West Ham co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold are ripping up their own managerial appointment rulebook in an attempt to attract the most glamorous name possible ahead of 2016’s move to the Olympic Stadium.
Every tactician that they have ever hired across over two decades in football at first Birmingham then West Ham was British with the exception of Avram Grant, who had already spent two seasons in the Premier League.
Now, Sky Sports are claiming that their four-man shortlist for Sam Allardyce’s successor is not only Brit-free, but features nobody who has coached in England before: Slaven Bilic, Marcelo Bielsa, Unai Emery and Frank de Boer.
Their emergence as the top four in the betting indicates that it is an accurate report, so let’s run through the candidates…
Slaven Bilic [2.48]
Bilic has one advantage over his three rivals: he has worked in the Premier League before and, even better, he did so as a defender at West Ham. Efforts to paint him as an Irons icon are a stretch given that he was there for a year and a half then left for Everton, yet he has been long-term frontrunner, trading as low as 1.5.
If he was up against the likes of Steve McClaren and Michael Laudrup, that club experience might be enough to make him the fan favourite. In this field though, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that he is the least enticing option.
Whereas the case for the others is constructed using league titles or continental trophies, Bilic’s hits are moments: victories over England in Euro 2008 qualifying, a win over Germany in the tournament and the elimination of Liverpool from this term’s Europa League. The 46-year-old has no record of sustained success, and didn’t last long in either club job to date at Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas.
Marcelo Bielsa [7.2]
Several question marks surround Bielsa, namely his grasp on the English language and the fact that his previous two employers – Athletic Bilbao and Marseille – burned out after Christmas, something that risks being even more problematic at West Ham due to their July 2 Europa League start date.
However – and admittedly this argument is built more on sentiment than statistics – if a bottom-half team has a shot at hiring one of the most revered and innovative coaches of all time, the guy Pep Guardiola rates as the best in the business, no reservations should be capable of dissuading them.
This is the testing point as to just how important the much-maligned “West Ham way” mentality is to fans. There may be other bosses more qualified to push the Londoners up the table and compete in the cups, but if attacking and exciting football truly is the priority, it doesn’t get better than Bielsa.
Unai Emery [7.6]
Even more than Bielsa, this is the trickiest link the compute: why would a coach who has retained the Europa League, has Champions League football to look forward to at Sevilla and has a legitimate claim to being the best pound-for-pound operator in La Liga this decade go to West Ham?
One assumes that the answer is financial – Allardyce was revealed last year to be the 13th highest-paid manager on the planet and West Ham are upping the pay scale now – and if his interest is real then he is definitely the form contender, six days removed from his latest European triumph.
There are two concerns about Emery, one more valid than the other. The first is what if he turns out to be another Juande Ramos: supreme in a specific structure at Sevilla, but nowhere near as effective elsewhere? The counter to that is that he was excellent at Valencia before that, finishing third three years in a row, while he inherited the Rojiblancos in a far bleaker position than Ramos.
A more reasonable criticism is that he struggled the last time that he moved abroad, being sacked after six months at Spartak Moscow in 2012.
Frank de Boer [13.5]
It is easy to understand the appeal of the Ajax boss. He has coached for four-and-a-half years and has already won four titles, plus his past snubs of Liverpool and Tottenham would enable West Ham to spin how much he buys into the Olympic Stadium “project” if he ends up in east London.
There is always distrust about how reliable Eredivisie success is as a barometer, and detractors will observe that, despite laudable isolated wins over Manchester City, Manchester United and Barcelona, De Boer hasn’t taken Ajax very far in Europe.
However, seven Dutchman have tried their hand at Premier League leadership before and the sole outright failure was Rene Meulensteen, who had spent most of the 12 years prior to his 2013 arrival at struggling Fulham as a number two.
The biggest issue with turning to De Boer now is that he would be entering on a loss having been denied the Eredivisie title for the first time. In his defence, he achieved the same number of points that delivered top spot in 2013/14, so it is arguable that he was almost powerless to resist an exceptional PSV campaign.