As a teacher about to have to write half term reports and as Slav completes his third full month in charge since his appointment in June, now seems as good a time as any assess the work he has been doing and to give a brief breakdown of his progress so far.
If you think it’s ridiculous to do so so early, imagine doing it for numerous classes of 30 kids who you have only taught three or four times, but I digress.
So what has Slav done well…
His biggest achievement to date must be his uniting of the fan base that was so fractured under Big Sam.
Whilst on the surface this may have seemed like his easiest task-he simply needed to not be Sam for so many of our faithful – but it wasn’t as easy as he made it look.
Yes he’s a former player, but he also left us for Everton, so the grace that his stint in the Claret and Blue would only extend so far. Slav played it perfectly, claiming that we are a ‘cult club’ that you only needed a short time at to get ‘the feels’ for it. We were won over.
But then he had to do more than talk. A bumpy Europa League ‘campaign’ left the expert pundits chorus of “be careful what you wish for” ringing a little too loudly in our ears. But then we went to the Emirates, and Astra were soon forgotten.
And this brings us to Slav’s second success so far. The football. We are playing the fabled West Ham way, ball on the deck with the intent to win games. Not to respect the point and maybe nick all three, but an actual game plan devised to win.
This has also contributed to getting/keeping the fans on side. If the football had been negative or ugly, as it was perceived by some under Sam, the cracks in the fan base would have begun to show. But his obvious directive to ‘pass it out’ from the back and stay true to the ethos he himself played with has been pleasing to see.
He has been helped in this aim by some good signings. Ogbonna, Obiang, Lanzini and Payet have all been brought in and look like West Ham players, with steel in the stomach and composure on the ball.
These attributes were made evident by twice coming from behind to secure points in our last two games when defeats looked imminent. We have long been crying out for a new ‘darling’ of the East End, and in Payet and Lanzini we may have two. We also have Antonio and Song waiting in the wings, who are players who can excite and create. And it is Slav who wanted them as much as we did.
He is also a very thoughtful and quotable manager – his quip about parking the bus with the handbrake off being his best so far – which is an added bonus and is in keeping with the way we view our club – the Cafe Cassettari and all that – as having a deep philosophical and innovative role in modern football.
And whilst we would have expected better results in recent tests (Norwich and Sunderland) Slav himself was also displeased, which highlights his high expectations and can only bode well for the future.
We currently sit in sixth and have a point more than we did during our impressive start to last season. We have taken some big scalps along the way and are also unbeaten away from home in the league.
But what can Slav do better?
Defensive errors and discipline are costing Slav greater progress so far. There will also be cries of ‘we need to be better at home when we can’t play on the counter’ – as has been so successful away from the Boleyn – but all three things are linked.
In all of the games we have failed to win we have gone behind early as a result of defensive mistakes (and from arguably our normally most reliable players – Cresswell, Jenks, Noble and even Payet).
As a result of this we are then playing catch up and largely trying to break down teams who, consequently, get men behind the ball and make it harder for us to stretch the game out and get our creative types into the pockets of space where they like to operate. Without these errors so early on, these games may have panned out differently.
It could also be levelled that Slav’s team is more frail defensively and that he should work on this. However, we have a positive goal difference and without these individual errors it would be even better. The displays against Man City and Liverpool showed we can be as solid as we ever were under Sam. It again comes back to those individual errors.
So Slav needs to find a way to get the boys switched on from the off and eradicate the errors. This, for me, is his target for the next few months. The international break should give him a chance to do this.
But to be fifth and bemoaning that we really could be doing better shows Slav is making good progress indeed. If he can improve on those things, which you would expect him to given more time with the players, we could see him (and us) flourish even further.
Right, now where did I put whatshisnames book!?