Football can be an unforgiving industry for anyone who suffers failure. People are regularly written off as flops or has-beens, but there has been a real theme this season of managers and players fighting back and silencing their critics. If we are happy to denounce people when they come up short, we should be willing to give them praise when they succeed. So, starting in the dugouts, here are a few people who deserve some applause for defying expectations over the last few months.
David Moyes hasn’t had it easy in his managerial career since leaving Everton. He took on the job of replacing the most successful manager in English football history and it would be an understatement to say he came up short at Manchester United. A move to Spain followed, where he struggled with the language – sometimes to tragicomic effect – and in turn failed to get his message across to the Real Sociedad players. Then came Sunderland, and you only need to take one glance at the foot of the Championship table to understand that their problems go far deeper than anything one man could fix from the sidelines.
When the West Ham board decided to take a risk on Moyes, their decision was met with ridicule. Those howls have derision have gradually subsided over the last few months. The club were in the relegation zone when Moyes arrived in early November, with just nine points from their first 11 matches of the season. They now sit in 11th, just one point off of the top half of the table, having made significant improvements at both ends of the pitch.
They have scored 18 goals in Moyes’ 12 matches in charge – a tally that is beaten only by the top six – and they also look much more solid at the back. They have beaten Chelsea, picked up draws against Arsenal and Tottenham, and are unbeaten in their five games since Christmas. Moyes deserves great credit for getting the best out of players who were not performing under Slaven Bilic.
He may always be remembered as the England manager whose team were dumped out of the European Championship by debutants Iceland, but Roy Hodgson still has a chance to go down in the history books of his boyhood club as a saviour. Crystal Palace were in a desperate state when he arrived in September, and even more so three games into his tenure, when there seemed to be no hope for the flightless Eagles. They were still without a goal or a point seven games into the season and club looked doomed to drop back into the second tier.
However, since October – when the former international boss could make the most of an international break and work with his players – Palace have enjoyed an excellent upturn in form and results. The return of Wilfried Zaha has been key, but the manager deserves acclaim for salvaging what seemed to be a lost cause.
Palace have lost just one of their last 12 league games, which is a feat only Liverpool can better over the same timeframe. Their only defeat in that run came to Arsenal, who they play on Saturday. On current form you wouldn’t bet against Roy’s boys.
One man who will be hoping to halt Palace’s rise up the Premier League table this weekend is Jack Wilshere, who played his part by setting up the winning goal when the teams met in December. Wilshere has struggled with injuries throughout his career but he made his seventh consecutive start in the league on Sunday against Bournemouth and has played every single minute in the league over the last month.
Wilshere, still only 26, has returned from his most recent lay-off in strong form and better shape, which he attributes to a new gluten-free diet. Across 18 appearances in the league and Europa League this season, he has scored twice, laid on three assists and completed an impressive 53 dribbles. Gareth Southgate will be hoping his form – and fitness – is maintained in the run-up to the World Cup in June.
Another player hoping to force his way back into the England team, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be competing with his former Arsenal team-mate for a place in the side. Like other young English players who have been signed by big clubs for seemingly extortionate fees, Oxlade-Chamberlain has suffered from a bizarre culture in which neutrals want to see promising players fail.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has taken some time to adapt at his new club. Liverpool picked up just one win in his first seven appearances for the club but he was targeted for more than his share of the blame – especially as the majority of his appearances came from the bench.
However, his confidence has clearly been restored since he scored from the bench at Maribor. He scored his fourth goal and laid on his fourth assist for Liverpool in their 4-3 win over Manchester City at the weekend, when he was rated as our man of the match with a rating of 8.95. He also received the award in the Merseyside derby a week before. Oxlade-Chamberlain is still only 24 and he has versatility on his side. He seems to be winning over the Liverpool fans and he could still do the same with Southgate.
The Guardian Sport