The GoatyGav Column

Being a top level Football manager nowadays is a high pressure job. Like any other manager you get flack from all angles. Flack from higher management. Flack from colleagues. Flack from staff and flack from customers. Internally and externally there’s usually stuff hitting the fan from everywhere. When it comes to the Premier League, and other top Football leagues, this is intensified hugely. It really isn’t a job for the faint hearted. The scrutiny is massive with examination of every aspect under the microscope. In all fairness, with contracts at several £M to do the job, that’s fair game and to be expected.

Elsewhere, unlike many other clubs, our opponents this weekend have stuck by their man.

On top of all of the analysis, to the nth degree, there’s then all the speculation to put up with. This is the part where things can get a little nasty in my opinion. Rumours about who said what to who begin and gain momentum. Before you know it the Chinese whisper effect has kicked in and the manager is about to get the sack. Some, so called fans, even begin to hope for the team to lose to speed up a Manager’s demise. Something I never have, and would never, call for. Plain stupidity, and ‘turning on your own’ to do so IMHO.

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It’s not unreasonable to expect that a Football manager will lose his job if he doesn’t do well. Hard as it may seem to believe even a Manager who won the Premier League the previous season, and progresses his team beyond the group stages of the Champion’s League, is not immune to the tin tack if their team is loitering in or around the relegation zone for too long. Success will buy you a certain amount of time, nowadays, but a losing streak will do the opposite. So what constitutes a witch-hunt and, conversely, what is justifiable criticism? Personally I believe that the true barometer is what gets said at games. Dissatisfaction will creep in and you’ll hear it. I totally get fan frustration at matches. Although I’ve never done it myself even booing a team can happen. On two occasions the OS/LS crowd have booed the substitution of Chicha. Both times, however, those subs have proven exactly the right thing to do. Whether Javier is being utilised correctly in match may be another matter and, perhaps, has drawn justifiable criticism. I’m sure that situation will continue to be scrutinised in the coming games which may lead to even more ‘speculation’ and ‘rumours’ of Hernandez wanting away.

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If England don’t win the World Cup as, by the time next Summer’s tournament comes around, they will be expected to do then the same media outlets raising expectation will be calling for Gareth Southgate’s head. Optimism ahead of a major tournament is ok but when it becomes unrealistic then it’s damaging. I’d far rather hear “let’s qualify through the group and take it from there,” than “we’re going to win the World Cup,” when next Summer comes around.

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So I ask a couple of questions. Where’s the balance and realism gone in fan expectation at West Ham and where do you draw the line between fair criticism and a witch-hunt? SJ Chandos’ great piece about John Lyall earlier this week outlined what a mistake it was to let him go – especially in the manner that he was dismissed. At the time of his dismissal he was the longest serving manager in the game. Alex Ferguson had contacted John Lyall on more than one occasion for advice. Under his tenure West Ham won trophies and had their highest ever league position finish to a season. I wonder what West Ham would have achieved were it not for sacking one of their greatest managers and, like SJ Suggests, how John Lyall might have brought on the next West Ham manager to follow him. We can only speculate but I’ll strongly suggest that we wouldn’t have been following ‘Division 1’ football in the Premier League’s inaugural season. One poster outlined the ‘Lyall Out’ chants that could be heard by the fans in that final year – despite the overwhelming support he got, with his name being sung to the rafters, in his final home game against Luton and the 5 wins in the final 7 games.

Last season Slaven publically called out the Arsene Wenger witch-hunt for what it was. Elsewhere, unlike many other clubs, our opponents this weekend have stuck by their man. Sean Dyche remained in charge at Burnley despite being relegated and, low and behold, bounced straight back the following season. Newcastle have hardly been the model of managerial stability for the last few years however they did the same with Rafa Benitez and were similarly rewarded with an immediate return to the top flight. The same club made mistakes beforehand by getting rid of good managers before they’d really got a chance to influence a season properly. Despite not being his biggest fan I saw Mike Ashley’s dismissal of Sam Allardyce as a prime example of ‘hitting the panic button’ early.

I wonder how the next couple of months are going to play out for Slaven Bilic. I suspect that we’ll pick up sufficient points to keep most happy. The run of games that we have were described as ‘winnable’ however, if the team don’t do well in this period, pressure could become significant enough for the board to act. Inwardly I’m sure Slaven has been affected by the media pressure but like John Lyall all those years ago he is dignified, professional and calm under pressure. You can only admire the way that Super Slav deals with the intensely difficult situation that he has found himself in. The results so far this season, as in ’88-’89, have been poor. Let’s hope this season doesn’t finish the same way that one did. The injury list in that relegation campaign bordered on the ridiculous but, unlike back then, you can’t go out and buy replacement players at any point (despite Frankie Mac struggling before getting injured himself after his return from Celtic). Conversely the squads, nowadays, are much larger to help cope with the loss of players to the physio room.

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Lastly, completely off topic, I saw a brief interview with Reece Oxford on SSN last night. From what he said he’s fighting hard to get in to the team at Menchengladbach. Best of luck to him – great lad who I hope has a successful time in Germany.

COYI – West Ham 4 The Cup!

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