Why the grass is looking greener for West Ham United
The final game of the season, Sam Allardyce is fired half way through the game via Twitter. Albeit ruthless, this came as no surprise. The fans had never taken to Big Sam and the owners never agreed with him. He was often criticised for his “unattractive” style of football, although this style of football had sometimes been a lot more than long ball football.
With the impending move to the Olympic stadium the owners were looking to a manager who could fill the stadium and push West Ham into Europe. Slavan Bilic was the man appointed and needless to say, and so far he has done a superb job.
The former Everton and West Ham player, had recently left Besiktas where although he never won the league, he had maintained a steady club. He had created a hungry team but always missed out on the league. However, last year they competed well in the Europa League, proving troublesome for Spurs and knocking Liverpool out.
Last season West Ham once again started well. They managed to stay in the top seven for a sustained period of time. Allardyce brought in Valencia, Sakho, Kouyate, Cresswell, Jenkinson and Alex Song in the summer and all of them were key players pushing West Ham through the initial stages of the league.
Cresswell and Song were instrumental in in keeping a strong defence but also creating a more ball playing team. Sakho and Valencia also provided a stronger goal threat that West Ham have been missing for a very long time.
West Ham played a better brand of football and were even in the top seven at the turn of the year. However, the fans never took to Allardyce and the board were always waiting to pull the trigger on him. West Ham let points slip and lost the last three games of the season to Villa, Everton and Newcastle to end up finishing 12th.
So after a disappointing finish to the season, Bilic was brought in followed by a raft of new signings. With the new TV money and the prospect of moving into the Olympic stadium, West Ham spent big, and seemingly have spent well.
Jenkinson was brought back on loan, followed by Song, Lanzini, Moses, Jelavic, Obiang, Ogbonna, Antonio and most importantly Payet. They also kept Winston Reid and have recently extended Adrian’s contract, both of whom have been integral to West Ham this year, notably against City away.
Lanzini seems a bright spark in the midfield and Obiang provides adequate protection at the back. Moses seems to be revived and Jelavic is a valuable back up off the bench. However, Payet has been the star man so far and has been one of the best players in the whole league so far.
The Ex-Marseille man has recorded four goals and four assists, but also seems to ready to work off the ball, as Bilic said himself, “it’s not common for these players (Payet & Lanzini) to fight, they tend to be more flashy”. Compared to Carlos Tevez by Gary Neville, his work rate is vital in Bilic’s team. Bilic is ready to change his style depending on the game and has managd to remain unbeaten away from home, which included wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and City.
Bilic wants to play aggressive, flowing and compact football. West Ham have proven this and although they have dropped points they shouldn’t have against Norwich and Bournemouth, the team seems to be revelling in the inconsistency of the premier league. The manager himself exudes charisma and seems to have relayed this to the pitch.
Most importantly, he has already won a majority of the fans over, something Big Sam could never do. While Bilic was chanting with the Besiktas fans as he left, there was probably a line of West Ham fans waiting to kick Allardyce out the door.
Such has been his impact that James Collins has praised his influence on the players but also his tactics. The players, the fans and the results seem to be going Bilic’s way. He has good quality players, a good strong system, leaders and the backing of the owners. He seems to combine the soft touch with a frantic personality, as he says “the only authority you need is the authority of knowledge”.
West Ham need to hope that this knowledge continues and pushes them as high as possible. Firstly, they needed to be sure they wouldn’t be moving into the new stadium playing in the championship. It looks like that scenario can be discarded.
When West Ham fired Allardyce, the common phrase was that the grass isn’t always greener. However, West Ham might find that it might actually be. Time will tell whether West Ham will host Europe games in their new home next season.
For me however, they have enough to compete with Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton for a European spot. What they need to do is keep winning, as Bilic puts it “walking into a pub full of girls”- things are going to be interesting at West Ham.
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