Written by Daniel Gabbidon @Gabbidon35
Three games into the Premier League season and there’s already been enough goings on at West Ham to describe three seasons or more! There so much to talk about, I almost feel like I should dissect this article into various chapters! But of course it wouldn’t be West Ham if there wasn’t a bit of drama and outrage so bear with me here because I’m going to waffle on at great length!
I think I’m right in saying we were all feeling much more optimistic going into this season. A new season always tends to bring renewed positivity amongst the fans and players included. You tend to want to forget what has happened in the past (especially if it’s bad) and hope as they say, that time has become a good healer.
Were we all a bit naive allowing ourselves think in that way? I don’t think so! But in light of recent events on and off the pitch I’m starting to think very differently!
So where do I begin?
Let’s start with the two most important people in any football club in relation to getting results on the football pitch, the Chairman and the Manager. It’s fairly obvious that all is not well between the two parties. Relationships seem to be at breaking point, comments about each other publicly, an obvious lack of trust and support it almost doesn’t feel like the start of a season, much more like the end! But of course all this animosity can be traced way back to the beginning of last season. Starting with naive transfer recruitment, the subsequent poor results that followed on the pitch, topped off with the public lack of support shown to the manager from the board at the back end of the season.
It’s understandable that the owners might have some reservations about Slaven Bilic and whether he was the right man to lead the team forward. Last season was a poor one. There were some bad results and the manner of some of those loses were truly alarming but without doubt a lot of this was down to the lack of collective thought between manager and owner in bringing in the right type of players before the season started. In saying that, there are many clubs that work under this directive. You have a head of recruitment that sources the players required and a manager that then works with the players he’s given. This is all well and good if everyone is clear about the situation and you have a manager in place who is use to working within those parameters.
What you can’t have is owners who are signings players and then the manager who also wants his own players or is refusing players that are offered to him. It’s just a recipe for disaster which has been clear for all to see. This behaviour was seen in last season’s transfer window and has been evident again in this recent one.
As a manager, support from up above is vital, even more so when things are not going well. Whether it be bringing in the right players to help the current situation or saying the right things to the fans or the manager to emphasise that he’s the right man for the job. Up until now I can’t say at any point that this support has been forthcoming which has led to Bilic’s confidence being knocked as a result.
Having played the game I hate criticising managers to be perfectly honest. I’ve worked under so many, an been a caretaker manager myself so I’ve seen first-hand what a difficult job it can be but if we are looking to pick the bones out of West Ham’s recent failings we can’t just focus on the owners, we also have to look at Slaven Bilic himself.
We can talk all day about poor signings or players that should have been signed. This happens at every club. You only have to look at Liverpool and the Virgil Van Dijk situation in this window to name one.
As a Manager you accept these situations and understand that you can’t always get what you want but once the dust settles it’s then your job to make the best of the situation and get the best out of the players you do have by building a style of playing that best suits your strengths as a team.
This train of thought was clearly evident in Slaven Bilic’s first season at the club. The team seemed to have a clear way of playing. It was based around fast attacking football. Aggressive pressing high up the pitch when they didn’t have the ball and high fitness levels to allow them to do both these things. His personality was very much mirrored by his players on the pitch (You could also argue that the players mirror his current mood now too)
I don’t see any of these things now and I’m not just talking about the first three games of this season I’m talking about the whole of last season too.
When I think why this has happened I think about my own experiences as a player and I can only put this down to two things. Either the manager has changed his thinking and is not employing the right system/tactics or the manager is giving clear directives to the players but they are not carrying it out. It’s also conceivable the answer could also be a bit of both because I’ve played in teams where players have not bought into the managers why of thinking. You then go out and try and do you own thing and the whole thing becomes a shambles!
In no way is this a blueprint to get results. Much like the owners and the manager have to be in sync, so do the manager and the players.
I look at Slaven at the moment and he looks a shadow of his former self. His body language is that of man who looks tired, who doesn’t have the answers anymore, which is sad to see. His personality is his biggest strength but in football management that can also be your biggest weakness.
What’s Slaven in now? His 3rd season in charge? This can be a very difficult period as a manager because players start to become comfortable with you. A lot more carefree. They work out your personality, what they can get away what they can’t, what you are good at as a manger and what you are not. I’ve never heard a player say a bad word about Slaven it’s always glowing tributes but the conclusion I always get from the praise is that the players almost think of him as being one of the boys and herein might lie part of the problem.
Players need structure and discipline. They need to know that if they over step the line there will be consequences. They need to know that if you don’t perform for the badge on a Saturday afternoon someone else will be given the opportunity to do so. You have to lay down the ground rules and be constant with them always. If players sense any sign of weakness in you or change they we will see how far we can push the boundaries. We really are buggers trust me!
