Why Slaven Bilić will fail to succeed at West Ham

When Aristotle said that one swallow does not make a summer, we can probably assume that he did not have in mind West Ham’s enigmatic new manager Slaven Bilić.

Nevertheless, confronted with the buoyant hordes of Hammers after their opening weekend victory over Arsenal, the words of the Greek thinker seem oddly prescient: overwhelmingly, past form suggests that the Croat will fail to succeed at Upton Park.

 

This is not to say that Bilić will flop. As an experienced manager with a strong squad, most would be surprised to see West Ham anywhere near the drop zone come season’s end. Rather, the Hammers will finish exactly where they deserve to, around the upper end of mid-table, in exactly the place that this irascible and unlikely prophet has been tasked with leading them from.

Infatuated with the great myth of the ‘West Ham Way’, fans will judge Bilić by standards he cannot hope to meet.

In fairness to the Hammers’ board, Bilić was not their first choice. Marcelo Bielsa, David Moyes and Unai Emery were all approached. Further, before being (understandably) snatched from the net by Real Madrid, perhaps the biggest fish of all in the shape of Rafael Benitez had agreed to succeed Sam Allardyce.

With the possible exception of Moyes, all fit the bill of being progressive, cosmopolitan coaches schooled in the nuances of modern football, with the pedigree and calibre to take West Ham forwards.

June, however, heralded the return of the prodigal son. In entered Slaven Bilić, treading the desolate path from Istanbul to London, the Promethean bringer of fire to a club he had once battled for on the pitch. He does not bring with him Europe League trophies, like Emery, nor the Champion’s League, like Benitez, but he brings fire, and brawn, and passion.

All of which, as Kenny Dalglish’s second tenure at Liverpool showed, are increasingly obsolete in the modern game. All of which may appease fans but do little to achieve points. All of which fail to distinguish Bilić, in terms of quality, from his predecessor Allardyce.

Ultimately, Slaven Bilić has been hired more as an exercise in public relations than as an attempt to improve West Ham. For all his flaws, Allardyce guided West Ham from the Championship to their most exciting season in recent memory last year, with a dream of Europe very real at Christmas. He did not deserve to be shown the door. Ultimately, Big Sam was a sacrifice on the altar of a truly beguiling myth: the ‘West Ham Way’.

The ‘West Ham Way’ is as illusory as the bubbles Hammers claim to blow. There is no culture of successful, attacking, beautiful football at Upton Park. If there ever was, it was certainly in the murky depths of time before the Premier League.

West Ham are a durable team, with an impressive fanbase, who earn their crust but whose quality deserves little more. I know this. You know this. Sir Alex Ferguson knew this.

Reality, however, ends at the turnstiles of the Boleyn Ground and the Hammers’ faithful could never countenance the idea of a bluff, abrasive man from the Midlands being their new messiah. Far better, presumably thought David Sullivan, a man who if not an improvement at least seems it, who if not a philosopher is at least a fighter, who if not able to implement the ‘West Ham Way’ can at least embody it as an ex-player.

So if he fails, who can fault the logic?

Yet Bilić is no better a manager than Allardyce. The hype about the new manager relies mostly on ignorance of his previous record, based on his managerial sojourn taking him through the footballing peripheries of Croatia, Russia and Turkey. Belief in Bilić is grounded on a number of weak myths.

 

Recently, Read West Ham published ‘An Insight into Slaven Bilić’ evincing many of these fallacies. The idea that Beşiktaş were saved by Bilić as a dry run for success at West Ham is pure nonsense.

For all the Eagles’ financial troubles, Bilić led a team of stars, as with Demba Ba serving alongside Turkish talent like Tolga Zengin, rivalled by few in the Süper Lig.

For all that he resurrected the ‘stalled’ career of Gökhan Töre, he was working with a still young player who had been brought through at Chelsea. For all that he prevented the ship from sinking and made Beşiktaş a contender in the title race again, the Eagles have always been the third side in Turkey.

Rather, Bilić’s Eagles flopped almost every big game. This is a league where raucous fans make home advantage so all important that reigning champions Galatasaray have not won at crosstown neighbours Fenerbahçe since 1999.

Under Bilić, Beşiktaş lost every derby to Galatasaray and managed just two draws against Fenerbahçe. Whilst even Süper Lig minnows Eskişehirspor could make it to the Cup final in 2014, contrastingly Bilić won nothing at Beşiktaş.

In Europe, Beşiktaş might have knocked Liverpool out of the Europa League on penalties, but their tactical naivety saw them fail to withstand the attacks of mighty Club Brugge over two legs.

Both domestically and internationally, this is hardly a catastrophe for a Beşiktaş side whose aspirations towards silverware are optimistic. But therein lies the crux of the matter: as a manager, Bilić is utterly indifferent, perfectly neutral and aggressively average.

