September 22, 2019, 20:45

West Ham sack Slaven Bilic: Where did it all go wrong?

West Ham sack Slaven Bilic: Where did it all go wrong?

Slaven Bilic has been sacked by West Ham after just 11 Premier League games of his third season in charge with the Hammers in the relegation zone.

It is a sad end for the former West Ham defender who guided the club to their joint-best league finish this century in his first campaign at the helm.

So where did it all go wrong for Bilic?

Last season

West Ham’s decision to dispense with Bilic is not just a reflection on the club’s poor start to the season. The Croat ran out of much credit – and ideas – last term as any optimism generated by the stadium move soon dissipated. West Ham picked up 17 points fewer than the 2015/16 season and were fortunate to clamber their way to an 11th-place finish.

Much of the problems were explained away by that stadium switch and the loss of the advantage that playing at the Boleyn Ground had brought the team. The London Stadium was a superb deal and the potential for growth remains, but the increase in attendances has not been matched by an improvement in performances. It has felt like a struggle.

For that, Bilic is culpable. Of course, the loss of Dimitri Payet was huge. The Frenchman created more chances than any other West Ham player last season – despite departing in January. That says much about the team’s failure to function in his absence, despite Manuel Lanzini’s best efforts, but also Bilic’s inability to find an alternative solution without his star man.

The windows

The transfer windows should have helped but instead featured a rotating cast of characters. Edimilson Fernandes endures but Sofiane Feghouli, Ashley Fletcher, Alvaro Arbeloa and Havard Nordtveit all arrived in the summer of 2016 as well, only to have since departed. Robert Snodgrass signed for over £10m in January but has since been loaned to Aston Villa.

Jonathan Calleri and Simone Zaza scored only one goal between them, while Gokhan Tore, who played under Bilic at Besiktas, made no impact either. This summer looked more promising with big-name signings Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez coming in. Unfortunately, their arrival has not sparked an upturn in fortunes.

Arnautovic has been perhaps the biggest disappointment. Bilic departs with West Ham’s all-time record signing having picked up more red cards than goals under his watch. Hernandez has at least scored in three matches but two of those were lost, with the coach seemingly unsure of how best to utilise the Mexican – even asking him to play on the wing.

Lack of ideas

West Ham did have an identity under Bilic at one time. They were the counter-punchers with a better away record than Chelsea, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs during his first season. But that edge on the break has been lost and they have added little else. Some prefer a slow build-up, others do not. Is Hernandez the focal point or is it Andy Carroll?

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At the back, few teams are as fragile as West Ham. After losing the most points from winning positions and making the most individual errors leading to goals of any team last season, they have now conceded the most goals this season too. Indeed, they have let in three or more on 17 occasions since the start of last season – much more than any other side.

Is there a clear plan at the other end? Snodgrass’s account of his debut suggests not. “I was coming on against City and he said: ‘Where do you want to play, on the left or right?'” said Snodgrass. “I thought ‘You have just signed me and I have played on the right or behind the striker at Hull City all season’. That was my debut and alarm bells were ringing right away.”

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Those alarm bells are ringing louder than ever now. Bilic leaves with West Ham in the relegation zone and with issues at both ends of the pitch. Confidence is low and there is a lack of clarity over the team’s style, formation and personnel. Something desperately needs to change but it became clear that Bilic was not the man with the right ideas to change it.

The club policy of allowing contracts to run down means that the boss’s future is always likely to come under scrutiny more often than at other clubs. It encourages the question to be asked – is this the right man to get results? Bilic is a popular and decent man, but he had long since lost the faith of fans that he was the best person to deliver them for West Ham.


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