As Slaven Bilic leaves West Ham United, it’s fair to say that the Hammers are in a dire state. In the bottom three with the second-worst goal difference in the league, life seems like a far cry away from what was promised upon moving into the London Stadium.
Not only do the teething problems suffered over the last year seem to have stalled the good form the last season at Upton Park brought, but they also appear to have eaten the manager, too. Unable to pick up a run of results to kickstart a season and generate any momentum, Slaven Bilic first saw results drop, before team morale went with it.
Darren Randolph wasn’t the only player to speak out after leaving the club. Robert Snodgrass and Ashley Fletcher have spoken about the differences they’ve had with the manager, and so many of the performances this season in particular seem to have exposed Bilic’s lack of tactical nous. But the former Hammers goalkeeper’s comments are perhaps the most instructive.
“It was clear he was going to sign and that there was a race to see who could try and get out of the door first.” – Darren Randolph
When Joe Hart, who was clearly deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester City and had returned from Torino to look for a number one spot in England ahead of the World Cup this summer, signed for the club, he was part of an exciting contingent of summer additions. A quality over quantity approach was a change in tack from the previous transfer windows as the ownership of the club seemed to learn lessons. But one big lesson still looks outstanding: it’s not so much the signings as the manner in which you do it.
Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic were all, for various reasons, risky signings. Hart because of his form, Zabaleta his age, Hernandez his ability to be effective when starting games, and Arnautovic his temperament. But most importantly, the existing players at the club were hardly thought about too much either. Although Randolph and Adrian had shared the number one spot between them the season before, Hart’s arrival seemed to take both of them aback.
Racing to leave the club may sound extreme, but it’s instructive as to the morale of the team. Without considering the group, the Hammers’ board brought in players and entrusted them to a manager whose ability to turn things around seems to rely on the morale of the players and their willingness to fight for him. When you’re upsetting the apple cart by bringing in risky signings who are clearly meant to come into the team as undisputed first choice, though, you’re unlikely to keep everyone happy. And Bilic couldn’t find a tactical solution on the pitch.
None of that means this is entirely Bilic’s fault. In the end, he’s been sacked because of his own limitations as a manager, but also because of the mistakes from those making the decisions higher up. The end of the summer transfer window seemed to be defined by the club’s inability to get a deal for William Carvalho over the line, leaving the manager short of a defensive midfielder whose pedigree matched that of the four other summer signings. It’s far from the only reason that the Irons are now in a relegation battle, but it’s part of the problem.
And that’s the biggest problem for a new man coming in: he has an unbalanced squad and, it seems, an unhappy one, even if those who were the most vocal are now elsewhere. He’ll come into a club where things haven’t seemed good for a while, and where, after a heartbreaking late equaliser from Crystal Palace in a recent 2-2 draw, Joe Hart described his teammates’ performance as ‘unprofessional’.
West Ham is a club in a sorry state, but not all of the problems can be solved by sacking Slaven Bilic. The new manager who arrives over the international break will have to make sure that an unhappy squad can pull together very quickly indeed.