but the axe has finally fell on Slaven Bilic’s West Ham managerial regime. I think that most Hammers fans were willing Bilic to recover from the poor start to the season and take the side back up the PL table. Alas, it was not to be and now we face the consequences of that failure, taking a huge gamble on the ability of David Moyes to recapture the managerial competence of his Everton years, rather then re-enact the shambles of his season long tenure at Sunderland. Although the Spurs cup result offered a brief hope that Bilic could steer the ship to safety, the abject nature of the Liverpool capitulation made his exit inevitable. And in the end, the board’s decision was almost a relief, because neither Bilic nor West Ham United could afford to let the situation continue. Bilic is a man of integrity and honesty (rare qualities in modern football) and we all felt his pain as he cut a powerless and defeated figure on the touchline as his side floundered at home against Brighton and Liverpool. Similarly, we could only sympathise as his players badly let him down in allowing a 97th minute equaliser against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Sure, Bilic was not perfect, and he could be said to have been culpable with some of his tactical decisions, but the players themselves must also take their share of the blame. Hammers fans know when players are not applying themselves 100% and that is what arguably underpins the recent fan walk outs at the London Stadium. I have always believed that you stay until the final whistle and show your solidarity with the team, whether in victory or cruel defeat (and then you celebrate or moan on the way out), but more recent generations of fans do not seem to subscribe to those principles. They show their anger and protest via an early exit. I do not agree with it, but they pay their money and they are entitled to show their displeasure in that way if they choose. It certainly does not sit well that astronautically paid, and under-performing, players should question fan loyalty for walking out early. The truth is that they would not do it if the team was delivering on the pitch, something that they have blatantly failed to do for most of this season. In short, the management and players have a responsibility to give the fans something to cheer. I think Bilic understood that (he never took fan discontent badly), but some of his pampered ex-players obviously do not!
Anyway, the Bilic regime is now history and we face the future with Mr Moyes at the managerial helm. Like many of you, I have serious reservations about this appointment, but we are, where we are and nothing is going to change that. We all knew that the options for a change of manager (during the season) were limited and that the board would struggle to recruit a top line manager. The board certainly knew that, but the worsening situation with Bilic backed them in to a corner and they were forced to gamble with one of the few viable options available to them. They are undoubtedly praying that the Sunderland episode was an aberration in his career and that Moyes is hungry to restore his former reputation at West Ham. If that happens then it will be seen as a good appointment and the board will be feted for their vision and foresight. If the other scenario prevails they will be castigated and we will be cast in to the disastrous bear pit that is Championship football. That latter possibility is just unthinkable for the club and we must hope that Moyes does come good.
David Moyes has certainly started well, saying all the right things to get the fans on board. Namely, about West Ham’s ‘big club’ status and his desire to play attractive and attacking football. He has obviously been briefed and it shows that the club have learnt from some of the unfortunate statements made by Sam Allardyce while he was at the club. If you want a manager to succeed at West Ham, you must get the fans onside. Allardyce never did that and the simmering antagonism always poisoned the relationship between the manager and the supporters. Similarly, Moyes has also helped created early positivity with the way that he has hit the ground running on the training pitches. It projects the image of an hungry and motivated manager, getting down to business at the earliest opportunity. No doubt the back room appointments will soon follow and there is bound to be an ex-Hammers star or two included in the new coaching team. Or, rather, there will be if they want to continue in a positive vein. Hammers fans always respond to ‘one of their own’ and the club should not under-estimate the importance of that factor. Finally, Moyes has to manage relations with the squad very skilfully, trying to get players on side and motivated and avoiding any damaging early spats/fall outs with stars like Hernandez. There is prior history there from their Manchester United days, but hopefully it will be case of putting that behind them and starting with a clean slate at West Ham. He will also need to get players like Antonio, Reid, Noble and Arnautovic playing to their true abilities. Arnautovic, in particular, will be a challenge for Moyes’ man management and motivational skills. However, get the Austrian back to his best and West Ham will have a very dangerous player. I guess the skill is in knowing how to get the best out of different players, the ‘rocket’ as opposed to the ‘arm around the shoulder.’ Different personalities respond to different strategies and Moyes will need to get that right.
Creating some early positivity around the appointment was vital. However, it ultimately all comes down to improvements on the pitch and results. If Moyes is going to succeed he needs to also ‘hit the ground running’ on the pitch. In the first match at Watford, we need to see greater organisation, defensive resilience and team cohesion. In short, we need to start looking like a team unit and not a collection of individuals. All of these things are established on the training pitch and reinforced on the field of play. In making his preparations, Moyes will be acutely aware that he will have limited time to work with his players on international duty. That creates a specific difficulty for the Watford match, but it is one that he will hopefully be able to overcome to get a morale boosting result. That would set us up nicely to tackle a difficult run of games up to Christmas that includes: Leicester City (H), Everton (A), Man City (A), Chelsea (H), Arsenal (H), Stoke City (A) and Newcastle Utd (H).
Moyes will have his minimum points target for that eight match sequence and we all have our own opinions on that! Regardless, it will make life easier if we can get off to a positive start and take it from there; rather than starting with say two poor results and then look to recover it. For me that positive start is taking a minimum of four points from the Watford and Leicester City games. It is asking a lot, but obviously the objective must be to get up the table, and away from the relegation zone, as soon as possible. No nerve wrecking relegation battle please, I am happy with boring mid-table mediocrity this season!
If we can do better then great, but safety before May arrives must be the initial and primary PL target. It will not all go smoothly and there are likely to be some bumps and poor results along the way, but hopefully we will get there in the end. COYI!