Slaven Bilic’s sacking was one that could be seen from a mile away. Like a car crash in slow motion. A handful of weeks ago, he was given a do or dust ultimatum to save his job across two games. A win against Spurs and a last minute draw against Crystal Palace wasn’t bad, and it satiated the wolves for the moment. But like all things, his end was inevitable and his tenure came to a shuddering halt after his loss against Liverpool at home a week later.
When he first arrived a few years ago, it was seen as the start to an era of sorts; a period of transition that would harness the passionate support and point the club towards Europe and beyond.
In this belated article, Jack Henry Norris and I look over what went wrong and where problems may lie for the future.
Jack Henry Norris
For me, this is yet another example of misplaced expectation—the mistaken desire for too much too quickly.
If football has shown us anything in recent years, it’s that slow building is far more favourable than instant success. Bad examples include Leeds at the turn of the millennium, Portsmouth and Birmingham as the noughties faded, and Crystal Palace in this very season.
All of these teams expected that to achieve quick prosperity, the simplest way was to throw money around. They were wrong.
On the flip side, as a sort of negative exemplum for a negative mindset, you have Leicester City, who spent years in the Championship biding their time, crafting a team capable of not only surviving, but accomplishing something in the Premier League. Undeniably, this ideology worked—I need not remind anyone that Leicester managed to win the title in only their second season in the top flight.
Leicester’s title winning season wasn’t an instance of immediate success, it was the culmination of years of hard work, and while no one, even at the club itself, expected them to do what they did, the foundation for success was laid out over time.
West Ham have caught the bug. They think that moving into a state-of-the-art stadium and signing a few big names will guarantee them European football. Well, it doesn’t. There’s no trick hand, no answer to the Premier League that will mean your success is definite.
Bilic, like so many other managers in recent years—Redknapp, de Boer, Ranieri, Martinez to name a few—is the victim of naivety.
Certainly, though, this isn’t to say that Bilic didn’t make mistakes—regular Soccity viewers all know our stance on Joe Hart by now—but getting rid of him won’t help to fight this epidemic of impatience that football is now contending with.
Bilic is a good manager. There’s certainly nothing to say that his incumbent replacement, David Moyes, will do anything to improve upon the team, and the form, that he left behind.
My answer to what happened? The board knee-jerk reacted, just like so many other boards would. They continue to plug the leaks in the sinking ship with their fingers, heinously unaware that soon they won’t have enough digits.
It’s time to replace the vessel—football needs to re-learn the ability to give someone a chance.
But maybe it never will again—faith is a dying art in a footballing world that continues to spiral down the consumerist rabbit-hole of immediate, unadulterated success. Bilic, unfortunately, is just another whistle in the wind, and there will be many more of his like before the season is over.
The arrival of Slaven Bilic to the Bolyn ground was heralded as a new dawn for West Ham.
After being promoted from the Championship a few seasons earlier, it was time for the plucky Hammers to go big or go home. Gone were the days of Allardyce hoofball tactics and in goes great football, big names and European nights under the floodlights, with a returning former player to sew it all together as coach. It was a foreign name with foreign, attractive ideas. Dimitri Payet, a major signing from Marseille, became the second coming of Jesus in fans’ eyes and loanee Manuel “The Jewel” Lanzini settled in quickly into the lineup, eventually making the move to east London permanently. With the promise of a flashy Olympic stadium pushing them onto greater things, West Ham said goodbye with tears in their eyes and a bang with a spectacular final win against Manchester United at Upton Park
But since then, problems in transition have been a major issue with the squad. Sometimes something shiny isn’t better, and overtime that sheen fades. By January of the following season, Payet was back in France, West Ham were evicted from Europe by relative minnows, Astra Giurgiu, and new faces weren’t sticking around for long either. After the Halloween decorations had been put away, Bilic is now looking for a new job, having known that the axe was looming for months.
What West Ham had was superficial. They wanted to look like a duck but they couldn’t squawk like a duck, apparently. The Olympic stadium was something that many teams would dream for, but it pushed their diehard fans as far away from the pitch as possible and became a symbol of their growing pains, with frequent poor performances on their home turf. They spent their new-found Premier League money on players that didn’t fit in the system—if they ever had a coherent one—and most have already moved onto pastures new. After successfully earning a place in the Europa League, they spectacularly exited in one of the first rounds of the tournament—did they truly want to hack the midweek journeys in July? In 2014, co-owner David Sullivan pined for a top four position as an aim to strive for in the coming years, but instead of looking up, they are now looking down towards the prospect of relegation early into this season.
West Ham are a jigsaw puzzle without a number of the pieces. They have and probably will have for a long time, a push and pull from all sides as to what the club should be. Which is the “West Ham” way? Are they hard to break down—playing cautious but precise football? Are they what Bilic was hired for—an attractive passing and offensive footballing side? Is it somewhere in between? It certainly isn’t prestige poacher Chicharito playing on the wings to cross to Andy Carroll.
Even when Bilic was fired, there was a struggle as to who should be hired to continue the Hammers’ progression, if one could call it that. Big names such as Carlo Ancelotti were linked—a recent departure from Bayern Munich—but they settled for David Moyes, a once heralded chosen one of Fergie, but now the manager who relegated a poor Sunderland side.
David Moyes held up a West Ham scarf at night with a cheshire cat grin glued upon his face. His objective? Save their season in six months; the total amount of time he has been given by the board. On May 2013, Moyes signed a six year contract with Manchester United to lead them into a post Fergie era, but he has since moved on to his third club within that time, with plenty of time still yet to elapse on that original bumper contract.
On the face of it, the match between manager and club is somewhat mutually bizarre. Moyes had just ended a disastrous spell at Sunderland where he tried to downplay their chances of midtable mediocrity. The Wearside team eventually came dead last in the table, even though he managed to mostly inherit a squad that beat the drop under Sam Allardyce the season before.
Once known for building consistent teams with fairly successful player imports, he has since inverted the reputation and has tanked since leaving Everton. If anything, his hiring proves that the ambition originally set by the owners has yet to meet a suitor willing to take the risk in inheriting a squad that is underperforming on paper.
Moyes has so far chosen unfortunate projects to work with, first by following up one of the best managers in British football, then moving to Spain, which was out of his comfort zone, and then finally moving to a club that has become a poison chalice for any coach willing to ply their trade. Maybe he will outperform expectations and save the Irons from an embarrassing project failure with a rousing uptick in form, but the trend so far suggests the opposite.