David Gold says he is 100 per cent certain Slaven Bilic is the right man to lead West Ham United into the Olympic stadium.
The Hammers co-chairman also insists the Croatian was not ‘second choice’ despite the club having been linked to a host of top bosses including Rafa Benitez, Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti. ‘I make no secret that when we started the process, we started at the very top,’ Gold revealed in a exclusive interview with Blowing Bubbles. ‘When was the last time West Ham could do that? Not in my time and probably not ever.
‘Before now we probably wouldn’t have been in a position to attract the very top managers but I like to think this process has shown our intent and the way in which we’ve moved on in the last five years.’ Gold explained West Ham had a number of criteria when looking for Sam Allardyce’s replacement and believes it soon became clear that Bilic ticked more boxes than any of his rivals for the post. ‘It was about ticking boxes for us. Does he speak good English, have they played for West Ham, and so on. Playing for West Ham was a box that Bilic ticked that nobody else did. I bet most football clubs don’t get that box ticked.
‘We wanted a manager who has managed at the highest level. Any man who manages a team that beats England and does as well as he did in Europe for Croatia and then go onto to beat some big clubs with Locomotiv Moscow, you’ve got to be half decent.
‘He didn’t tick the box for massive experience in the Premier League but it always had to be that the manager managed at an international level or at the biggest league in the country, which Bilic has.’ Gold admits both he and co-owner David Sullivan were impressed with the way Bilic interviewed for the role and says the former defender shares the club’s football philosophy.
‘You only get a couple of hours with them before making a commitment to each other and I know marriages don’t last as long as chairman/ manager relationships so you’ve got to be at your very best in the time you have together to make an evaluation,’ he added. ‘Before he gets there you can go down the list of boxes and tick the ones you already know, does he have a good win to game ratio, how long has he been at the top level but then he arrives and you have to ask yourself; does he have the passion? Does he have the will to win? Does he have the same philosophies that we have?
‘Our philosophy is that we want attacking football and we will do our very best to give him attacking players. He is an attacking-minded manager, he knows the West Ham Way, he knows the fans, the spirit, the tradition. When we talked to him about these things, you could see the passion, you could hear it in his voice and by the time our two hours were up, we knew he was our man.
Reflecting on last season as a whole, Gold blamed injuries as the primary reason why the Hammers ‘started like Juventus and ended the season like Accrington Stanley’. ‘We bought nine players last season and all of them reached our expectations,’ he continued. ‘You could argue that [Diafra] Sakho, [Aaron] Cresswell and [Carl] Jenkinson performed higher than our expectation.
‘We got off to a flyer but come Christmas the injuries started to tell and I think that the more that went on, the more defensive-minded Sam became and I don’t blame him. It was just disappointing. ‘The season ended up being extremely disappointing but not because we’ve got bad players, we just had more injuries than most and in the Premier League, if you’ve got a weakness anywhere, the opposition will find it and exploit it and they did.
Nevertheless, Gold insists West Ham will come back stronger next season and is confident the club will be able to improve the squad during the summer transfer window. ‘We will be better this year,’ he added. ‘There is no question that the players who will not feature in the team this year because they have left or have been superseded, the players coming in will be better.
‘I mean no disrespect to the players who have already left. Take Carlton Cole as an example. He played a number of games for us this season but he is now on the wrong side of 30 and we need younger legs. He has been an amazing servant to the football club, he is one of the nicest men in football and I wish him well in the future but the people coming into replace him will be better players.’ Despite not offering Allardyce a new contract Gold insists he bears no ill feeling to the former boss, who spent four seasons in the Upton Park hotseat, and says the pair worked well together.
‘What you see is what you get. What he says, he does,’ Gold explained. ‘He said to us that he’d get us promoted and he did but he sure scared the hell out of us. With the money we spent and the players we bought, we should’ve won that league and been clear by about 10 points but we just went through a bizarre period of drawing games that we should’ve been winning.
‘For me, it was nerve wracking going through the play-offs. The excitement only came about when the final whistle blew for full time and then it was enjoyable. Hugs, kisses, getting on the pitch, being with the players, and celebrating with the fans, it was wonderful but I just wish we didn’t have to go through it.
‘Having said that, he achieved what was the most important thing to us and that was to get us back into the Premier League. The following season we bought some players and he kept us up, second season he did the same thing. ‘The third season back in the Premier League was where we felt we were ready to kick on and we bought some seriously good quality players. Then just when you thought Sam had got it right, the injuries piled up week after week. I’d go down to the training ground and rather go in to see Sam, I’d head to the physio room and check out all the bodies on the treatment table and the season ended up being very disappointing.’
With the final season at the Boleyn Ground rapidly approaching, Gold hopes to leave on a high. ‘I want us to leave with our chins held high and say thank you very much Boleyn Ground, we’re off to a new home but we will never forget you and we will do that by achieving,’ he said. ‘There’s no reason why we can’t do well in the Europa League and well in the cups. We’ve got some very good young players coming through and they’ll get their chance to shine this season in the cups and Europe along with our fringe players. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we got to Wembley next season?’
Gold admits he had wondered if moving to the Olympic Stadium would change what it meant to be a West Ham fan but insists he has come to terms with the move.
‘I was worried about leaving the Boleyn and what would happen to my memories which are very important to me but I’ve realised I take my memories with me – I don’t have to see the bricks and mortar. After all, the bricks and mortar of my earliest memories don’t exist anymore.
‘I’d love the final season at the Boleyn to be a great success which to me is taking that next step and frightening those guys at the top. ‘This is an exciting new period of our great club and I’m sure when we move into the Olympic Stadium the fans and even the doubters are going to be spellbound with our new home.