The HamburgHammer Column

Thank you Slaven! The end of the Bilic era - the beginning of what ?

After the game against Liverpool, another demonstration of unprofessional ball watching by the tools jogging along the pitch in claret and blue, and after watching that conveyor belt of schoolboy errors in defending (or rather lack of it) everything now is pointing towards the end of the Slaven Bilic era at West Ham. It may well be that he is no longer our manager once my column goes live, he may have resigned by then or given the boot by Sullivan (probably a Russian army boot matching his hat).

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So I feel it’s appropriate to begin by thanking Slaven Bilic, wholeheartedly, for his time at the club, for being the kind of guy he is, extremly likeable, infectious passion for the game, a deep affinity for our club and the fans ( and our old stadium too), he simply was a breath of fresh air after the Allardyce years, and of course we shall be grateful for that wonderful final season at the Boleyn which will never be forgotten.
He gave us a bunch of memorable wins over the big boys too, especially Arsenal and Liverpool away.

Alas, there comes a time when even a Bilic disciple like myself has to face the fact that Bilic no longer has any means or power left to get this squad of professional footballers to play anything remotely resembling the beautiful game of football.

Personally, I love Bilic to bits. If I was a footballer I reckon he’d be the kind of manager I’d go through brick walls for, take a bullet and then donate a kidney too if need be.

Shame that some of the players and our board no longer share that view, if they ever did to begin with. I will miss Bilic a lot and it might be a bit easier to take if I had an ounce of confidence that his replacement will be an awe inspiring rather than a convenient one, but I reckon there’s more chance of a cat balancing a plate of scotch eggs on its rear legs while doing a handstand than West Ham attracting a top class manager and paying the guy accordingly. (More of the next manager issue later).

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Earlier on matchday I was dealing with a different set of tools, in my case a branch cutter and a spade, to clear an area of my local sports club from various bramble bushes (thorny business that), but I didn’t mind as the weather was fine and I could talk football with my co-worker (a staunch Hamburg SV fan) while we were hacking, digging and cutting away for four hours solid. So, with my bit for the community done for the day I headed back to my flat in eager anticipation of our game.

With my West Ham mug of tea waiting for me on the table, I took my seat in the comfy lower tier of my armchair (great view!), wearing my lucky West Ham shirt for the occasion with the famous screwdriver moving gently from one hand to the other. Then, unfortunately, the game got in the way of everything. Most of you will have seen it yourself, ball watching galore, virtually no pressing or chasing back, precious little effort, glaring lapses of concentration and focus, a multitude of defensive blunders and a well deserved 1:4 loss.

It’s not like Liverpool were breathtakingly magnificent, they were not, in fact they looked painfully average on the day. Which, however, is more than good enough these days to still beat West Ham comfortably. Die to the reason that we usually beat ourselves, gifting goals galore to the opposition.

More often than not they don’t even have to unwrap those presents, a lot of them come along on a silver plate, unwrapped already and ready to be scored at will.

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So, how does one cope with a defeat like this coupled with the likely consequences for our club and manager ? Well, I have been accused on here previously of being too negative in my musings when penning my column. So allow me to focus on the positives for a bit:

a) Our goal scored by Lanzini was fantastic, great skill and technique, wonderful to watch. A truly great goal.
b) The pitch at the London Stadium looked amazing, plush green and in top condition.
c) I’ve overreached myself with c actually…

Okay, so sarcasm and irony doesn’t quite work here. I have also been accused of being too much like a broken record playing the tune of bashing the owners.
Be that as it may, I think more fans are now realising where the root issues at West Ham are buried – and I am not talking about the cursed badger rotting away under the soil of our training pitches.

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Now, when I have it in for our board I can’t claim it to be personal. How could it be ? I’ve never met or socialised with any of them and it’s not likely to happen in my lifetime for obvious reasons.

I can only judge them by their actions, by how they run the club, what decisions they come up with, what they do and don’t do in the name and on behalf of West Ham United. Based on all that I can’t pretend and say with conviction that they are good for West Ham and the overall future of our club.

Let’s look at the likely replacement for Bilic. Rumours are it could well be David Moyes assisted by Phil Neville. Would that kind of decision ooze confidence, ambition and wisdom ?

Would it show that our board know what they are doing, making a tough decision for the wellbeing of West Ham, even if it involves spending money ?

Of course not. IF David Moyes were to come in as the new gaffer it is because he is available, he is cheap and he won’t hassle the board too much with wanting things his own way. He would also be on an emergency short-term (cheap) contract anyway.

