Former Hammers boss Slaven Bilic and current West Ham Co-Chairman David Sullivan have very different personalities. Their relationship became strained towards the end of the Bilic’s time in charge of the team with Sullivan seemingly undermining Bilic’s decision making, training methods and transfers.
Both have recently given candid interviews and have discussed matters at West Ham on and off the field. David Sullivan spoke to Jacob Steinberg for The Guardian, whilst Slaven Bilic gave his opinions to Joe Bernstein for the Daily Mail. How do their characters compare and contrast? Let’s take a look.
How do the two compare when it comes to work ethic?
Slaven Bilic: ‘You can’t achieve what I have without an inner strength. I had to fight for everything to come from a small country and become a recognised player in the Premier League — and then do the same as a manager.’
David Sullivan: ‘I feel like I haven’t done well enough. Nobody’s done well enough. I work my socks off but sometimes it’s not good enough.
What about honesty, is it the best policy?
SB: ‘Some managers are better at pretending. Maybe it is better for my job to not say what happened on the pitch. But at the end of the day you can’t be something you’re not. If we were s***, I would say. And I always took responsibility.’
DS: ‘I think we’re the most honest, open people you’ll ever deal with.’
West Ham has ambitions to be a top six club, especially since moving to London Stadium. How does each see that going?
SB: ‘We tried to make West Ham a top-six club because of one great season and moving to the new stadium. Unfortunately we didn’t follow with everything; of course as manager I take responsibility.’
DS: ‘We’re about £10m a year better off [since moving stadium]. It’s not going to change our lives. I just think we feel like a big club. Not a tin pot club. When players come to look at West Ham, they look at where you play.’
Now getting to the nitty gritty. How did they view transfer activity from their own perspectives. First up, who had the final say on transfers?
SB: ‘Let’s be honest, who knew about Lanzini before he came to England? Nobody knew and that includes the chairman. But I never treated the signings like that, like they are my players or your players. No, they were all our players, collective responsibility. There were three of us: the chairman, myself and Tony Henry (director of player recruitment). Agents would call any of us and we shared the information. I knew about Payet for a long time. The chairman told me he’d had a call about a player from Marseille. I said which one, and he said Payet. I said, “Yes, don’t think twice”.’
DS: ‘I regret it in a way, the first year I was more involved and the next two years I was less involved. We’ve let the manager pick who he wants. Maybe going forward we won’t. We have to take a look at the age of the players we’re signing. We will have to bring in two or three in January. They won’t be old journeymen, they will be young players. They won’t be 32.
While we’re talking transfers, a bit of humility goes a long way, too…
SB: ‘I am not going to take credit for everything but I don’t want to take all the blame either. Fonte and Snodgrass came in January. We were losing Payet and Ogbonna was having an operation, and of course the budget was limited. So we got those two new players. To criticise them is unfair. They came to a club in a difficult situation and helped us finish 11th so they played their part.’
DS: ‘I never go to the training ground. The manager had a policy of wanting older, proven Premier League players. That gives you an old squad and players who you’ve seen the best of. I’m very involved with physically bringing in the players. I’m not involved in the strategy. The manager said he wanted Fonte from Southampton and Snodgrass from Hull. My kids begged me not to sign them.’
Following transfer disagreements, some bitterness followed between the owner and manager. There are two sides to every story, so what take do each have on the situation?
SB: ‘West Ham is my club. I am not afraid of confrontation but I don’t want it with people I got on with for two years. But again I have to say something. To say all the good players were him, and the bad signings were me is kind of low. And it’s simply not true.’
DS: ‘I should have got rid of him in the summer. But beating Tottenham in the last home game and beating Burnley was just enough. My family gave me such grief for not doing it. I thought he’d sorted things out.
How about the future?
SB: ‘I know where I stand in the map of world managers. I can afford a break but can’t switch off my phone for a year like Guardiola or Mourinho. It’s weird. I keep telling myself, “I was at West Ham only a few weeks ago, take a bit longer”. On the other hand, I feel so rested. I am ready. You don’t always realise your batteries need recharging when you are in the middle of everything. It’s always better to go into a job at the start of the season but football can’t be perfect. If the right one comes next week, it’s something that comes.’
DS: ‘David Gold is 81, it’s his whole life. He has nothing in his life except West Ham. He has no hobbies. He has a family but he has one granddaughter. I love football and I want to be nowhere else but West Ham. We’re not in it for a quick buck. ‘We have to get in the top six eventually. We’ve had a go and it hasn’t worked. We’ll keep having a go. We’ll keep changing the model and try different things. We dare to dream.’ Two dissimilar people talking about very similar topics – both West Ham men, but both with varying agendas.