So, after months of speculation, rumour and bluff, Slaven Bilic has been appointed the new West Ham . The former Hammers defender has proved to be a popular choice with the club’s supporters, and it will be interesting to see how the team develops over the next 12 months with the Croatian in charge.
I’ve heard some people claim in recent weeks that managers don’t really matter. That the most important thing that defines the success of failure at a football club is the playing staff and the overall budget. That’s rubbish. You only have to look at the job Eddie Howe has done at AFC Bournemouth to appreciate how one man can transform a club and make a difference.
Howe, and they call him ‘The Messiah’ in Dorset, really has performed miracles. The man with the Midas touch has taken a club from the brink of extinction to the top flight. I first met Howe when he had just taken over as manager. It was one of my first interviews for Soccer Saturday. I don’t know who was more green – him or me!
I do know he didn’t look like a manager. He had a baby face, a bad haircut and a baggy club tracksuit but his calm reserve stood out. Although he had little media experience his answers were well thought out and totally composed. I remember thinking this is a man in control.
The previous year the club had been in complete financial turmoil, were minutes from being wound up by the administrator Gerald Krasner, and were eventually saved by a consortium led by chairman Jeff Mostyn. They started the season of 2008 on -17 points. It didn’t go well and former West Ham striker Jimmy Quinn was relieved of his duties in January. There was obviously no money, but they needed a new direction.
In stepped then youth team manager Howe. He often jokes that they really had no one else to ask but the then Cherries director Adam Murry saw something and gave him his opportunity. He was 31 when he took over with no experience and no cash to spend but anyone who has met him knows that he has an inner steel and a determination that belies his years. The New Year’s Day appointment turned out to be a master stroke.
He lost his first couple of games but they made him permanent manager anyway. He admits that he feared they’d made a terrible mistake, that the job was too vast, too intense for someone just starting out in his managerial career, but he stuck at it and by the third game he got his first win.
It proved to be the beginning of probably the greatest ever football league success story. He kept them up that season thanks to a Steve Fletcher last gasp winner against Grimsby and the rest is, as they say, history. Three promotions, a brief spell at Burnley and a decent haircut later, the Messiah has masterminded Bournemouth’s meteoric rise to the highest division in the land. And the praise and accolades are showering down upon him.
Naysayers will suggest the title was bought with Russian money. Yes, they’ve spent some cash and significant investment has been made by Maxim Demin, in the infrastructure, the staff, the ground and of course the players and their salaries. Yet you won’t find a household name in the squad. How many of you had heard of Matt Ritchie, Andrew Surman, Mark Pugh, Harry Arter, Tommy Elphick, Steve Cook, even Artur Boruc before this season?
Until Kenwyne Jones arrived in March, few people outside the South Coast other than fans of lower league football would recognise any of the names on the roster. Instead shrewd investments and clever signings by the manager and his staff over a period of five years laid the groundwork for the phenomenal success that would eventually come.
Howe and Bournemouth’s story has reminded everyone what is possible in football. If Slaven Bilic can have half the impact at West Ham then he will prove to be an inspired appointment.