A stop gap. A reasonably priced gamble on staying up. Spend as little as possible while still making a change – then hope and pray it’s enough to get your club 17th place at the end of the season.

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I’m sorry, but after the Avram Grant experience, this would be borderline insanity. Under normal circumstances I would welcome any new manager at our club with wide open arms (okay, maybe I’d be using a certain finger instead if it was Allardyce coming back), but are these normal circumstances we are facing ?

I do understand why some fans were ultimately resigned to wanting Bilic out, he is no saint for sure and has to accept his part of the blame, looking at the state of the majority of our performances in the last 16 months or so. Training routines and setting up the team tactically for the games, that’s very much the gaffer’s responsibility, granted.

But the players have got it far too easy at West Ham and yet, even now Bilic is still holding his hands over them, shielding them from criticism. In my opinion though the players do deserve a bit of the good old hairdryer treatment actually.

You may not see eye to eye with the manager, you may not like his training methods or even roll your eyes at the gameplan – once you are out on the pitch on matchday, whistle sounding in a full stadium in front of a home crowd you give your all, you run, you tackle, you play your guts out. Not just because you are being paid handsomely for the privilege, but because the fans in the stadium deserve to see effort and desire.

That in fact is the bare minimum requirement. Maybe your opposition player on the day has more skill than you or better technique in which case you cannot match them in those departments.

But you can always match or beat the opposition in effort and desire, especially in front of your own fans.

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I personally don’t leave matches early, but I do understand those who left the stadium in droves against Liverpool during the second half. Losing as such ain’t the issue, it rarely has been at West Ham throughout our history, we are used to losing football matches, but right now too many things are plain wrong at our club at the same time.

On and off the pitch. In the boardroom and the dressing room. On the matchday pitch and at the training ground. In the manager’s office and our club HQ at Stratford.

In the past, after a bad loss, it still hurt of course. But as fans we could cling to familiar things like the stadium for comfort. Chatting about the game with mates in your favourite post-match boozer. We could cling to the characters in our team, players that sometimes were lacking in skill but who made up for it in effort and shedding of sweat tenfold.

There is precious little of West Ham left in West Ham these days I’m afraid.
Some of that is down to natural change in the world of professional football in general and the Premier League in particular where things have been revamped beyond belief in the last ten, twenty years.

So that change basically is a force majeure, a given. Then there is the stadium move, and again, other clubs have done it, struggling with it initially, but it can be done.

The circumstances at West Ham, however, are such that we have moved into a stadium which is essentially the direct opposite of what we used to have, a vast stadium, not purpose-built for football, but nonetheless supposed to serve as a home for world class players.

Yet, we are being owned by people who are unwilling or unable to pay the kind of money needed to attract world class players and a world class manager to our club.
In my view only top players and a top manager can make the stadium move work for our club and the fans eventually.

Without it the newbie fans will leave as quickly as they came while the old guard will be gone already, while others may not see much reason to keep coming back for more of the same . Unless of course you are one of the brave diehard Hammers who will continue to go quite simply because “it’s what we do”, no matter what!
Kudos to every single one of them!

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The board will do what they want when they want. And one fine day they are likely to walk away with some degree of profit once their era at our club is finally over.
I wonder what West Ham will look like at that point or if we will still be called West Ham.

As for me I don’t fear relegation. I certainly don’t like it, but at the same time it wouldn’t stop my support. I will continue to follow our club one way or another.
Although I have to admit that I am looking more forward to watching our U23s play next month when I’m over again than going to the London Stadium for our first team games against Chelsea and Arsenal. Of course I will still go and hope for the best, but the U23s in my book are always a joy to watch and I hope the same can be said about our first team again very soon.

I forgot to mention a positive thing actually – on Saturday I received my membership card for the West Ham Supporters Club, so it’s definitely something to look forward to for my upcoming visit for the Chelsea and Arsenal fixture.

I’m excited also at the prospect of meeting some of my fellow Hammers again, sharing a chinwag, a drink and hopefully a laugh or two, even though admittedly it’s getting harder to find reasons to laugh at this point.

But maybe it’s the only viable option we have – laugh adversity in the face.
West Ham have survived numerous bumps, earthquakes and even scandals.
I doubt even the current board have enough in their locker to kill this club for good, although they seem to be trying awfully hard.

