Written by Jordan Tomlinson
I, like all west ham fans, was hurting after Saturday. I thought the late goal was harsh on us, as despite our defensive shortcomings for more or less the whole game I thought we looked decent in attack and looked like we could’ve stolen it at the end. But it’s important to take positives from these games. I thought Ayew looked sharp when he came on and Byram showed beginnings of his potential with that excellent assist. But the question does ponder, is it Bilic’ fault that we are in this kind of situation to begin with?
If you rewind to the end of last season, to that magical evening against United, I doubt you would find one West Ham fan calling for Bilic’ head. I for one, know that me and my dad were both amazed to find out this season that Bilic’ contract hadn’t already been extended, given how the board are so keen for new contracts. However, about a quarter of the way in the situation had changed, drastically. I believe Watford was the first sign of fans turn that I saw. Again, I was there, and that is probably still the most painful loss I can recall this season. From the manor in which we dominated the game, to the way in which we utterly capitulated, was heartbreaking. And frankly, not that it wasn’t already obvious, that revealed the underlying problems we have had all season.
Fast forward to another painful game against Middlesbrough, and it was at this point that it became clear to me that our summer signings were not only lacking quality, but lacking passion, awareness and frankly did not play in the right position. Anyone at the game would remember the first, and to my knowledge, only use of the golf buggy to carry away an injured Sam Byram. Whilst amusing at the time, this then led to the substitution of Arbeloa, which was much less amusing. To this day he is possibly one of the worst right backs I have seen don a west ham shirt. It was at this point apparent how badly our summer signings had gone. The uselessness of Tore was beyond apparent at this point, Zaza was still to net a goal for us, Calleri was absent and Feghouli still stuck on the bench. We drew the game from a piece of magic from Payet (just saying his name still leaves a bad taste in my mouth) but this was again a turning point for many fans. I myself began to question Bilic. Not just because of the results, but I felt his signings had simply been woeful. It was his call to bring in Tore, and I believe he played a large part in Zaza also, both flopped majorly.
Then came a solid run of results, which saw us climb out of the relegation zone, rise to 9th, before falling back to our current position. A lot happened in that time, namely the Payet saga. I believe that looking back at the situation retrospectively Bilic handled the situation perfectly. He tried to cover it up for as long as possibly and to change Payets mind, but to no avail. We knew something was wrong at the city game and it was simply too blindingly obvious to cover up any longer. I think everything Bilic did was right and he handled the situation near perfectly.
So here comes the deciding bit. Am I Bilic out, or Bilic in? Personally I don’t know. What I do know, is that there are credible arguments on both sides. I do know, for example, that Bilic is stubborn. For me, this is his biggest downfall, second to none. Whether it’s arrogance, ignorance I don’t know. But something about Bilic seems to prevent the blindingly obvious being apparent to him. The Antonio situation was obviously the most prominent at the start of the season. However we are over that, but now seem to have come full loop, this time with Kouyate. Frankly, I was outraged when we didn’t sign another right back in the window. This is not due to Byrams ability, as I believe he could easily start for us. The problem with Byram is his injury record. He is frankly, our least reliable player at the moment, even more so than Carroll. So for Bilic to then turn down the chance to sign a rightback in January was borderline insane, I simply cannot understand what he was thinking. This is the first problem. But then, for Byram to now be fit, and for Bilic to then sacrifice the core of our midfield and play him out of position instead of Byram, is simply illogical. There is nothing more to it. His stubbornness also reflects in games, in his unwillingness to make subs early enough, change the system, it is a HUGE downfall of Bilic.
His tactics also must be questioned at times. His five at the back system for example. I will admit that I was actually a fan of this at first, I thought the three centre backs gave excellent cover for crosses and it suited Cresswell perfectly. However huge problems with this system soon came apparent. Firstly was the midfield. Due to Bilic not signing another centre back Kouyate had to drop back into defence, leaving Noble and Obiang in the centre of the park. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with these players, at CDM. But for those two to be the only centre mids in the team was disastrous. There was no creativity and just a huge hole where the midfield used to be. Furthermore, Lanzini was never a left midfielder to start with, let alone a left forward playing off of Carroll. This is a quick pacey centre forwards position, not that of a playmaker. The same was true for Payet, and the result was a very isolated front three and no midfield. Not to mention that this never suited Byram either. The problem is that I could recognise these major problems after two or three games. It took Bilic about ten to change the system, and you can’t be that slow in the premier league, every aspect of the game, from the play through to the management has to be quick, decisive and accurate, I’m afraid Bilic is not.
However, I am not in the view that Bilic should leave, despite this, and I think this is to do with last season. Last season was the best I’ve ever seen as a hammer, and I’m sure most will agree. Despite finishing 7th, this didn’t reflect he true brilliance of the season, shown as we were only four points of 4th, and if it weren’t for despicable refereeing we would have finished 4th. This was with the horrific injury crisis we were hit with. In that season Bilic showed every aspect that a premier league manager needs to. The team was well-drilled, played fantastic football, played with desire and commitment, but what made last season was the signings. The prolific front four which worked so well was Sakho, Payet, Lanzini and Antonio. Three of those four were signed that summer. Summer signings are absolutely crucial in terms of deciding where a team finishes and it’s no surprise we are meandering in mid-table after a woeful summer of poor signings co-ordinated by Bilic and penny pinching from the board. So I would argue that Bilic needs another summer. But it cannot be like this summer. Deals have to be made quickly and decisively, whilst deadline day transfers are exiting they are pricey and usually flop. Last summer all our signings were tied up very early and we reaped the benefits, if Bilic is showing signs of a repeat of this summer he would need to go.
Another factor is the risk. Arsenal are in the same boat. Many fans want Wenger gone, but many worry about the risk. Only a quick glance at United, a shadow of what they used to be, needs to be taken to know that sacking a manager can be dangerous. And whilst Bilic hasn’t been long serving, he has been revolutionary. Mark my words we are no longer the West Ham of old. It is actually quite remarkable in some ways, for us to be having what any fan would consider a poor season, yet we are hovering mid-table, implying this club is moving on to bigger and better things. But I worry, like others do I know, that sacking Bilic could send us into freefall. If another poor summer were had, combined with a poor manager, things could go disastrously wrong. To use Payet’s words, I don’t want our club to ‘regress’ but there is simply no way of knowing what the right option is. And so for these reasons I wouldn’t back sacking Bilic, but at the same time I wouldn’t oppose it. I think I will wait for future results to speak for themselves…
Thanks for reading, as this was my first article, please tweet me with any views you have and whether you agree or disagree with me, and thanks to the West Ham Way for letting me write, all the best!