Slaven Bilic’s future as West Ham United manager seems to be hanging by a thread following the club’s disastrous start to the new Premier League season. The Hammers start September bottom of the table after their three matches in August, are without a point to their name, and have suff ered embarrassing thrashings at Manchester United and Newcastle.
Bilic, who is in the last year of his contract, has reportedly been given four games to save his job and it is difficult to see the board giving him further time to turn things around if results do not vastly improve in the coming weeks. West Ham host Huddersfield Town, Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City in September and also travel to West Brom over the course of the month and it is likely a haul of at least six points would be required for him to stay in position after the next international break.
The relationship between co-owner David Sullivan and Bilic has deteriorated over the past 12 months and, while there is no desire to make a change, it is likely the club will act sooner rather than later – especially as Toon boss Rafa Benitez is understood to be keen to leave St James’ Park.
Several journalists known to be close to the Spaniard are reporting that he would be keen to take over at London Stadium, a job he was originally offered before Bilic took over only to turn down the opportunity following an off er from Real Madrid.
Although he may have been the club’s second choice in 2015, Bilic flourished in his first season in England. The Croatian led West Ham to their highest ever points total in the Premier League, securing victories over Manchester United, City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea as the club made an unlikely bid for Champions League football. Things deteriorated in the second season, however, and the club flirted with the relegation zone for much of the campaign before eventually securing an 11th place finish.
The vast majority of supporters remained resolutely behind Bilic though, citing a number of factors that mitigated the dip in form. The club’s highly-controversial move to Stratford and the issues in the new stadium were a major off -field distraction, while a crippling injury list and Dimitri Payet’s sulk were all significant factors. The club’s transfer business last summer was also a major disappointment with the likes of Håvard Nordtveit, Sofiane Feghouli and, most infamously of all, Simone Zaza flopping in England.
Those circumstances, and the fact Bilic carried the fans’ support in a way Sam Allardyce never achieved, persuaded David Gold and Sullivan to stick with their man. The Hammers made three big name signings this summer as Javier Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic and Joe Hart all arrived as the board put together a squad they clearly believed would be able to compete with the teams in the top 10.
Yet the club missed out on Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho at the end of the transfer window, and a rather public blame game has played out as Sullivan defended the board’s net spend by insisting that Bilic declined to option to sign Bayern Munich’s Renato Sanches and Paris Saint-Germain’s Grzegorz Krychowiak before the window closed.
The implication is clear that, if Bilic is happy with his squad, then he should pay the price if he is unable to get a minimum standard of results out of them. In Bilic’s defence the start to the season has hardly been helped by the fact the club had to play their first three games of the season away from home as London Stadium was unavailable in August due to the World Athletics Championships and the time it took afterwards to convert it back into football mode.
However, while that may be out of his control the manager is responsible for what happens on the pitch and it was the manner of the defeats that has piled the pressure back on him.
While few would have expected much from the trip to Old Trafford, the way the side crumbled in the final few minutes was especially worrying, while the loss to Newcastle was equally inept.
A total of 10 goals conceded in three games tells its own story and the Irons’ defensive frailties been steadily getting worse during Bilic’s reign.
There are still many fans who are fully behind Bilic and back him to turn things around, but the clock is ticking and time could run out for him if this month fails to see a marked increase in the team’s form. It’s now or never.