in particular, will be up for doing the same thing over and over.
Ultimately, the whole situation is pretty depressing, that these are clubs in the perpetual pursuit of seventh place, constantly striving for… well, who cares? Perhaps this is why clubs want more, want something better. West Ham and Everton might miss when they shoot for the stars, but at least they’re shooting.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.