When West Ham manager Slaven Bilic addressed the nation’s press on Thursday, it was not with the same confidence that we are used to seeing from the Croatian manager. There was air of dejection as he told his audience that star man Dimitri Payet had requested a transfer and was refusing to play for the club. However, his message was clear, Payet would not play but would not be sold either.
While Bilic showcased the same clarity and honesty that we have come to expect from him during his time in England, his revelation still came as a shock. For a manager to come out in the public domain and reveal to fans that their club’s key player wants to leave, and is refusing to play, is an unprecedented action. However, aside from the unique nature of Bilic’s address, the most interesting feature was not the information itself, but the West Ham manager’s stance on his player’s position.
Following Bilic’s very open approach to the Payet situation, it is difficult not to think that a confrontation between the Croat and the West Ham board is imminent, one which could cost him his job.
Although most people agree that it would be wrong for the Hammers to part company with a man who has enabled them to trouble England’s top clubs, the Payet case is the latest in a long line of problems for Bilic this season.
The issues that have accompanied West Ham’s move to the London Stadium, both on and off the pitch, are already factors working against the former Croatian National team manager.
In light of the current issue with Payet, Bilic’s standing in the eyes of the West Ham board will surely diminish further. Dimitri Payet was the key man in last season’s heroics, and from a business point of view, the French midfielder is the club’s most valuable asset by some distance.
From the board’s perspective, the best outcome of the saga would be for Payet to stay and play, or for the club to cash in on someone who would surely attract bids in advance of £30 million. Bilic’s stance that he will not play his star man unless his attitude changes, but that he will refuse to sell him, occupies neither of this positions. From the perspective of a businessman involved in West Ham, the manager’s stance is a painfully indecisive one and offers the club’s owners little opportunity to benefit from their key asset.
With Bilic not working to the owners’ interests with regard to his rebelling player, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the board take matters into their own hands, or to find someone who will. The latter is the more likely scenario and would end with the Croats’s dismissal.
In addition to the well-publicised cases of fan disorder which have plagued the Hammers’ first season away from the Boleyn Ground, further pressure has been added to Bilic by the fact that the Croat’s side has failed to replicate the form they showed during the last campaign.
During the 48 year old’s first season in charge of the East London club, he was able to elevate them to heights they haven’t seen in many years. A seventh place finish above the likes of Liverpool, and the guarantee of European football, was something West Ham fans could have only dreamed of after concluding a number of campaigns in the lower half of the table.
However, as is so often the case, it has been hard for Bilic’s team to live up to the expectation that the previous campaign produced. Most Hammers fans would have been hoping to see their team repeat the feats of last season, and in some cases, exceed them.
This has not been the case. In addition to a quick exit from Europe, West Ham are currently sitting in 13th place in the Premier League, just seven points above the relegation zone. Furthermore, Bilic’s signings during the summer have done little to inspire confidence, with striking additions such as Jonathan Calleri proving to be particularly ineffective.
Most worrying for Hammers fans is their team’s poor displays at home. This season, West Ham have endured four defeats on their own turf, already one more than they suffered during the whole of the last campaign.
While it might be expected that a manager who has achieved what Bilic has would be given more time, that is not how West Ham do things. The club’s ownership has long given its managers and players a small margin of error. Since the start of the millennium, only two West Ham managers have lasted longer than two seasons at the club, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce.
The way things are going, it seems unlikely that Bilic will pass this milestone, and instead may even follow Avram Grant in falling short of it. A string of bad results, or potentially even a loss to Crystal Palace this afternoon would provide the Hammers’ board with perfect ammunition with which to justify parting company with the 48 year old. Naturally, it is unlikely they would that the manager’s handling of a player was the main factor in such a decision, this is football after all.
Although we will have to see how the Payet situation develops, it wouldn’t be surprising if the next few weeks saw the departure of a manager who has given supporters of the East London club cause to dream for the first time in years.
*All pictures creative commons from Google Images
*Disclaimer – This is an opinion piece. I am not saying that Bilic will be sacked, but that it could happen.