First of all, as this is my debut piece for Brace The Hammer, I want to thank everyone in this fantastic team for giving me this platform and the opportunity to write for this brilliant website.
Secondly, I am aware of how divisive this Bilic In/Out debate has become, with very polar opposites of opinions being expressed through the various social media platforms, often with not the most affectionate of words shared. Please read this article with an open mind, as from what I’ve seen, Twitter especially, has been very biased towards the argument that Slaven Bilic should lose his reign at the helm of our great football club. I personally think there is still time for Bilic to turn the Hammers’ fortunes around and that to make our minds up with no room for manoeuvre would be foolish.
It has been very well documented how abysmal our maiden season at the London Stadium was when compared to the previous season, the best season the new generation of fans will be able to remember in their lifetimes. The French Talisman, whose name it still pains me to type, his partnership with our Argentinian Jewel, the sheer workhorse-like ability of Michail Antonio, the solidity of Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna, and our fearless, loyal captain Mark Noble. We had a manager that got the best out of his players, gave captain Noble the confidence to play in a style resembling that of a prime Cesc Fabregas, allowed Cheikhou Kouyate the freedom to dominate the midfield resembling N’Golo Kante’s title-winning campaigning performances for Leicester City that very same season. Hell, Slav even managed to make Victor Moses look half-decent. It’s hard to believe that this is almost the exact same side almost two years on, with the exception of a certain painful departure, the bulk of the team remains largely the same.
I could go on about where we went wrong last season, the new Stadium teething difficulties, injury problems that would make Kieron Dyer’s injury record look like that of a goalkeeper’s, the void left by Dimitri Payet’s drawn-out departure, countless home-turf drubbings at the hands of Arsenal, Manchester City, Southampton, Watford, West Brom and, sadly, many more, all making the list as long as Andy Carroll’s injury record, but it’s been said so many times, it doesn’t need saying again.
Instead, here we are. Somehow, miraculously, with nearly £40m invested in Slaven Bilic’s side by David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady, a board whose reputation for being “tight” has followed them around like a bad smell whatever transfers they have made during their tenure at West Ham. Okay so our net spend currently stands at an approximate, and somewhat deceptive £14m, but I think a vast majority of fans would agree that by the end of last season, the deadwood of the squad, the fringe players, needed to be gotten rid of, and that is what has been done. I don’t believe that a lack of investment can be blamed on this season’s poor start. Although, make no mistake, the two Davids still appear to be up their old tricks mirroring the Carlos Bacca farce with the various hold-ups in the apparent WIlliam Carvalho deal. Whether this deal goes through or not will be a good litmus test as to whether anything has actually changed in the Board’s dealings with the club’s affairs, due to the large transfer fee surrounding the Portuguese International Midfielder.
West Ham certainly frustrated over William Carvalho deal. But I am told it's not dead. Still hope to sign him.— Jason Burt (@JBurtTelegraph) August 25, 2017
Anyway, I digress. As our current record stands, West Ham have played 3 games in the Premier League, against Manchester United 4-0 West Ham, Southampton 3-2 West Ham, and Newcastle 3-0 West Ham, as well as Cheltenham Town 0-2 West Ham in the EFL Cup 2nd Round. I think most will agree that our opening day fixture against Manchester United, especially given their immense strength and likelihood of domestic success this season, was as good as a write-off. We had maybe a slim chance of a draw, but in the end, a drubbing at the Red Devils’ capable hands was almost to be expected. Considering we played away from home with an injury-weakened side down to 10 men, due to Marko Arnautovic’s terrible, terrible decision making earning him a straight red card, and lost the game to a Charlie “No Ligaments” Austin (A fine David Gold quote there that has never, ever come back to haunt us ever.) penalty conceded by one of the Premier League’s most solid defenders, a true veteran of the English game, I think we were very unlucky to come away with no point shared. I was in Cyprus at the time, and watched Match of the Day in the hotel lobby. I couldn’t help but feel proud of West Ham from the immense shift put in by the away team to dig in and pull the game back to 2-2, through the sheer class of our Mexican striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. Cheltenham Town away was more of a fitness game than anything, although a strong XI was fielded by Bilic, and a comfortable 2-0 win was achieved.
