West Ham way: Hammers search for perfect match may fall short
At West Ham United the search for a new manager now begins in earnest, though realistically the east London outfit must have had their eye on a Sam Allardyce ‘upgrade’ for some time.
There was little surprise surrounding the announcement from the Hammers that they were to part ways with their much-maligned manager, immediately after slumping to a final Premier League matchday defeat at St James’ Park.
After all, the forthright former Bolton and Newcastle United boss was hardly a fan favourite at Upton Park, and there had been little clamour for the coach to extend his contract once it expired this summer.
The Hammers are now said to be firmly ensconced in their search for Allardyce’s replacement, with star names such as Slaven Bilic (odds-on at 8/13 with Coral to be next manager), Rafa Benitez (20/1) and even, somewhat incredibly, Carlo Ancelotti, mooted in the morning media as being top of West Ham’s wishlist. But can the club convince such elite coaches of their ambition?
Co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan’s statement on Allardyce’s exit was certainly revealing, as they thanked the 60-year-old for:[leaving] the club in a considerably better state than when he arrived and, for that, the board are truly grateful.”
Simply put, “considerably better” will not do anymore, as West Ham strive to return to the days when they were regular cup competitors.
Having punched above their weight for a stretch of the season, jostling big clubs in the Champions League places, the Hammers then fell away quite spectacularly, picking up just two victories from their last 16 to finish in 12th spot.
The dominant narrative is that Allardyce can clear out his desk confident that he met most of the aims that were asked of him: promotion back to the Premier League and crafting a stable squad capable of avoiding relegation.
With the tools at his disposal, there is little doubt he did a fine job, but Gold and Sullivan clearly crave more than that. Whether West Ham are wise to let a reliable manager such as Allardyce leave remains to be seen, but discontent with mid-table mediocrity should not be used as a stick to beat them with.
Often this term, when discussing Hammers’ fans attitude towards Allardyce, the mysterious ‘West Ham way’ was alluded to. The Upton Park faithful, awaiting a bold and big-money switch to the Olympic Stadium, are said to desire attacking football, a squad peppered with creative players and proper use of their famed youth academy to bolster the first-team.
None of these supposed demands are unreasonable, but both club and fans will have to be prepared for the problems that can arise with such a shake-up. Fortune favours the brave, but the east London outfit must know that football has fine margins and there is significant risk attached to having your cake and eating it.
Of course, substantial investment will be required for any new coach to make a mark on the squad and reach the holy grail of European football, and according to reports there could be substantial funds available.
Perhaps the time was right then, with an important move imminent, to identify a coach whose philosophy is more in line with the ‘West Ham way’.
But which projected new boss could fill the requirements? Former West Ham man Bilic is certainly the favourite with bookies, having announced his intention to leave Turkish giants Besiktas, after finishing third in the Turkish Super Lig and failing to secure a Champions League spot.
Despite that blemish on his record, Bilic, notorious with England fans for costing the Three Lions a place at Euro 2008, after his crafty Croatia side won at Wembley, seems to fit the bill best.
A cult favourite with Hammers fans, perhaps Bilic would be afforded the time to implement his attacking style, though the Croatian is certainly not naive and has shown against English teams, notably Liverpool this term, that he is prepared to abandon a gung-ho approach at times to win.
Bilic’s style would certainly suit West Ham more than previous favourite Benitez, or the likes of David Moyes (a 5/1 chance to be next Hammers boss), who often favour pragmatism and detail over flair.
While Bilic may not boast Benitez’s cup pedigree, he can claim what neither the Spanish tactician nor Allardyce can: a connection and a past with the club and fans.
Once rumoured to have given former Croatia charge Luka Modric pocket money, Bilic’s charisma and warmth would certainly help in times of trouble, and the coach clearly has an affinity with England, previously stating: “I am really connected to England, I lived a very important part of my life there and I feel they like me there.”
However, whichever manager takes over the reins, Gold and Sullivan must paint the Upton Park club as an attractive prospect, with guileful players such as Stewart Downing and Enner Valencia few and far between in a squad carved in Allardyce’s image.
Holding onto highly-rated defenders Winston Reid and Aaron Cresswell is imperative, as a solid base must not be sacrificed in favour of recruiting an attack-heavy summer roster, while the likes of battering ram Andy Carroll may find themselves looking for a new home and important loan stars such as Alex Song must be replaced.
Patience will be key to any appointment, however, as well as fostering a positive atmosphere around the club, something that was seemingly missing in Big Sam’s final few months.
With such expected big changes afoot, any new coach will need time to adjust, with no evidently perfect match out there for what the Hammers require. An itchy trigger finger, or a restless fanbase, will not help matters, lest West Ham want to be considered a poisoned chalice.