He will not get West Ham to excel and so he will not lead them to finish anywhere above mid table. He has rarely over performed: whilst admirably leading a strong Croatian side until 2012, Bilić took Lokomotiv Moscow to their worst ever league finish in 2013.

Whilst he left the Croatian national team on good terms, he was sacked in Moscow and announced his imminent departure from Beşiktaş long before West Ham called. Never has his performance warranted a bigger club to snatch him from another.

 

This is not to discredit a man who clearly has talents. His personality sees him come off far better in front of media and fans alike than Allardyce could ever have hoped to, his bravery sees him throw youngsters like Reece Oxford into the fray as we saw at Arsenal and his man-management sees him get the best out of players like Gökhan Töre.

Nevertheless, in an arena where both board and fans mythologise the ridiculous idea of a ‘West Ham Way’ as sanction for indulging in delusions of grandeur, Bilić cannot hope to meet the standard expected of him. Bilić can at best lead this West Ham team to where they deserve to be: in the upper middle of the table.

With Enner Valencia out for up to three months, West Ham lack a striker in addition to having little star quality in their team. There is nothing to suggest that West Ham have improved on last season or offer more than any of the incumbent top eight. And if they are pretending to have improved their manager they are fooling no one but themselves.

Premature exit in the Europa League to Astra Giurgiu may not be an anomaly. Slaven Bilić can only fail to succeed at West Ham. If it is doubtful that there is any manager at all that can meet the club’s expectations, it is certain that it is not him.

Author Details

Thomas Wyer

Student and football fan. Aspiring Guillem Balague but have more in common with Chris Kamara. Managing to support both Ipswich and Galatasaray which, like being indifferent to marmite, makes me a bit of an oddity.

21 thoughts on “Why Slaven Bilić will fail to succeed at West Ham

  1. What a horrible, lazy piece of writing. The only thing I can actually be bothered to comment on is the bit about Allardyce didn’t deserve to be shown the door. Really? Yes he done a good job at West Ham but the form since Christmas was worse than relegation form. No board would of let that continue.

  2. This appears to be an unbalanced article by somebody who is jumping on the ‘Sam should never have been sacked’ bandwagon. The fact is that Sam came to West ham and almost instantly called the fans deluded. Whether that is correct or incorrect, that is not the way to get supporters, who spend a lot of money to watch their team, on his side. It was doomed from the start. I don’t honestly think that many West ham fans are expecting a finish above mid table, where we finished last season at all. Sam set is team up ‘not to lose’, which was boring. Sam’s team would never have chased every ball like Bilic’s team did on Saturday. I’m sure this will be our downfall at some point in the season when we get hurt by a counter attack however at least the football is starting to look a bit more exciting again. Nobody has a go at Swansea fans for wanting to watch attractive football and they are also lead by a former player. In summary it feels that this article was written by somebody with a bad taste in their mouth.

  3. what a waste of time reading this drool fest, so Payet, Ogbonna and Obiang are not an improvement,

    and a manager that will at least play entertaining football without being forced into it,

    as west ham fans it’s not so much the “what we’ll win” as it is how we played and believe me, we will play better,

    The only thing Bilic lacks from Sam is premier League experience,

    there is this arrogant attitude from none west ham fans that seem to think they know what us fans really want

    I wan’t a manager that treats the fans with the same respect that he expects, thats tries to play nice football and takes the cup runs seriously, that’s not Sam.

    #COYI

  4. What a terrible terrible piece of journalism. Bilic has a 64% win record as Croatia’s national manager, the best ever in the history of the nation. He knocked out England in the qualifying group to Euro 2008, topped the Euro 2008 group with 9pts out of 9 beating Germany playing some great football.

    Not worth commenting on most of the attacks against him except one : He is most definitely head and shoulders above Sam Allardyce, one of the worst managers ever to grace the Premiership (or any other league for that matter) …. wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas Wyer is Big Fat Sam in disguise actually!

    West Ham fans and board will have patience with Bilic and that’s because he brought in players that can actually play football like Obiang, Ogbonna, Payet and Lanzini as opposed to average British players like Nolan, Collins, O’Brien and Jarvis who used to make the team week in week out!

  5. Excellent opinion piece, and absolutely hit the nail on the head. This is probably the single best summation of the realities behind the hammers situation. Unbiased considering the Ipswich and gslatasaray

  6. •unbiased considering the Ipswich and Galatasaray support isn’t in any way colouring the authors opinions. And in fairness, the objective overview is badly needed in the face of the obvious blond hammers fans. Well done Mr Wyer on an excellently thought out and considered piece of writing ?