This, of course, brings us to Newcastle away. The newly-promoted team with injury problems similar, if not worse, than ours, and little-to-no investment from the controversial Mike Ashley, much to Rafa Benitez’s well-reported disgust. Benitez, of course, being the man that was once hours away from succeeding Sam Allardyce as the boss of West Ham United, before taking the job as Real Madrid coach offered to him at the last minute. This is how Slaven Bilic ended up as the Hammers’ boss in the first place.
Even in our Farewell Boleyn season, we lost 2-0 to the relegation-bound Newcastle side at the same venue. In fact, the two sides have faced 129 times in their history, with West Ham failing to beat Newcastle 89 times (40 W, 37 D, 52 L). Our record against Newcastle is always poor. Not that I’m excusing the absolute shambles of a performance put in by the away team on Saturday 26th August. It truly was abysmal, and if it weren’t for the gargantuan efforts of England international Joe Hart, could easily have been a lot bigger margin. Safe to say, any pride I felt on the back of the previous Saturday was replaced by shame and despair.
So now, 2 days after that horrible away fixture, Twitter has calmed down out of the storm cloud of expletives and frantic ranting, and has settled on one conclusion; Slaven Bilic must go.
I can see why people say it, for the most part, the football under Slaven Bilic is no less dull than the trademark Sam Allardyce football we endured following the departure of Avram Grant after our relegation. By all accounts, training sessions held under the Boss and his custom-picked and heavily criticised back-room staff, resemble more of a holiday camp. The lack of any kind of Plan B when more often than not, Plan A fails miserably. The 90th minute substitutions that seem to make no sense whatsoever.
But what you have to remember is, Slav and his team sees these players nearly every day, knows them on a personal level, works with them as colleagues. Us fans, on the other hand, see them for 90 minutes every weekend, and possibly a few midweek games on the rare occasion we stay in a cup long enough. And yet we tell the manager how to do his job, and scream and abuse him when he doesn’t do as we wish. Undoubtedly this is the nature of the game, and the fans’ opinion should always be held in high regard, and at the total centre of what every club does, any deviation from this philosophy is a downward spiral to total corporate overhaul, where fans become customers, football becomes business, etc. But this does not mean the fans are always right. It also doesn’t mean that the fans are the only factor at play when running a football club.
There is also something to be said for the stances of each argument. It is always easier and more convincing to argue against the status quo. To argue that, in this case, a new manager would be a million-times more of an upgrade on who we already have, especially when who we have is going through a rough patch. It’s the whole “grass is always greener on the other side” idea. It works so well as there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, as it is unproven. For example, Ex-Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel has been heavily linked with Slaven Bilic’s job. People automatically hear “Borussia Dortmund” and get excited. The thought of a larger club’s ex-manager coming to our team and being our manager means he has to be an upgrade on Bilic, right?
No. Where’s the proof? How do we know he will succeed at West Ham? There’s just as much chance of him turning out to being the next Avram Grant. The game is fundamentally different in Germany than over here. And then what do we do? Do the fans turn on him? Do they abuse the new man until he leaves to appoint another one? But Tuchel would have been the fans choice. Do they get held accountable, just as Slaven Bilic did for, say the signings of Zaza and Tore? It’s the same principle.
Not to mention too, with the exception of Robert Snodgrass, not a single one of our departures have ever said a bad word about the manager himself. Not even Dimitri Payet, though he blamed the lack of ambition, said a word against the boss himself.
My last point to make in the defence of the Hammers’ Boss is that with the £40m investment from the Board, would it not be silly to sack the manager 3 games into the season? You can combine the record from last season, as people often do, saying we’ve won 5 games out of our last 23. A shocking, but also deceptive figure. Bearing in mind, the squad was only invested in properly 3 Premier League games ago. We had not had the summer transfer window, which negates that figure. It’s totally irrelevant.
At the end of the day, it’s down to us individuals to make up our own minds. Is all as it seems? I don’t think so. But then it’s impossible to prove otherwise. What I do know is, like last season, if Bilic gets results back to the mark and we get back to the quality of play we deserve then he will stay. And whatever our views on Slaven Bilic, we need to back him. We need to get behind him and show him what West Ham is about. We look after our own. And then, if Super Slav doesn’t live up to his name, then I will stand corrected. Have faith.