Filed: Wednesday, 8th February 2017
By: Paul Walker
If anyone had any doubts that Slaven Bilic has the backing of West Ham fans and our team, these past few days should have dispelled them.
So let’s hope that’s the end of the constant, annoying speculation about his future. All that seems a little out of place when you consider that Bilic has just reached 25 league victories, quicker than any manager in the club’s history.
Trouble is these days, with the infuriating ignorance that floods through social media--and somehow makes those opinions more important than a few blokes arguing at the bar(which to my mind is the same thing), the spotlight rarely dims.
But when a manager has seen his side take 19 points from the past 30 and the side lose only three of their last ten league games, despite the trauma of the Dimi Payet treachery, you begin to wonder just what people expect from Bilic.
That last phrase came from a WhatsApp group I am in--basically the motley crew of mates I attend games with--and where the banter and abuse would not survive a Beckham-style hacking scandal. Thankfully, nobody is looking for a knighthood!
But it got me thinking. Our good friends at the C&H website produced one of their polls after the Roberto Mancini nonsense, which confirmed what everyone knew, that a vast majority fans back Bilic to the hilt.
And the team, now shorn of their selfish little French super star--who has had his own problems with WhatsApp groups--have just underlined that faith.
Bilic is not perfect. Some of his transfers don’t work, his tactics sometimes worry people, but his style of management is big on team spirit and inclusive group trust, and he seemed back to his ’kiss and cuddle’ best from last season after the victory at Southampton.
Recipient of the Croatian kiss this time was Mark Noble, our skipper who has had as much stick as Slav this term. Funny, every time our team hits on hard times, it is Noble who gets the abuse. But the Bilic/Noble-out brigade have gone a bit quiet of late.
Not suggesting Noble has been anywhere near his best this season. But you can never question the commitment and effort, the lunge busting runs and the kicks he has to contend with in the midfield battleground.
Yes, he’s not quick. But he never has been. But that little cuddle and kiss we all saw on TV from Bilic underlines what Noble still has to offer. Maybe it’s because he’s supposed to be one of us, a tough little East Ender who can take it. But he’s a leader who cares, and he will certainly do for Slav.
He’s not having to do Payet’s running for him now, and the whole side has stepped up to the plate since the French midfielder worked his ticket back to Marseille. Of course we will miss his skills, control, balance, eye for a chance or a pass as well as those free-kicks.
But we did not see much of that that this season, and we now all know that Bilic has been having to contend with ‘le sulk’ for months.
There have been some disasters this season, along with the terrible list of injuries and all the teething problems of the move and new stadium. (More like root canal surgery if you ask me.) But three times this season Bilic’s abilities have been clear to see,and really put to the test.
He has managed to raise spirits, instil discipline and force a show of character and team spirit from the team. First time was after the back-to-back heavy defeats to Arsenal, and Manchester United in the League Cup. Bilic was instantly under pressure, but the team went up to Liverpool and drew with a gutsy display and then won three league games on the trot.
Then after the 5-0 Cup defeat to Manchester City, wins against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough followed. Again the knives were out and again Bilic got the team sorted.
Then more recent crisis came the horrible TV defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup, what followed was Saturday’s first-ever win at St.Mary’s against Southampton.
The Payet shambles became public a few days before the Palace game, and the way Bilic handled the situation and the way he had put overall team morale first, was met with overwhelming appreciation from the OS fans.
Suddenly it was all out in the open and the team look like players who have had a huge weight lifted from their shoulders. The side is playing with more freedom, that old intensity Slav was talking about is back.
Confidence has flooded back. Robert Snodgrass, who has not been tainted by the Payet turmoil, worked his socks off, won the free-kick for the third at St.Mary’s and showed that a journeyman wide player who works the length of the flank is a better bet than a disinterested, half-hearted superstar.
Pedro Obiang is playing out of his skin, Andy Carroll is nearly back to his unplayable best. Just pray he stays fit, while Jose Fonte--who not surprisingly struggled a fair bit in his first game for a month against Man City, looked the composed, organised defender he is. Even the erratic Sofiane Feghouli put in a shift.
Fonte must be the quickest player ever at the club to have his own song being sung already, although to be fair I have always felt that, Susanne Sulley, the cute little blonde in the Human League, is fitter!! Having just googled her (behave yourselves) she doesn’t look too bad at 54.
I digress, I’m easily distracted! Back to the subject…the problem for Slav was the arrival of Mancini last week in the posh seats, complete with Instagram pic on his flight home and an ’I want a Premier League job again’ quote. It seems to be AC Milan now!
Not helped by the Mirror’s Darren Lewis running a “Slav under pressure again” story, which produced a load of questions for the manager about his future in the pre and post match press conferences. Then more headlines on the internet when the bookies start quoting prices for his sacking. (Please explain why that is news rather than just the betting industry keeping itself going.)
There is a feeling, I am told, that Lewis has the ear of our board, so people take his stuff seriously. I keep seeing his material used on West Ham websites as a ’friend of the club.’ Not sure about that, I have always been told he’s a big Spurs supporter.
Anyway, the material was given legs and Bilic was not surprisingly bemused to be asked about his future AFTER the win at Southampton. Now lets hope that’s the end of it all, and he can concentrate on keeping us in the top half.
He will now need to establish a solid league finish to match last term’s seventh spot. David Sullivan gave us a ’ don’t worry, we will have another crack at it in the summer’ after the January window ended so disappointingly.
I’ll let that go for now, my views on our owner and his transfer market work are pretty well recorded. But it is a fact that he does need to be able to sell our club (no pun intended), without Champions League football, to unconvinced European players.
He had all those problems last summer when he was desperately trying to buy big to impress Payet, but at least he did try to crack the next level.
The problems are clear, and Real Madrid star James Rodriguez underlined that when it was reveal we tried to buy him after Payet left. The Columbian passed on that one, claiming that leaving the CL arena would seriously damage his endorsements (boots, clothes, kit etc). That in a nutshell is the problem Sullivan has trying to pull players out of the Champions League bubble.
But as for Bilic and his future, it would be nice now if the briefings and ‘steers’ stopped. Three times now since last season, we have been told the board will delay any talks until the summer. From what I have seen, Bilic hasn’t once brought up the subject in public, preferring to let his work do the talking. So silence should be the key now from everyone, it‘s all to easy to let a ‘nod and a wink‘ on a subject provide a week of newspaper headlines.
And what about Bilic’s record? Well that’s more than decent. His league record to date is P 62 W25 D18 L19 F97 A92 Pts 93. Overall, league, cups and Europe it’s : P81 W33 D 22 L 26 F 119 A 115.
Now under the circumstances, that’s not at all bad, considering the stuff Slav has had to deal with this term. The problem is obvious, we are shipping far too many goals, but we are in the top half and a couple of wins away from safety. But as my young friend said: “What exactly do the board want from him?”
One final point. Our pitch at the OS is exactly the same size as the one at St.Mary’s…115 yards long by 74 yards wide. So let’s hear the last of this daft excuse from the ill-informed. Yes, I do mean you Gary Neville after the rubbish spouted after the Man City game.
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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