We all like a laugh and a joke but when it’s time to get down to business there has to be that ruthless authority from the manager so the players know exactly what’s expected from them. There has to be a bit of fear factor there.
Slaven looks to me like he’s lost his way and forgotten some of the things that made him such a good manager in that first season in charge. In fairness he’s had a lot to deal with in his short time at the club and it would be understandable if some of the recent off field issues had contributed to him losing a bit of focus and almost taken his mind away from what he’s really there to do… manage the team and get results.
From what I hear Slaven had pretty much thrown the towel in with the words he spoke in the dressing room to the players after the Newcastle defeat and this might possibly be just a stay of execution but if I was in his shoes right now I would be thinking, I need to get back to basics meaning laying down the law in the dressing room and getting things right tactically on the pitch, which is what I’m going to move onto next.
Sorry if I’m going on a bit but I’m in the zone now!
I spoke earlier about the renewed optimism going into this season. I’m sure lot of that was directly linked to the early transfer business that was done by the club. My thinking was no different.
When I saw the signings of Hart, Arnautovic and then Hernandez I couldn’t help but think… that’s really good business and finally it’s looking like the club mean business! So before I go into full tactics mode and show off the benefits of my UEFA coaching licenses! Let’s quickly assess these signings and what they might or might not bring to the team.
Joe Hart in my opinion is a good signing. Is he an upgrade on Adrian? Yes I think he is but the problem you have at the moment is that you have 10 players in front of him who are currently not carrying out instructions or not be instructed correctly. The best goalkeepers for me do the basics really well while making the odd world class save in between all that. Currently I would say he is a bit overworked and having to pick the ball out of his net way too often. When the defensive shape in front of him improves so will Joe Hart’s performances. I’ve met Joe a couple of times and he is a top geezer. This is one of the main reasons I was happy West Ham acquired his services. He is mentally strong, a winner and will bring much needed leadership and professionalism to the dressing room. I think a lot of people judge him by those Head and Shoulders adverts and think he’s big time! But he really isn’t!
Marco Arnautovic is a difficult player to comment on. He’s seems like one of those people that you shouldn’t judge solely on his body language or his facial expressions because he’d probably surprise you but as a fan what else do you have to go on? I know Matty Etherington said some positive stuff about him when he signed and he will be able to tell you a lot more about him than me but I just get the feeling that if you was to put him in a dressing full of professional disciplined players he could conform to that and get on board but on the flip side if you put him in a dressing room with a few bad eggs who pick and choose when they want to play he could also conform to that behaviour.
I actually watched him the other night playing for Austria against Wales and while Austria were on top and he was involved he looked really dangerous but as soon as the game changed and Austria were on the back foot he became anonymous and that body language got worse and worse to point of him getting dragged off. There’s no doubt he’s a talented player but I can’t help thinking it’s an expensive gamble from Bilic, bringing a potentially volatile player into a dressing room that already has a handful of players he can’t really trust. Only time will tell I suppose but time has already shown he could be hard work i.e. that act of stupidity at Southampton! He has much to prove in the coming weeks.
Credit to the owners/manager for this one because Javier Hernandez was a great bit of business. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen West Ham fans so excited about a new signing. Finally the natural, proven goal scorer we’ve been crying out for! My early thoughts mirrored the fans but once I thought a little bit deeper about the signing I became a little bit more reserved. Not due to the quality of the player, or any feelings that he won’t score enough goals. It was more my mind thinking… now he’s here, what is Slaven Bilic going to do to make sure the team plays to his strengths.
When you sign a player with Hernandez’s attributes in theory, you are committing your team to a certain style of play to get the best out of him. You look at most strikers in the modern game these day and they are complete strikers. Adept at playing up top on their own because that’s how most teams now play. They tend to be able to do a bit of everything. Chicharito is not that guy. He’s a specialist. A box player. A finisher of moves who relies on service. The ball needs to be worked up to him. Creative players need to feed his runs and wingers need to service his brilliant movement in the box.
What you can’t do as a team is constantly sit deep. Leaving him up top as the lone striker then banging the ball up to wee man in hope that he will hold off two centre half’s while he waits for support.
When you sign a player of this calibre you have to have a clear plan of how you want your team to play to get the best out of him. It’s not easy as a manager adjusting your game to the needs of one player. It requires plenty of work on the training ground and judging from the first three games Slaven is still searching for the right formula but fair play to the lad he’s that good he’s still managed to bag couple of goals for himself… feeding of scraps.
I’m sure things will improve further when the creativity of Lanzini and the running power of Kouyate and Antonio are regularly on show. These are important players with regards to getting the team up the pitch and supporting the strikers.
