Optimism and hope are always high at the beginning of any season.
New players come in, deadwood float away, youngsters are gearing up for first team opportunities and any bad memories are erased as the fans and the club look forward rather than back.
In West Ham’s case, last season was widely unexpected. Pundits were saying that the club should be careful what they wish for as Big Sam left, predicting a struggle, while Slaven Bilic made us all take note of just how wrong pundits can be.
West Ham excelled. The Hammers upset the big boys more than once and trounced all over unwanted records. Despite a slight slip towards the end, they qualified for Europe.
Now the money into the game has increased and it’s availability is more accessible, Bilic and his peers will be judged increasingly harsher by their respective bosses.
More will be expected and questioned when things do not go according to plan.
With Europe in mind, Slaven Bilic has had to build a squad with depth and quality. It’s arguable as to whether the club has gone about its transfer dealings in the right way, and time will tell if these new faces gel and live up to the expectations of them.
This season will be tougher for Bilic. Improvement is demanded from a board willing to back their manager and who, as supporters of the club they run, want only the best for West Ham as they look to build for a successful future.
In Europe, West Ham must qualify for the group stages. At the moment, it is evenly poised with the return tie in London and although the performance was below par – before fans start clambering for the negatives – let’s bear in mind that it is the early stages of a new season, the humidity in Romania was very high, the missing players and that this time last year, performances were not so very different before the squad turned it around.
Anything but a run in the group stages will be a failure. Progression beyond the groups is only something to dream about for Hammers fans just now. One step at a time.
In the cups, the Hammers almost made the semi-finals in the FA Cup and a step closer will be required, as will a decent run in the elusive League Cup. Bilic wants silverware and West Ham have a chance to do well.
The league is a different proposition. Only four teams can qualify for the Champions League, so there will be some disappointed faces come May. With the recruitment of top managers and top players, the inconsistent so called “bigger clubs” of last year will be forgotten as each one beckons a new era.
Clubs like West Ham will have a say in who wins the Premier League, but for Bilic and his squad to capture seventh or better will be a mammoth task and should be applauded if they achieve it. Seventh again will not be a failure, but already the Hammers boss is mindful of European games. Historically, these games have hampered league stability for other clubs.
This will be a testing season for Slaven Bilic and his West Ham team. Expect a few more grey hairs on Mr. Bilic in May next year.