Much as some neutrals revelled in Charlton’s demise post-Alan Curbishley and Newcastle and Crystal Palace’s role reversal after Alan Pardew switched sides, many want to see West Ham fail to punish the perceived arrogance of believing that they could upgrade on a manager who had elevated them.
Their appointment of Slaven Bilic as Sam Allardyce’s successor is a tad underwhelming too following ambitious links to the likes of Rafael Benitez, Unai Emery and Marcelo Bielsa, strengthening the suspicion that the Irons could replicate the post-Big Sam falls of Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn.
However, while this West Ham-supporting writer wasn’t sold on Bilic as the best candidate available – and more contentiously didn’t want rid of Allardyce in the first place – there are several reasons to conclude that it will be a successful union…
The “one of our own” factor
Any effort to paint Bilic as a West Ham legend is clearly insanity: he stayed a year and a half before making what was then a sideways move at best to Everton. However, he left a positive impression, which is why colleagues of that time like Harry Redknapp and Rio Ferdinand have praised his arrival.
The Londoners also have a good record when hiring people with history at the club. While outsiders like Glenn Roeder, Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant struggled and lasted two years or less, the three former players to lead them in the Premier League era – Billy Bonds, Redknapp and Alan Curbishley – were all moderate hits at the very least.
Bonds inherited a second-tier side and left behind a top-flight one, Redknapp delivered four top-half finishes (including a fifth in 1998/99) before losing his way near the end and Curbishley oversaw a remarkable relegation escape and restored them to the top half.
Bilic is also going to unite a crowd who were either muted or antagonistic in recent months due to the ill-feeling towards Allardyce, with even many of those who preferred Bielsa likely to back the new guy with added vigour in the hope of seeing their distrust of his predecessor vindicated.
The Europa League knowhow
West Ham are former UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup winners, yet they have played just two European games this century and the current squad is similarly light on experience of continental competition.
A boss who has not only coached at that level for club (Besiktas in the 2014/15 Europa League) and country (Croatia at Euro 2008) but reached the knockout rounds with both is therefore a huge asset.
It isn’t Bilic’s Europa League insight alone that will be invaluable though – he has also proven capable of marrying European progress to domestic competitiveness, overseeing Besiktas’ best Turkish Super Lig campaign this decade while venturing into the round-of-16 this season.
The eye-catching results against the big six
Bilic has never managed in England before, but he has tested his tactical ideas against Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers and came out looking pretty clever.
His Besiktas team fought Arsenal in the 2014/15 Champions League play-off round, losing 1-0 on aggregate after some controversially ignored penalty appeals. They then met Tottenham in the Europa League group stage, drawing 1-1 at White Hart Lane then winning 1-0 in Istanbul, and recovered a 1-0 first-leg deficit to conquer Liverpool on penalties in the round-of-32.
The 46-year-old’s most famous dugout moment also occurred in England, when he completed a Euro 2008 qualifying double over the Three Lions – then led by soon-to-be Newcastle chief Steve McClaren – to deny them a place in the tournament.
He has also never been relegated, which is the priority ahead of the move to the Olympic Stadium, though managing three top-third regulars in Hajduk Split (Croatia), Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia) and Besiktas (Turkey) probably helped!
Do you think Bilic will impress at West Ham? They are currently [2.12] for a top-half finish.