Filed: Monday, 19th December 2016
By: Paul Walker
Now if you were of a suspicious disposition, someone who believes in conspiracies or who just doesn’t trust a word football‘s powerful people say, then you might think there was a campaign to undermine Slaven Bilic from within the club.
No, I hear you say, surely nothing is further from the truth. Why would anyone do that? Well, distancing themselves from the blame of a shambolic season--on and off the pitch-comes to mind, not wanting to be in the way when any of the crap hits the fan.
Making sure that when the seemingly inevitable decision is made, that public opinion in on the side of the club and the situation doesn’t deteriorate quickly into another situation where fans turn on the board…we’ve had enough of that all season already!
But this is a tough one, dividing the support. Those that dislike the owners and their motives tend to support Bilic, claiming he has had a raw deal this term. Others doubt his tactics. It's a toxic decision either way.
When you have been in the media industry long enough, you have seen this sort of scenario unfold hundreds of times before, you get to know how to read between the lines. To see what is probably going on in the corridors of power.
You get a feel for these things. You can smell it.
All this was planted into my mind on Saturday as I headed south from the frozen north for the Hull game and bumped into an old mate, a former professional football and top international.
The conversation turned to our beloved owners and Bilic’s position. And how one of our owners has some journalists in his pocket, so to speak., he claimed.
We parted on the platform, him to first class me and the lad in with the plebs. But his one small remark stuck in my mind.
There was a big piece in the Mirror recently, no quotes but a lot of leading comment about how much our owners feel the pain of defeat, and what is going on. Then there was the story in the Telegraph suggesting that feelers had been put out to see just who was available and maybe fancied the job of replacing Bilic.
Now that story was ridiculed, amid suggestions that such reporting was easy to write in such circumstances. Meaning, I assume, that someone was suggesting the piece was invented. Now this story was written by one of the Telegraph’s best young writers, and was printed in a paper that has utmost respect for accuracy and sound reporting. Making stuff up? I don’t think so.
I didn’t doubt the story for one second. In fact, I would be astonished if a major club like ours that has a duty to its shareholders and owners, would not be concerned about the under-performance of one of its senior executives and had not decided to have a plan B if everything continued to go pear-shaped. And of course they are not going to admit it.
Likewise, I would be equally stunned if Bilic, represented by the vast German-based Mondial Sports agency, would not have had a conversation with his people about where his future might be. He has already been linked with jobs in Germany. Bilic will not struggle for work, after what he achieved with us last season and his track record with Croatia and Besiktas (If not maybe the brief, embarrassing spell in Moscow).
Mondial, incidentally, list on their website that Dimitri Payet is also one of their clients. I have seen other names mentioned, but I don’t doubt for a moment that Bilic and Payet have the same company looking after their interests, with the firm‘s website listing Payet‘s transfer value as £25m.
As for Bilic, it bothers me that unattributed quotes from inside the club are critical of the team’s performance and that David Gold allows himself to be sucked into a twitter exchange where he is also having a pop at the team, claiming the Hull game was our worst display of the season.
Obviously he nodded off during the dreadful second-half in the FA Cup at Manchester United when Payet virtually stopped playing, or the horrible last half-hour against Arsenal, the West Brom debacle or the Southampton collapse.
And then we get back to last summer’s transfer dealings and the fact that only Ashley Fletcher and Edimilson Fernandes from a dozen new signings have made any sort of impact. There are those that blame David Sullivan and his mate Tony Henry, others ask what involvement Bilic had.
But reading between the lines again you see suggestions some weeks ago that all the signings were on Slav’s shopping list. And again in one blog this weekend when a fan questioned who was to blame, only to be asked whether they thought Slav had no involvement in the dealings.
We will never know, the only word from the board on that was a short tweet from Gold last month saying “everyone was responsible” for the inadequate standard of the signings. Who takes the blame is open to debate but I do not believe Bilic should shoulder all of it.. Gokhan Tore and maybe, Simone Zaza yes, but the rest?
No. They smack of Sullivan‘s agent mates.
Bilic has suffered from dreadful injuries in his squad, poor form, failure to settle in a better league, plus the lack of a genuine right-back in the squad, from which virtually all our ills seem to flow.
Almost every match now sees some sort of reshuffle to counter that deficiency. Whether it is moving Michail Antonio back or forward, playing two or three centre-backs, sending on a patently unfit Alvaro Arbeloa, shifting the excellent Fernandes into yet another role or pushing in an obviously ill-prepared Sam Byram. Equally the out-of-touch Havard Nordtveit.
You could go on. Our best box-to-box midfielder, Cheikhou Kouyate, is now playing as a centre back to cope I believe with the lack of pace and positioning of Angelo Ogbonna, who seems to gift a terrible clearance from the back in almost every match. His distribution is worrying and he continually tries to play the most difficult pass out rather than the safe one. It has cost us countless goals this term.
So how long has Slav got? He would surely have been gone by now had we not won the two home games against Burnley and Hull, two poor team displays riddled with uncertainty and inconsistency, but still two wins and no goals conceded.
There were some who mischievously suggested that Slav was being set up by those five tough earlier games, Manchester United away twice, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal.
You wouldn’t wish that level of opposition on your worst enemy in a three week spell, or the demands on squad and players. I doubt even the really big clubs would have fancied that, and Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourinho would have moaned incessantly about the fixture schedule.
I missed just one, the heartening performance but crippling defeat at Spurs, my grand-daughter’s second birthday party was far more important. But in the time it took her to blow out the candles, we had gone from 2-1 up to 3-2 down in injury time. I thought I handled that pretty well at the time!
The league game at Old Trafford produced a fighting display and an unexpected point, the FA Cup tie there was shocking, as was the defeat by Arsenal. But at Liverpool there was no doubt the team were playing for the manager and us, and Mark Noble, continually much maligned this term, had his best game of the season.
Burnley and Hull followed, and ho hum, we are 13th. But let’s not get too excited. Two away league games over Christmas await us plus the two Manchester clubs in league and FA Cup in five days at the OS to follow.
But it does not seem to matter whether we are hopeless, excellent, inept or winning two on the trot at home, the pressure is maintained on Bilic, we were told that club insiders reckoned the Hull performance was unacceptable. As unacceptable as last summer’s transfer dealings, maybe?
And then that any contract discussions were postponed until the summer.
So now we have another edition of the Sullivan transfer window road show next month. More talk of kids on loan and getting the wage bill down . Some things never change.
Who will be signed? Well I would bet on Sunderland’s defender Lamine Kone, if only because he is represented by Sullivan’s favourite agent Mark McKay and we obviously know of the £18m buy-out clause, much to David Moyes’ annoyance.
McKay has had a hand in the transfers of Payet, Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew, so Sullivan obviously trusts him. And there’s also a rumour that Ogbonna’s agent has been in Turkey looking for a deal with Galatasaray.
But there has to be departures, Zaza obviously, and I doubt we will ever see Jonathan Calleri again, unless it’s on TV scoring goals for Seville. Sofiane Feghouli is also rumoured to be on his way out, while Tore will be when he’s finally fit. From our point of view, that’s a shocking rate of failures and judgement.
Slav seemed to make a big decision recently. He returned to the players from last season, in the last two games not one of the summer arrivals started the matches. Ayew, Fernandes, Nordtveit and Fletcher only figured from the bench, where he also had promising kids. So was that Slav dumping players he did not sign or was he just admitting his own mistakes?
Who knows… but Sullivan and Henry need to get something right this January, or any credibility they have left will be right out of the window.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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