West Ham On The Champions League Brink?

In a special feature, Dean Ammi gets expert views on how Slaven Bilic has turned West Ham into a side fighting for Europe.

Following the end of Sam Allardyce’s contract at West Ham, club owners David Gold and David Sullivan were on the hunt for a new manager last summer. Jurgen Klopp rejected the club, Unai Emery opted to remain at Sevilla and Rafa Benitez was reportedly three hours from taking over before Real Madrid came knocking. So when the news broke that Slaven Bilic was to take charge, both he and the home faithful were concerned as the Croatian wasn’t first choice. However, there are certainly no regrets about the appointment now.

Youth

Bilic has blended the perfect combination of experience and youth into the side. He values the academy setup very highly, and appointed Julian Dicks – who attends every U21 encounter – as a coach earlier in the campaign. Reece Oxford and Josh Cullen are among the youngsters to have tasted first team football, with the former making his debut at just 16 years of age away at Arsenal in August. While onlookers would have deemed this risky, it has given the younger players a huge boost in confidence in their quest to perform for the senior side. Opposition managers find it more difficult to accommodate for these types of players, as Arsene Wenger showed when the Irons dented the Gunners’ title hopes after just 90 minutes of the season being played.

Harry Redknapp told Rising East: “[Oxford] wouldn’t be the first one who has come in and then you don’t see too much of them after that. So you hope he does progress, he looks a level headed kid. You hope he gets some chances to play, that’s the key.”

Creativity

West Ham were screaming out for some creative players for a long time. Stewart Downing blossomed in a more central position last season, but he was never going to make enough chances in order for the team to fight for the upper echelon league positions. Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini were two players that Bilic wanted, and so the club brought them to Upton Park for £10.8m and a loan deal.

In the current climate of inflating transfer prices, they have been two absolute bargains. Not only do they make the goals, but they score them too. In the league, Payet has eight goals and seven assists, whilst Lanzini has four goals and one assist. This calibre of statistics is not the sort that one would usually associate with the Hammers, considering their long ball tactics for the previous four years. Under Bilic West Ham create enough chances to outscore their opponents, which is why it is no surprise that they have already scored more league goals this season (45) than they did in the entirety of 2014/15 (44).

Sky Sports presenter Ed Chamberlin spoke to Rising East and said: “When I interviewed Slaven Bilic, it was interesting to hear him say that he’d been tracking the Frenchman for some time and his good start has clearly not surprised his manager.”

Leader

Kevin Nolan left after four years of fantastic service to the East Londoners, and Bilic took the decision to make Mark Noble the captain. Noble is the perfect man for the role, having come through the Academy system himself. There is no doubt that as a result of these responsibilities, this has been his best season in his career. He gives his all and puts in a shift every game, making sure the side are organised and compact.

Former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alex Song has been left on the bench because of Noble’s stunning performances. The passion on his face is clear every game. He is from the local area, brought up in Canning Town. It is so easy for fans to relate to him as a follower of the club because of his roots and how hard he has worked to make it to where he is today. For fans to see their team being led out by a local is much more heart-warming than a big-money buy who perhaps has little idea what the club’s philosophy is, and this was why Bilic took the decision to give Mr West Ham the armband.

As for the man himself, Bilic breeds a winning mentality, having previously managed sides that have been fighting for league titles. He is not afraid to take on the big guns, evident after his Croatia team prevented England from qualifying for Euro 2008. West Ham currently occupy fifth spot in the Barclays Premier League table with just nine games remaining. There is no denying that the club are in a position in which they are fighting for European competition, whether that is Europa League or even the Champions League.