While fans ironically cheer about being “massive” and putting the frighteners on Barcelona this season, there is now a feeling that anything is possible with this group after an extraordinary 12 months.
The calendar year has been an unprecedented one for many a West Ham fan, and started with something they had not been too accustomed to seeing over recent years – a grizzly, battling victory on the road.
It was Moyes’s first victory back at former club Everton which got the ball rolling on a wonderful January which set the tone for the year, a run of six straight victories which turned this close group into a band of brothers.
The win at Everton also started a new tradition which further enhanced the team spirit as someone decided to blare Rednex’s Cotton Eye Joe out in the away changing room at Goodison Park, something which could be heard booming from the West Ham quarters after each and every win for the rest of the season.
The Hammers lost on the final day of the month to Liverpool, but the disappointment at that defeat would soon be swept away with the first sign that West Ham were operating on a new level, as Moyes moved to land Jesse Lingard from his former club Manchester United.
The attacking midfielder had been out in the cold at Old Trafford and many wondered what West Ham were getting and whether they even needed a player of that profile. It turned out to be a masterstroke.
Lingard dazzled and scored twice on his debut at Villa Park, going on to score nine goals during his short spell and fire West Ham into Europe, but his arrival didn’t only change things on the pitch. Moyes wanted a player of Lingard’s pedigree to send a message to the rest of the squad, this was the new standard in east London.
Players around their new teammate had to up their game, while Lingard helped reinforce the new winning mentality Moyes was looking to bed in.
Sources within West Ham also point to the influence of captain Mark Noble, largely unused on the pitch, being key to the mentality – keeping spirits high and setting the standard each day when it comes to what is expected of a player in east London, on and off the pitch.
Their form in the early months of 2021 convinced Moyes and his staff that qualification for Europe, maybe even the Champions League, was in their grasp. The tone inside the camp changed, players were reminded on a daily basis of what they needed to finish in the top six or top four, with a points target set by the manager.
West Ham would end the season with a record Premier League points tally and safe passage to the group stages of the Europa League for the first time. The loss of Declan Rice to injury remains a frustration for Moyes and all at the club, with a strong belief that with the midfielder, who hurt his knee on England duty in March, they would have finished in the top four. That they ended the season just two points behind Chelsea in fourth only lit the fire over the summer.
As the new season started and Cotton Eye Joe became Love Tonight in the dressing room, Moyes was looking for ways to drive his squad to new heights.
With the core group of internationals still away after largely successful summers at the European Championship, Moyes saw something in his fringe players early in pre-season which offered a sign of things to come.
West Ham were undefeated throughout pre-season as those fighting for a place in the squad found another level. With more limited funds than their rivals for the top six, Moyes needed to draw more from what he had while also raising the level with some key introductions. The squad was bolstered with European experience in Alex Kral and Nikola Vlasic, but then came Kurt Zouma – fresh from winning the Champions League – to reinforce to the key players already within the club that West Ham were now shopping at a new level.
The ambition was growing with the mentality, which was sharpened when Rice – far from leaving for a bigger club – returned early from his summer break after a superb Euro 2020 with England.
Many wondered whether West Ham could replicate their remarkable season this time around. Not only have they done that, but the Hammers have gone to another level. Scalps against all but one of the big six as well as settling into Europe with ease have only grown the confidence at the London Stadium.
A 2-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb in their first ever Europa League game, coaching staff say, showed the squad just how good they can be.
The mentality has been overhauled and Moyes is keen on transformation all over the shop.
The recruitment department has grown and become more far reaching and professional, while Moyes is also leading a drive to encourage more young fans to start following the club and change its image. The Scot has frequently spoken out against the actions of fans who have tarnished the club’s reputation with violence at home and in Europe.
That will naturally come should the Hammers continue on this track. While there may be some disquiet over a recent rocky run, with the Hammers needing to invest next month to cover injury woes and keep them in the fight for Europe, it’s worth looking back 12 months and realising that West Ham are, currently, five places and two points better off than they were this time last year.
2021 saw West Ham thrown into a whole new world. The hope for 2022 is that they start putting down real roots at this level.