LONDON: The television camera follows West Ham United's Scottish manager David Moyes as he leaves after the English Premier League football match between West Ham United and Leeds United at The London Stadium, in east London on March 8, 2021. - AFP

LONDON: West Ham boss David Moyes returns to Manchester United tonight with his reputation restored after a long period in the wilderness following his Old Trafford nightmare. Moyes has West Ham flying high in the Premier League and a win at his old club would boost their unexpected bid to qualify for the Champions League via a top four finish.

The fifth placed Hammers have won four of their last six league games, closing within two points of fourth placed Chelsea and six behind second placed United, with a game in hand on both. "If we can go to Old Trafford and pick up three points that would be an incredible achievement for us," Moyes said. "We have been on a really good run since the start of this year. We are in good form, the players have taken on all the games and we want to keep that record going."

This time last year, Moyes was fighting to steer West Ham away from the relegation zone after taking charge of the east London club in December 2019. Moyes has revamped his squad with a series of astute signings, including Czech duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, promising winger Jarrod Bowen and, most recently, Jesse Lingard on loan from Manchester United. Lingard is not eligible to face United this weekend, but Moyes' ability to revitalize the midfielder's stalled career, together with his development of Declan Rice, prove he has rediscovered the midas touch that made his name at Everton.

When Moyes was hired by United in 2013, the Scot was widely regarded as one of the brightest young managers in the Premier League after his impressive 11-year reign at Goodison Park. Although he was unable to deliver any silverware, he had led Everton to a top four finish in 2005 and consistently kept them in the top half of the table on a limited budget.

Moyes' appointment at United had been endorsed by Alex Ferguson, who recommended his compatriot before retiring. Inheriting a title-winning team, Moyes signed a six-year contract and was expected to refresh an ageing squad while maintaining the success of the Ferguson era. But he never looked comfortable in the harsh glare of the Old Trafford spotlight, with each decision picked apart by fans, pundits and even his own players in an unforgiving way he never had to endure at Everton.

Remarkable rehabilitation

He was criticized for his cautious tactics and ridiculed after signing Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini, a player whose rudimentary style contrasted with United's purist principles. Moyes soon wore the anguished expression of a man who knew his dream was fading before his eyes. After less than a season in charge he was sacked in April, 2014 with United languishing in seventh place and destined to miss out on a Champions League place for the first time since 1995. Moyes was back in management at Real Socieded just months later, but once again he was a fish out of water.

The often terse Moyes was a bad fit in the cultured environment of La Liga and he was sacked after just 12 months. That lost year in the Basque country was followed by an even more chastening experience at Sunderland. Taking over at the Stadium of Light in 2016, Moyes' return to the Premier League was a disaster as Sunderland were relegated in his first season. At that point it was hard to imagine Moyes salvaging his crumbling career. But the 57-year-old has been rewarded for sticking to his belief that work ethic and team-spirit are the foundations for any successful team.

Moyes has also been helped by the coronavirus lockdown removing fans from stadiums, allowing him to work in peace without the pressure of the notoriously demanding Hammers' faithful. Beating United tonight would be another feather in his cap, but whether West Ham reach the Champions League or not, Moyes' remarkable rehabilitation is one of the stories of the season. - AFP