From the minute that Sam Allardyce’s departure from West Ham was confirmed 15 days ago, Slaven Bilic has been the frontrunner to replace him. The Croatian has been the most backed contender, with 63.4% of the money in the market staked on him, and is odds-on at [1.41].
The question this raises is: if he has been the obvious choice the whole time, why is the appointment taking so long? A popular conclusion is that the Irons are trying to attract someone more established, with Bilic the fallback option if – as appears increasingly likely – that doesn’t materialise.
First on the wish list was Rafael Benitez, only for that awkward moment to occur where the team that finished 12th in the Premier League suddenly found themselves in competition with ten-time European champions Real Madrid. Unsurprisingly, that meant no return to England for Rafa.
Next up was Unai Emery, who was also the subject of interest from Napoli and AC Milan after guiding Sevilla to the Europa League trophy for the second successive season.
The 43-year-old is believed to have spoken to the east Londoners as well as his Italian suitors, but ultimately decided to extend his contract and lead the Rojiblancos into the Champions League.
One other glamorous name remains in the running in [7.4] second favourite Marcelo Bielsa, though the legendary Argentine tactician’s candidacy is cloaked in mystery.
There were reports last week that, like Emery, Bielsa had agreed to sign on until 2017 with current employers Marseille. However, no official announcement was forthcoming, and instead the Mirror have since alleged that Bielsa won’t put pen to paper as long as he has a shot at the West Ham job.
The disparity between the Bilic and Bielsa odds reflect that those claims haven’t been verified by other sources. If he was keen, he would be a tough man to turn down given his celebrated style of play, big-club experience and trophy-winning savvy, not to mention his status as the fan favourite.
Yet while David Sullivan and allies seemed to prefer Benitez and Emery to Bilic, there is a sense that they would take the former Croatia boss over Bielsa on account of his Premier League previous as a player and superior grasp of the English language, despite a mediocre record in club management.
Admittedly, hiring someone not schooled in the English language three weeks before the start of the season – West Ham’s first Europa League qualifier is on July 2 – isn’t ideal. Bielsa was an instant hit in France though, winning eight of his first ten games, so it shouldn’t be enough to rule him out on.
Whatever the Irons’ decision is, it won’t be long until it is public knowledge, with Sullivan’s 15-year-old son Jack stating on Twitter that they plan to reveal Allardyce’s successor within 48 hours, a timeframe since echoed by their official site. Bilic’s odds shortened when that news broke.