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A loss to Swansea would mean Bilic gets the sack

West Ham can’t afford to lose this game at home

Hull City v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

While the midweek loss at Arsenal felt predictable and not all that surprising, the current slide that West Ham United are on is surprising. This season the team was supposed to take a “leap forward” and compete with the big boys of the Premier League. After all, as the chairmen remind the fans constantly, West Ham now have one of the biggest club football stadiums in England. The board even spent money in the offseason, signing André Ayew from Swansea City with a club record £20.5 million transfer fee.

And now, almost nine months after the season started, high flying and big spending West Ham face a relegation six pointer against Swansea, a team that looked certain for the drop after West Ham beat them 4-1 at the Liberty Stadium on Boxing Day. What a long time ago that game feels right now. It might as well have been in a different season, in a different galaxy, on a different planet, for how far away that win seems now that the season has seemed to fall apart at the worst possible time. This team is reeling, and after five straight losses and seven league games without a win, the heat is on the manager and the players.

This team was supposed to be challenging for Europe, not hanging on by a thread to Premier League status. After finishing in 7th place, with 62 points, a record number of points for West Ham in the Premier League era, the team looks lucky to get 40 points and finish above the drop zone. Even as recently as early February, after a 3-1 away win at Southampton, fans and pundits were predicting anywhere between an 8th and 12th place finish for the team, not staring disaster in the face.

Make no mistake, relegation this season would be an unmitigated disaster. The club spent heavily in the summer and in the January transfer window on players that have not lived up to expectations. The amount of money in transfer fees and salaries that is invested in this club right now would make a Fortune 500 company blush, and to face a drop of income right after the beginning of the biggest television contract in the history of world football would mean that the club would be cut off from a massive source of income. No one at the club can afford to see this team go down. The team sold its soul for the corporate upgrade at the London Stadium, and a drop this season could mean exile in the hinterlands of lower league football for years to come.

Slaven Bilić has to know he is on borrowed time at this point. After embarrassing losses to Hull City and AFC Bournemouth on the road, the London derby against Arsenal was almost an afterthought. Yes, Arsenal hadn’t beaten a top flight club in weeks, but West Ham was obliged to provide them with a morale boosting victory. It is not a stretch to say that Lincoln City, the non-league team that was hosted by West Ham before their big day at the Emirates Stadium, showed as much fight as the Hammers did Wednesday night.

Are the results all Bilić’s fault? Of course not. The board’s refusal to upgrade key positions after a disappointing start to the season and a transfer policy that has often gone after quantity over quality, like throwing wet toilet paper at a wall and seeing what will stick, rather than go after a few quality signings. The board has also undermined the manager at key times during the losing streak, making his position basically untenable.

A loss against Swansea this weekend would be an absolute nightmare for the fans and the board. Bilić may only be part of the problem, but a loss at home would seal his walking papers. And then what? Will Sir Trevor Brooking manage the team in a smoldering wreckage of a season again? What big manager would walk into this club and keep it up, knowing that anything that goes wrong will be tweeted out by the chairman or the other chairman’s son or the club will link a list of articles calling for his sacking on the club’s website in a section called “MediaWatch.”

However, at this point, if a Slaven Bilić managed team is unable to get a win at home against Swansea, his time in East London should be up. Managing a football club is a results based business, and the results have gone against the team for too long this season. While the team’s descent down the table is as much as reflection of the poor play from key players and a rash of injuries to critical players such as Pedro Obiang, Angelo Ogbonna, Michail Antonio, Andy Carroll, Winston Reid, Sam Byram, and Aaron Cresswell, there should be enough quality in the side to keep the team up. Even the Dimitri Payet situation that blew up in January was long enough ago that it shouldn’t still be a factor in the season. Well, except that the board thought that Robert Snodgrass was a replacement for Payet, but that’s another kettle of fish.

Slaven Bilić needs a win to save his job on Saturday, and if can’t win, then the team has no choice but to let him go and bring in someone new. The team can’t keep losing and they need an offseason to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Bilić had a fantastic season last year, but even Claudio Ranieri was sacked less than a year after leading Leicester City to the title. And Leicester has responded to a new manager with five straight wins. While the situations are vastly different, the point remains that sometimes change is needed for the sake of change.