Since his arrival in London last summer, my estimation of Slaven Bilic has grown even further from my initial ‘base-line’ perspective.
He is a very likeable fellow, always pleased to talk to his players and maintain good relations with the press. Until now, he has hardly put a foot wrong.
So in a short time at Upton Park, he has been able to re-create his well known ‘cult-hero’ status, which I’m sure he would like to maintain. However, in recent times, there are a number of growing concerns from a number of quarters, which ask whether we have created an un-real ‘sense of optimism’ resulting in an ‘over-estimation’ of our manager’s abilities’.
In this article, I present some interesting comments relating to some recent developments, which I believe warrant mention, while suggesting (at the same time) reasons why we should continue to support his long-term ambitions of creating our club into a top European side.
My present concern, relates mainly, to two post-match comments, in which I noted that Slaven suggested that “the players were largely to blame for the Spurs loss”, and “the things which were practised at training worked out really well, so I don’t understand”.
I must admit, I’m left in a somewhat indifferent mood when I see any manager behaving in this rather ‘reflex’ manner. Suffice to say, that on the day, Spurs were the better team, leaving sufficient ‘reflection time’ in the days following the game, where Slav was afforded the benefits of time and comfort to allow him to compose his feelings in a less ‘black & white’ way.
So, let us examine the comments that were made so you will be in a position to pass judgement on any of these comments expressed.
First, how should we react in response to our manager appropriating blame on the team for problems that may have in fact been largely of his own doing? Surely he is mature enough to expect a massive condemnation from the press; was this the most appropriate time and forum for Slav to make comments, which may have been better expressed behind closed doors.
Anyway, let us look at the veracity of his statements in order to assess whether he was justified in making them.
By starting out with Carroll and Noble (against a team as good as the present Spurs side, Kane included), he effectively reduced us to a nine-man team. How many times do we need to tell the world that Andy Carroll is not our best striker (far from it), and Noble has found the important role supporting Kouyate in the central midfield very hard work, especially in the Spurs game.
Furthermore, why was Sakho, our best striker, playing on the right wing? Sakho should have started out at his normal centre forward role, and Zarate (our 2nd best striker in the present squad), should have started the game as our right-sided attacking midfielder.
This would have increased the potency of our scoring potential, especially the probability of the ‘all-important’ early first goal. Noble was almost useless, and left poor old Kouyate as the sole person in front of the back four to face the might of the Spurs midfield. Song and Kouyate should have been the starting two in Slav’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. On this issue, Slaven’s mistake – end of discussion!
Secondly, Slav’s post-match statement relating to ‘what had apparently worked out so well’ at Chadwell Heath training sessions leading up to the game. I don’t exactly know the specific methods, materials, and order of intended exercises involved in each training session but I am sure they would include the mandatory strategic and tactical manoeuvres expected from a UEFA-qualified manager, like Slav.
Such regular training sessions completed with typical ‘game emulation’ methods using groups of a ‘7 on 7, and/or a short ‘11-11’ session. However, such methods, would ultimately involve West Ham players playing against themselves. Did Slav take into account the likely Spurs line-ups and anticipate the dangers involved in the real game?
This could have been done, by ‘stacking’ these ‘7-7’ practice sessions in a manner which might have better simulate how the actual game may have evolved. Since I’m not privy to what goes on at training, I shall make no further comment, except that one may have expected a manager of Slav’s quality to have made such provisions.
So clearly, on the basis of these comments, should Slaven had ‘stood up’, and said, sorry folks, ‘I played this ‘number in the wrong key’? Was he ultimately the principle factor in our performance and overall outcome?
So have we finally realised that our manager may not always get it right? Let us hope, however, that he has the flexibility, insight, and creativity to adjust to each game if nothing else.
His first duties are to set up the best formation and pick the best players to fit together with an astute choice of impact subs. History suggests that he is capable of reaching these important managerial landmarks, especially during the critical period when two of our best players are side-lined.
In the event that Andy Carroll continues to be chosen as striker in the starting line-up, then we may have need for further assessment.
If Slav gets it right, we should win in a tough home encounter against West Brom on Sunday.