I have decided to write this article to express my opinions on the current manager situation. I am keen to stress that these are my opinions, they are what I feel I am entitled to as a season ticket holder of over 28 years and someone who goes home and away and bleeds claret and blue. Following our radio show I have had many comments made to me about my “anti-Bilic” stance, where if you listen to the show, you would hear that I actually tried to offer a defence to Bilic and said a number of times I do not think he should leave.
My opinions are not fuelled by David Sullivan to encourage season ticket sales. I am sure Mr Sullivan has much bigger fish to fry than to try and influence my opinions and surely keeping Bilic (someone that the fans want) would be the way to make those sales rather than going against the fans and sacking him. In a nutshell I am friends with Jack Sullivan, who I rarely speak to about West Ham. I have ran the account for four years and known the Sullivan’s for two, my info is not obtained through them. They also do not control any opinion that I have or put out. I jointly run an event which is “Anti Stratford” so why on earth would they support me on this. I would not continue to deny this if it was true because actually saying all my info comes directly from the owner of the club would help support the legitimacy of my news. My opinions are my opinions and opinions are what we are all entitled to. I said how our defending was awful, took a load of abuse for saying that, only for the manager himself to say it. Anyway now that is clear I will offer my own opinion, formed by my brain and no one else’s.
Last season was a dream and one we will never forget. The atmosphere at the Boleyn and the performances that went with it will live with me forever. Slaven Bilic played a big part in this. He managed to engineer wins against some of the big clubs and I don’t recall a home game where we were totally outplayed. I loved singing “Super Slav” throughout the season and seeing his passion as he interacted with the fans. There were many times when we were losing at half time I felt (often correctly) that we would go on and win the game. Slav wanted the job and following on from Sam who didn’t show a passion for the club he was a good appointment.
This year, his ability to do the job properly has been undermined by a number of difficult issues. I believe Bilic dealt with the Payet situation well, in the end, and having to deal with your star player causing the amount of internal issues that he was doing would be hard for any manager to deal with. Whilst the situation perhaps should have been addressed earlier than it eventually was, Bilic dealt with it well in the end and managed to regroup the team and make us more united as a result.
He has also had to deal with the move to the Olympic stadium. The negativity that surrounded this move, especially in the early days, did have an effect on the team. There was many fans who didn’t want to move, crowd violence and obvious problems with the stadium which meant a negative atmosphere in the stands which transpired onto the pitch.
We were also hit by a lot of injuries, especially at the start of the season including Carroll, Sakho and Ayew who were arguably our most important attacking players and this disrupted a lot of our plans. The transfer window was also not a success, some people blame the board and some blame Bilic. No doubt it is a bit of a combination of the two.
I think the board, something I have said many times on the show, should keep quiet about our transfer targets and ambitions. I always think you are better to be cautious on your news and surprise the fans rather than bold and ambitious and then disappoint. Regular interference on team issues and transfers can be unsettling for a manger and team and I would wish that ours were less publically vocal. This said though I know that Slaven has the final say on transfers and he approves all the players that join. It was his decision to sign Zaza on loan, over players like Gabbiadini of Southampton. He was reluctant to sign the likes of Bacca and Bathsuayi which ultimately meant we missed out on them and (rightly) didn’t want to sign Hogan in January. It was also his big decision to not sign a right back, meaning we missed out on many decent signings in the summer and again in January because he believed first Antonio and then Kouyate (Via Nordtveit) could play there. One mistake is bad enough, two is not good enough especially when you consider quite how many goals we have conceded down the right side. He also wanted to sign Tore permanently on a £14m deal until he was persuaded to take him initially on loan to see if he settled. Tore was arguably one of the worst players I’ve seen put on a West Ham shirt in a long while.
It was also Bilic’s choice to sign Snodgrass and Fonte. So far neither have impressed me and I would say that from what I have seen the £8m 33 year old is no better than James Collins. The two players who are my contenders for player of the year: Antonio and Obiang, were signed largely by the board and not played by Bilic originally. Only injuries meant both got their chance and went on to prove how good they were.
Tactically we have also been poor. We seem to have no plan B and our defending this year has been diabolical. We have conceded the fourth highest amount of goals this season, many of which have come from set pieces or breaks down our flanks with players playing in incorrect positions at fault. We have also conceded 106 goals in 67 games. Many pro Bilic fans decided to tell me (in very blunt ways) that my opinion was wrong when I said that Bilic should take responsibility for the defensive errors and that the players should be blamed. Bilic is the defensive coach and part of his responsibilities is to make sure that we defend set plays, something we do not do very well. Yes players made mistakes and let us down but under Big Sam the blame was always laid at his feet, under Bilic it is the players. I would say it is both and if you keep conceding from set plays then there needs to be questions asked.
Questions have been asked about Bilic’s training from players who have left the club including Valencia and Oxford. Oxford has said that he was surprised with how intense Championship side Reading’s training is in comparison to ours. This has also been said by Valencia and to me by a couple of members of staff who are at the training ground. Our training apparently has a feel of being quite laid back and perhaps this encourages an attitude of laid back behaviour from the players when it comes to their responsibility on the pitch.
I find it very hard to name good performances this season. The obvious one is Chelsea in the cup, Swansea away, Palace at home (in the second half) and possibly Liverpool and Manchester United away in the league. We beat Hull, Burnley, Sunderland and Bournemouth at home but all four of those games were by small margins and could quite easily have been defeats, had they been our position now would be very precarious now.
I find it amazing how some supporters believe you are not a true fan if you question anything Bilic does. I am regularly told but he is passionate and one of us so he should be given an easier ride. I would be the most passionate manager the club has ever had if I got the position but this does not mean I should. Passion is not the most important ingredient for success as a manager as unfortunately Paolo Di Canio found out at Sunderland.
Our next game against Hull is now far more important than it should be. If we lose that game I believe we are in danger of being in trouble but I hope this will not be the case. I do not believe there are that many better options out there to replace Bilic at the moment even the bigger names do not fill me with complete confidence.
I therefore think that Bilic certainly needs to be given to the end of the season and hopefully into the start of the next year (if this season doesn’t become a disaster-changes are needed urgently though) with some substantial finances to buy a top quality right back and at least two forwards and then judge the situation in approximately October time.