West Ham fans are used to seeing a warm, embracing Slaven Bilic.
Therefore it was a strange moment to see the manager blank Michail Antonio as the No.30 walked from the pitch early on the second half against Chelsea on Monday evening.
Bilic is renowned for the way he shows his appreciation to his players – he shakes their hands, gives them a hug and whispers a few words of encouragement or praise in their ear as they pass him and head onto the bench or down the tunnel.
Yet Antonio was afforded no such comfort just moments after his error tackle, which saw the Irons go 1-0 down to Chelsea.
The former Nottingham Forest man said in an interview with FourFourTwo this summer that he sees himself as a winger.
Don’t worry Michail, you’re not the only one that sees it.
In fact the only person that seems unable to recognise Antonio’s uncomfortableness at right-back is the man who matters – Bilic himself.
It’s an ongoing annoyance and a persistent issue with a manager who, otherwise, has proven himself immensely capable at guiding our fair club.
However it’s not so much the tackle that Antonio made that is leaving a bitter taste in the mouth – I actually feel sympathy for him. It’s an unfortunate position he finds himself in.
What makes it worse is that Bilic appears to have crushed what remained of Antonio’s confidence by subbing him just minutes later. It was reminiscent of Fabio Capello’s attitude towards Robert Green at the World Cup in 2010.
To make the matter even more embarrassing for Antonio was Bilic’s attitude towards the 26-year-old. To blank the man as he walks from the pitch, clearly frustrated with himself and his role, was nothing short of amateurish from our manager.
To not even show Antonio respect for his efforts was a slap in the face of a talented footballer, and all the fans that know he shouldn’t be playing there.
Bilic, for all of his positives, has to take responsibility for Antonio’s error.
The Croatian is playing Russian roulette with what has the potential to be a very promising career. Antonio is clearly, naturally an attacker. Let him thrive with freedom on the wing, rather than lingering with concern at the back.
Slaven, you too may have been annoyed with Antonio’s tackle. All of us were. But you are the person who put him in that position. It is your responsibility as manager to own that, rather than throwing Antonio under the bus.
With two weeks left of the transfer window it’s an issue that clearly needs resolving, and hopefully it will be done so in a way that most fans will agree with – the purchase of a new, competent right-back.
It’s down to the manager now to show he will fix the problem and do so in way that confirms he still has faith in Antonio. Keep our No.30 because he’s brilliant going forward.
Allow him to focus on what he does so well, and take the burden of our defence off his shoulders.