As a player, the worst thing West Ham fans could say about Slaven Bilic was that he wasn’t at the club long enough.
The free-spirited Croatian defender was a huge crowd favourite in his short stint at the club in the 1990s, so when he was announced as Sam Allardyce’s successor for the final season at Upton Park, instantly, there was a feelgood factor, and wins in August at Arsenal and Liverpool meant it soon spread.
Bilic may not have been homegrown, but he understood the club enough and what made it tick to make him the ideal person to be at the helm for such an emotional season, doing the double over Liverpool, beating Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, and, of course, in the last ever Boleyn match, Manchester United – one of West Ham’s greatest ever victories.
A seventh place finish and a record Premier League points total of 59 could both have been even better had the club not been plagued by a string of injuries, particularly to strikers, but few fans cared too much. Bring on the glorious new era at the new ground. And that’s where the trouble started.
Both on and off the pitch, it took a long time for the London Stadium to feel like home, and what turned out to be a terrible summer transfer window meant it was not long before goodwill towards Bilic started to wear thin as the team failed to make the step up fans had been hoping for.
d the handling of star player Dimitri Payet’s tantrum and departure from the club caused some to raise doubts about the manager, and following a miserable start to his third season, Bilic soon had a full-blown crisis on his hands.
Despite Bilic and Dicks’s impressive defensive credentials as players, and the presence of England goalkeeper Joe Hart, the side conceded 10 goals in their first three games, and serious questions were raised about Bilic’s coaching techniques as the team seemed to run out of steam on an alarmingly regular basis.
Consecutive home routings by Brighton and Liverpool proved the final straw and 11 league games into the season, Bilic was sacked. As loved as he was as a player, as a manager, it had not worked, and something had to change.
Despite the nature of his departure, Bilic was dignified and respectful in his comments, clearly glad to have had a second go at his club, and whilst most fans agreed his time was up, many were glad that he did come back to provide some precious memories. And none could possibly be more precious than that final Boleyn ground game.
The image of Bilic and his coaching staff celebrating the thrilling 3-2 win sums up how, although his passport may show he is not one of West Ham’s own, in his heart, he is.