Slaven Bilic’s first interview as West Ham’s boss told us all we need to know about how different he is going to be to Sam Allardyce.
We’re already well aware that they’re polar opposites, as far away from each other on the footballing spectrum as humanly possible.
But while Allardyce ridiculed the ‘West Ham Way’ in his first press conference back in 2011, Bilic showed his respect for the club, its ambition and, more importantly, the fans.
Bilic spoke passionately about how he “feels at home” at the club and clearly outlined his hopes and plans for the future.
That’s arguably the first hurdle cleared for the Croat. After a relatively arduous final five months (and painfully successful four years), all the fans wanted to hear was positivity and respect.
There was little to no relationship between the fans and Allardyce but you can already sense a bond developing between Bilic and the Boleyn Ground faithful.
The media, TV pundits and even rival fans have consistently questioned ‘West Ham Way’ and, while the fans continuously struggle to find a true definition, co-chairman David Sullivan has openly used the term to justify Bilic’s appointment.
DS: “It is very good for the Club and the supporters. We have taken a man who understands the West Ham Way." #SlavenIsAHammer
— West Ham United FC (@whufc_official) June 10, 2015
In a nutshell the West Ham Way is not about winning trophies, it’s not about winning football matches (though that’s always nice), and it certainly isn’t about unrivalled success at the very top of the game.
It’s about positivity, attacking football, unity and respect. It’s those values that moulded West Ham’s identity in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and it’s those values many fans feel the four years with Allardyce completely lacked.
Bilic has been chosen to fix that and rebuild the club’s proud identity. While it’s accepted that Allardyce had a remit and successfully delivered what was asked of him, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have done it whilst maintaining the club’s identity in the process.
But that’s the kind of manager Sam Allardyce is and, like it or not, he was the right man for the job at the time but was no longer the right man to continue in this current transitional era.
So how does Slaven Bilic fix it? While we accept winning trophies and football matches isn’t always the be all and end all of West Ham (the fans just want to be entertained), that’s what he’s going to be judged on by the board.
Since his appointment yesterday there have many articles that tell us who Bilic is both on the sideline and in his spare time. We know he’s passionate about music and has fantastic man management skills. But a good tactician? That’s already being questioned.
Under Allardyce, excluding the first six months of last season, we became known as a physical outfit that relied on the big man up top. It was relatively successful in its own right – after all, we were winning football matches and staying in the Premier League.
Bilic brings a completely opposite style that will hopefully restore some of the club’s key ‘West Ham Way’ values.
Firstly, he sets his teams up to keep possession. He possesses an attacking philosophy that we’ve been craving for so long. Last season, Besiktas’ style mirrored the kind of style we want to see West Ham using…
As you can see the strengths and style are of a positive nature. They scream ‘exciting football’ and Besiktas fans will tell you they enjoyed watching their team under Bilic.
The weaknesses are synonymous with a team hellbent on attacking football. Defending counter attacks is likely to be a weak point in any side that plays a highline and tries to control possession in the opposition’s half.
If you compare that to West Ham last season, you’ll see a hint in what not to expect from a team managed by Bilic…
Additionally, Besiktas enjoyed an average possession of 55% per game last season, with a pass success rate of 81%, while West Ham’s average possession was just 46% with a pass success rate of 75%.
Signing another striker would further strengthen our ability to “finish scoring chances” which was a strong characteristic of Besiktas’ last season, but a weakness of ours.
The abolishment of the long ball is another thing we can look forward to under Bilic, who much prefers his teams to play short passes in order to retain possession – this certainly makes you wonder where Andy Carroll’s future lies.
In comparison, Bilic’s Besiktas played an average of 370 short passes per game, compared to West Ham’s 293.
Moving on, Besiktas prefers to line his teams up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He used it 24 times in the league last season and lost only four…
The lone striker still appears here, but the use of three attacking midfielders makes this less about playing one up front and more about playing four instead.
Allardyce had a similar luxury last season when the likes of Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia and Stewart Downing all combined going forward to create a three-pronged attack that frightened defenders during the first half of the campaign.
It’s width that Bilic also favours when going forward, and last season Besiktas equally used both flanks to create chances in the box, rather than having a clear preference.
Defensively, Besiktas conceded less than a goal a game last season and were much more compact than what can be said of our defence, particularly during the final few months of the campaign.
One thing that severely damaged us last season was hanging on to winning positions. Last season we dropped 20 points after taking the lead, which might’ve seen us finish in the top four. Besiktas only dropped nine points, which would’ve seen them crowned league champions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that’s a clear indication of the strength in mentality of Bilic’s side last season.
Appointing Bilic at such a crucial stage in the club’s history was always going to be a gamble, particularly with the added pressure of Europa League football this season – starting on July 2.
Bilic’s business in the transfer market will be key but you sense that won’t be a huge issue with the kind of money the board are reportedly prepared to hand him in order to strengthen the squad with players he wants and knows will suit his style of play.
You could say no manager has ever been under as much pressure so soon in the club’s history. Fail this season and he won’t just severely damage the club’s future ambitions, he’ll also severely tarnish his reputation, of which he cares about greatly.
But with all the pressure aside, Bilic has already won half the battle. Immediately getting the fans onside and excited about what the future holds has given the club a huge lift. There’s was very little ‘buzz’ from fans at the Boleyn Ground under Allardyce, with a negative, pessimistic atmosphere clearly rubbing off on the players.
The ‘West Ham Way’ demands positivity, attacking football, unity and respect. Bilic has ticked off three of those already.
The attacking/exciting football will undoubtedly follow and I, for one, can’t wait.