Whoever comes in as our new manager now, I hope you can bring some much needed joy and positivity to our club. I wish you all the best and hope you will get more out of our squad than Slaven could at the end. That is going to be your only chance as you are unlikely to see a lot of trust and support from the board otherwise.

COYI!!!

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The Blind Hammer Column

Leaking: When Will we ever learn?

Blind Hammer complains after another leak hits the headlines.

I am anything but a Board Hater. I actually think that they are, by the savage general standard prevalent in football, decent men and good employers who try to support their Managers to an extent rarely seen at other clubs.

However I despaired when I heard Gary Linekar confidently announcing that not only was Bilic to be sacked but also declaring that Moye’s was to be the replacement.

He would only do this on National Television if he had a reliable source at the highest level in the club.

I WONDERED IF WE WILL EVER LEARN. Roll back a few years to the disaster that was Avram Grant’s management and the leak, in January that Martin O’Neill was to come in as his replacement. O’Neill, another who I believe to be a decent man, was appalled at this leak whilst a fellow manager was still in post, and immediately withdrew his interest. We were left in the lurch with no suitable replacement for Grant and had to allow him to subside us to relegation.
After this calamitous mistake, only a few years ago, I was floored to hear that we had repeated the same disastrous error with another inappropriate leak of managerial replacement. It has negative consequences for Bilic but must also undermine Moye’s confidence in the Board and their behaviour.

This is not my normal Blind Hammer column but I felt compelled to comment on this. By the time this piece appears Moyes may be in post but as the day develops even more stories have emerged of u-turns. The constant leaking provides a perception of a club in turmoil. Whoever the club believe is the right man, they are dicing with any potential recruit’s sense of honour with this leaking culture. .

I understand the pressure the Board is under and how intense this may be. The massive temptation is to try and tell people about the work they are doing behind the scenes. However relieving this personal pressure through inappropriate leaks is one area that whoever we get as Manager needs to stop immediately. The first we should know is an official announcement.

COYI
David Griffith
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Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

Boos Ring Out at London Stadium as Bilic Sacking Rumours Gather Pace After Heavy Home Defeat


Talking Point

Did The Last Post Sound for Slaven Bilic?

Before the match the Last Post was played by a lone trumpeter so we could pay our respects to the fallen. The question is whether it should also have been played after the final whistle, given that this was surely Slaven Bilic’s last match in charge of West Ham.

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I say that with no joy at all. I was delighted when Bilic was appointed as West Ham’s manager. His first season was superb. Last season wasn’t, even though we eventually finished 11th. This season has been a massive disappointment. We don’t seem to be able to play for 90 minutes. There are flashes of brilliance for 30 or 45 minutes but otherwise we have looked poor. Our fitness levels remain in question. Our players run less than other team in the League. That tells you something. We saw it today.

It seems to me there are several players who gave up on Bilic some time ago, and we all know who they are. I don’t think he’s lost the entire dressing room, but enough of it to make the difference. Given the signings we made in the summer we ought to be in the top half of the table. Instead we are flirting with relegation. The last time we had this few points in a season at this stage Avram Grant was the manager. And, well, we all know what happened to him. And to us.

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If a change is going to be made, now is the time to make it. There are two weeks to find a replacement. There must already be a shortlist of replacements. If there isn’t, then someone isn’t doing their job properly.

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I don’t necessarily want a big name manager. I certainly don’t want Roberto Mancini. I don’t especially want Benitez. There are plenty of British managers around, even if we can’t entice Eddie Howe or Sean Dyche at this point.

Let’s see if the Board agree that a change needs to be made, and whether that time is now.

UPDATE: Rumour is that David Moyes will be the new manager. I want to cry.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, Liverpool 4. We Lost Again.

Here’s how a wine salesman prepares to pretend to be a football writer on a match day.

I sit at my kitchen counter with the first coffee of the day and think about what theme is bouncing around my thick head and try to correlate those often absurd thoughts to the impending events of the day. I then type the word TODAY, just like that, at the end of the paragraph to remind myself to go back and include a final sentence about what we all just saw. That’s a clue by the way. Once or twice I’ve forgotten to do that, so if you see TODAY typed out you know I’m exhausted, sick, or just plain tired of giving West Ham another thought and I’ve forgotten to remove it.

Yet as I finish my blend of Ethiopian and Mexican coffee from my local Argentine coffee roaster I cannot think of any theme other than the gloom many of us feel. A gloom I expect to continue later today. A gloom I fear will be with us all season, possibly ending with what the people who theoretically could alter the course of history have called “Armageddon”. And of course, I was correct.

