As Ronald Koeman leaves Everton, the inevitable focus is now on who should replace him at Goodison Park. But for the former Southampton boss who, at one point, seemed to have designs on becoming the Barcelona manager, it’s a sad end to a job that always seemed make or break for that particular goal.
It seemed oddly grand and probably over the top, but the setup genuinely would have helped Koeman. Had he taken the Toffees into the Champions League – something that didn’t seem overly delusional given a £140m outlay in the summer and the possibility for a few years of improvement – he really could have been a candidate. Instead, he’s out of a job, and it remains to be seen where he’ll go.
The problem Koeman has now is where he goes from here. His move from Southampton was clearly an attempt to step up the ladder and get into the Champions League with an English club. At the moment, other than Everton, there is probably only one other club that look even remotely set up to break into that top six cabal in the next few seasons, at least depending on the takeover progress at Newcastle. And that’s West Ham, who – as luck would have it – currently look on the verge of getting rid of their own manager.
There are huge caveats, of course. For one thing, the Hammers board has previous when it comes to getting rid of their managers: simply put, they don’t. Sam Allardyce’s contract was seen out rather than terminated, and you get the feeling that it was down to a distaste for paying him off. If you’re a Hammers fan who wants Slaven Bilic to be shown the door, it would be unwise to hold your breath unless you can do so until May.
Unless the possibility of getting Koeman is deemed worth the pay-off for Bilic. Indeed, as a free-agent, the Hammers board wouldn’t have to pay Everton for the services of the Dutchman.
It’s debatable if West Ham fans would welcome that appointment. But then, it’s also debatable whether they’d welcome the sacking of Bilic, too.
— WestHamWorld.co.uk (@WestHamWorld) October 23, 2017
When I ask James Jones, Editor-In-Chief of Football FanCast, and indeed Hammers website West Ham World, whether Koeman’s failures at Everton this season mean his beloved Irons should be wary of appointing the Dutch coach, he tells me, “One poor start to a season doesn’t make you a bad manager,” something which could well be applied to Bilic himself.
Indeed, Jones’s answer echoes exactly his own feelings around this time last season, when things were once again going badly for Slaven Bilic. Back then, though, the Croatian manager was in the midst of a huge comedown from a season where Champions League qualification was still a possibility well into the spring. By the autumn, with a new stadium move causing problems and a certain player causing restlessness in the squad, a bad start to the season surely hadn’t made Bilic a bad manager.
The problem is, things have changed a year on. By now, it’s been two bad starts, and there have been some bad performances in between, too. And with the prospect of a manager who, also only a year ago, was considered one of the brightest managers in the country now potentially available, should West Ham jump on the managerial merry-go-round themselves?
“He has proven he can manage at this level with Southampton and last season with Everton,” says Jones. “He’d definitely be an upgrade on Bilic given the current circumstances.”
The current circumstances are murky, though. That Koeman is an upgrade on Bilic is unclear given that West Ham, despite their terrible start, still find themselves above Everton in the league table. The Hammers may have conceded goals, but the Toffees have conceded more.
Yet the table rarely tells the whole story in October.
Slaven Bilic looks increasingly like an analogue watch in a digital world. The main weapon in his coaching armoury seems to be the motivation of players and the ability to get a team up for a match. A glance around the Premier League shows a much more considered lot in the dugout of almost every other team. Bilic’s tactical nous seems surpassed and even outdated, and his side’s performances so far this season attest to that: he doesn’t seem to have the ability to outthink his opposite number when the match becomes a game of chess.
Koeman, on the other hand, is probably something closer to the opposite. He’s certainly not as warm, he’s more calculating and personally ambitious – perhaps not so much for his players. That could be a fault, a warning even for West Ham, but it might also provide exactly the right kind of character for a very particular job: getting the most out of a Hammers’ squad which currently looks more balanced than that of Everton.
When Carlo Ancelotti took over from Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, the current Manchester United manager had left such under such a toxic cloud that the more relaxed Italian coach was a breath of fresh air. Since then, that squad has gone on to win three of the last four Champions League titles, mostly on the back of managers who were just a better fit than Mourinho.
No one should think that West Ham are going to win three of the next four Champions League titles, but perhaps a similar transition could take place at the London Stadium. Replacing a failing manager whose key quality is motivational with one whose primary attributes are tactical could be exactly what the floundering squad in east London need.
If Bilic’s methods aren’t working, that doesn’t mean they need to be replaced by the polar opposite qualities. But sometimes putting two and two together is a good thing. And if you do, you might conclude that West Ham need a thinker like Koeman.