West Ham’s 1-1 draw with Stoke leaves the Hammers in a precarious position just above the drop zone and, with the club’s hardest period of the season just around the corner, it is time for David Gold and Sullivan to make the big decision.
Although the Irons picked up league wins against Crystal Palace and Sunderland, this campaign isn’t going anywhere close to the way the owners would have liked with the first year at the London Stadium set to be marred by a relegation battle instead of another push for European football.
Slaven Bilic was deemed a hero for his efforts in his first season as West Ham manager but one year doesn’t make a great coach, and questions should be asked about the Croatian’s future at the club.
In fact, they already have been, with newspaper reports indicating Bilic could be set for the chop and just last month new Marseille boss Rudi Garcia revealed he had been contacted by the Irons about potentially heading to the London Stadium – a move he rejected.
So we know the Davids and Karren Brady are not against giving Bilic the chop and getting a replacement in, and indeed this article isn’t about if it’s right to sack him. Whether Bilic is going to be sacked or not, though, that decision has to come now.
More to the point, that decision has to have been made and, if he is to be removed, a new manager must be in place in time for Tottenham away in two weeks time.
Yes, we are only 11 games into the season but it could potentially be the most important moment of the year whichever way the club decides to go.
West Ham’s next five fixtures are as follows – Tottenham away, Manchester United away twice in the league and the EFL Cup, Arsenal at home and then Liverpool away. Five incredibly difficult matches against four teams expected to be in the top six this season.
Given our side’s current form and general playing levels, even the most optimistic fan cannot see West Ham getting more than the odd point from those five matches, and everyone involved with the club should brace for the unnerving news that the Hammers will likely be firmly in the relegation zone come mid-December, when Burnley visit the London Stadium.
It would be unfair and wrong to sack Bilic at any time during those five fixtures when realistically results were never going to be great from them. We knew that at the start of the season when the fixture list was revealed and it’s only more true now.
But waiting until the end of that run will take us to the middle of December, which would be a dire time to seek a replacement. The fixtures pile up, the festive period is upon us and any new manager would only have ten days, or two weeks at most, to assess the squad before the January transfer window opens.
Wait any longer than that, though, and it could be too late to save West Ham’s season.
It leaves just one logical choice for West Ham – the decision if Bilic is the man that West Ham want for the remainder of the campaign has to come now.
It might seem a premature decision but so did Southampton’s when they got rid of Nigel Atkins and assigned Mauricio Pochettino, and look how well the Argentine coach did before moving to Spurs.
I’m not advocating the sacking of Bilic and actually hope the club do stick by him for the rest of the year and then make a decision next summer, depending on how the season pans out. However, the argument works no matter what happens in the next five fixtures.
If a new manager is appointed the next four league games can allow him to work with his new team, decide on his players and implement his philosophy. If wins aren’t expected then the time might as well be used productively by the new man ahead of winnable fixtures against Burnley, Hull and Swansea, rather than Bilic being allowed to do the same things.
If the club doesn’t get results in those coming matches it doesn’t matter so much for the new manager. But if they do then it’s an added bonus, a moral boost is given to the squad and our new man in the dugout endears himself to the West Ham faithful.
For Bilic, the pressure is on to get results in those tough games but, as said above, to sack him after that run would be harsh at best.
If the decision is made to keep all the eggs in the Bilic basket, though, then that decision has to stand for the rest of the season. Therefore Gold, Sullivan and Brady have a very difficult decision to make.
Whichever way they go, they have to make that decision now.