The first moment of defensive anxiety for West Ham came in the second minute when Obiang fouled Moreno, giving Liverpool a free kick from thirty yards out. The ball sailed over everyone in Claret and Blue and Firmino found himself with the ball at his feet right in front of Hart. I expected an early goal, but Hart was able to make the save.

West Ham should have taken advantage of some good luck in the ninth minute when Lanzini ran at the Liverpool defense. His attempted pass to Ayew took a deflection and floated over Klavan and Matip. Ayew was able to stay onside and run onto the ball, but instead of using his right foot he tried a shot with the side of his left and hit the outside of the post.

Is there good refereeing in the world? I mean anywhere? In the span of three minutes, Swarbrick ignored an obvious foul on Hernandez, a slightly less obvious foul on Noble, and then called a questionable foul on Obiang. I’m not pointing those incidents out as a way of saying “whoa is us, the refs hate us”. If I cared about another club I’d certainly notice similar time periods in those games. But I don’t.

You know, when you win a corner you like to think it’s to your advantage. Right? But this is West Ham. Fernandes won a corner after some decent work from Ayew. But Lanzini’s outswinger was cleared, and when Fernandes decided to commit himself to trying to beat Salah and Mane to the ball you knew it would end badly. Salah pushed the ball forward to Mane and Liverpool were off to the races, three against the lone Cresswell. An easy rolled pass back to Salah and the net looked like the Red Sea.

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West Ham 0
Liverpool 1

Because I’m writing now while watching instead of putting the report together after the match is over, my head was down when the two NBC presenters announced the second goal. I was unprepared. A low cross from Salah deflected off of Noble’s shin, forcing a diving save from Hart. But the only players that followed the path of the ball wore cheese dip colored orange shirts, and Matip tapped it in.

West Ham 0
Liverpool 2

When Noble was shown a yellow card for simulation in the 37th minute, I made a mental note that it would be a small miracle if he lasted until he was subbed off. A reckless challenge leading to a second yellow leading to four or five goal drubbing felt inevitable. Along with an inability to string any passes together and a look of fear and loathing over the faces in West Ham shirts, the day felt lost with almost an hour left.

Halftime
West Ham 0
Liverpool 2

Did you know that Andy Carroll hadn’t scored a goal at The London Stadium since that Crystal Palace game last January? I didn’t. The halftime substitution made sense in that West Ham hadn’t asked any questions of a Liverpool defense that has been among the worst in the league on the road. I was just unaware that the threat of AC was so statistically remote.

West Ham got themselves and the crowd back into the game for a moment in the 56th minute when Ayew sent a long cross to Lanzini in the box. The Jewel showed lovely skill to control the ball with his chest, turned Gomez around, and flicked the ball over Mignolet.

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West Ham 1
Liverpool 2

The wee bit of optimism that had swept over the home supporters lasted less than a minute. Firmino beat Reid near the top of the West Ham penalty area and slid the ball on the right to Oxlade-Chamberlain. Cresswell looked like he had watched the baseball World Series and wondered what sliding into a base felt like. It would have been nice if he had tried that on his own somewhere, not when he was responsible for marking Ox. He slid by, Ox had his first effort saved by Hart but he tucked in the rebound.

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West Ham 1
Liverpool 3

The game remained wide open, and West Ham came close to closing the gap to one goal again in the 59th minute when Carroll headed the ball down to Lanzini on the left but unlike his flick minutes earlier this effort sailed high over the bar.

West Ham had a solid shout for a penalty in the 69th minute when Arnautovic sent a short cross to Hernandez is the box. Just as Chicharito went up to head the ball Moreno gave him a little shove in the back and the ball went over the cross bar. Moments later Firmino was in on goal down the right but his low shot rolled past the far post and out for a goal kick.

With less than twenty minutes to go, Bilic added Sakho and used the last of his three substitutions. So West Ham had the following players on the pitch at the same time. Hernandez, Ayew, Carroll, Arnautovic, and Sakho. Offensive? Yes. But how was the defense? Offensive. Same word, two different meanings. In the 76th, Mane ran at the West Ham defense as if they weren’t even there. He even lost the ball for a second, but easily won it back. He saw Salah alone in the box and rightly passed to him. He beat Hart with ease.

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Final Score
West Ham 1
Liverpool 4

I’m not going to go over the same stuff over and over again. Here’s my summation of the day. West Ham played. West Ham lost. West Ham in my opinion are in deep trouble, top to bottom.

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