  7. Not a West Ham fan, never witnessed the ‘so called’ football Fat Sam desired, read a few articles about The Hammers way, sit at computer, type this drivel.

    If you want to comment then please do your own research, instead of collecting data from old school managers clipates, who are likened to the Mafia the way they stick up for one another. Better still do an article about that.

  8. Is this what journalism is now? A bitter, pretentious piece of writing that tells the reader nothing of worth and seems built on nothing other than pure speculation.

  9. I stopped reading at..”The ‘West Ham Way’ is as illusory as the bubbles Hammers claim to blow. There is no culture of successful, attacking, beautiful football at Upton Park. If there ever was, it was certainly in the murky depths of time before the Premier League”

    Sadly there a number of (almost entirely young) aspiring writers who cannot remember – or were simply not around – pre 1992 football when terraces, sandy pitches and football was in many ways just better than it is today, with star players driving Fords, or getting the bus home after matches.

    Not sure what the rest of the ‘article’ described, but lost interest due to the lack of balance.

  10. Most exciting season up until Xmas is probably true….3 wins and relegation form since then was disgusting!

    Let’s look at what got us to 4th at Xmas….well Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan were injured meaning Sam had to play a different formation to what he would have normally done meaning Downing in the hole behind Valencia and Sakho ( who Sam didn’t want, he wanted Connor wickham so he could play his normal formation but Sullivan forced the move and low and behold he was top scorer!) when Nolan got fit, downing was forced back on the wing and went from our most creative to one of our worst performers.

    The West Ham way is not about winning, why does no one understand that?! The West Ham way is about going out to win, putting in 100% with players like Di Canio, Joe Cole etc players to excite the fans who have passion. Fat Sam never got that, he put teams out to try and defend and Nick a point or maybe 3. In one game Bilic showed what the West Ham way is about, playing 2 up front away from home with some flair players (Payet and Zarate) and an academy player in Oxford!! We could have lost that game on Sundsy 3-2 and I would have still been happier than watching most of the dross I have seen at West Ham the past couple of seasons!

  11. The only people who ever mention the West Ham way are journo’s and pundits. Fans never speak of this. It’s true we desire nice attacking football but who doesn’t. Big Sam did the job he was tasked with, get West Ham up and keep us in the premier league. Job done. That is all it was ever going to be. He is a one dimensional manager who can get a job done in an ugly fashion. It is true West Ham have a huge fan base that is pretty much most of the East End and Essex and as such they need to grow. They will fill the Olympic stadium and the club is on the up “fact”. Why people try to put a club down in a period of transition is beyond me. Maybe it is fear that their beloved team may have to fight a little harder on the pitch in the future rather than buy a title that the top 4 seem to do. As for Billic, give the guy a chance he is young, passionate and intelligent and he has a hunger to succeed. Only time will tell but methinks the future is bright for West Ham United #COYI

  12. What drivel!

    If the writer had bothered to actually talk to any hammers fans he would know we don’t really care about the result, or even where we finish.

    What we want to see is passion on the pitch. Players giving their all. To play well and lose is better than scoring and trying to defend a 1-0 lead for the remainder of the game. Hoofing the ball anywhere just to stop the other team scoring.

    That is why Sam never endeared himself to the fans. His policy was to not lose. He worshipped ‘a point’ over entertaining football.

    Maybe this view is antiquated in the modern game, but it is close to the fabled ‘west ham way’

  13. Thomas do yourself a favour son and look for another job, your Mum might not tell you but I will……You’re sh*t,

  14. A lot of words to say not very much at all. ‘Flop’ and ‘fail to succeed’ are the same thing yet the author suggests that Bilic will do one thing and not the other. Unfathomable. Perhaps he might talk to some fans of the club (who will actually know something) before forming – and then spouting – his opinions in future.

  15. Also, the piece starts so poorly with the ‘witty’ reference to Aristotele which makes no sense. There’s no ‘probably’ about it given that they lived millenia apart. The author should have tried harder to find a phrasing that would have made that work. Sub sixth form.

  16. To those of who you actually read the article: thank you, I appreciate that. I’m not necessarily aiming for you to agree with me here, I’m aiming to start a discussion, which is what football’s all about. You’ll notice I have no reason to dislike West Ham.

    To those of you who were upset that I haven’t jumped aboard the Bilić bandwagon: I’ll point out now that I regularly watched Bilić’s teams at Beşiktaş and so am hardly making an uninformed opinion. The truth is, the majority of neutral fans in the football league would kill to be where West Ham are and so find it a bit rich when the club wants not only to have its cake but to eat it. As far as my writing abilities are concerned, I can only apologise – maybe I’ll have to try and make myself look a bit younger and try and convince a sixth form to take me in…

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