If ever there was an illustration of the short-termism and lack of sentiment in football, it was the decision to sack Darren Moore as the Head Coach of West Bromwich Albion yesterday evening.
Even from a pure footballing point of view, it seems a very harsh decision. The Baggies are in fourth place with ten games to go, well placed to finish in a play-off position, a result that the majority of Albion fans would, I believe, have considered perfectly acceptable at the beginning of the season.
When it is compared with the other two relegated clubs, it is even more impressive, and this is in spite of the fact that the transfer budget was very limited last summer.
Admittedly, results and performances had recently dropped off, and the chances of automatic promotion have all but receded thanks to the recent defeats to Sheffield United and Leeds United, but I can’t help think that if Albion’s points accumulation had been spread more evenly throughout the season, Moore would still be in a job.
While no one can argue that Big Dave is the finished article when it comes to a Head Coach, or that he doesn’t make mistakes, or that he has been a little too reliant on the counsel of his assistant, Graeme Jones, but all these deficiencies are to be expected of a man in his first management position. If the club were not prepared to accept them, they should not have appointed Moore in the first place.
Another factor in his dismissal was, undoubtedly, Alan Pardew. It may seem a strange thing to say but, in my opinion, the club hierarchy’s failure to act quick enough to dispense with Pardew last season has directly led to this knee-jerk reactionary decision. Moore’s remarkable run of results last season highlighted the fact that, had he been in charge earlier, Albion may have retained their Premier League status – his success last season unwittingly contributing to his dismissal less than a year later.
Big Dave was in charge of the team for 48 matches, winning 23 with the team scoring 79 goals in the process, and won two Manager of the Month awards. When you consider that the first six of those matches were with a team rock bottom of the table Premier League at their lowest ebb for a decade, they are remarkable statistics for a head coach that has just been sacked. In fact, the only permanent Albion managers to have a higher win percentage than Moore’s 47.9% are Roberto di Matteo (48.2%), Jesse Carver (55.2%) and Ossie Ardiles (55.9%).
While I accept that recent performances had been poor, I do not accept that they were enough to warrant this decision. Moore’s record in charge of the football club was good, of that there can be little doubt, in my opinion. As I have pointed out before, no team has the divine right to win promotion and, while Albion’s squad is undoubtedly a strong one in the Championship, it is one of a number of strong squads all vying for the top six. Big Dave may have not been able to get the very best from what he has available, but I don’t think he is far enough away to warrant losing his job.
Reading the comments from pundits and others since the decision was announced, there does seem to be a general consensus that it was a harsh one from a footballing point of view, and I’ve set out above why I agree with those views. For me, however, the harshness of the decision is multiplied when you consider what Darren Moore did for this club off the field.
When he was appointed in April 2018, the club was divided and the players were devoid of confidence. The fall out from the Barcelona incident was still keenly felt and I feared that West Bromwich Albion could be heading for a major fall potentially dropping another division in the way that Sunderland have done recently.
Darren Moore managed to bring the club together again by reminding everyone what a football club should be – a collective effort not only to get results on the pitch, but to also make a difference to the local community. I’m still not quite sure how he managed to turn the playing side around so quickly, but it was a truly remarkable run of results that was close to achieving the impossible, and I’m sure all of us that were present when Jake Livermore poked the ball over the line to take the three points against Spurs will remember it for ever.
More than anything else, however, he brought the pride back to the club. Fans had looked on in horror and embarrassment at the happenings at the club they loved during the season, but with Big Dave at the helm, they could be proud once again, both on and off the field.
In the summer, the club was still divided with players refusing to travel on pre-season tours, but Moore took it all in his stride. While it took a while, he managed to re-integrate Craig Dawson into the team and he has turned into a key member of the squad.
From a footballing point of view, Moore changed little in the Premier League run in, but there was a stark difference this season. He introduced a style of passing, attacking, attractive football with an emphasis on scoring goals. The goals flowed at both ends, but there were generally more going into the opposition net, and the fans lapped it up. To transform a squad that had been schooled in Pulis-ball to play attractive football was a brave ambition and, for me, it largely worked.
When Moore was being considered for the permanent position in May last year, many fans, myself included, were in two minds. The fear was that it would all go wrong for him – as nice a guy as he was, and as good a job as he did in those six games, it represented a risk on both sides. There were suggestions that he didn’t want it, that he wanted more experience, and perhaps he was only persuaded to take it when he knew that Graeme Jones would come in to work alongside him.
In the end, I think he did a good job and that the risk has largely paid off, but I guess my expectations were lower than others, perhaps more realistic. I felt that it could take a few years to get back, but Moore’s good work this season has raised expectations.
Darren Moore healed the club off the field, and then started down the road of healing it on the field. It was still a work in progress, but it was not happening quick enough for some.
Moore emphasised the collective in moving the club forward, but unfortunately not everyone associated with the club bought into that. There has been criticism after every result that wasn’t perfect from a vocal minority of fans which has led to a very divided fan base on social media, at least, that completely went against Moore’s ideal of a collective effort. He knew that success would only be achieved with everyone pulling in the same direction and believing.
I don’t believe that Darren Moore has failed this club, but this club has failed Darren Moore. Perhaps the only way to repay him, is for us all to pull together as he advocated and get behind the team and whoever replaces him.