Despite the gloom hanging over West Ham over the last couple of seasons, there are exciting times in East London. A new manager always brings fresh optimism and new ideas are exactly what the Hammers faithful are looking for. Couple that with European football this season and a move to an iconic new stadium on the horizon and things surely seem exciting.
A season in Europe is a beautiful send off to the old stadium.
But in an era of general malaise about the Europa League, West Ham will have to be careful that their juggling of League and European form is spot on and that the club doesn’t go the way of so many before them, their league challenge fading amidst trips to exotic destinations in Eastern Europe.
This isn’t a cautionary piece of advice to West Ham. Their fans should be thrilled to be in Europe and although they’ve come through the fair play league, West Ham should really make the most of their adventure. It’s just that the optimism of a new manager, potential new signings, the thought of a new stadium and just a general feel-good factor could be dashed so cruelly by European hangovers.
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But West Ham’s optimism at the appointment of Slaven Bilic might just be the reason that the Hammers can do well in Europe this season, rather than simply a reason not to get their hopes up.
In some ways Bilic is a bit of a gamble. His major success has been in international management, not club management. Seeing players day to day and playing possibly twice a week is a different beast.
But new manager optimism is not to be taken lightly. Fresh ideas and a fresh face around the club will galvanise everyone, and Bilic is more than just a fresh face. He’s a manager known for his precise approach to opponent scouting, preparing his team for exactly what they’re about to face. He’s tactically aware and he’s passionate.
All of these are good things in any case, but for English teams in Europe I think it’s vital. Premier League clubs are sometimes guilty of taking their opponents lightly or getting their tactics wrong. A manager who is tactically astute is essential in Europe, and having a manager with passion and heart is essential in the Premier League.
Bilic has both, and he’ll be a good fit for a club that needs both.
The Europa League is important for the teams involved. The received wisdom is that teams get tired and fatigue from European games affects league form, which is true. But hard-fought draws and gallant defeats take their toll more than the games you win comfortably. Going into the Europa League and winning games is surely a momentum builder. Surely West Ham could compete in the Europa League and be energised for their Premier League games only a few days later. Wins breed more wins, and that feel-good factor can continue.
The long trips might take their toll at some point, but in Slaven Bilic, West Ham have a manager who knows the ins and outs of what we might call the darker reaches of Europe.
Years of managing Croatia have given him a huge knowledge base not just of Croatian football, but of the countries in which Croatian players ply their trade, and lots of them play in other Eastern European leagues.
Bilic himself has managed in Russia and Turkey as well as having to keep an eye on Croatian players abroad. His knowledge of the further reaches of Europe is good. And West Ham may need to draw upon this experience over the next few months.
The new manager’s expertise and know-how will be invaluable for the long away trips, and if they can do well in Europe, who knows – good European form could make the feel-good factor last a little longer in East London.
Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.