It’s fair to say the rest of the transfer window was a bit of shambles, hastily washing away all that early positivity! I’m not going to comment too much on the William Carvalho situation. He is a good player and it would have been nice to get him on board but I don’t know the ins and outs of what went on and who was to blame but now he hasn’t signed the manager has to get on with things and work hard with the players he has at his disposal. For this exact reason I was really surprised that Bilic didn’t let Diafra Sakho leave in the window. If I had a player who was trying to orchestrate his own transfer and didn’t want to be at the club anymore, I’m sorry but I wouldn’t be welcoming him back! Off you go son! Good luck to you. I’d rather be a striker light than accommodate someone who’s not committed to the club, the players or the manager. Instead you are now welcoming a player back into the group who could potentially poison the dressing room further.
It’s Players like this who eventually cost managers their jobs and for Sakho to feel it was alright to act in this manner tells me there’s lack of respect/tolerance towards the manager.
So three games gone, three loses and plenty of goals conceded. Looking from afar, tactically it hasn’t been anywhere near right… I’m sure you’ll all agree? Hopefully Slaven has had time in the international break to have a think about what’s gone wrong in the games and how he can improve performances going forward. All managers get things wrong but the good ones see the problems and fix them quickly, either in-game or by the next game.
First and foremost before he does anything else, Bilic has got to get the players more motivated and working much harder for each other. This will be his hardest task because if as a manager you’ve lost the players and they no longer want to run around with any motivation or purpose, it doesn’t matter what tactics you try and employ it’s just not going to work.
Clean sheets are desperately needed. West Ham must become harder to beat. If the team goes a goal down in no way can it then become two, three and four. There has to be more resilience and you have to have a structure you can rely on to keep yourself in games when things are not going to plan.
So let’s start with the defence.
For me the back four needs to play as a back four as much as possible. At the moment they are not connected. There are too many holes mainly due to the fact that you have two fullbacks who want to bomb forward at every opportunity. This is a nightmare for a centre back, especially if you lack a bit of mobility because you can’t cover the spaces they leave. You get dragged into areas you don’t want to go and get horribly exposed. The two fullbacks need to sit next to the two centre half’s (especially if it’s Collins or Fonte) and just support whoever the two wingers are. I assume the full backs have been under instruction to fly forward but if I’m Pablo Zabaleta a player nearing the end of his the career, who has obviously lost his legs a bit, the last thing I’d want to do is play high and wide. Just let me sit next to my centre back and I’ll feed the ball to my winger (probably Antonio) who that suits anyway because it gives him more space to work in… Which he likes. The more the back four stays together the better they will defend, especially the two centre backs who have been getting pelters of late!!!
I would certainly persevere with Declan Rice especially now Carvalho hasn’t come on board. I know his mistake contributed to one of the goals against Newcastle but as a manager of your going to put a young lad in the firing line you have to expect that he’s going to get a few things wrong and trust me he isn’t alone in that department we are seeing the same thing week in week out from seasoned professionals!
This is why I’d keep him in the team.
I went to watch the Carabao Cup game a couple weeks back against Cheltenham and was very impressed with Rice’s performance. I know it was against lesser opposition and he had plenty of time on the ball but what stood out most for me was what he was doing without the ball. He is the most defensive minded midfielder in the West Ham squad at the moment and for this reason very important to the back four. I watched him closely. He was sensing danger, snuffing out attacks before they became dangerous, constantly positioning himself just in front of the two centre backs helping to take the work load off them… Centre backs love these players! If you have a player efficient at this job again, it helps to keep the back four to stay connected because then defenders don’t feel the need to step into areas of the field their not sure about getting involved in. Potential danger can be dealt with before it gets to you. Being a centre half himself obviously helps him to have these natural defensive instincts in that midfield position, I just hope the manager keeps faith with the youngster because in Rice I trust!
I don’t see a problem with the team going forward. Between Arnautovic, Ayew, Lanzini, Antonio, Hernandez etc. there will be plenty of chances created and a fair few goals scored. It’s just making sure these same boys don’t neglect the defensive side of the game and it’s up to the boys playing behind them to make sure they don’t switch off and are helping the team especially in those difficult periods in games.
To sum it up in simple terms Defenders defend and Attackers attack. Football is a simple game made complicated by many. Work hard, do your job and if your teammate is in trouble try and do his a bit too!
I hope that Slaven Bilic is given a bit more time to turn things around and I hope he’s used this international break to take a good look at himself and say what am I doing wrong? And how can I make things better before it’s too late. He really is on borrowed time now.
I have no worries about West Ham this season. The team will be fine. Yes one or two signings were still needed but it’s still a decent squad of players that only lack a constant kick up the backside from their manager! It’s been a disappointing start to the season but I’m positive things will improve in the coming weeks and hopefully that will coincide with a reformed, new improved Slaven Bilic still at the helm!