The HamburgHammer Column
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.