Can Bilic get Moses back to his best?
When the subject of where Victor Moses would spend a third successive loan spell away from Chelsea came up, into the ring flew the hats of Tottenham, Everton and West Ham. The former two share a somewhat similar identity: perpetually on the cusp of the top 4 but, aside brief flirtations, always winding up in sixth or thereabouts. This seems to affirm the aphorism about aiming for the moon—while neither side boasts the star power of England’s elite, they both at least try to push the envelope.
The Hammers on the other hand, whom Moses ultimately plumped for, have no such lofty ambitions. Four seasons with Sam Allardyce’s minimalist conservatism may have something to do with it, but ultimately they are a club for whom little more than the middle of the road is important.
Allardyce got them this consistently, but from the terraces of the Boleyn Ground arose murmurings, not for progress necessarily, but for more aesthetically pleasing ordinariness. Out went Big Sam and in came ex-Hammer Slaven Bilic, with his Slavic good looks, hipster earrings and tetchy intensity.
In this sense, one might say Moses and West Ham deserve each other. The Nigeria international’s talents are evident, if only fleetingly – as in his opener at the weekend against Manchester City – but he has similarly struggled to impose himself at the highest level of English football.
His penchant for niggles at the most inconvenient times lend an air of frustration, but even more grating are the manifestations of mental fragility that undermine him even more severely.
His seeming inability to seize the chance to shine at Chelsea – whether he has gotten a fair enough crack of the whip is another matter – buttresses a worrying trend. Simply, Moses needs, not just to be first-choice (this is true for every footballer, really) but to be undisputed first-choice, and coddled in a way. In catching the eye at Crystal Palace in his youth, shining with Roberto Martinez at Wigan, and winning the 2013 Afcon with Nigeria, that much is clear.
Given such an environment, he is a devastatingly good footballer, complete with tricks, grace and a burst of pace for one so languid. It seemed quite unusual to see his scud missile catch out Joe Hart at the Etihad, not for a lack of technique, but because one hardly expects him to generate that much velocity; his better qualities are neatly disguised and come in bursts.
The flipside is his worst qualities are not so inconspicuous. It was instructive that Bilic withdrew him as City turned up the heat in the second half on Saturday; he is willing enough, but will offer only scant protection to his full-back in the defensive phase. This, along with his perpetual need for tender loving care and the keys to the kingdom, make him a hard sell for top clubs.
By their very nature, they have the resources to afford quality competition in most areas of the team. Moses seems incapable of mustering that essential hunger to fight, the weight of it an unnecessary ballast—his movements become less fluid, his touch more erratic, his confidence a weak trickle.
Already, Bilic seems aware of this, telling the Daily Star that all the 25-year-old needs is “that continuity in one club” in order to show his class. Already, he has begun to repay his new side: two starts have yielded a goal and an assist; more importantly, West Ham have won away at three of last season’s top six.
It is early days yet, but in acquiring a player so thoroughly in keeping with the character of the club, the Hammers may have unwittingly procured the X-factor to propel themselves into the top ten. Whisper it quietly, but if they keep Moses happy, it could get even better.