If West Ham’s joint chairman David Gold was aiming to throw people off the scent when he said his club “would like someone who has managed successfully in one of the major leagues in the world”, it didn’t really work.
Slaven Bilic was made the bookmaker’s favourite as soon as Sam Allardyce’s exit was announced in the aftermath of the Hammers’ final game of the season at Newcastle and Bilic’s arrival was imminent after he parted company with Besiktas at the end of May.
And so, 48 hours after Gold released his statement, Bilic was confirmed, arriving with a managerial CV that includes 8 years with the Croatian national team, a season with Lokomotiv Moscow and two years in Turkey with Besiktas. Hardly the “established manager who had been there and done it” as Gold had billed.
Unai Emery and Marcelo Bielsa were both on the list of potential successors to Allardyce and they definitely fit the bill outlined by Gold though they were unable to attract Emery to Upton Park, the Andalusian instead deciding to pursue the Champions League with Sevilla, while Bielsa was edged out by Bilic because of the Croat’s familiarity with the English language.
Real Madrid’s incoming and outgoing coaches Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez were reportedly considered by Gold and his cohort David Sullivan as the Londoners aimed high, though they have been whittled down to the underwhelming record of their former centre-half. Bilic has successive third place finishes to show for his two seasons with Besiktas who in both seasons of the 46-year old’s reign failed to record a single victory over Istanbul city rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.
Besiktas were top of the Turkish Super Lig as recently as the start of May but a sequence of four games without a win, including a 0-2 reversal away at Galatasaray, saw them fall away to finish 8 points behind their neighbouring champions. He did however win over the majority of the club’s support judging by the hero’s farewell he was given as he departed Istanbul city airport for the last time.
Sullivan and Gold, together with Vice-chairman Karren Brady, will be hoping that Bilic receives a similar level of adoration from the West Ham fans who will welcome back the Croat 18 years after he departed Upton Park following a season and a half’s service as an uncompromising centre-half.
Bilic left for Everton in the summer of 1997 runner-up in the fan-voted player of the year award and now tasked with boosting the attraction of the club as it prepares to move into the Olympic Stadium next year, the West Ham hierarchy have taken a calculated gamble that his popularity in the east of the capital has not declined over the years. Bilic will bring with him an endearing charisma which was lacking in the often hostile and abrasive Allardyce.
The beanie-hat wearing rock-band guitar playing Bilic who comes complete with an earring will no doubt see his eccentricities go short of popularity but ultimately true judgement will come not on punk-style attire, but with results and performances on the pitch as Allardyce will no doubt attest.
West Ham were 4th at Christmas but picking up just three wins from their remaining 20 games dropped them to 12th and exposed Allardyce’s inability to direct them to the level required for a successful transition to their costly awaiting 54,000-seater stadium.
Also dogged with his reputation for anodyne football which sparked protests among Hammers’ support last April, it was no surprise to see patience finally run out for the former Blackburn and Bolton coach who once-again ended a West Ham campaign with a sense of excruciating ennui.
Described as a “good motivator but not a great tactician” by a Turkish journalist who monitored his time in Istanbul, there is an immediate question mark against Bilic’s capacity to take West Ham higher and mark progression complete with good football, as will be required by his bosses as they prepare to move into their new home as an attractive proposition to its fans.
The club have announced a slash in ticket prices for the 2016/17 season, their first in the Olympic Stadium, but the board will be wise enough to understand they will not sell if the product is as dismal as it was under Allardyce.
In contrast to Allardyce, Bilic does favour an attacking philosophy and places an overriding emphasis on fluidity and team cohesion in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation which sometimes gives way to a 4-4-2. His predecessor leaves the club in decent shape however with the new coach able to utilise a talented squad that contains Stewart Downing, Aaron Cresswell, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia and, if he can get him consistently fit, Andy Carroll.
The conclusion of Alex Song’s loan gives the Croatian a hole to fill in midfield but Cheikhou Kouyate impressed in his first year in England while Mark Noble remains a vastly-underrated asset. Meanwhile Winston Reid’s contract extension allows Bilic to call upon the same defence that shipped 47 goals, a record bettered by just Stoke and Southampton outside the top-4, last term.
Sampdoria’s combative 23 year old midfielder Pedro Obiang is likely to be added for £4.4 million as work starts hastily in preparation for the new season which will begin on 2nd July with the qualifying round for the Europa League. Bilic took Besiktas to the last-16 of the competition last season, beating Tottenham and Liverpool along the way before being eliminated with a lacklustre display against Club Brugge.
A similar run will please West Ham fans and its board, but for Bilic the true test will come in domestic competition as he seeks to become the established, major-league experienced coach his chairman said he wanted.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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