This article first appeared on Outside90.com
After months of flirting with the likes of Rafa Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti, Marco Bielsa and David Moyes, West Ham have their man, which is to say, none of those four names just mentioned.
No, with every other candidate on the list having sought employment elsewhere, or remained at their current clubs, Slaven Bilic, one-time West Ham player, and former manager of Croatia, Lokomotiv Moscow and, most recently, Besiktas, has been appointed as Sam Allardyce’s replacement.
Bilic is a capable manager to be sure, and a successful one, with the East London club citing his handsome 55.16% winning record in their press release on the 9th of June. Yet with the mad genius Bielsa, as well as the European thoroughbreds Benitez and Ancelotti mentioned in the same breath, Bilic does seem the least fashionable choice. But a good winning percentage, honed over a decade of management, is just what the Hammers need… for now.
Of course, it was tempting to dream about life under Bielsa, the sage crackpot. His Marseilles team finished fourth in Ligue 1 this season, but led the competition for the first 19 weeks. Though a rough patch that stretched from February to April ruined their title hopes, they finished the season with more four-goal winning margins than anyone else in the league. Exciting, volatile teams are what Bielsa brings to the table, and a searing smelling salt it would have been after the dull haze that was the Allardyce tenure. But, it was not to be. Perhaps, in time, it will prove a good decision not to have hired the Argentine.
Bilic brings the right mixture of defensive stolidness and attacking enterprise – he is a cautious character, and that caution will serve him well as he is charged with seeing the East London club over this final hurdle. The new season at Upton Park will begin on the 8th of August. It will be the most critical in the clubs history, a season where relegation would be calamitous. A steady hand is needed, not a impulsive maestro like Bielsa.
Now that this first item on the to-do list can be checked off by Karren Brady, a number of other matters remain unresolved. She and Bilic, two prepared souls to be sure, ought to be getting on with things momentarily. Chiefly, another striker is required, and a name springs immediately to mind. Demba Ba, who just enjoyed fine season under Bilic at Besiktas, might fancy a second spell at West Ham. Like Bilic, Ba was a Hammer for only a short period, but after his 13 game stint in claret and blue, he went on to prove himself an effective striker in the Premier League with Newcastle and Chelsea. A physically imposing focal point, he also possesses a refined set of technical skills, something his lanky frame belies. He would be available at a reasonable price, and at 30, still has some mileage left in him.
Secondly, a defensive-midfielder is needed to replace the outgoing loanee Alex Song. Sampodoria’s Pedro Obiang has been mooted as a target, and a £4.3 million fee has been reported as having been agreed upon, though nothing official has been announced. The chances of securing another of last season loan stars, Carl Jenkinson, seem to be receding, as Arsenal’s £10 million fee seems to be slightly out of reach for the Hammers. Glen Johnson, due to leave Liverpool as a free agent, has been investigated as an alternative, as has ex-Manchester City defender Micah Richards, now playing at Fiorentina. Grabbing another centre-back seems another wise idea, with last season’s injury glut in that area still fresh in the mind. Searching among the relegated squads, QPR’s Steven Caulker is certainly a player who belongs in the top flight. West Ham have already signed Irish goalkeeper, Darren Randolph as a free agent. A number of other new signings should also be expected in the coming months.
This will be only Bilic’s fourth job as a manager of a club, and he can draw from only three years of club management experience. His time with the Croatian national team was highly impressive, but next season will prove a stern test of his abilities, a very different test to what he has faced before. There is a nice, deep pool of goodwill waiting for him, however, the Allardyce years, while steady were a drought of entertainment, so any alternative will be welcomed by those in the terraces. But underpinning this warm welcome will be a sharp tenor of anxiety, and Bilic will feel the full force of it if his side are sucked into a relegation battle next season.